Real socialist on Obama: He's not like me

In an op-ed, the editor of Socialist magazine says charges against the president are overblown, and that he might not even be a liberal.


Alex Koppelman
March 16, 2009 9:05PM (UTC)

If you missed it, there's a fantastic op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post written by the kind of person who usually doesn't get much mainstream attention: Billy Wharton, the editor of Socialist magazine.

As Wharton writes, though, he and his fellow travelers -- to borrow a phrase -- have been in the spotlight more often than normal recently, as the old "socialist!" charge has been revived for use against President Obama and his economic policies. Wharton even got to be a guest on the Fox Business Network, where, he realized, "I was merely a cudgel to be wielded against the president -- a physical embodiment of guilt by association."

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What makes this op-ed particularly good, though, is that Wharton, who certainly has the perspective and credentials to do so, rightly counters the "socialist label," arguing that Obama's beliefs are nothing like his. Moreover, it's well-written, and a little self-deprecating, in a good way -- Wharton clearly has a sense of humor about the whole thing.

An excerpt:

The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not one of us. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat -- one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committed to free-market policies...

Yet the president remains "the world's best salesman of socialism," according to Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint encouraged supporters "to take to the streets to stop America's slide into socialism." Despite the fact that billions of dollars of public wealth are being transferred to private corporations, [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee still felt confident in proposing that "Lenin and Stalin would love" Obama's bank bailout plan.

Huckabee is clearly no socialist scholar, and I doubt that any of Obama's policies will someday appear in the annals of socialist history. The president has, however, been assigned the unenviable task of salvaging a capitalist system intent on devouring itself. The question is whether he can do so without addressing the deep inequalities that have become fundamental features of American society. So, President Obama, what I want to know is this: Can you lend legitimacy to a society in which 5 percent of the population controls 85 percent of the wealth? Can you sell a health-care reform package that will only end up enriching a private health insurance industry? Will you continue to favor military spending over infrastructure development and social services?

My guess is that the president will avoid these questions, further confirming that he is not a socialist except, perhaps, in the imaginations of an odd assortment of conservatives. Yet as the unemployment lines grow longer, the food pantries emptier and health care scarcer, socialism may be poised for a comeback in America. The doors of our "socialist cubby-hole" are open to anyone, including Obama. I encourage him to stop by for one of our monthly membership meetings. Be sure to arrive early to get a seat -- we're more popular than ever lately.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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