Is Obama a Socialist? In 2012, Millions Went to the Dictionary to Find Out

Socialist President

On Monday night, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appeared on Fox News, where she told Sean Hannity that "Barack Obama is a socialist. He believes in socialism."

Palin's statement wasn't especially surprising; it's hardly the first time she's said that the president was a socialist, and she wasn't the first person to make the claim. For much of the past four years, critics from John McCain to Dick Morris to Rush Limbaugh have tried to tack the s-word on the President, claiming that Obamacare, the CARD Act, the Wall Street bailout and the fight over tax increases were all examples of creeping socialism.

Another thing that isn't particularly surprising: According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the two most looked-up words of 2012 were "socialism" and "capitalism," followed closely by a few other politically-charged terms: "democracy," "marriage" and "bigotry." For that matter, a few other terms seem to have migrated from the Washington circus to the dictionary's version of America's Top 40. Shortly after the vice presidential debate, "malarkey" managed to make the chart; since then, words like "bourgeois," "hypocrite," "insidious," "integrity" and "proselytize" have also made it onto the list of most-referenced terms.

Sounds like somebody's been watching C-Span.

The general public's confusion about the definitions of socialism and democracy is understandable; for the past few years, an army of befuddled commentators have tried to figure out what the President's critics mean when they call him a socialist. In July, Milos Forman, a director who grew up in a Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia, offered an explanation in The New York Times:

I'm not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory socialism was. It was not -- as Mr. Obama's detractors suggest -- merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled private enterprise: it was a spoils system that killed off everything, all in the name of "social justice."

Part of the problem, Forman argued, was that the president's critics confuse European-style social democracies, whose benign policies guarantee a fairly comprehensive social safety net, with brutal, Soviet-style totalitarianism.

Perhaps the best judge of Obama's alleged socialism would be a real, honest-to-Pete socialist. In 2009, Billy Wharton, editor of The Socialist magazine, rose to the task, stating that "Not only is [Obama] not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal." To explain why the president was, in his words, a "hedge-fund democrat," Wharton cited Obama's refusal to structurally change the financial system, his refusal to institute single-payer health care, and his aggressive foreign policies -- all of which would be grounds for kicking him out of the socialist club.

According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is "Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." Alternate definitions include a "society or group living in which there is no private property," and "a system ... in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state."

Claims of "wealth redistribution" and "class warfare" aside, it's worth noting that Obama's much-attacked health care plan is based around private enterprise -- not around government control of the means of production. It uses private insurers and private hospitals to handle the flow of medical care (and, not incidentally, those private institutions will reap a large share of the profits that are generated by a more widely-insured populace). For that matter, his proposed top income tax rate -- 39.5% on the highest income bracket -- is a fraction of Richard Nixon's top rate of 70% or Dwight Eisenhower's 92% rate.

To cite a few of Merriam Webster's top 25 terms from the last few days, the attacks on the president, while pragmatic (4) and dogmatic (12), are perhaps less than productive. Although it may be too much to ask for comradery (13) in Washington, a little more integrity (19) would not be out of place. For that matter, is it too much to ask that Obama's critics jettison "socialism" (14) in favor of a more accurate term?

Touche! (3)

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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David Dinsmore

So, no one in the comments section read thd article?

March 01 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's funny how liberals hold European Socialist countries up as examples. Don't they know those countries are broke?

December 09 2012 at 10:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama's not a socialist, he's a communist. His hope and change is turning us into the U.S.S.A.

December 09 2012 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to barikffaarik's comment

I stand corrected.

December 09 2012 at 3:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Robert & Lisa

He and his backers are Mexican Socialists. There the government officially owns all of the natural resources, but while the average Mexican makes less than a dollar an hour, the richest man in the world is a Mexican. Corruption is rampant and that is where we are heading.

December 09 2012 at 5:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Most Democrats are Socialists.

December 08 2012 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The answer is obvious. Yes, Obama is a Socialist. He believes in the redistribution of wealth.

December 08 2012 at 7:35 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Now let me see. Obama took over GMC, and how many banks who failed because of the dictates of the Community Reinvestment laws requiring 65% of the loans to be subprime loans made to deadbeats who had no intentions of repaying on the assumption that everyone should own a home? He is dictating the terms of the Obama Care insurance companies so everyone will have an insurance? Not let me see again. Was the tax rate under Eisenhower and under Nixon their tax or was it a tax that the majority, that just happened to be taxes the Dems passed years before. And by the by, Clinton threatened to veto the Glass-Stegall act if they touched the Community Reinvestment Act which in effect killed their effort to support more free market banking system. That sounds more like being just a little bit pregnant to me.

December 08 2012 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Socialism means public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. Obama has made a good start at Socialism. To bad the left is blind to the truth.

December 07 2012 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kristi Zellmer

Aaliyah. I agree that Cheryl`s remark is neat... on friday I bought a new Lotus Elan after I been earnin $7097 this past four weeks and in excess of $10k this past-munth. without a question it is the most-financially rewarding I've ever done. I began this six months/ago and immediately was bringing home at least $72 per-hour. I follow this website..

December 07 2012 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey you doochebag libs, GFYSELVES silly, ask Evan for help,well unless he is too busy extracting Barry's load from his nuttsack, press one for English and say two Allah Ackbars and put your bomb vests on,and wait for the Hope and Change command from Barry Soetoro.

December 07 2012 at 5:25 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply