American Culture

PSA: “Communism” means something. Dictionary doesn’t say, “see also: Obama.”

Looks like someone wasn’t invited

Name calling–It’s all the rage. Unfortunately, people like to call other people names without first learning what the name means. If it were stupid names like spleendorper (which in some non-existent urban sense could mean “super awesome person,” but likely never will) and it were used incorrectly, nobody that matters would care. Nonsense word gets made into more nonsense. No biggie.

But if I call you something that’s an actual word and I’m just horribly mistaken in my word choice, not only am I wrong but, if it catches on, I damage the language. A word with meaning loses meaning. If that keeps happening, nothing means anything.

Now, I respect that people have some real, serious issues with the way this current president is handling affairs. I’m one of them. I think he makes a mockery of the rule of law, of the last vestiges of our so-called democracy, and if I’m less than generous about his character, he probably even makes a Bloody Mary that sucks. I might even occasionally stoop to calling him names, possibly even because of his supposed suckage at bartending.

What I won’t call him is “communist.”


Because it’s a word that has a well developed meaning already. It doesn’t need passionate and well-intended people misusing it because they took someone else at face value when the word was used but haven’t at least read a Wikipedia article about communism before redefining it just because our plutocrat-loving Defender of Wall Street does things we don’t like. There’s a funny feature of communism…something about state ownership of the means of production.

Cynical me, I take a look at the headlines and see a relative handful of private interests not only owning the most massive and profitable of our means of production, but those same private interests have an unconscionably huge influence over government, so much so that it effectively drowns out the interests of the people. One might almost think those incredibly wealthy private interests own the government, not the other way around.

There’s a word for that, even if my rule of thumb definition is overly simplistic: fascism.

Even more aptly, this president shows telling signs of neoliberalism, which is a hell of a lot closer to libertarianism (but not in a good way) than it is to anything remotely communist or even socialist. For that matter, when trying to figure out what nasty word to pin on President Obama, if one looks at his current position on Syria and who his most ardent backers are on military action, he seems to be having an uncomfortable flirtation with neoconservatism.

If only he’d take a page from Anthony Wiener and keep his flirtations to sexting.

For a different perspective on what President Obama is, take a look at those with whom he surrounds himself in the halls of power.

Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States

John Kerry, Secretary of State

Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense

Eric Holder, Attorney General
Neoliberal (tenuous?)

Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior
Neoliberal? Maybe by default. It’s a matter of perspective. Is she just a rubber stamp for the existing bureaucracy? Did she roll over on fracking, or did that come naturally?

Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
I’ll go out on a limb here and at least suggest neoliberal sensibilities. Consider the criticisms raised by the Organic Consumers Association in contrast to support from huge industry concerns. I might not be so far out on the limb, though.
See also: New Democrat

Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce
A 1%er’s 1%er
Neoliberal? Almost certainly.

Thomas Perez, Secretary of Labor
Neoliberal? I don’t think so. Part of the problem? Maybe. Policy-wise, he seems to be one of the only two good guys in the cabinet.

On the other hand, while the North American Congress on Latin America isn’t critical of Perez directly, they do have this to say:

These high-level appointments have created a facade of inclusion even as the Obama administration has maintained an immigration enforcement apparatus that systematically uses coercion and racial profiling to control the flow of Mexican and Latino migrant labor.

Given that the article frames the immigration debate in neoliberal and hegemonic terms, Perez might indeed be fighting the good fight, but becomes party to a far greater evil by taking his part in the “facade of inclusion.” I think if he’s guilty of anything, it’s of being a pawn.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
New Democrat

Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Mortgage fraud neoliberal tool

Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation
I had a hard time finding anything negative about Foxx other than a slim resume for DOT. Then I glommed onto Charlotte’s banking claim to fame. It was only a short search after that to locate Foxx mouthing off as a big banking apologist. Neoliberal, if only in training.

Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy

Other than being a bit disturbed by his fossil fuel friendly embrace of Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which seems more than a touch denialist when it comes to industrial climate disruption, I’m not seeing anything shocking about Moniz. For being such a high-tech field, any Energy Secretary was bound to have some degree of industry connection, and honestly, I’d just as soon see one with a nuclear background as not. It’s also too soon to tell. We’ll have to wait and see how generous he is with billion dollar government loan guarantees and who gets them to get a clearer picture.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
If this guy thinks expanding charter schools counts as education reform or that standardized test performance is a good criterion on which to judge teacher performance, I can only conclude he is part of the corporatist “Dumb ‘Em Down Real Good” push to create a malleable, low-information workforce bereft of critical thinking skills.

Neoliberal through and through.

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
First things first, major props to Gen. Shinseki for his distinguished service and for being right where Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were so wrong. Apart from military contractor ties cited in the Wikipedia article, Gen. Shinseki appears to be squeaky clean. He deserves applause for his strong leadership at the VA.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security
New Democrat

News of her upcoming departure has not yet been followed by an announcement of her successor.

Is my use of the neoliberal designation perhaps overly glib? Maybe, maybe not. I think it would be tremendously difficult to ascertain with any certainty a disavowal of neoliberal policies among the cadre listed above. What you won’t find is that the president has surrounded himself with folks from either this list of American communists or even from this list of American socialists. One might think that our borscht-eating, Mao-worshiping communist socialist seekrit Mooslim in Chief would have one of the godless horde behind every desk in DC by now if he were actually communist. Failing that, even one communist in his cabinet might serve well enough as the exception that proves the rule, right? But none?

The thing is, call names all you like if that’s your thing. I do my share, after all. Hell, I called Shaun Donovan a tool. For the sake of all that has meaning, I just ask that we please use the right names. While you’re hunting communists under the bed, the bloodsuckers in the closet are draining us all dry.


Image credit: purpleslog @ Licensed under Creative Commons.

3 replies »

  1. It is blind partisanship and an ingrained fear of communism that causes people to mislabel Obama in this way. It is the worst thing they can think to call him. There is absolutely no effort to explain how this word fits as an insult. I’ll agree that the word is losing its meaning, as have other epithets, through overuse in appropriate ways. Almost every epithet started out with an actual meaning, which is only rarely used now. Maybe we need a new word for communism that still retains its actual meaning.

  2. My dad used to love pointing out how the dictionary definition of fascism changed during the Reagan-Bush years from the state + corporation control definition to something that sounds less like the modern US. Thanks for the reminder.