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Is Obama a Socialist? A Socialist Weighs in


According to a Democracy Corps poll released over the summer, a majority of likely voters believe that the word "socialist" is a fair way to describe President Obama. The word is often used by the president's harshest critics, and not just those on the fringe: In March, Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele complained that the president was pushing a "radical socialist health care 'reform' experiment." You can buy an "Obama is a socialist" bumper sticker.

So what does an actual socialist think about the idea that Mr. Obama deserves the label?

Not much.

Billy Wharton, the 41-year-old co-chair of the Socialist Party USA, said in an interview that the president's agenda is nothing like the vision that his group espouses for the country.

Start with employment: As the government announced today, the unemployment rate currently stands at 9.6 percent. Under socialism, he said, everyone has a right to a job - which means that the unemployment rate would, essentially, be zero. If the private sector didn't provide enough jobs, Wharton said, a socialist government would create jobs to fill the gap.

Wharton pointed to the bank bailout - passed under President Bush but supported by President Obama - as an example of where socialist and Obama agendas differ. "We would have used that money to create a national jobs system," he said, calling for a "system of cooperatives that would be run by workers themselves."

Then there's health care: Wharton's Socialist Party supports the idea of a single-payer health care system in which the health care companies would be "abolished." The bill passed under the Obama administration didn't even come close to such a system - even the "public option," the government-run health care plan, did not make it into the bill. The bill that passed actually ended up creating more customers for health care companies thanks to the individual mandate.

"We really see the corporation as being the most undemocratic influence in capitalist society," said Wharton, who believes "regular people" should be able to decide what gets produced and consumed.

Wharton, who penned a Washington Post op-ed on this topic last year, said the use of the word socialist by opponents of the president "taps into a long tradition of paranoia in American politics," most notably in the 1950s. He complains of a "hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism" in the current debate over the president.

He also suggested the use of the word as an insult has become less effective as more Americans have grown up in a post-Cold War era.

"People under the age of 25 weren't educated in a Cold War period," he said. "So when they hear the word socialism, they don't automatically draw a negative conclusion."

As for the president, Wharton says socialists see him as a "hedge-fund Democrat" - someone unwilling to take what they see as necessary steps like nationalizing banks or keeping public money from flowing to private corporations. Instead of supporting programs like Social Security and Medicare, he says, Mr. Obama is doing the bidding of the wealthiest Americans.

And for those still insist the president is his ideological brother?

"I'd invite them to ask a real socialist what a socialist is," says Wharton.

Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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