An Op Ed–Memoir Style–About Socialism

I was hoping that Newsweek would want to take this article for “My Turn,” but since the election is tomorrow and the time will have passed for the relevance of this essay, I offer it here to you.  What good is a blog if you can’t self-publish?

I love when old categories are rearranged as a new paradigm emerges.  I think we are in the midst of experiencing such a transformation in our political and social life in this country.  What do you think?

Socialism or Family Values?

By Shirley H. Showalter

I know a thing or two about family values, thrift, and faith. I grew up Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the 1950’s.

Here are some lessons I learned from my parents: Grant everyone equal dignity. The wealthiest and poorest members of the congregation are equal in the sight of God. The most seemingly impoverished person might be the richest in wisdom and love.

Here are more lessons: If people are hurting, come to their aid. When death occurs, be there – and take a cake, flowers from the garden, or a card. After a medical emergency, take up a collection. A disaster? Send a team of carpenters, painters, and cooks. Give away clothing your children have outgrown. Turn rags into rugs. Use the butter wrapper to grease the cookie sheet. When you move out of a house, whether you rented or owned it, shine the windows, the walls and the floors and leave a blessing for the next occupant. Help each other. Love each other.

My mother used to require us five siblings to sing a song when there was friction or fretting or complaining: “When your work is my work and our work is God’s work, when we all work together, how happy we’ll be.” I hated that song and would groan every time she started it. But usually by the second verse, I would join in, perhaps with some mocking extra treble. But my mother knew what she was doing. The principles she trilled into me in youth have not departed from me.

I am reminded of these values during the election campaign, especially since socialism has become the focus. Joe the Plumber objected to Barack Obama’s economic plan because Obama proposes to increase taxes on those who make more than $250,000 a year. The phrase “spreading the wealth” has brought out a refrain of “socialism!” Sarah Palin has taken to calling her opponent “Obama the Wealth Spreader.”

The idea for graduated tax rates was implemented during the Woodrow Wilson administration when the income tax was first introduced in 1913 through the sixteenth amendment to the Constitution. Most people were unaffected by the first taxes imposed, and the rates were seven times higher at the top than they were at the bottom. Since then, the principle of a graduated, or progressive, income tax has been a staple of American tax policy. Yes, such a tax does “spread the wealth,” redistributing income from the highest income earners to the lowest through social programs. But this redistribution into social programs is a relatively small part of the federal budget, much of which goes to the military.

I encourage Americans of all political persuasions to look past inaccurate labels like socialism and ask the following questions about all candidate. Does this candidate play well with others? Does he or she have a compassionate heart and a clear mind? Does the candidate know how to put a whole team together, roll up his or her sleeves, and get the work done? Could this potential leader be trusted with the lives of fellow citizens?

One of my colleagues has a phrase that helps me when I disagree with someone–“assume integrity.” I want to assume, despite the shrill tone, attack ads and robocalls of the last weeks of this campaign, that America is longing for basic decency and community spirit. We are the kind of people who created public libraries, a national park system, and a national capital full of museums totally supported by tax dollars. Locally, we unite to help each other when someone’s house burns down, another needs dialysis, or children show up in school hatless and coatless during the winter.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, Sr. have both said they are willing to pay more taxes and support a heavier tax burden on the very rich. The coming Social Security crisis could be averted if those earning more than $102,000 (the current ceiling) would be taxed on their total earned income. And capital gains taxes are only 15 percent, lower than they have been in previous administrations. They could be increased too.

If Warren Buffet can sing “when we all work together,” so can I. I’m no billionaire, but I could end up paying more taxes if all of the above increases take place. I was socialized to call this community, and I think our country craves it. Help each other. Love each other.

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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