The Corner

Romney, Obama, and Socialism

The question of whether President Obama is, or should be called, a socialist came up in last night’s debate. The consensus seems to be that Romney played it smart by side-stepping the use of the “s” word. That’s too simple a take, I think.

This is what Romney actually said: “What President Obama is, is a big-spending liberal. And he takes his political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist-democrats in Europe. Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe. It’s not going to work here. I believe in America. I believe in the opportunity and in the freedom that is in America, opportunity and freedom. I believe in free enterprise and capitalism.”

Saying that Obama is a big-spending liberal who takes his political inspiration from European socialists strikes me as not at all far from calling Obama a socialist. And in the context of his answer, Romney’s emphasizing his own belief in free enterprise and capitalism clearly implies that Obama’s faith in those entities is somewhat less than complete. It’s a mark of where Obama has put us that the socialism question has not only been asked, but that claiming a president of the United States takes his inspiration from European socialists is now considered mild.

Romney’s questioner noted that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich have all called Obama and/or his policies socialist. It’s worth noting that even the more cautious Tim Pawlenty wrote in his campaign book: “Unfortunately for all of us, the current administration and Democrat-controlled Congress have led us further down the road of the socialist, liberal agenda than at any time in the history of this country.”

In fact, Romney himself in No Apology says, “It is an often remarked-upon irony that at a time when Europe is moving away from socialism and its many failures, President Obama is moving us toward that direction.” Alexander Burns of Politico has already pointed out that, despite Romney’s recent claim not to have used the word “socialist” to describe Obama, Romney’s assertion in No Apology that Obama is moving America toward European-style socialism is not much different. Romney implicitly relied upon the same ever-so-slight distinction in last night’s debate. Again, what’s interesting here is that people find the rhetorical difference all that significant.

Actually, Romney has gone much further along these lines. Burns seems to be referring to the original edition of No Apology. The more recent edition, however, contains a new introduction that’s positively filled with talk of socialism. In fact, in the expanded No Apology, Romney clearly implies that Obama and many other American liberals are socialists-in-all-but-name, and intentionally keep that fact quiet. Consider this passage:

Most liberals in America are smart enough not to call openly for replacing free enterprise with socialism — the politics of that are still not good. So instead, when they are in power, they take action that is consistent with socialism but call it by a more palatable name. In the two years following their 2008 ascendency to power, the actions that demonstrate their distrust in free enterprise are numerous:

Romney then lists a series of policies backed by the Obama administration and its supporters in Congress. So in his new introduction to No Apology, Romney clearly paints the Obama administration’s policies as “consistent with socialism” and strongly implies that the refusal to openly label those policies socialist is an instance of conscious dissembling on the part of Obama and his closest allies.

In the new edition of No Apology, Romney also harks back to the Joe the Plumber “spread the wealth around” incident. Speaking of the Obama administration’s policies, he then quotes an e-mail from a friend who says that he and his wife are thinking of moving to France: “If we’re going to live in a socialist country, it might as well be one with really good food.” Romney then quotes Margaret Thatcher’s famous quip: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” Yes, Romney finishes by saying that Obama favors an “extreme liberal agenda,” but Romney does so after having just explained that Obama’s extreme liberal agenda is effectively a form of socialism. Romney also ends his new introduction to No Apology with a few more points about liberals refusing to openly admit their statist and anti-free-enterprise views.

This is pretty serious stuff. It’s also entirely accurate, I think. Have a look at Charles Krauthammer’s excellent column today. He repeatedly calls Obama a committed “social democrat,” adding that Obama is a “leveler” and a “staunch believer in the redistributionist state.” Krauthammer dismisses Obama’s alleged centrism as a phony pose and says that the real class-warrior Obama has finally re-emerged. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve argued at book length that a careful look at Obama’s political background leads to the same conclusion.

The difference between “social democrat” and “socialist” doesn’t amount to much here, and in any case, Romney has already used the word socialist to describe Obama’s policies, in print.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the distinction between “socialist” and “social democrat” is meaningful. Even then, is it not remarkable that Krauthammer has repeatedly banged the president of the United States for being a “social democrat?” I can’t remember that kind of terminology being used in reference to a Democratic president in my lifetime — which goes back to Kennedy. What’s interesting is not that Romney failed to string together the words “Obama is a socialist” last night, but that Romney’s claim that the president of the United States is inspired by “socialist democrats” is at this point considered mild. In print, Romney’s already gone at least that far — and arguably a great deal farther.


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