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Is Obama a socialist? What does the evidence say?

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"You start with his apparent acceptance that there are major segments of the US economy for which it is reasonable for the US government to own or manage," says Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation policy analyst, "tea party" movement leader, and former speechwriter for President Bush. "Look at the auto industry, mortgage industry, the health-care industry to some extent, and, obviously, banking."

Others just as assuredly refute the idea that government involvement in failing industries defines a president as socialist – or that wealth is being redistributed from the Forbes 500 richest Americans to the nation's "Joe the plumbers."

What Mr. Johns, Mr. Gingrich, and others brandishing the "socialist" s-word are really complaining of is a return to the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who advocated vigorous government involvement in the economy, from regulation to pump priming, says labor historian Peter Rachleff of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

"Socialism suggests getting rid of capitalism altogether," says Dr. Rachleff. "Mr. Obama is not within a million miles of an ideology like that."

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