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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.

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The Congressional Oversight Panel, which lawmakers created in 2008 to review the regulation of financial markets, detailed in a recent report how it became impossible for AIG to find $75 billion in private funding to save itself as the financial markets crumbled that fall.

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The takeover of an ailing company whose collapse might ruin the US economy is not socialism, says Van Gosse, a Socialist and historian at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "Let's just say AIG was profitable, and you thought it was better if it was in public hands. That would be socialistic."

To Dr. Gosse, the most socialistic move by the Obama administration to date is the massive reorganization of student lending. In late March, as part of the health-care overhaul, Congress voted to force out commercial lenders. The government was guaranteeing loans made by private companies who turned a profit on the loans.

As for the assertion that Obama is pushing through policies that redistribute income from rich to poor, to some extent that is happening, says economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com.

About half the growth in personal income during the Obama presidency has come from an increase in government payments for unemployment insurance, Social Security, and welfare, he says.

"The economic recovery act increased those transfer payments," says Mr. Zandi, noting that, regardless, the government would pay out more in jobless benefits and welfare during a recession.

Tax rates for the wealthy may also rise: Obama has said he will allow the Bush income-tax cuts to expire. The highest marginal tax rate would climb to 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent. The new health-care law, moreover, raises taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year.

"Does that make it socialistic?" asks Zandi, who supported Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election. "It's not what I would define as socialism, but there is certainly a redistributional aspect to all this. The changes are taking place at the margins; there is not a sea change."

Probably the last president to be tagged as a socialist was Franklin Roosevelt, who took office during the Great Depression.

"FDR tried all kinds of things and was accused of all kinds of things," says Tom Cronin, a presidential scholar at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. "But in retrospect, he is someone who helped capitalism survive."

He suspects that Obama and his appointees are firm believers in the free-market system. But, he adds, "It's a free country, and people can say what they want about their president."

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