John McCain and Sarah Palin are using up the alphabet trying to characterize Barack Obama. Along the way Obama’s opponents have used the L word (liberal), the U-word (un-American), the E-word (elitist), and the T- word (terrorist). Always lurking in the background were the M-word (Muslim), the A-word, (Arab), and the B-word (Black). So far this alphabet soup has not been able to slow Obama down, so now they have pulled out the S-word (socialist). Apparently, Barack Obama is a socialist because he told Joe the Plumber that we need to “spread the wealth around.” What a horrible thought that in a time when (according to a recent NPR report) the gap between the richest one percent and the poorest 10% of the population is greater than its ever been in our nation’s history. What a terrible thing to suggest that we might actually redistribute that wealth to the other 99%.

Because of my criticisms of capitalism, I too have sometimes been called a socialist. In a society that tends to think in polarizing dualities I guess if a person isn’t for unregulated, free market capitalism, that makes him a socialist. The fact is I am not against free enterprise or against rewarding the entrepreneurial spirit, nor am I for full and complete government intervention. The bottom line for me is that basic needs like housing, education, health care, and job opportunities are equally available to all. I am against systems that allow people with power to abuse, with information to mislead, and with wealth to horde. I am for socially responsible capitalism, capitalism with a conscience, if you will. I am for companies that make products not simply because they sell, but because they are good for the environment, uplifting to the human spirit, and edifying for the community and the world. I am for a system that doesn’t just reward the creative business leader, outstanding athlete, and hardworking professional, but also the dedicated teacher, caring childcare worker, compassionate social worker, and tireless community leader. I am for a culture that does not simply say it is pro-life and pro-family, but creates the economic and social conditions that allows those families to thrive. I am for a society that places value on people’s dignity and dedicates its resources to creating healthy neighborhoods. And since the lure of profit is so overpowering for many political and business leaders, I am for regulations that keep them in line.

While I personally have been a beneficiary of the privilege, education and opportunity that capitalism provides, I don’t see those benefits being distributed equitably. Instead as the data shows, I see the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class shrinking. I see CEO’s who jump out with golden parachutes, and unscrupulous bankers who get away with fraud. I see a legal system that protects those who can pay, and punishes those who can’t. I see a public school system that is based on a funding formula that only increases the disparity between rich and poor. I see companies that produce wasteful products in the name of convenience, and people who consume more than their share of energy simply because they can afford it. Capitalism has produced great wealth for some, but in its ascent it has run roughshod over many people along the way. Just ask the descendants of African slaves, Native Americans , Mexican immigrants, and white factory workers how capitalism has been used to exploit them and to justify the destruction of their cultures and communities.

For me the health of a society and its economy is not found in the Dow Jones, the S&P 500, the GNP or the GDP. To me the health of a society is determined by how well it takes care of its most vulnerable: its children, its elderly, its poor, its down and out. The health of the society is measured in the quantity of people who enjoy a basic quality of life. On that score, we aren’t cutting it, no matter how well the stock market is doing or how advanced our health care system. If that makes me a socialist, then I accept the label.