They count on their constituency being ignorant, and not actually knowing what Socialism means. It's just a word they associate with the evil empire of the Soviet Union. Or rather, the repeated hammering of the public consciousness with 'Communism' and 'Socialism' has hooked that word up in some people's brain with the lever that triggers the fear response.
Maybe it's politically expedient. But it doesn't stop it from being dishonest, and fucking stupid, to boot. No surprise there. But maybe it's time to examine some facts about 'socialism' in light of these attacks on Obama.
The fundamental concept of socialism is that the people -- i.e. us, should hold common ownership of what Marx called 'the means of production.' Marx was around for the Industrial Revolution and was reacting to the horrible lives that workers lived in that system, balanced against the obscene wealth of those who owned the factories.
But where Socialism caught on in a big way -- i.e. the Soviet Union, China, and sundry smaller countries -- it didn't work so well. It turns out that having a proprietary interest in an economic undertaking made people do a better job most of the time. A shoe factory where there's no owner, only managers with no personal stake it its success, and a workforce that gets paid no matter how badly they did their job, ends up making shitty shoes.
There was also the problem that Socialism and Communism were used by tyrants as a mask they put on to push everyone around, no different than kings or queens.
On the other hand, Capitalism seems to have been remarkably successful at improving lives. Having to compete for business, as one of it's side effects, makes Doing A Good Job a reasonable strategy.
At the same time, workers still need protection from owners, which is how labor unions came about. Labor and Capital, each fighting for their own interests, could balance the needs of workers and the needs of business. Not a perfect system but one that worked pretty well for nearly a century. The rise of Organized Labor took the wind out of any true revolutionary Socialist movement in the United States. Workers could get what they need without overthrowing the government.
But while Socialism might be dead as a pure form of government, Socialist tendencies were not. In the United States programs like Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, etc are in essence Socialist. It's a modified version of the Socialist ideal -- instead of all workers holding everything in common, we've chosen areas like care for the elderly and ill on as jobs for which we hold collective responsibility.
Even rock-ribbed Republicans normally won't go after those programs, which, if they had the courage of their convictions, should be targets for dismantling. But you saw them grow a little spine during the Bush Administration, when they tried to privatize Social Security. If they'd succeeded, they could have potentially lost trillions of dollars in the recent unpleasantness, but never mind -- it was an ideological effort, not a practical one, with the side benefit of enriching the people who would handle the fire hose of capital being diverted from Social Security into the financial markets.
But that didn't happen, thankfully. Instead, because they could find no other solution to the current economic clusterfuck, they did what is the most Socialist thing possible -- nationalizing the banks. That action alone is enough to peg John McCain and Sarah Palin's full-o-shit meter. But there is a bigger issue at work here that needs to be addressed.
The real problem is this: We already live in a Socialist country, but it's the wrong kind of socialism. We have redistribution of wealth, but it's not a downward redistribution, it's an upwards concentration. Corporations (and by extension their shareholders) get billions of dollars of subsidies and tax breaks from the government. We have lived through a series of tax cuts that reward the rich disproportionally. The wages of people who actually provide goods and services through their labor have gone down, while the incomes of the wealthy have gone up.
And we have two wars going on, which transfers obscene quantities of money from we the people to arms dealers and government contractors, with little effective oversight, and many instances of fraud and abuse.
So what we've ended up with is an inversion of the principle of socialism -- instead of managing the common wealth of the nation for the common good, we've allowed a kleptocracy to replace our normal system of government -- the common wealth of the country is being transferred to those who need it least.
Even worse, for a capitalist country, we've not had real capitalism. Ever. Real capitalism would mean that businesses would rise and fall on their merits. That hasn't been the case, and not just because of government bail outs of various industries that fucked themselves up. Capitalists have been continually gaming the system, using campaign contributions and lobbyists to push Congress into enacting laws that favor their business.
A perfect example of this is laws that artifically preserve an unnecessary layer of middlemen in the liquor industry. John McCain is a direct beneficiary of these laws, which allows his wife's Beer Distribution business to continue. Without those laws, which were set up as 'choke points' for alcohol distribution in the wake of Prohibition, grocery stores and other businesses that sell alcohol would be free to negotiate directly with producers, and Cindy McCain's cash cow would be reduced to nothing more than another trucking company. And beer would be cheaper! Who can argue with that as a goal?
Which all points to an inescapable conclusion: John McCain and Sarah Palin are talking out their asses about Barack Obama's 'socialist ideas.' They don't want Obama to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share towards universal health care and education. Instead what they want is this: to continue the status quo, which is a Dickensian system for transfering wealth from the people who actually do the work of this country to those who need it the least. And they're doing it by manipulating what the television pundits call 'low information voters' to vote against their own economic best interest.