Socialist Unrealism, Comedy Gold

l conason Socialist Unrealism, Comedy GoldIt seems like only a few glandular cases are obsessed with the fact that Barack Obama knows Bill Ayers, the vintage ’60s “revolutionary” and former mad bomber, with everyone else including the New York Post dismissing the charge as a low blow.

But the Ayers controversy is only the spearhead of a massive Internet campaign by McCain supporters to brand Senator Obama a “socialist,” the timing of which is exquisitely (if unintentionally) comic.

It goes like this: Sometime in the distant past, Obama won the endorsement of the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or D.S.A.—a rather moderate group of activists by left-wing standards, who have always believed in advancing such radical concepts as universal health care, green technology, union jobs at decent wages, as well as many other worthy ideas that are now boringly mainstream.

The D.S.A. was founded by the late Michael Harrington, a wonderful writer and Jesuit-educated idealist whose great 1962 book, The Other America, inspired President Kennedy to begin the war on poverty. Mike was a close friend of Robert Kennedy and Pat Moynihan. He lived in a Westchester suburb and could scarcely have been more respectable, for a socialist.

So, back to Obama, that socialist. If we unpack the blog post that claims to expose his connections to the D.S.A., very few of the links actually prove what is advertised. The truth is simple and hardly scandalous.

Like many African-American Democrats, Obama was supported by the Democratic left in his community. They had so little familiarity with him, however, that even when the Chicago D.S.A. endorsed him, they repeatedly misspelled his first name.

The same posts note with horror that D.S.A. belongs to the Socialist International, which sounds very sinister but includes many parties that have been staunch American allies for decades, notably the British Labor Party. That’s right. Tony Blair belongs to the Socialist International! And yet Blair and George Bush are great pals. Ready for another shocker? The C.I.A., former employer of Larry Johnson, whose No Quarter site is spreading this earnest nonsense, used to give money to socialist parties in Europe, many of which were likewise members of the Socialist International. Not only that, but Bill and Hillary Clinton still have many friends in the Socialist International, including the former heads of government of Italy, Germany, South Africa and Spain, among others, whom they invited to the White House to discuss their shared visions of the human future. Wow. Scary!

But that isn’t why this is funny. Calling out Obama as a “socialist” is funny—in the dark sense that may be the only way anything in politics or economics is funny these days—because we are in the midst of a massive nationalization of finance that is sweeping the capitalist world. To my knowledge, the D.S.A. has never proposed anything quite as radical as President Bush’s takeover of the nation’s largest insurance company, or Senator McCain’s desperate debate proposal for the government to buy up bad mortgages and renegotiate rates and principal.

Of course, I never gave much credence to those far-right screeds warning that McCain was a “Manchurian Candidate,” but who really knows?