WE’RE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW…. To hear John McCain and Sarah Palin tell it, Barack Obama’s plan to cut taxes on middle-class families, and raise taxes on the very wealthy, is not only a bad idea, it’s socialism. As 11th-hour, desperation attacks go, it’s pretty weak, especially when a conservative Republican president is nationalizing banks and the financial industry.

But McCain’s error is actually worse than most of his more routine mistakes. For one thing, progressive taxation is as American as apple pie. For another, McCain’s take on progressive taxation seems to have “evolved” over time.

On the first point, the AP’s Charles Babbington has a very good piece today, explaining “the nation’s long tradition of redistributing huge amounts of wealth through tax-and-spending policies.” Babbington noted, “Placing a heavier burden on the wealthy has been a cornerstone of the federal income tax since its inception in 1913.”

McClatchy’s David Lightman and William Douglas had a similar item last night, noting, “Favoring higher tax rates for the wealthy than for the less fortunate isn’t socialism, and if it is, then the U.S. has been a socialist country for nearly a century, under both Democrats and Republicans.”

But the amusing part of all of this is the hypocrisy. McCain now seems to believe Obama’s tax policies were crafted by Karl Marx, but it was just a couple of personas ago when McCain thought Obama’s approach was the right one.

It’s well documented that McCain’s full-throated support of cuts for those in the top tax brackets represents something of a reversal since 2001, when he voted against Bush-backed tax slashes for top earners. “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief,” he wrote in a statement at the time.

But archived MSNBC videotape from 2000 further demonstrates how McCain’s tone has shifted on taxes and what constitutes socialism since the end of his last presidential race. Answering questions during a Hardball College Tour show in October 2000, McCain defended the progressive tax system when questioned by a town hall participant who warned that the high tax bracket of her father — a doctor — smacked of an inching towards “socialism and stuff.” McCain said that progressive tax systems are based on the fact that “we feel, obviously, that wealthy people can afford more.” He spelled out this response: “Here’s what I really believe, that when you are — reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.”

I guess McCain was for socialism before he was against it.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.