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Is Obama A Socialist? Was Bush?

Jonah Goldberg catches some liberals ridiculing the Republican Party for accusing the Obama administration of socialism, and other liberals admiringly describing Obama's policies as socialism:

When the question is aimed at them like an accusation, liberals roll their eyes at such "paranoia." They say Obama is merely reviving "New Deal economics" to "save" or "reform" capitalism. But liberals themselves have long seen this approach as the best way to incrementally bring about a European-style, social democratic welfare state.

The trick here is that there are really two meanings to "socialism." One is basically any political reform designed to increase the political or economic power of the non-rich. The 1912 Socialist party platform called for a graduated income tax, direct election of Senators, old age insurance, etc. The second definition is more comprehensive -- total or near-total government control of the economy, including public ownership of the means of production and near-absolute equality of income.

By the first definition, both parties are socialist. By the second definition, neither party is. Which is to say, there's no defintion of socialism according to which Democrats would be including but Republicans would not.

Goldberg mudies the question a bit by throwing in the notion of a European "social democratic welfare state." But this concept is still only incrementally different than the American status quo. So, yes, the GOP hyperventilation about Obama's socialism is pretty silly.

--Jonathan Chait