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Political Physics: Is It Socialism to Care About “The Least of These?”


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland
Image Credit: Mohammad A. Hamama

Image Credit: Mohammad A. Hamama

A question has been plaguing me lately that I’d like to pose to the Fierce and Nerdy audience.  Why is it socialist to care about others?  Now this article may be a bit of a cross between Political Physics and Philosophical Physics, but this has really been on my mind and I think this is the right audience to explore the thought further.

Around this country, conversations around health care have hit a fevered pitch and conservatives are arguing that President Obama is a leftist who is trying to bring socialism to the United States.  The debate has even reached Facebook.

The other day I, like many others, posted this statement as my status: Monique thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, post this as your status for the rest of the day. In the interest of full disclosure, neither my mother nor brother has health insurance.  And my brother, who had a brain tumor removed years ago, now suffers from seizures and debilitating migraines, and is buried under insurmountable medical debt.  So you can guess where I stand on public health care. 

But anyway, my cousin-in-law Lee who has a great sense of humor posted the following as his status on Facebook the very next day: Lee believes that no one should die because of zombies if they cannot afford a shotgun, or even just a machete. And, no one should be turned into a vampire if they get bit by one, or a werewolf for that matter. If you agree, post this as your status for the rest of the day.

Now I tried to be mad, because health care is a very serious topic for me, but this was too damn funny.  But then a debate ensured between two of his friends about Lee’s topic that caught my eye:

A guy named John responded: Must be nice to make fun of the less fortunate. Just hope you don’t end up as one of them. And then a woman named Jenny responded to him saying: No, john, I won’t … I have this whole constitution thingie that grants me the opportunity to make sure I’m NOT less fortunate … you know, through hard work and responsibility … and oh, calm down … the nanny state’s still wholly in place in case you’re unwilling or unable to do so … jeez, no sense of humor on those democrats! ;) [sic].

Now I am not sure what John’s political affiliation is, but clearly what Jenny was insinuating was that he had to be a Democrat.  I mean only Democrats are pro-public healthcare right?  Only Democrats care about taking care of the less fortunate right?  And perhaps if you are less fortunate that is a choice you made because you did not work hard enough. 


What is America’s greatest moral failure?  That was one of the questions pastor Rick Warren posed to President Obama during the campaign at a Saddleback Civil Forum.  In response to the question, Obama said – citing a well-known Bible verse – that America’s greatest moral failure has been that we don’t abide by Jesus’ words: “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”  Obama went on to identify the “the least of Jesus’ brothers” as the victims of poverty, racism and sexism.

Now, there are some biblical scholars who will argue that President Obama is using the words out of context and in actuality when Matthew talks about “the least of Jesus’ brothers” he is actually referring to the people who will be persecuted for their faith in Christ, not the victims of poverty, racism and sexism.  However, I have heard many pastors point to that passage when speaking to the need to help others. In fact, it is a principle that I have seen Christians and non-Christians swear by, and it is the foundation principle for many nonprofit and advocacy organizations (even secular ones). Yet, when we talk about things like public health care all of a sudden this notion of helping “the least of these” becomes inherently socialist. 

So again, I pose this question: Is it socialist to care about others?

I looked up “socialism” in the Webster’s Online Dictionary and the first definition says that socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods [or services].”

By that definition, I’d imagine that many people would argue that a public health care option is socialist.  But my question is broader than that. 

I know that according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, in 2005 46.6 percent of Americans were uninsured (and yes I concede that the number includes undocumented immigrants).  For me, that is simply unacceptable and we need to do something about it.  Any even if Jenny is right and the uninsured are just not working hard enough, I still do not think that is acceptable.  

I know that according to Homeless Children in America, 1 in 50 children in the United States are homeless.  For me, that is simply unacceptable and we need to do something about it. 

I know that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America, including 12.9 million children.  For me, that is simply unacceptable and we need to do something about it.

Then again, I am like Obama and the thousands of organizations – both Christian and secular – who believe that we have a moral responsibility to take care of “the least of these” in our society. 

On the flip side, I do not want to live in a Marxist or communist regime.  I do not want my salary to be added into a government pot and be divided equally among everyone in the populous.  And I do not want the government to pay for every little thing in my life. 

So can you not want to live in a socialist regime while also wanting the government to fill the gaps that the private sector has left open as it relates to the uninsured, the homeless, the poor, etc.?  Or am I trying to have my cake and eat it to?  Am I in denial?  Is it just inherently socialist to care about others?

What do you think?

And while your sounding off in the comments, think about this.  I was talking to my friend Latoya last week about the challenge she is having with some of her Christian friends.  She is pro-health care and has found herself in intense debates with some of her friends who are firmly against a public health care option.  Here is my question:  Staying on the topic of “the least of these,” how does the Republican Party reconcile the Christian conservative values, including helping the “least of these” with the anti government-intervention including the notion of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps?”

Again, what do you think?