(MintPress) – In a recent political television advertisement, Hungarian-born billionaire Thomas Peterffy denounces what he says is a pattern by the United States of adopting socialist ideologies. His advertisement, paid for out of his own pocket, does not endorse either President Barack Obama or Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But the tone and message suggests that the policies implemented by Obama have caused more harm and fostered a culture increasingly reliant on handouts while vilifying big business.
“America’s wealth comes from the efforts of people striving for success,” Peterffy, who founded Interactive Brokers, says in the ad. “Take away their incentive with badmouthing success and you take away the wealth that helps us take care of the needy. Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer — but the poor will also be poorer. People will lose interest in really working hard and creating jobs.”
After Obama won the presidency in 2008, claims of a socialist agenda have run rampant – often stemming from the right. During the infancy and ultimate rise of the tea party, its founder, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, began introducing an alleged socialist agenda of Obama, something her right-leaning followers connected with.
During the Republican presidential debates, candidates connected with the message as well, as Bachmann was joined by Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich in suggesting Obama was trying to sway the economy to a more socialist-centric model. Arizona State University political scientist Terence Ball said the term was born out of necessity, as simply calling Obama a “Liberal” lost its punch.
“I grow weary of Obama and the Democrats being called socialist,” Ball told the Huffington Post. “If you talk to any real socialist, they disown them very, very quickly.”
In a 2010 poll conducted by Democracy Corps, 55 percent of respondents thought the word “socialist” described Obama with reasonable accuracy. But a Pew Research Center study may have uncovered an important trend of how socialism and favorability coalesce in America. Pew found that a generational divide exists, where the younger the poll respondents were, the more favorable they were to the tenets of socialism.
In the study, 49 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-29 had more positive feelings toward socialism; 43 percent said it was a negative thing. In the demographic of 30-49 year olds, 34 percent found it to be positive; 25 percent of 50-64 year olds did as well; while only 13 percent of those aged 65 or older saw it in good light.
Responding to the times
To make sense of the attitudes toward socialism in America, you only have to look as far as those who challenge its counterpart: Capitalism. Since the rise of the Occupy movement, one of the demonstration’s main tenants has been pushing back against the current capitalist state the economy currently relies on.
Erik Kain, a contributor to Forbes, argued that support for socialist models doesn’t mean that those who support Occupy want to see a complete overthrow of the county’s economic principals. Instead, reforming capitalism in America by blending in points of socialism is what the movement is calling for, he noted.
“Most of these protesters don’t want to upend the U.S. economy and replace it with some sort of socialist dystopia – they just want an economy that actually creates jobs, value, and a decent work place for the rest of America that isn’t living large despite its bad risks and too-big-to-fail failures,” Kain wrote.
It seems reasonable, however, that those involved with Occupy would take issue with the current state of the economy, as a large part of the movement’s demographics have been disproportionately affected by the poor jobs market. According to Statistic Brain, samples suggest that 68 percent of those involved with the Occupy movement are under the age of 44. Of those, 60.7 percent have a college degree. What that means is an inflated unemployment rate for graduates coming out of college – a large percentage of what makes up Occupy participants.
According to figures released in the spring by the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Department of Labor, 53 percent of recent college graduates are currently unemployed, underemployed or working part time at a job that does not require a college degree. In its findings, the Associated Press noted that recent graduates are just as likely to work as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.”
Despite the findings, that’s not to say there are not groups that would like to see a full implementation of socialism in America. Revolution, an international socialist youth organization, describes itself as anti-capitalist socialists that want to “abolish capitalism and replace it with a planned economy.” In a submitted statement sent by email to MintPress, the group said income inequality has led to an oppressed working class that holds less stake in America each passing day.
“Oppression exists under capitalism on the basis of race, sex, sexuality and age. But socialists base the struggle for change on the struggle of the working class because it’s the only class with the real interest and ability to abolish all forms of oppression,” the organization said. “The working class, because it lives by selling its labor, can, like no other group in society, stop the capitalists dead in their tracks.”
The ‘S-word’ and ‘C-word’
Socialism and communism: The two are seemingly married in today’s discussions of different economic platforms. Despite being separate but similar structural ideologies, Americans seemingly classify the two as one of the same. And if this video taken after this year’s vice presidential debate is any indicator of Americans’ understanding of the two systems, there is a lot to clarify.
In brief, the main tenets of socialism, according to Britannica, calls for public ownership or control of property, infrastructure and resources. It is a cooperative viewpoint that discourages against individualistic thinking. Communism, comparatively, is a form of socialism in that it “aims to replace private property and a profit-based economy with public ownership and communal control of at least the major means of production (e.g., mines, mills and factories) and the natural resources of a society.”
For much of America’s older generations today, however, the terms communism and socialism may stoke memories of U.S. involvement in the Cold War with Russia that launched during World War II. The sustained political and economic differences demonized communist and socialist thought, and went as far as former Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy conducting the likes of a witch hunt through Congress to identify people he thought were communist sympathizers.
Revolution said history’s leaders in oppressive places such as China tainted the foundations of how much of the world thinks about communism and socialism. In the mainstream media, the organization noted, socialism is rarely talked about favorably and certainly not mentioned as an alternative to the current state of capitalism.
“If you read the mainstream papers, then you probably have some idea of what you think socialism is: Socialism happened years ago under Labor governments, but only a few old men in cloth caps still believe in it,” Revolution said. “Or, socialism is this nice idea about equality that never worked. Or, socialism was a terrible one-party dictatorship, like the ones that used to exist in Eastern Europe, where you couldn’t speak your mind, and had to queue for ages just to get a few poor-quality products.”