October 13th, 2008
04:38 PM ET

What right wingers mean when they call Obama a "socialist"

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/23/art.obama.mccain.split.jpg]Adam Serwer
Writing Fellow, The American Prospect

Right-wing attempts to paint Barack Obama as a socialist aren't just disingenuous. They're rooted in a history of conservative smears against black leaders.

On Saturday, Georgia Congressman John Lewis went nuclear on John McCain, releasing a statement that seemed to compare McCain to segregationist George Wallace. "George Wallace never threw a bomb," Lewis wrote. "He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights." The civil rights icon continued, "Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama."

Lewis accused McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin of "sowing the seeds of hatred and division." He was referring to the angry tone of recent McCain rallies, where cries of "kill him" and "off with his head" have made many people anxious about the potential for violence against the Democratic nominee.

It's no wonder that the tone at McCain rallies remind Lewis of the bad old days. In recent months, conservatives have sounded increasingly retro with their attempts to paint Obama as a socialist or communist. In some ways, this accusation is typical far-right boilerplate. Obama certainly isn't the first Democrat running for president to be accused of communist sympathies. And as usual, the accusations are rarely linked to policy specifics. But the difference with Obama is that, in the eyes of the right, it's not just his political affiliation that implicates him as a socialist. It's his ethnic background.

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Editor's Note: Adam Serwer is a writing fellow at The American Prospect and recent graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also blogs at Jack and Jill Politics under the pseudonym dnA and has written for The Village Voice and the Daily News.

Filed under: Andy Serwer • Barack Obama • John McCain • Raw Politics
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Kristopher Pierson

    "Barack Husein Obama!!! How can his supporters complain about his middle name being used. That is his real name. But they want to suppress it to cover up his real persona." -Frances

    That fact that you think that his name would define him in some way is exactly the reason they are using it. It is not covered up but there is a reason that they are using the name; mainly to paint him as dangerously unamerican. Introductory speakers at Obama rallies do not speak about McCain as John Sidney McCain. If you believe that Obama is anti-american and anti-white god help you; and you should really read his book. He discusses his racial identity in quite amazing terms. Remember he was raised by his white grandparents who are from Kansas.

    October 13, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  2. Frances

    Barack Husein Obama!!! How can his supporters complain about his middle name being used. That is his real name. But they want to suppress it to cover up his real persona. Just like the media has worked so hard to do so. Obama himself was the one who made the decision to associate with radicals and anti-white, anti-American attitudes. He did not get into Chicago politics by winning, but by playing dirty pool. I was always told you are known by the company you keep. And as far as race goes, why has he tried so hard to cut his white ties. He is after all, as white as he is black. In my opinion, he is using his skin color to his advantage, so who is playing the race card.

    Skin color would never have been considered but for the measures taken to draw attention to him. Two other great black political figures, Colin Powell and Condoleesa Rice have been greatly appreciated in our country, not because they are black, but because they are tried and true, highly qualified, and with much experience. This is what counts, not race or gender.


    October 13, 2008 at 8:46 pm |
  3. Denise

    Most of McCain/Palin followers are mostly trailer trash who cant think for themselves and is easliy mislead by lies and deceit.
    Sick back and watch the show more of McCain lies will be revealed.

    October 13, 2008 at 8:39 pm |
  4. Ann from San Diego, CA

    The direction this economy is going – socialism is probably something to rethink. We allowed minimal government interference during the housing market rise in 2003. Now that the market has crashed and burned – THE GOVERNMENT had to intervene. I think America can redefine socialism to allow leniency on the public while the government properly manages our financial institutions. We simply allowed self-serving corporations to mislead consumers and banks into the current economic hardship face today. I'm not saying we have morph into complete Marxism, but the aspect of socialism seems apt for governing corporation for the financial good of the public. It sounds like Obama is directing his socialist point of view towards uber-rich institutions who require governing leadership with proper regulations, and not towards general, middle-class America. Unfortunately, I do have to disagree that applying the term "socialist" isn't racist in the nearest sense. Bottom line: Obama wants absolute control over institutions that have conducted themselves irresponsibly; it has nothing to do with being black.

    October 13, 2008 at 7:20 pm |
  5. Jay/Aabama

    How soon we forget, one of America"s finest friends was King Hussein of Jordan, who died of cancer in 1999.

    October 13, 2008 at 7:13 pm |
  6. Enzo - Canada

    So Right-wingers don't like the translation of 'socialist'? People need to learn that the GOP like to throw labels at their opponents, sometimes to scare the public, and sometimes as code to convey a hidden message. Always, though, it's a gimmick to achieve what they want and paint the other side as they prefer.

    So, the Right is STILL up to its old tricks. And that's why I'm praying that this time hope wins over fear and deceit.

