Is Obama a Socialist?
After World War II, the anti-communist crusade led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the broader tensions of the Cold War relegated organized socialism in the U.S. to the political margins. The term "creeping socialism" emerged, used by conservatives to denigrate various policy proposals and initiatives that involved a role for the government.
After the Cold War's end, use of "socialist" as a political insult also receded. Markowitz believes its recent revival relates directly to the animosity toward Obama that is shared by a certain segment of Americans.
"There's this hysterical outbreak of abuse to prove that the president is not American, that he's a secret Muslim, that policies that past Republican administrations would have adopted are part of a socialist, communist conspiracy," Markowitz said.
Due in part to the multiple definitions of socialism, some conservatives wrestle with semantics as they seek appropriate terms for Obama's ideology.
"Instinctively, the president is a collectivist," said Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and now a conservative commentator. "My fundamental belief is that he wants to transform our market economy into a government-controlled economy — not far afield from European-style socialism."
Steven Hayward, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of a two-volume biography of Ronald Reagan, said Obama is not a socialist under the strict definitions of that term — central economic planning and government control of production.
"However, socialism has a secondary meaning that is harder to explain — government regulations, supervision of the private economy," Hayward said. "The problem now with Obama is, `What does he really think?"'
Ezra Klein, a blogger and columnist for The Washington Post, tackled the issue recently in a posting headlined "Barack Obama: Worst. Socialist. Ever."
Klein cited data indicating that the government sector of the economy shrank during the past three years.
"If President Obama is truly a socialist," Klein wrote, "then he's not a very good one."