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Is Obama a Socialist? An Answer to Milos Forman

Just when I thought I had made a convincing argument that Obama was a politician whose outlook is akin to that of Europe’s left-wing social democrats and that the modern Democratic Party is the equivalent of Europe’s social-democratic parties, along comes director Milos Forman to argue the opposite in the op-ed pages of the New York Times.

Forman, most well-known in this country as the director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, is a Czech émigré who lived in Czechoslovakia from 1932 until 1968, thereby gaining first-hand experience of both Nazi and communist totalitarianism's opposition to freedom. He presents vivid anecdotes of what it was like to experience the jackboot of the secret police in his native land. He knows first-hand its horrors. Even TV interviews, he learned, had to be scripted, when one was interviewing a leader of the Communist Party or the state.

No one can gainsay Forman’s knowledge of totalitarian regimes. He speaks the truth. But then he performs an agile sleight of hand that goes like this: Totalitarianism of the communist fashion worked in a certain way. That was socialism. What took place in communist Czechoslovakia does not occur in the U.S. Our president is not the equivalent of any of the Czech communists he knew so well. Therefore, Obama is not a socialist.

Forman accuses conservatives -- he names Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh -- of calling Obama a socialist. He writes:

They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.

In making that argument, Forman reveals his own confusion, and in effect says that to say Obama is a socialist is to say he is a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian. Of course Obama is NOT a communist. He is an elected leader of a politically democratic republic. He is constrained in policies he would like to implement by a Congress and a vigorous Republican opposition. Nevertheless, a strong case has been made -- here at PJM and in other conservative journals of opinion and in various serious books -- that Barack Obama favors and pursues policies that are indeed the equivalent of redistributionist socialist measures favored today, for example, by François Hollande and his new government in France.