Obama and the Socialist Canard

The president is no left-wing extremist


Since he's under attack for allegedly being a covert socialist, you would think President Obama would get some love from the overt socialists. But they sound about as enamored of him as Sean Hannity is.

"Obama's a market guy!" fumed Frank Llewellyn, head of the Democratic Socialists of America, in an interview with Politics Daily. "He's not any kind of socialist at all. He's not challenging the power of corporations. The banking reforms that have been suggested are not particularly far-reaching. … I mean it's laugh out loud, really."

In the past, Republicans had a damning word for their opponents. In 1988, George H.W. Bush denounced Democrat Michael Dukakis, as a "liberal." Four years later, he portrayed Bill Clinton as a "tax-and-spend liberal." In 2004, John Kerry was tarred as a "rich, liberal elitist." But such is the intensity of disgust with Obama that his conservative critics had to escalate to a new epithet.

To this sort of mind, Llewellyn's denial only confirms that socialists are sneaky as well as sinister. What better way to advance their agenda than by pretending to disavow the leader who is faithfully implementing it?

As it happens, Obama has found other ways to hide his Marxist mindset—such as surrounding himself with known supporters of capitalism. Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, has long been detested on the left for his support of free trade and financial deregulation.

Christina Romer, one of three members of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, has done academic research that, according to The Wall Street Journal, "has even been cited by Republicans as supporting the idea that tax increases negatively impact economic output."

Obama's chief economic adviser during the campaign was Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago, long a beacon of free-market thinking. Goolsbee, now a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, is also one of the rare Democratic economists who has defended subprime mortgages against liberal detractors.

Obama, it's true, has done some things that involve the enlargement of government—bailing out banks, taking over General Motors, proposing a "public option" for health insurance, and spending $787 billion to stimulate the economy.

But it was George W. Bush, a conservative hero, who tossed a federal lifeline to financial institutions and automakers, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also signed the 2008 stimulus package, which was billed as a tax cut but really was nothing more than a handout of $168 billion the government didn't have.

Obama did take over GM after it went bankrupt, but Summers said in a speech last summer that "we will work to transfer government holdings into private hands as soon as practicable." He declared, "Only if government is no longer a major presence in any of the companies well before a decade from now will it have fully succeeded"—only, that is, if it moves away from socialism.

It's easy to forget, Goolsbee told me, that the stimulus originated not from an ideological zeal to abolish capitalism but the perceived need to avert a depression. The point, he stresses, was to revive the economic activity that the private sector depends on—a policy in the tradition of legendary economist John Maynard Keynes.

Keynesianism, whatever its flaws, is not an indicator of socialist convictions. It is accepted to one degree or another not only by liberal economists but by many conservative ones.

Critics of the public insurance option, which include me, shouldn't exaggerate its likely importance. One notable feature of Obama's approach to health care is that it retains our system of private insurance. An authentic socialist would, at the very least, support a universal system of government-provided insurance.

Of course, some people say Obama's real goal is to use a government-run plan to destroy private insurers, paving the way for a Canadian-style system. But if that's true, why has he indicated he could give up the public option to get other reforms passed?

In the end, Obama is more likely to benefit than suffer from this smear. The critics hope to persuade the public that he is a dangerous extremist far removed from the desires of the average person. When conservatives like Mike Huckabee claim that "Lenin and Stalin would love" the administration's policies, though, they sound like 3-year-olds crying about monsters under the bed.

There is plenty to oppose in what Obama wants to do. But can we not be stupid about it?