Critics of Barack Obama often label him as a socialist, a term of derision in American politics. Socialism is viewed by many Americans as an extreme brand of liberalism. Accordingly, as a political tactic, Republicans try to tether Democrats to this label, just as Democrats try their best, equally unfairly, to tether Republicans to the most extreme forms of conservatism.
In the case of Barack Obama, not only is he not a socialist, but in many ways he is the antithesis of a socialist. In fact, self-avowed socialists are less than enchanted with Barack Obama and often protest his policies.
Contrary to popular belief, few economic systems are truly capitalist or socialist. Most are mixed economies with elements of both private enterprise and public ownership. Socialism is a system wherein the population of a nation controls the means of production, not private individuals. There are many socialist elements in the U.S. including public beaches, public transportation, and public parks. Concomitantly, there are numerous capitalist elements, as evidenced by the millions of active businesses operating in the U.S.
An example of a leader who came to office and swung the ideological pendulum toward Socialism was French President Francois Mitterrand who assumed office in 1981. He called his domestic legislative program "the rupture with capitalism." The altarpiece of the Mitterrand agenda was the nationalization of 38 French banks.
Barack Obama has done nothing to move the ideological pendulum in the direction of socialism. In fact, he has been a tribune of private industry, often saving private businesses from bankruptcy. By contrast, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, by establishing Social Security in 1933, and Lyndon B. Johnson, by making Medicare the law of the land in 1965, swung the ideological pendulum in the direction of Socialism.
In his first year in office, Barack Obama authorized $80 billion from the Troubled Relief Assets Funds to loan to General Motors and Chrysler to keep them out of bankruptcy. The result is that two Fortune 500 companies benefited directly from Obama's actions. A socialist would have submitted legislation to the U.S. Congress, proposing to nationalize the nation's automobile industry, putting its ownership into public hands.
One could argue that the bailout was "crony capitalism" in that the two automobile companies, endowed with highly compensated lobbyists, received the loan while many other companies went bankrupt. Shoring up private companies is not socialism. In fact, it is the antithesis of socialism.
One year later, Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. The act requires every American to have health insurance. This act does not nationalize the healthcare industry, but instead provides government subsidies to private insurance companies. In effect, the nation's health care industry received about 31 million new customers courtesy of Uncle Sam. Furthermore, the legislation does not eliminate the partial anti-trust exemption that the industry benefits from. In effect, it allows healthcare organizations to operate similar to monopolies in the area of consolidation.
A socialist would have introduced legislation to nationalize the American healthcare industry, effectively eliminating the nation's private health insurance market. Americans would lose the option of purchasing health insurance on the private market, and Medicare would be extended to every American. All Americans would have full dental and medical insurance provided to them by the federal government.
Ironically, Obama's plan is very similar to the one offered by Republican President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. Nixon's plan, like Obama's plan, was a comprehensive Health Insurance Reform Program which would mandate that all Americans have health insurance, with the federal government subsidizing those who could not afford it. Nixon said in his 1974 State of the Union Address: "The time is at hand to bring comprehensive, high quality health care within the reach of every American." Ironically again, the Democratically controlled U.S. Congress did not move on Nixon's plan, arguing that it would be a boon to the insurance industry.
If Obama were truly a Socialist, one would think that actual Socialists would be singing his praises. In fact, the opposite is true. Brian Patrick Moore was the presidential nominee of the Socialist Party USA in 2008. He proudly wears the Socialist label and gets offended when he hears Obama being called a socialist. For Moore, Obama is "an insult to socialism." Moore is one of Obama's most vociferous critics. Moore calls Obama "a corporate lackey owned by interest groups" and says that Obama "supports programs that benefit the status quo and protects the powerful capitalist system."
It is quite evident that private corporations have benefited from the Obama presidency. Alternatively, under a socialist system, these corporations would be nationalized. In reality, Obama's policies are the antithesis of socialism. If one is insistent on labeling Barack Obama, perhaps former U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) comes the closest in terms of accuracy. He declares that Obama is not a socialist but a "corporatist." Paul maintains that Obama takes "care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country." That may be rhetorical hyperbole, but the larger point is that rather than working to nationalize the American economy, Obama has ministered to the needs of private corporations, providing them with support and capital.
Not only is Barack Obama not a socialist, he is, in many respects, the antithesis of the ideology of socialism.