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Is Obama a socialist? What does the evidence say?

Some critics cite government 'takeover' of business and 'giveaways' to the poor as signs that President Obama is a socialist. Members of the Socialist Party are among those who disagree.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / July 1, 2010

A woman held an anti-Obama sign at a ‘tea party’ event held at Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, last summer. Tea partyers are working against further government expansion and bailouts.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters/File

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The assertion is getting louder: President Obama is a socialist, a wealth-redistributing wolf in Democrat's clothing gnawing at America's entrepreneurial spirit.

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It's easy to buy "Obama is a socialist" bumper stickers on the Internet. Political commentator Dick Morris said, in a column circulated on GOPUSA.com, that conservatives are "enraged at Barack Obama's socialism and radicalism." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich titled his new book "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine."

So, is Mr. Obama trying to form The Socialist Republic of America? Or are the accusations mainly a political weapon, meant to stick Obama with a label that is poison to many voters and thus make him a one-term president?

As is often the case in politics, the answer is in the eye of the beholder. Some people feel genuinely certain that Obama aims to make America into a workers' paradise – a land where government-appointed pay czars tell Wall Street tycoons how much they can make and where the feds take large ownership positions in companies like General Motors (GM) and insurance giant American International Group (AIG). Even if Obama is not a card-carrying Socialist, they say, he displays a disdain of the private sector.

"You start with his apparent acceptance that there are major segments of the US economy for which it is reasonable for the US government to own or manage," says Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation policy analyst, "tea party" movement leader, and former speechwriter for President Bush. "Look at the auto industry, mortgage industry, the health-care industry to some extent, and, obviously, banking."

Others just as assuredly refute the idea that government involvement in failing industries defines a president as socialist – or that wealth is being redistributed from the Forbes 500 richest Americans to the nation's "Joe the plumbers."

What Mr. Johns, Mr. Gingrich, and others brandishing the "socialist" s-word are really complaining of is a return to the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who advocated vigorous government involvement in the economy, from regulation to pump priming, says labor historian Peter Rachleff of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

"Socialism suggests getting rid of capitalism altogether," says Dr. Rachleff. "Mr. Obama is not within a million miles of an ideology like that."

For what it's worth, socialists deny that Obama is one of them – and even seem a bit insulted by the suggestion.

"I have been making a living telling people Obama is not a socialist," says Frank Llewellyn, national director of the Democratic Socialists of America. "It's frustrating to see people using our brand to criticize programs that have nothing to do with our brand and are not even working."

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