President Obama was asked by New York Times reporters last week, "Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?" His first answer:
You know, let's take a look at the budget – the answer would be no.
The Times followed up, hilariously:
Is there anything wrong with saying, 'Yes'?
According to the Washington Times, Obama responded like so:
"Let's just take a look at what we've done," Obama said, ticking off efforts his administration has made to stabilize the economy. But he acknowledged that, as he told Joe the Plumber, he plans to try to spread the wealth around.
"If you look on the revenue side what we're proposing, what we're looking at is essentially to go back to the tax rates that existed during the 1990s when, as I recall, rich people were doing very well. In fact everybody was doing very well…. We said that we'd give a tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans. That's exactly what we have done."
Unhappy with this garbled response, the president later called back reporters to clarify. What he said, I think, is telling:
I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn't on my watch. And it wasn't on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement -– the prescription drug plan -- without a source of funding. And so I think it's important just to note when you start hearing folks throw these words around that we've actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word 'socialist' around can't say the same." […] Well, I just think it's clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people if that coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. The fact that we've had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis.
Obama will get no argument from me when it comes to Bush's disaster socialism. But this new he-did-it-too argument does run counter to another, Hendrik Hertzberg-applauded narrative that Obama has been running with since before inauguration: That his administration's economic policies represents a sharp break from the policies of his predecessor. As people like Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson have begun to point out, Obama is running high on the contradiction-meter.