DeLay-ed Labeling

Marxism is suddenly on the rise.

Or so it would appear. During a Monday interview with Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden, a Florida reporter named Barbara West used a quote from Karl Marx to ask the senator to defend charges that running mate Barack Obama is “being a Marxist.”

The transcript appears below:
Barbara West: You may recognize this famous quote. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." That's from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he's intending to spread the wealth around?

Sen. Joe Biden: Are you joking? Is this a joke?

West: No.

Biden: Or is that a real question?

West: That's a question.

Biden: He is not spreading the wealth around. He's talking about giving the middle class an opportunity to get back the tax breaks they used to have.

I know this has been a pretty mean campaign. I was on a television station the other day and doing a satellite feed to a major network in Florida. And the anchor quotes Karl Marx and says in a sense, "Isn't Barack Obama Karl Marx?" You know I mean folks, this stuff you're hearing, this stuff you're hearing in this campaign, some of it's pretty ugly.

Since the interview, the Obama campaign has suggested that the reporter is a registered Republican, and that her husband is a Republican strategist. In an interview with Larry King, West refuted the latter claim (but not the former?).

There are several aspects of this event that intrigue me: one, that seeming agreement with one sentence of an author who published thousands of statements is grounds to label someone with the weight of an entire ideology; two, that Republicans (and apparently reporters) can simultaneously claim that Obama is a socialist and a Marxist (which raises an earlier paradox among conservatives who charge that Obama is a Muslim while simultaneously criticizing his ties to the pastor of his former church); and three, that any candidate running for office and receiving sponsorship from industry and social organizations and who doesn’t appear to be calling for a worker’s revolution can be attacked for being perceived as a Marxist.

Lots of ground here. This will probably not be my only blog on this subject.

On Tuesday, I noticed that three of my friends on Facebook were including the label “Marxist” in their concerns about Obama’s lead in the polls. The proximity of all these specific charges of a specific ideology raised my suspicions. What are the odds that so many people in the same week (most of whom I would have been surprised to learn understood what Marxism is or that it even existed – and in truth when I inquired, most of my friends apparently conflate Marxism with socialism without demonstrating an ability to distinguish between the two)?

Then I looked back at the transcript of the West/King interview, and read the line in which West said, “I think a lot of people who are talking to me out on the street are saying they are very, very concerned that this idea of redistributing the wealth means taking it out of somebody's pocket who is a wage earner and putting it in somebody's pocket who refuses to work. And they're asking about. That's what they don't want. That is what they want to know, what does this really mean?”

A lot of people on the street are asking about Marxism?

How could so many conservatives suddenly become concerns about an ideology that many did not seem to know existed and many still quite ignorant about?

I did some digging. Turns out, this particular charge appears to have originated from a surprising source: Tom DeLay. Yes, Tom DeLay, former Republican congressman and Speaker of the House (before he was ejected during after a Texas grand jury indicted him for conspiracy to violate campaign finance reform).

Apparently, DeLay gathered together a group of conservative bloggers (many of whom were already making this argument) and issued them the Marxist charge, demonstrating that you’re never too far removed from power in the G.O.P. to issue misleading talking points. He had made the claim back in June to the mainstream media.

Maybe these events will lead to a discussion of the differences between socialism (in its many forms), Marxism, the views of Marxian scholars and communism.

But somehow I suspect not. This campaign has largely been run on the backs of vague claims about scary terms that the general electorate seems unwilling to investigate (I still can’t believe I find people labeling ANYONE as an “Islamofascist,” which continues to be a contradiction in terms).

I wonder how much damage we’re doing to our democracy with this constant deluge of vaguely defined constructs of fear? Shouldn’t we be encouraging a healthy discussion about our fears, to ensure they’re brought into the public discourse for examination?

I also wonder if the damage to our dictionary might be even greater.