By Jonathan Alter, Published: January 20
Barack Obama’s rise in politics was so rapid, and his background so unusual, that he was immediately subjected to malicious myths — from the bogus story that he was raised Muslim to the lie that he wasn’t born in the United States. Of course, some of the raps on Obama are valid interpretations of his performance. It’s not a myth that he was long distracted from job creation, that his foreclosure policies have failed or that he was outfoxed by Republicans for much of 2011. But as Obama prepares to defend his record Tuesday in the State of the Union address, let’s dispense with some genuine misconceptions about his presidency.
1. Obama is a socialist.
This myth began with a 2008 campaign stop in Ohio, when then-Sen. Obama was caught on tape telling Joe Wurzelbacher (“Joe the Plumber”) that we needed to “spread the wealth around.” Sen. John McCain said that “sounded a lot like socialism” and cited the quote often during the campaign.
Conservatives have echoed the charge throughout Obama’s presidency. Writing in Commentary magazine in 2010, Jonah Goldberg accused him of aiming to “nationalize” two auto companies, stage a “partial government takeover” of health care and seize “managerial control” of Wall Street.
But none of this is true. By temporarily putting major banks under government control, the TARP bailout contained socialist elements — but that didn’t make Obama any more of a socialist than then-President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who launched the rescue. Obama rejected nationalizing banks and made clear that he had no interest in running the auto companies receiving TARP money.
The president’s health-care reform law keeps insurance in private hands, adopts the “individual mandate” concept from the conservative Heritage Foundation and is modeled in part on former governor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts reform — not exactly a “Bolshevik plot,” as Obama put it. Finally, the Dodd-Frank reform bill, which Obama signed into law in 2010, regulates Wall Street but hardly controls it.
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