Is Barack Obama a Socialist?

“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

It is common among President Obama’s critics to say that he is a Socialist. The evidence for this claim rests upon his administration’s expansion of government spending, as well as Obama’s infamous line to the so-called “Joe the Plumber” that he would like to “spread the wealth around.” This, combined with the standard Democratic party platform of welfare and general reliance on the Federal government, forms the basis for their case.

And, in the very broadest sense, they’re right. Obama’s philosophy seems to me to be, at its least redistributionist, one of Utilitarianism, which in my opinion is inevitably Socialistic in practice if not in theory. To say otherwise requires a narrow definition of Socialism. Nor does the fact that his critics themselves have in mind a particular brand of Socialism that may not in fact be Obama’s refute their basic claim.

 Now, it is true that most of the people charging this do not understand the definition under which Obama can most certainly be described as a Socialist. If they did, the charge would lose much of its sting. Indeed, much of the cries of “Socialism” seem to simultaneously suggest Obama is a Marxist or, more broadly, a Communist. But these are not the same as Socialism, and it is inaccurate to describe Obama’s policies as such.

Among Obama’s supporters, it is common to point out that expansions of the Federal government also occurred under George W.Bush, and that there were no outcries of Socialism then. This, they say, proves the case that the accusations of Socialism are in fact simply attempts to scare people. In my view, it actually shows a truth that neither side would likely care to admit: that Bush was also a socialist, though of a different flavor than Obama.

The easiest way to describe the difference between each man’s socialism is to say that Obama’s is an international Socialism, whereas Bush’s was National Socialism. Regrettably, describing it thus will inevitably lead to associations with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), often abbreviated as “Nazi”. Understand that I have absolutely no intention of describing Bush (or Obama) as a Nazi. Their brands of socialism are nothing like Nazism. A better term might be “American-exceptionalist Socialism”.

Bush’s socialism was also closely intertwined with his professed Christian faith. Much of the government’s power under Bush was focused on carrying out tasks that were associated with the Christian right. And these policies are as Socialist as any others which seek to use government power to impose a philosophy on the people of a country.

Likewise, it must also be said that while the redistribution policies may not have increased much under Bush, they did not cease altogether. Likewise, the tax-cuts he implemented notwithstanding, Bush did not fundamentally change the socialistic nature of the U.S. government, and, in his own way, enhanced it.

Finally, Bush initiated the use of military force in an effort that is, all but technically, a war. War is a fundamentally Socialist undertaking. For a successful war effort to be made, the power of the State must be increased. That Bush and his Administration appears to have been unwilling to admit this fact does not disprove it. Furthermore, Bush’s attempt at waging a “capitalistic” war through the use of private security contractors and the effort to avoid actually paying for it proves the Socialistic nature of War by its very failure. And, in what is shaping up to be the defining issue of the administration, it expanded the power of the government to encroach on what were hitherto considered rights of private citizens in the interests of defending National Security. (The “greater good” that is at the core of all Socialist thought.)

The true Capitalism, of, say, Ayn Rand, is a philosophy which tells its adherents to enrich themselves through production of goods and trade. This is a philosophy to which war is indeed alien. A successful war is waged only by making the Individual sacrifice for the sake of the Team. Similarly, no True Capitalist would engage in “faith-based initiatives” and foreign aid, as Bush did.

Hence, Bush’s brand of Socialism differed from Obama’s in that (1) It placed more emphasis on the use of governmental power for the purposes of advancing the religious beliefs prevalent in the administration and (2) it encouraged the United States to act unilaterally in advancing its interests.

Nor was Bush’s Socialism a fundamental shift in the American philosophy of government. The American government has been, at least since FDR, a socialist one. So too have been all subsequent Presidents, except perhaps Ronald Reagan. And even if Reagan was indeed a Capitalist, he did not change the nature of the government.

Now, it is true that, generally speaking, Republicans are less like stereotypical Socialists then Democrats. The Republicans obviously prefer to cut taxes, and profess to believe in smaller government, less government intervention in matters of business. On the surface, at least, it would seem that they are right to claim they are not economically socialist like the Democrats.

Yet, there are still divides in the party, even in the matter of business. Many Republicans support the criminalization of drugs such as Marijuana. This not a pro-business move. Indeed, it means the use of tax dollars to suppress a substance that people take for pleasure. One can imagine the outcry if Democrats proposed similar measures for, say, soda or alcoholic beverages. The libertarian wing of the party may object; but the fact remains that many Republicans support this anti-capitalistic behavior.

Thus, while it is justifiable to claim that Obama is a socialist, it is nonetheless very remiss to pretend that his philosophy is a “new” or “alien” one to the way America has for some time behaved. He may be more of an internationalist than has been previously seen, but this itself is an unremarkable development. The trend of globalization to some extent necessitates that existing socialistic codes evolve to account for this.

In closing, I must note that government inherently attracts Socialists to it, and the power granted to those in government must, I think, encourage the Socialistic tendencies in all people. Individualists do not seek office. “All world-improvers are Socialists” wrote Spengler. I have always interpreted this comment to mean not that all who actually do improve the world are socialists, but rather that all who believe themselves to know what is best for all people are socialists. And it is just such people, whether from the Republican party or the Democratic party, who seek office.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?