There was a long period of time when Americans were filled with fear and loathing of anything that smacked even faintly of Communism. Writers and artists were blackballed, careers were made and ruined (or both, in McCarthy's case), spies were executed... then the Soviet Union collapsed and we could finally direct our national paranoia to something besides Communism. For a while it was terrorists, but just recently it's socialism, which is also evil, judging by the bullshit making the rounds, such as the Facebook poll asking "Do you think Obama is leading America down the road to Socialism?" The phrasing of the question obviously implies that socialism is a bad and scary thing.
My opinion? I don't advocate a totally socialist system for our country. I'm all for preserving property rights (e.g., ownership of land, houses, crops, MP3 files, etc.). The problem is when you consider your money to be your exclusive property, and to what extent you're willing to allow the government to "own" some of your "property" via taxation. But it really pisses me off when people use the word in the same tone of voice as they would "state-sponsored child molestation" or "commie pinko fags." (Or even "liberal" -- remember when Dukakis was sneered at as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU"?)
Why is socialism a dirty word? And do most people even know what it means? When people hear the dreaded word "socialism," apparently they think of Karl Marx, state ownership of property and the means of production, proletarian revolution, etc. I'm guess it's the GM and banking bailouts that red-blooded Americans are objecting to. But as far as oversight of business is concerned, it cuts both ways. Big business wants to operate in totally free markets with minimum government interference (e.g., regulation), but then when they fuck up and ask for a government bailout -- which I don't think they should get, by the way -- they better shut the hell up about how onerous socialist oversight and regulation constricts free enterprise. I can't imagine that the bailout objections are coming from so-called working stiffs, since that's the type of people (assembly line workers, etc.) who are being helped.
If the recent "socialism" scare stems from distaste for health care reform, I repeat: shut up. Guess what? We already have socialized medicine -- Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP (a.k.a. children's Medicaid), the Veterans Administration -- as well as other programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (welfare), Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, unemployment insurance, Social Security payments to retirees and the disabled, etc. What's so bad? Higher taxes to fund universal health care? Try living in Europe, where you'd pay even more -- but you'd get a hell of a lot more back, both as an individual and more importantly as a society (no man is an island, etc.).
There was an interesting piece recently in the New York Times magazine about an American expat working in Holland. His initial reaction to his 52 percent federal income tax bite was as you'd expect: pissed. Until he saw the upsides. Also, he notes that in the U.S., while you pay a smaller income tax percentage, you also pay state and local taxes as well as higher real estate taxes, so it's not even that much more out of pocket in total. you have higher income taxes but the state pays (via those higher taxes) for EVERYONE'S medical care, education, child care, elder care, etc.; private enterprise, but plenty of regulation to counterbalance the natural human tendencies toward greed and excess. It's a simple question of fairness.
Here in the U.S. of A., people scream about expansion of government oversight or services, but just as loudly about the notion of cutting any of the those programs listed above or even subjecting them to means testing (in the case of Social Security). Because they're our American birthright! If the government (in particular a Democrat-controlled government) expands services as Obama et al are presumably considering, it's branded as socialist and BAD BAD BAD. Of course this doesn't apply if it's Republicans who expand services, like Bush boosting the prescription drug benefit for seniors. Gaaaagh... it's Friday afternoon and I'm pulling the plug on this damn computer!