Obama is a Socialist? Another “Known-Unknown”

Ever desperate, John McCain has lately taken up an attempt to re-brand Barack Obama from blue to red. Obama, it seems, is a stealth “socialist.” Or, so says Sarah Palin, or Joe the Plumber, or John McCain, or was that Bill O’Reilly? Remember now we are talking about a political crowd dedicated to “preemptive war” – they know something when they do not see it. Or, as Don Rumsfeld so eloquently termed it, Barack Obama being a socialist is a “known unknown.”

Unfortunately for the McCain campaign, a large chunk of the American electorate, despite eight years of presidential idiocy, has managed to retain some amount of rational reasoning. By any reasonable measure Obama is far from a socialist. Let’s look at three.


In his Chicago days, Obama was close to a socialist position on the issue of healthcare. He was an early supporter of House Resolution 676, a bill introduced by Representative John Conyers which would create a single-payer national healthcare system. This bill would effectively eliminate the private health insurance industry. While many socialists support this proposal, we also call for a fully socialized healthcare system where both the healthcare program and facilities are publicly owned.

Obama the presidential candidate has slid far from his earlier position. The wheels for this move were greased by nearly $12 million in campaign contributions from the healthcare industry. He now advocates a pro-business reform for the healthcare industry which offers meager public support while unlocking untapped market sources through a system of child-insurance mandates.

War & Peace

Socialists rightly emphasize the military industrial complex and the social philosophy of militarism as important drains on public funds and the national psyche. The US spends an estimated $1.4 trillion on the military through expenditures on current and past military campaigns. This amounts to 54% of the entire public budget. US military spending is equal to the sum total of the next 15 countries combined.

Obama has offered little on this subject. He has made an blanket claim to end the occupation of Iraq but has simultaneously offered overtures about increased military activity in Afghanistan. This has been coupled with irresponsible comments about aggression towards Pakistan. Conversely, Socialist Party USA presidential candidate Brian Moore has not only pledged to immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan but also to make a 50% cut in the military budget. Obama has offered no similar proposals.


Obama’s economic package has vacillated between a continuation of the Clinton regime where fiscal policy was run by the Wall Street bankers and wholly insufficient stimulus proposals. The Clinton-style lower taxes, balanced fiscal budget and cuts in social services is wildly out of touch with an economy desperate for stimulus to prevent a total free-fall. On the other hand, moderate liberal proposals such as simply reversing Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and offering minor tweaks to spending just will not cut it.

If socialists understand anything economically it is how to deal with capitalist-created recessions. The state must become an engine for economic stimulus to revive an increasingly dormant economy. This can be partially achieved by state-guarantees of necessary items such as healthcare, water, education and housing. A far more complex challenge comes from the need to rebuilding productive capacity in the US. This can be done in democratic and green ways through socialist-based worker-cooperatives teamed with strategic nationalizations. Do not expect Obama – as either candidate or president – to embrace such radical, yet increasingly necessary, ideas.

So, we see that in the land of “knowns” Obama is far from a socialist. On a good day he is a mild liberal reformer but on most he is closer to a Clinton corporate-directed centrist. This will not prevent the McCain-Palin crew from conducting their best Senator McCarthy routine. This has been a tried and true part of American politics. However, this year there may be a few road bumps. We are four generations removed from McCarthyism. There is also no Soviet Union to poke fun at. And finally, and most importantly, America needs a socialist peace plan, a socialist healthcare plan and a socialist economic stimulus plan. Such things are available but will not be delivered by Barack Obama.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: whartonbilly@gmail.com. Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Poilu said on October 25th, 2008 at 10:57am #

    [FYI]: Only loosely related, but fully indicative of just how low the Right will go in its smear tactics:

    “Police Declare ‘Mutilation’ of McCain Worker in Pittsburgh a Hoax — After Media Raise Doubts”
    Editor & Publisher

    ‘ It had drawn wide local and national–even political attention, with some of the candidates for president/vice president weighing in or even calling — but now the story has fallen apart. Police in Pittsburgh have declared it all a hoax and are charging the McCain worker at the center of the episode.

    ‘ It started yesterday afternoon with Matt Drudge screaming at the top of his site in red type — but no siren — that a Pittsburgh campaign worker for McCain, age 20, had been viciously attacked and the letter “B” carved into her face, presumably by a Barack Obama fan. Her name, it soon emerged, was Ashley Todd and she had come to Pittsburgh from College Station, Texas, to help out. …’

  2. liz burbank said on October 25th, 2008 at 11:40am #

    Warton misses the defining nature of, and the fundamental difference between socialism & capitalism: which class has state power. The working and oppressed class cannot come to power to change the political-economy inherent to the nature of capitalism without overthrowing it and growing socialism from the ground up. After the armed seizure of power, we must continue the revolution in every sphere of society to uproot the material and ideological roots of the predatory system so thoroughly embedded in us via state, school, religion and culture.

    The future is in our hands, in the hands of the peoples worldwide, and every step of the way we must proceed from the perspective of, and toward the goal of, internationalist unity against our common imperialist-zionist enemies.

  3. John Hatch said on October 25th, 2008 at 3:46pm #

    Capitalism has worked so well, let’s continue to villify socialism while giving even more billions to the banksters.

  4. sDee said on October 25th, 2008 at 7:11pm #

    nice to see everyone getting comfortable with a socialist president because it looks we may actually have the real thing