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Mark Joseph Headshot

President Obama Should Embrace the Socialist Label

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The political talk show moments that I find the most hilarious recently have been when Republican leaders are confronted with past statements made by either them or other Republicans accusing President Obama of being a Socialist. They hem and haw and stammer and beck-pedal and more often than not decide to back down as though it would be somehow out of the bounds of thoughtful political discourse to call him a Socialist when pressed. It's funny because it's patently obvious that they think he is, but are too timid to own their thoughts in public. So let me help them: Barack Obama is a Socialist and I can prove it.

Although it's usually impossible to prove or disprove a modifier like Socialist, thanks to the presence of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it is possible in at least one body, the United States Senate, to objectively identify who is and isn't a Socialist by noting where they are in relation to him. Sanders isn't one of those timid politicians who runs from the label, but is a self-described Socialist, proud of his heritage and beliefs which he clearly articulates. As such, any politician who is to the political Left of Sanders is by definition a Socialist and has earned the moniker. By that calculation, according to National Journal's 2007 poll of members of Congress there were four Socialists in the United States Senate that year: Sanders, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden and Sheldon Whitehouse.

What's so terrible about being a Socialist? It's a perfectly respectable political philosophy and the last time I checked it wasn't against the law or anything and Sanders seems to be doing just fine. So why do President Obama and his Republican critics act as though it's such a dirty word?

If Barack Obama wants to be a transformational President like Ronald Reagan, inspiring a new generation of Americans to believe as he does, he would be wise to own the label and change the public perception of it rather than running from it. And the President's Republican critics should get over their timidity and engage in the kind of full-throated public discourse that debates the issues on the merits and calls him what he, objectively, is.

As for the rest of us in the vast mainstream of American life who aren't blindly beholden to any political ideologies, we'll continue to be believe in a sort of hybrid of Socialism and Capitalism, celebrating a political and economic system that allows people to get rich even as we aggressively encourage the wealthy among us to give away much of that wealth to charities and churches in order to help the less fortunate among us all.