    October 13, 2008 at 6:59 pm |
  7. GAIL Centre,Al;

    Somebody needs to go nuclear on Mr. Lewis, and tell him to shut up. His opinions are not needed in this election, they are already over the top. Everyone is mad, and they want action. That you will not get with Obama. He'll have to ask everyone else what to do. He cannot lead. He's a follower, and I'm afraid he will follow the wrong person. Like following Rev. Wright for 20 years. TOO SCARRY FOR ME No judgement, No expericence, in this crisis we don't need a follower, we need a doer. I'll take my chances with the MCcain -Palin ticket, REFORM , REFORM, REFORM.

    October 13, 2008 at 6:57 pm |
  8. GAIL Centre,Al;

    Mr. Lewis's statements, leads me to believe he has lost his marbles. Martin Luther King also said not to judge people by their skin color, but by their character. Obama has no character. He is not fit to be the president ,he cannot lead, he can't even make a desicion. He can't answer a straight question, without dancing around it. I sure don't want Pelosi, and Reed running the country. They're approval rating is 12 %. tHEY ARE HEAD OF THE DO NOTHING cONGRESS. These crooks need to be thinned out of washington, we need reform, reform ,reform. I'll take my chances with MCcain, He couldn't be any worse.

    October 13, 2008 at 6:44 pm |
  9. SM

    Gene P – Where do you get your facts? Your definition of Socialism is exactly what Obama wants to achieve. That is from his own words. McCain tried to stop this mess 3 years ago, but was blocked by the DEMOCRATS, including Barney Frank. Why do you continue to blame the Republicans for everything? Remember that the Democrats were voted in control back in 2006 and Nancy Pelosi promised "change". Well, how do you like the change they have provided? You will get more of that when Obama takes over. More taxes, bigger government and less jobs. Enjoy!

    October 13, 2008 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Lesley

    I recently heard an economist on public broading television say that socialism exists among the wealthy, while the middle class is left to flounder in the free market waiting for it to correct itself. This was also expounded upon by a prominent Brit. So for all of you experts here on socialism, I suggest that you actually read some history instead of reading and reciting from the Republican dictionary. Besides, no one is suggesting that any person cannot make as much money as they can. Good for them! What is being said is that everyone has to pay their fair share of taxes on whatever they make. What is it about this concept that you don't understand?

    October 13, 2008 at 6:34 pm |
  11. Larry

    Obama, Chavez, Castro. Hard to tell the difference.

    October 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm |
  12. SM

    Richard in Cincinnati – America is the Land of Opportunity. Why do you hate people who have made it and also provide jobs? You too could make something of your life if you wanted to. You want to tax the big Corporations some more?? Why do you think they outsource to other countries? Companies should be encouraged to stay here and grow, that would provide more jobs. Not that hard to figure out. Obama is NOT good for jobs, unless you really don't want a job.

    Cindy made a good point, why do you consider that remark hateful? It was a truthful comment.

    October 13, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  13. Donna

    As an independent voter, I had every intention to vote Obama, however, I have since changed my mind and will vote republican in this election. I believe that prejudice in any form is disgusting. I am completely shocked, at the tee shirts worn at a palin rally. Has our country come to this! As a mother of two grown daughters, and three grandaughters, unless Obama speaks to this issue himself, and tells the women of this country , sexism will not be tolerated. It is just as wrong as any prejudice act

    October 13, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  14. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    If you guys can let this Cindy post that drivel it's only fair that you give me a chance to post a cogent rebuttal.

    I believe you're confusing COMMUNISM with socialism Cindy. Socialism as in European Socialism is an environment which advocates greater involvement by the government of a nation in the control of industry and distribution of wealth.
    The last eight years of Republican look the other way un-policed corporate and individual GREED under the guise of 'Capitalism' it is quite clear has been a total failure. This concept of the 'Markets' controlling themselves is at the basic root of the devastating financial crisis we now are saddled with.
    I you actually bother to understand what the Bush administration and even McCain are proposing in a scramble to save themselves from humiliation you will see that it is more along the lines of European Socialism than it is 'laissez fair' Capitalism. Irony of Ironies , McCain of all people accused Obama of being like Herbert Hoover !!!!!! LOL. What an absurd statement and it only shows how bankrupt the Republican Party is for ideas that will get us out of this mess ...... LOL.

    Quite frankly what McCain has now chaned his mind over yet again is exactly this same European socialism which is now bringing calm to the world markets. Of course Obama and the Democrats support more government intervention to clean up this mess that the Republicans have gotten us into. It only makes sense and it is the only sane way to re-establish stabilty and sanity in teh financial markets.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:51 pm |
  15. jaynee

    I'm pretty sure that when I use the word "socialist" to refer to Obama I mean it in the truest sense – he wants to take away the well-deserved rewards of those who work hard for them and give them away to those who haven't worked for them. A socialist wants the government to be Ruler Over All The People as though we can't take care of ourselves but need government's intervention. That's what *I* mean when I call Obama a socialist – because that's exactly what he wants to do, according to his political platforms.

