Asking whether President Obama is a socialist is a loaded question. It implies that Obama does not favor capitalism, which many consider responsible for America’s economic success. This question has been part of the political dialog since he announced his candidacy, since he had the most liberal voting record in the Senate, even exceeding that of Bernie Sanders, a self-identifying socialist.
Socialism is one of the 3 big ‘ism’s, Communism, Capitalism, and Socialism, that the West has considered as models for organizing society’s political and economic activities. Socialism is seen as a response to the fact that capitalism concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a minority. But even the ever-helpful Wikipedia says socialism is hard to pin down. For example, it is unclear whether socialists favor nationalizing the means of production or just controlling them within the framework of a market economy. What is clear is that socialists think something other than a free-market economy should control the means of production, the resulting goods and services, or both.
Across Europe, Social Democratic parties have held significant political power since World War II and have implemented socialist policies that “spread the wealth around,” to use Obama’s answer to Joe the Plumber during the campaign. Though basically market economies, European countries generally have much higher levels of taxation than the US, some form of national health care, a broad safety net, and much greater government control of business including restrictions on hiring and firing. Europe also has slower growth than the US, higher unemployment, and a society where the birthrate does not equal the replacement rate – most European countries are shrinking as a result. Some feel that Obama is trying to implement similar policies in the US which could have similar effects.
In one of my favorite opinion journals, Commentary, Jonah Goldberg addresses the question of whether Obama is a socialist. He points out that while socialism is an imprecise term, in 14 months, Obama has used TARP funds to purchase 2 of the 3 American car companies, passed health care legislation that greatly increases federal control over 1/6th of the economy, and is pushing other legislation that brings more of the economy under federal control and/or increased regulation.
Goldberg calls Obama a neosocialist and sums up that term’s meaning and how Obama is governing in this quote:
In much the same way that neoconservatives accepted a realistic and limited role for the government, Obama tolerates a limited and realistic role for the market: its wealth is necessary for the continuation and expansion of the welfare state and social justice. While neoconservatism erred on the side of trusting the nongovernmental sphere—mediating institutions like markets, civil society, and the family—neosocialism gives the benefit of the doubt to government.
Obama’s instinct is to vilify corporations and business as out to screw the public, their customers. In his speech to Wall Street on Friday, he said he believes in the free market but “free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it.” And his view of health insurers is that “insurance companies freely ration health care based on who’s sick and who’s healthy.” This demonstrates either monumental ignorance of capitalism and how free markets work or sheer demagoguery. Corporations never become more successful by screwing their customers. That is how you lose customers, unless you have monopoly power. The insured person whose benefits are denied will complain to his employer who will complain to the insurer they patronize and either the insurer will make good or they’ll lose business.
Myth No. 3: Government is more fair and reliable than business.
“Remember the last time you went into Starbucks, and then remember the last time you went into the DMV to get your license,” Medved said. “Where did you get better treated? And it’s not because the barista is some kind of idealist or humanitarian. She wants a tip. She wants you to come back to the Starbucks … .”
With a nebulous term like socialism, the question of whether Obama is a socialist can be debated forever. I prefer to call him a statist, someone seeking greater government control over the economy, which is indisputable. Speaking with the experience of someone who has done business with the federal government, that is not good for the economy.