The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched

Movie Director (e.g. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and Czechoslovakian expatriate Milos Forman had an op-ed in the NY Times last week, using his experiences under communism as a context for criticizing the use of the term “socialist” to describe President Obama:

The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not. Now, years later, I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others. President Obama, they warn, is a socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.

Mr. Forman relates several anecdotes that paint a picture of just how disordered life was under Soviet domination, and how foreign it was to anything westerners experience as society, and at first blush, his seems like a very reasonable complaint. But when was the last time anyone sober suggested that Obama was trying to directly implement a Soviet-style order? Forman claims that Obama’s critics are “falsely equat[ing] Western European-style socialism … with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism”, but that is an entirely false claim. I think the word “equating”, used in this sense, is one of the two or three stupidest words in modern parlance, but if Obama is being “equated” to anybody, it is to the Western European socialists whom Forman himself identifies by that very term! But he’s offended. Forman is either confused, or worse. After all, should we wait for him to criticize himself for calling the Western European-style practice “socialism”, when it clearly differs from Soviet-style communism? Does that usage also “cheapen the experience” of those who’ve lived under “brutal forms of socialism”? If we can’t call Obama a socialist without having to answer to the standard of Stalin, why don’t we have to answer to the standard of Stalin when we refer to the socialists whom Obama is actually “equated” to?

It turns out one can legitimately use the term “socialism” to refer to a whole trajectory of political thought and circumstance, some of which take on more brutal form than others. The point Obama’s critics bring to light, much to the chagrin of folks like Forman who don’t want to hear it, is that the, yes, socialist vision of Obama, and his Western comrades, differs from the brutal form of Soviet-style socialism in degree, not in kind – and that owing at least partly to method of implementation (what we could call evolution vs. revolution).

A later paragraph from Forman shows just how little he understands what’s at stake in the current struggle for America’s political soul:

I’m not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory socialism was. It was not — as Mr. Obama’s detractors suggest — merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled private enterprise: it was a spoils system that killed off everything, all in the name of “social justice.”

Taking the ObamaCare debacle as a jumping-off point, do Forman, Obama, and the rest of the political left in America really not understand that the opposition to Obamacare is rooted not only in the valid fear of the thinly (if at all) disguised intent to hobble private enterprise through the centralization of government power, but also precisely in  disgust at the spoils system it inevitably creates, threatening to “kill off everything”, all in the name of “social justice”? Indeed, what a perfectly phrased indictment of the entire “tax and spend”, public-sector-centric, entitlements and subsidies mentality of the post-liberal left – whether American or Western Europe: a spoils system that kills off everything in the name of “social justice”. All we need now is a political movement aiming at establishing a classless society – one maybe where the “99%” decry the “inequality” represented by the “1%”, and begin the predative push to have them brought down to “our” level, and their un-equal privileges democratized… Forman, scarred by the crudeness of socialism’s full-bore frontal assault in Eastern Europe, can’t see it growing under his feet in the sophisticated West.