If newly elected French President Francois Hollande is a socialist, so is Barack Obama. Shortly after being elected, President Hollande proclaimed that his country had “chosen change” in electing him and promised to be the "president for everyone" saying "the change starts now." He further told a crowd of supporters he wanted to "give back hope." Sound familiar? It should. President Obama’s entire 2008 campaign was based on “hope and change.”
The similarities don’t stop there. Hollande has proposed raising taxes for corporations, banks, and the relatively wealthy, creating 60,000 teaching jobs, and investing heavily in green energy. He arrived at his swearing in ceremony in an environmentally friendly Citroen; presumably the French version of the wildly unsuccessful Chevy Volt.
Hollande plans to spend more than his predecessor on social programs and raise more money through taxes. Specifically, he plans to “raise the income tax bracket for those making more than 150,000 euros a year (about $197,000) to 45 percent from 40 percent, cap tax deductions for individuals at 10,000 euros a year (about $13,000), increase taxes on bank profits and create a financial-transaction tax.”
In support of his quest to raise taxes, Hollande glowingly cited President Obama’s State of the Union address. The French President said, “Obama ... wants the secretary of a billionaire to not have to pay more than the billionaire” in taxes. “I want the same thing.” In sum, the rhetoric and policy prescriptions from Hollande and Obama are practically indiscernible.
Merriam-Webster defines socialism as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." By this definition, Obama would not be a socialist, but neither would Hollande, nor the Party of European Socialists. European socialists long ago abandoned calls for wholesale nationalization of private industry. Even our own U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, makes no appeal for nationalization of industry.
So why is it that the American left run from the term “socialist” like it’s the plague? A Pew poll provides the answer. Sixty percent of Americans respond negatively to the word “socialism.” In most jurisdictions, you couldn’t get elected dog catcher if you were running as a socialist. While a clear majority of Americans view socialism negatively, those describing themselves as liberal Democrats view the term positively. In fact, the same Pew poll found that liberal Democrats viewed socialism more positively than capitalism, 59% to 46%.
While the American left clearly sympathize with the socialist movement, they have instead adopted the term “liberal” to describe their ideology since the New Deal. Ironically, the term liberal had previously been used to describe those who supported a decentralized government, laissez faire economic policies, and individualism; with freedom as the ultimate goal. This should come as no surprise as the root of the word "liberal" comes from the Latin “liber,” meaning free.
In contrast, the modern liberal supports a strong central government and a highly regulated private sector. The common good and equality are the ultimate goals. Liberty and freedom are subservient to both.
The term “liberal” has been badly tarnished in American politics over the past few decades. You won’t hear presidential candidates arguing they are more liberal than their opponent, even in a Democratic primary. The term has become so toxic that many politicians on the left are now calling themselves “progressives.” Most Americans don’t know what is meant by “progressive,” and that’s just the way they like it.
Describing President Obama as a socialist is not over-heated rhetoric, nor hyperbole. It’s the most accurate descriptor for his ideology. If the shoe fits, wear it.
The term liberal should be returned to its rightful proponents: Those who support free enterprise, the sanctity of the individual, and freedom above all.