Obama Red-Baiting is the New Black

Lindsay Beyerstein

On Saturday, CNN broadcast footage of Tea Party” protesters in Washington D.C. Demonstrators say that Obama is socialist,” the anchor said, simply repeating the assertion as if it were a defensible point of view.

Calling Obama’s piecemeal reforms of the private health insurance system socialist” should be a one-way ticket out of mainstream discourse — destination fringe.

Anyone who repeats it obviously knows too little about either Obama’s healthcare plan or the meaning of the word socialism” to contribute anything to the debate. Yet the media keep repeating the charge as if it were a legitimate point of view, as opposed to pervasive misconception.

So-called socialized medicine” is not on the table and never has been, yet the GOP claims Obama is engineering a government takeover of health care.” Attack ads imply that Obama’s plan involves the government hiring doctors and running hospitals. There are no plans to do anything of the kind.

As Obama explained in his address to Congress last Wednesday, his reform” plan keeps private health insurance as the centerpiece of the U.S. healthcare system. The president is merely seeking to reform some of the system’s worst excesses, such as dropping people when they get sick and shutting out those with pre-existing conditions.

Wall Street doesn’t think Obama’s plan is socialist. The stock of major health insurance companies went up the day after Obama’s speech. And why not? Obama made it clear that every American would be expected to carry health insurance. The expectation is that most of the uninsured would end up buying from private companies. On what planet does that count as socialism?

The president stressed that he would not insist on a government administered public health insurance option. He envisioned that the public option, if it existed, would be an alternative of last resort for those who couldn’t get coverage any other way. He expected that less than 5 percent of the population would buy their insurance through the government.

By and large, liberals and the mainstream media haven’t systematically challenged the socialism charges, perhaps because they seem self-evidently false. But these claims are taking hold. Protesters at Saturday’s 912” march on Washington carried signs denouncing Obama as a socialist, often complete with hammers and sickles.

The corporate sponsors of the 912 movement have whipped their followers into a frenzy. Charges of socialism that started as overheated rhetoric are hardening into full on red-baiting. Some protesters openly celebrated notorious red-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy with signs and t-shirts.

The anti-reformers have no constructive agenda. The best they can do is push their followers into a full-on panic. If this weekend’s protests were any indication, they’re well on their way to that goal.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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