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Who's Afraid Of Socialism?

Who's afraid of socialism? I'm talking here about the label, not the idea.

Conservatives have spent a lot of time calling President Obama a "socialist," for endorsing such heresies as higher taxes on the wealthy (as we've had for much of this country's history) and universal health insurance (which happens to exist in every developed country except ours). But is the Obama administration taking these attacks seriously? The fact that Obama called back the New York Times, after his interview, to clarify this point makes me wonder.

I'm not privy to their poll numbers, obviously, so perhaps they know something I don't. But I agree with other bloggers who've suggested the socialism charge probably doesn't have the same juice it used to have. The charge resonated a lot more a few decades ago, when large portions of the population could remember when socialism was a living, breathing political movement in this country. Nowadays, it's a pretty meaningless threat.

There's one other reason I think the socialism charge might not resonate. When conservatives accuse Obama of socialism, they're criticizing the policies he's pursuing to rescue the country from economic collapse. But implicit in that charge is that Obama at least doing something--and, no less important, that he's doing something big and new. Meanwhile, the Republicans are proposing, well, not much of anything--except some familiar old tax cuts. 

My read on public opinion is that people are realy hurting--that what they really crave is action. And, in the long run, they'll judge that action based on whether it helps, not what "ism" conservatives use to describe it.

--Jonathan Cohn