It is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to a strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this strict definition. Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of "a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production." To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated such a thing. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.
It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, individual liberty, and sound fiscal policy. If you want to use the 'S' word, you can say that Obama & Co. are pushing us in the direction of socialism. But calling him a socialist is tactically inadvisable. Never forget that the whole point is to remove him and his gang from positions of power. To achieve that goal we need to persuade large numbers of fence-sitters that that he is leading us down the wrong path. That persuasion is less likely to happen if we come across as extremists who misuse language.
It is even worse to label Obama a 'communist.' Every communist is a socialist, but not every socialist is a communist. If our president is not a socialist, then a fortiori he is not a communist. It is intellectually irresponsible to take a word that has a definite meaning and turn it into a semantic bludgeon. That's the sort of thing we expect from leftists, as witness their favorite 'F' word, 'fascist,' a word they apply as indiscriminately and irresponsibly as 'racist.'
Liberals and leftists love to sling the SIXHRB (sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, bigoted) epithets to pre-empt thought and prevent debate. We should avoid similar behavior.
Milos Forman has an op-ed piece in the NYT entitled Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close. Forman takes umbrage at the loose way 'socialism' is used by some conservatives:
Now, years later, I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others. President Obama, they warn, is a socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” 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.
Forman goes on to recount a couple of truly horrifying tales about what it was like living under the jackboot of communism in Czechoslovakia.
Although Forman is right to distinguish the brutal forms of socialism from the supposedly benign forms, he seems willy-nilly to concede that Obamacare is a socialist policy. He is also quite naive if he thinks that the seeds of jackboot socilaism are not already present, in undeveloped form, in 'benign' socialism. He seems not to understand that power corrupts people and that one can get to a truly awful destination by tiny steps each of which seems reasonable and benign.
The pious platitudes with which Forman ends his piece are risible.