Thanks to Paul Waldman's post earlier today, I have now read Stanley Kurtz's attack on President Obama's socialist agenda from The Corner, the blog of National Review. Kurtz's thesis begins with the indisputable fact that I have commended portions of Obama's program -- he cites my column in Wednesday's Post, in which I praised the administration's proposal to increase the tax credit for domestic manufacturing of green technology and advocated increased public investment in roads, rail, and broadband -- and that I am a publicly avowed democratic socialist, albeit one who promotes reformist ideas. He concludes by saying that Obama is just like me -- a sophisticated socialist working "to bring about a socialist transformation in the long term."
Jeesh -- where to begin? I could point out how often I -- and other liberals who don't come out of any socialist or social democratic tradition -- have criticized Obama for hewing too close to the Rubinomics Wall Street camp within the Democratic Party. I could point out how every socialist and social democratic party of the West, not to mention in many other parts of the world, has long since abandoned nationalization of the economy as part of their socialist vision.
But since the main thrust of Kurtz's post is guilt by association, I thought I'd dig up some lefty praise for a reformist president from a socialist far more prominent than I, writing of a president far more prominent than Obama. On Jan. 28, 1865, an exiled German writer presented an open letter to Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, Charles Francis Adams. It began:
We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.
And it ended:
The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendency for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.
The letter, of course, was written by Karl Marx. Throughout the Civil War, Marx had authored a series of articles that were not merely pro-abolitionist, but, as the war drove the Republicans more and more into the abolitionist camp, also pro-Republican and pro-Lincoln. For whatever it's worth, I've been a lot more critical of Obama than Marx ever was of Lincoln.
Does that mean that there were aspects of Marx's agenda and Lincoln's agenda that coincided? Of course there were. Does that mean that Lincoln was a Marxian socialist? Not exactly. Not quite. More precisely, no way in hell.
Of course, if Stanley Kurtz had been writing in 1865, he might have seen it differently.
-- Harold Meyerson