Michael Kazin: Obama, a European Socialist? I Wish!

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Kazin’s latest book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.

Last fall, Mitt Romney alleged that Obama “takes his political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist Democrats in Europe.” I wish that were true, although socialism has American roots as well. But in point of fact, Romney could summon no evidence at all for his claim. In the richer European countries, citizens have the benefit of a cradle-to-grave welfare system—or did, until the current wave of austerity rolled in. Meanwhile, our president’s main achievement is a health care bill closely modeled on the one designed by his GOP challenger, Romney himself.

It doesn’t seem to bother Republicans that their blithe condemnation of the President as a socialist is so contrary to the facts. But what bothers me is the failure of the Democratic Party to rise to the level of the GOP’s insults. Indeed, one of the more depressing aspects of American politics today is how Democrats have been bullied into a defensive posture in the battle of ideas. In his last State of the Union address, Obama declared that “Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Compare that apologetic stance to the election platform of Francois Hollande, the Socialist likely to be elected president of France on May 6, which declares, “equality is at the heart of our ideals. … The permanent redistribution of resources and wealth is necessary to make equal rights a reality … to reduce the disparities of condition and fight poverty.”

Compared to its European counterparts, the Democratic Party is defensive to a fault. And that’s a problem to which I’d like to offer a modest solution: Americans on the left should actually start advocating the basic principles of socialism....

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