so·cial·ism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the of production and distribution of goods
That definition of socialism provided by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary seems relatively simple and anyone with a fifth grade knowledge of American history can recognize it’s not a traditional American political philosophy.
But according to HBO’s Bill Maher, it’s a philosophy Americans could learn to embrace – that is with the help of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the embattled former head of the International Monetary Fund who was recently indicted by a grand jury on charges of criminal sexual assault, attempted rape and sexual abuse. On his Friday night show on HBO, Maher explained that though what Strauss-Kahn did reason was upsetting, it could also be instructive.
“[I] was reading all week on blogs, people are upset of course, not only for the right reasons, that this IMF guy DSK, did what he did but also because he’s apparently a socialist, you know,” Maher said. “And not like Obama. He’s an actual socialist – not like a fake socialist. And they’re saying, ‘Well, he was, say, staying in a $3,000-a-night hotel suite, what a hypocrite.’”
Those standing to learn from this scandal are, according to Maher, so-called “teabaggers,” a euphemism employed by many on the left to describe Tea Party movement activists, and perhaps Americans more broadly who have a misunderstanding of what socialists do.
“This could be a teaching moment, could it not for the teabaggers?” Maher declared. “Or maybe all of America – who don’t understand that socialism doesn’t mean we’re going to come to your house and make you work on a collective farm. You know, in Europe, socialism is just another political party and it doesn’t mean that we’re against making a profit. It just means that government takes over certain things like hospitals and prisons, and the military, schools – and things that should not be run for profit.”
Gillian Tett, the U.S. managing editor for the Financial Times, explained it was even simpler than that because in some cases government knows better than markets, which makes socialism viable.
“As the European on the panel, I was going to say it’s simpler than that,” Tett said. “Socialism is really about recognizing that there are limits to what the market can do. The market is very useful, at times it works very well, but it doesn’t always work.”
MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, host of “The Dylan Ratigan Show,” had a slightly different take. He speculated that socialism wasn’t misunderstood, but rather its definition had been hijacked.
“But it goes to the magic trick of arithmetic and fact, the same way they spin arithmetic and fact, they redefine words – socialism, we redefine capitalism,” Ratigan said. “All of these actual words that have real meaning. They’re actual things. They’re real actual basic words just like two plus two actually equals four and as soon as we’ve lifted all that –”
But Maher suggested his panel was overthinking things and explained the misunderstanding of socialism as something of a branding problem.
“You’re giving it more credit than it’s due,” Maher said. “It’s not like people here even give a definition to socialism. They just hear it and it’s evil and bad. It’s communism. They think it’s communism and they’re going to come and take…”