Monday, May 31, 2010

Why Republican Rants About a “Secular Socialist Conspiracy” Just Won’t Work

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Lately, Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has been in the news for saying that Barack Obama is leading a “secular socialist conspiracy” that is as dangerous to the America as Hitler or Stalin.

Rather than being alarmed, most Americans yawned.

Attacks on President Obama for being a “socialist” don’t have a lot of traction not only because they are manifestly absurd- after all this is a president who bailed out the nation’s banks and is offering huge incentives to states to partially privatize their educational systems- but because the idea of “socialism” doesn’t scare Americans like it used to

And this isn’t just because the Soviet Union collapsed and because purchases of US Debt by the “Communist” Chinese help keep our government afloat, it’s because more and more Americans, to survive economically, have to adopt some kind of communal living arrangements, be it with friends, family or total strangers.

For more and more Americans, the nuclear family, consisting of parents living with children in two generation households until those children are ready form households of their own, is becoming more the exception in the rule.

You can see this dramatically displayed in the working class neighborhood of East Hampton where I own a vacation house. Virtually all of the residential units in our area- called “The Springs”-are detached one or two story houses surrounded by lawns. There are no apartment buildings; virtually all of the houses are zoned for single family occupancy.
Yet when you drive by these homes, early in the morning, or late at night, it is not unusual to see three or four or five cars or pick up trucks parked in their driveways.
There are multiple families, or multiple groups of unrelated people, living in those houses

And I am not just talking about the homes of the Latino immigrants, who are a large and growing portion of the Springs population. The same pattern is visible among the Springs white and black population On my block, which is predominantly white, at least two thirds of the homes have some form of shared residential space beyond the nuclear family.

If this is what is going on among working class people in a relatively affluent resort area, you can just imagine what is going on in sections of the country whose economies have been hit much harder. As unemployment proliferates, peoples home values plummet, their credit card limits are frozen, and their savings evaporate, more and more people, without fanfare or ideological pronouncements, are sharing living space, child care, transportation and food to stay above water, or avoid hunger and homelessness.

Even middle class people are feeling the pinch and are giving up individual living space. I know of several formerly prosperous individuals in their thirties, unemployed for over a year, who have recently moved back in with their parents and more than a few of my students, after futile searches for full time work, have taken the same step.

Given the dynamics of shared living space which have become the lived reality for more and more Americans, it is understandable why the image of a government caring for its people- rather than nurturing individual self-reliance- doesn’t scare people the way it used to.

In an economic crisis like the one we are living through, “self reliance” just doesn’t work very well , even for people who are hard working and ambitious. A lot of people recognize that to survive these times, they not only have to ask for help, they have to help one another. And they are doing so, all over the country, in proportions which most journalists, or social scientists have failed to recognize.

This doesn’t mean that Americans are mobilizing to sign up under the Socialist banner, But it does make them receptive to the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to help people when they are in trouble, whether they have lost their jobs, or whether their livelihoods are threatened by a flood or an oil spill.

And if the Obama administration is really doing that, all the red baiting in the world from Republicans won’t make a damn bit of difference

Mark Naison
May 31, 2010