    I'm not rich by any means. I live in a modest house with a mortgage I can afford. I have been paying off my credit card debt and am down to one card with a balance that is getting paid off. I drive a cheap little no-frills car that gets me where I need to go. I live within my means. However, I work hard for my money. I earn every dollar to pay for my modest lifestyle. So why on earth would I want the government to tell me that the things I've worked so hard for need to go to someone down the street who sits on his/her butt all day watching Judge Judy while not doing ANYTHING to contribute to society OR their family?

    Same goes for folks richer than me. Do I think someone making twice my salary OWES me something? Should I get some of their earnings so that we're more even? Heck no – they earned that money, they deserve to keep it and life their life.

    Calling someone a socialist isn't inciting racism. To call someone a socialist is to call that person someone who ascribes to socialism, which is "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole." (according to dictionary.com)

    October 13, 2008 at 5:50 pm |
  16. Arachnae

    When’s the last time you heard him encourage Americans to be productive?

    Good lord, are people now claiming that all our economic problems are caused by LAZINESS?

    October 13, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  17. Terra Hoskins

    Cindy, I was going to say the same thing - it's about government control. Obama is advocating programs that the federal government would create, support, operate, etc. He wants bigger federal government.

    I think a lot of us are really tired of the mud slinging from both camps. I've heard political analysts say that negative campaigns are more effective than those that just focus on the issues. What does that say about human behavior, that knocking down your opponent earns more favor than stating your platform? Kind of horrific.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:48 pm |
  18. Eric - Redlands, CA

    um... his belief that wealth should be redistributed is the *definition* of socialism. If you want to talk disingenuousness, IMO even implying that someone is a racist for pointing out Obama's socialist philosophy is disingenuous. "...the accusations are rarely linked to policy specifics." Maybe, maybe not, but in this case, it certainly is. Do you deny Obama wants to take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor? That's the foundation of his economics platform for crying out loud.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Richard in Cincinnati

    Dear people like Cindy in Ga.: you must be a Republican hack, either paid by them or not very smart or fair. Have we seen you at a McCain rally lately, you sound hateful and misinformed !??

    The real Socialists are rich Republicans who demand tax breaks for them or their companies [they are " rich " or don't they understand the word ?] A good example is the sports teams, almost all owned by wealthy Republicans, often worth over a BILLION DOLLARS !!

    In Cincinnati for example both the football and baseball teams are owned by very wealthy Republicans. Linder is worth $ 2.2 BILLION !! Yet they demanded the poor struggling average taxpayer build THEM stadiums! I like football but that one is used less than 20 days a year, how wasteful, why couldn't they spend their own money?

    So yes, let's go after socialists, and start with Republicans!

    October 13, 2008 at 5:48 pm |
  20. xtina, chicago IL

    Obama calls for higher capital gains taxes- that's punishing people who work to become successful; he thinks big government – not the free market – is the solution to all our issues in this country.

    When's the last time you heard him encourage Americans to be productive? Has he even used the word? No, it's "don't worry, the federal government is the answer to all of life's problems. " When's the last time Obama talked about private property rights? has he even used the term?

    I don't wake up in the morning, as Obama and Michelle must do, and think "Oh, I really want Congress to take over more of my life" Nothing personal please, but that's why I can't vote for the guy.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  21. Madeline

    Here we go again. It seems like every time someone says anything remotely negative about Obama, it's racist. If I'm not mistaken, Obama isn't the first Democrat to be accused of being a socialist. He's not being called a socialist because he's black...it's because he wants to redistribute wealth and have the government essentially control everything. If Obama wins the election, I wonder if we'll be able to freely criticize him the way we do with Bush or will we have to watch what we say so as to not appear racist.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:36 pm |
  22. Annie Kate

    Obama is far from the first person the far right has accused of being accused of being a socialist or communist – for years anyone or anything that has not agreed with their views has been labeled socialist or communist- you can see it in the McCarthy trials of the entertainment industry whose members were known to be liberals, the civil rights movement for certain, the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s, Hilary Clinton's universal health care package, George McGovern another liberal who ran for president, and even some have accused socialist or communist influences for the advent of rock and roll music to pervert the youth of America. Obama is just one in a long line of people or things accused of this.

    I deplore the epithets being mouthed at the rallies and I hope that the atmosphere does not lead to violence. I think though that the fear these people are expressing has a lot to do not only with Obama and his background and his liberal views but also with the economy. I'm hoping that all these things together do not come together and we have a case of spontaneous combustion. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 13, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  23. SM

    It has nothing to do with the color of his skin. Obama is a socialist who wants this country to be run as such. When backed into a corner of truth, the Democrats always play the race card!

    October 13, 2008 at 5:21 pm |
  24. Tim James

    Such a disgustingly race-bating article! Nonsense.

    October 13, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  25. Cindy

    UMM...last time I looked up the word socialist it meant someone that wants the wealth of the nation to be shared equally with all classes and not just one small percentage. Also they want the government to run everything. That typifies exactly what Obama wants and is calling for. So saying he isn't a socialist is ridiculous!


    October 13, 2008 at 5:06 pm |