The right has so successfully demonized the mere word "socialism" that the vibrant periods of US history in which we have embraced and even generated socialist ideas are often overlooked. But for The Nation‘s John Nichols, who joined Political Affairs for a podcast on the rich history of socialism in the US, to blacklist socialist ideas from our discourse is to do a great disservice to our national political heritage.

In his new book, The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism, Nichols explains that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Paine are two of the nation’s leaders in socialist thought. After he wrote Common Sense, Paine’s thinking continued to evolve until he had essentially outlined the foundations for a social welfare state. Lincoln headed the Republican Party in its early days when some of its key founders were socialists, friends of Karl Marx.

“The notion that Barack Obama is somehow the face of contemporary socialism or that the people around him—who are actually in most cases very centrist, even at sometimes relatively conservative democrats—are somehow advancing a socialist agenda is absurd,” Nichols says.

If Obama had been operating on the model of mainstream international social democratic ideals he would not have responded to the financial crisis by using tax dollars to strengthen and reward the very institutions that pose the greatest threat to our economy and welfare, the banks.

Sara Jerving