Jonathan Chait had a funny post in New York Magazine that is mostly just a rehash of how he doesn’t like political correctness, except in this case he associates it with Marxism. Although he doesn’t end up calling political correctness and related phenomenon “cultural Marxism,” the point is indistinguishable from the right-wingers with anime avatars on Twitter who call it that.
There is a lot wrong with Chait’s piece. He claims liberalism is “working” and Marxism has “always failed” but he makes no effort to define any of those terms. For instance, when pressed on Twitter about how there have been a lot of very successful Marxist parties in Europe, he retreated to saying that they aren’t really Marxist if they didn’t advocate proletarian dictatorships. Yet in his article, he refers to Jacobin as a magazine that spreads Marxist ideas even though it has not published any pieces advocating a proletarian dictatorship.
He claims Marxist governments are inherently antagonistic to individual rights, but fails to look inward towards liberal governments to see how they have fared in that realm. It was after all liberal America that so loved individual rights that it enslaved a huge swath of its population for 250 years, ran a brutal and explicit apartheid regime for another 100 years, and then carried on apartheid-lite until the present through de facto segregation, widespread discrimination, and mass incarceration. The latter point is even a source of long-standing Bernie Sanders’ dark humor, with him noting that we incarcerate more people than communist China.
Liberal America so loves individual rights that it put together a secret police in the mid-century to infiltrate and disrupt dissident political groups, resorting even to assassinating some of the dissidents. There was also McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which aimed to intimidate and marginalize those with anti-capitalist views.
Hell just this week, one of Nixon’s top advisors, John Erlichman, made news with an old interview in which he had this to say about the Nixon administration’s intentional efforts to crush its political opponents through trumped up police action:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
It is in liberal America that the highest court recently gutted voter protection legislation, leading to what many believe to be widespread efforts to suppress the vote, including most recently the spectacle in the Arizona primary where voters were made to stand in line for five hours to cast a ballot. Who knows how many people simply went home without voting at all, in liberal America.
And this is just some of America’s greatest domestic hits. If we were to bring in America’s imperial adventures abroad, and especially its liberal love of knocking out popularly elected leaders, this post could go on forever.
Garbage Health Care
As a lover of all things welfare, what struck me most about the piece was not its blindness to the terrible track record of respecting individual rights in liberal America. It was the utterly strange triumphalism about liberal welfare.
Nor do realistic advocates of social and economic equality have any reason to share or accept the left’s desperation. The popular, sitting liberal president has enacted the most important egalitarian social reforms in half a century, including higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes on the poor, and significant new income transfers to poor and working-class Americans through health-care reform and other measures.
I was hunting for a mention of health care because the immense terribleness of the US health care system is matched only by Chait’s strange effusiveness about it. Even after the beloved Obamacare, 1 in 5 Americans are uninsured or underinsured. Despite the fact that we can’t figure out how to provide decent health care access for a fifth of our people, we also somehow spend 80% more of our GDP on health care than the OECD average.
Health care is a fun example to use in the Marxism/Socialism v. Liberalism game because it’s entirely clear at this point that the best way to have a killer health care system in 2016 is to have had a strong socialist movement in the early or mid 20th century. The best health care system in the world according to the widely-cited Commonwealth fund is the NHS in the United Kingdom. The NHS is the closest thing in the developed world to a full blown socialist health care system. The government not only pays for everyone’s health care, but it also runs the system and directly employs and manages the healthcare providers. The NHS was put in place after World War II by the avowedly socialist Labour Party.
When you aren’t going full blown NHS-style socialism, the best health care systems are those in which the central government has fully nationalized the health insurance sector, aka single-payer health care. The US doesn’t have that either and when it was proposed throughout the years, it was attacked specifically because of its socialist character. Proto-Chaits killed it.
Instead of adopting good socialist health care systems, the US took the liberal route, which is why we find ourselves where were are. Liberal health care has been so bad in fact that, in 2016, Chait and people like him can write articles in which they are downright giddy that the US is a bit closer to where countries with stronger socialist influences were 70 years ago.