Who's Left? with Barack Obama Governing as a Moderate Republican, There Are Few Americans Championing Progressive Politics. We Name the 20 Who Matter

By Hasan, Mehdi | New Statesman (1996), January 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Who's Left? with Barack Obama Governing as a Moderate Republican, There Are Few Americans Championing Progressive Politics. We Name the 20 Who Matter


Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)


Don't dare say the "S" word around Barack Obama - or his advisers. In March 2009, a New York Times reporter asked the US president whether his spending priorities might suggest that he was a socialist. "The answer would be no," Obama replied. However, following a discussion with his ultra-cautious, centrist White House aides, a panicked president called the reporter back to add, defensively: "It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question ... It wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks."

The president proudly declared that he had been "operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principle" and that "some of the same folks who are throwing the word 'socialist' around can't say the same".

Obama, of course, isn't a socialist- except in the fevered imagination of far-right opponents such as the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who titled a recent book of his To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine. Over the past three years the US president has disappointed not just leftist radicals and card-carrying socialists, but even the mildest liberals, having refused to push for a bolder, European-style, single-payer reform of the US health-care system and having signed off on spending cuts that, in his own words, will result in "the lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president". To the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (seepage 26), Obama is a "moderate conservative"; to the former Reagan policy adviser Bruce Bartlett, he is the "Democrats' Richard Nixon".

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Authentic leftists - either socialists or social democrats - are few and far between in the United States. There is just one self-described socialist sitting in Congress: the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders (see page 33). In fact, the US is the only advanced, industrialised nation whose political system remains bereft of a large, mainstream, avowedly social-democratic political organisation such as our own Labour Party or the French Socialist Party. "Why is there no socialism in the United States?" the German sociologist Werner Som-bart famously asked in the 1880s. More than a century later, the question stands - and still has no adequate answer.

Signs of life

In his acclaimed new book, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, the US historian Michael Kazin argues that socialists and progressives have had a huge transformative effect on American culture, helping to boost the rights of women, racial minorities and homosexuals. …

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Who's Left? with Barack Obama Governing as a Moderate Republican, There Are Few Americans Championing Progressive Politics. We Name the 20 Who Matter
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