Asked whether Barack Obama was a socialist—as Texas Governor Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have all agreed is most certain—former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tried to talk his way around the most predictable question of Thursday night’s Fox News/Google debate.
But he more or less “went there.”
“What President Obama is, is a big-spending liberal,” Romney replied. “He takes his political inspiration from Europe and from the socialist-democrats in Europe. Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe. It’s not going to work here.”
A few minutes later, Gingrich went all in, decrying “Obama’s socialist policies.”
So there you have it. Obama’s a socialist, right? Wrong.
The president rejects the title, explicitly.
When he began talking deficit reduction last summer—with a proposal for a little bit of tax fairness combined with a suggestion that he was open to negotiations with regard to the future of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—Obama went out of his way to explain that his was not “some wild-eyed socialist position.”
Agreed. Obama is no socialist.
Indeed, he has made the point again and again that he rejects the socialist and social-democratic solutions that have worked in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Britain and Canada. He has rejected “socialized medicine” in favor of a healthcare reform plan that requires uninsured Americans to buy policies from for-profit insurance companies. He has refused to get tough on Wall Street and the big banks, allowing “too big to fail” private institutions to threaten the US economy. He has chosen not to respond to the unemployment crisis with the sort of jobs programs that Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented during the New Deal era, and that Hubert Humphrey made central to his advocacy as a senator and presidential candidate in the 1960s and 1970s.
So Obama is right. He is no socialist.
But his determination to distance himself from socialist ideas and socialist thinkers also distances him from past Democratic presidents and party leaders—as well as past Republican presidents and party leaders.
Socialism is not a foreign concept. Socialist ideas have been a part of the American discourse and American policymaking for the better part of two centuries. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 by, among others, followers of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier and radical land reformers who proudly promoted the ideal of redistribution of the common wealth. Horace Greeley employed Karl Marx as the European correspondent for the great newspaper of the Republican movement, the New York Tribune. And Abraham Lincoln employed Marx’s editor and friend Charles Dana as a presidential assistant.
Seventy-five years later, Franklin Roosevelt consulted with the Socialist Party presidential candidate, Norman Thomas, before assuming the presidency and launching the New Deal. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced that, had her husband not been a candidate in 1932, she would have voted for Thomas on the Socialist ticket.