There hasn’t been so much talk of socialism in an American election since 1920, when Eugene Victor Debs, candidate of the Socialist Party, made his fifth run for President from a cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for opposing the First World War. (Debs got a million votes and was freed the following year by the new Republican President, Warren G. Harding, who immediately invited him to the White House for a friendly visit.)And of course JFK and LBJ were called socialists too, but they won. Perhaps soon McCain will accuse Obama of palling around with Italian Anarchists? Sympathizing with Sacco and Vanzetti? In this accelerated news cycle, we could be seeing attack ads accusing Obama of being a tool of the Whig interests by the weekend! Senator McCain, no one is scared of Socialism anymore, except for members of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Socialism today is friendly and Scandinavian. And honestly, with another Great Depression on the way, Americans are probably sympathetic to the kind of Socialism where the government gives you things.
There is a spectre haunting the Conservative commentariat—the spectre of socialism! Barack Obama just might be the President, and should that happen, he will immediately redistribute all the wealth and hand over control of the means of production to the workers. Also the government will round up whitey and send him to reeducation camps run by the creepy YouTube singing children! We know all of this is true because Obama told a pretend plumber that he would "spread" the man's pretend "wealth around." Also he proposes some sort of "progressive income tax" policy and he said the words "redistribution of wealth" once on public radio. "Public" is code for Communist! This is seriously the dumbest attack yet in a season of incredibly dumb attacks. Over the summer, the McCain campaign presented Barack Obama as "a celebrity," a neat, slightly po-mo attack on Obama's popularity. It was, at least, an argument with some resonance in our tabloid-y popular culture. It didn't destroy Obama's brand, but it hurt it. But the desperate and confused McCain campaign never again came up with a coherent attack line on Obama that pleased anyone but the truest of believers. And that is how we got to "palling around with terrorists," a neat line that manages to incorporate 9/11 dread of four years ago and, more importantly, the culture wars of the 1960s, which make guest appearances in every American election. But this year, of course, no one gives a shit about the 1960s, at all. For the first time since the '60s ended, in 1972! So the McCain camp has switched to an attack last used effectively in the 1920s. As Hendrik Hertzberg explains: