First, the Communists: Socialism is "a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government."
Next, the Republicans: "The project is a good deal for the state."
What's the project? It's the state of Wisconsin using tax dollars to build a sports arena for the billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, and its main proponent is Governor Scott Walker, otherwise the leading Republican true believer for president.
It's not that Gov. Walker is the only socialist in America, Republican or Democrat. Mike Bloomberg, George Pataki, the Texas of George Bush and Rick Perry, there's a long list of Republican socialists, when it comes to professional sports.
Aside from their philosophical shortcomings, these projects don't work and are in fact bad deals for taxpayers. As leading academic and sports economist Andrew Zimbalist puts it, "studies have found there is no statistically positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development."
That's kind. The billions of tax dollars for Yankee Stadium are a case history in waste and the political power of sports teams (click if you want the gory details). And there are hundreds of such deals across the country.
Merits aside, the Walker initiative presents a test for the right, especially the Tea Party. They've been somewhat consistent. When Georgia Republicans led the way to a subsidy of the Atlanta Braves, Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley called it "Nonsense and appalling hypocrisy and arrogance. Whether it's Republicans, Democrats, whatever, what's going on here is that the chamber of commerce types run the county, and the politicians are doing their bidding." And the Koch Brothers are appalled: ""Funding for sports arenas should not be the responsibility of the state and the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin." And even some Wisconsin Republican State Senators sense the problem: "Why $220 million when the billionaire owners are putting in $150 million?"
But Gov. Walker has been perhaps the most outspoken Republican about the need for clear principled actions, on social policy and economic policy. When you hold yourself to a higher standard, small inconsistencies are magnified. If Gov. Walker is to be the candidate of the true believers, the free market, Ayn Rand, and austerity bugs, he's got some explaining to do.
Republicans and Tea Partyers have had little trouble calling Obama a "socialist" for what are largely traditional welfare state capitalist programs, like Obamacare. What's going on is something of a hypocrisy test. If socialism is bad, if Obamacare is bad, if income redistribution is bad, well, how can two hundred million in corporate subsidies be good?
And does anybody care? This is why we have primary elections. Personalities and strategies and skills are tested, but so are ideas. Gov. Walker is actually running a fairly high risk. He's crafted a persona that is fresh and new and has been rushed to the head of the pack. But his support isn't deep and a charge of economic hypocrisy and corporate cronyism could hit home with true believer voters.
Obama, by the way, has jumped onto the sports as socialism issue and proposed an end to federal tax subsidies for sports facilities. He's absolutely right as a matter of economic policies. We can't get our roads fixed, but we can subsidize the richest and most successful corporations in America. I don't think so.
Let's see how this thing unfolds, and how Gov. Walker handles it. It will not go away if only because each time the Wisconsin legislature holds a hearing or passes a bill there will be additional news stories. A good debate about socialism is just what Iowa needs.