President Obama is on television right now delivering a speech to the Business Roundtable that can be variously summed up thus: I am not a socialist. This reminds me of the awkward moment over the past weekend when the President called back a New York Times reporter to clarify his answer to the query “are you a socialist?” (Warning: Listening to the audio at the link is very difficult owing to the extraordinarily high “uh ratio”).
On a flight from Ohio to Washington on Friday, Mr. Obama was asked whether his domestic policies suggested that he was a socialist, as some conservatives have implied.
“The answer would be no,” he said, laughing for a moment before defending his administration for “making some very tough choices” on the budget.
As the interview progressed, Mr. Obama never returned to the question. When he called, he said he had been thinking about it as he boarded the helicopter taking him back to the White House.
“It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question,” Mr. Obama said from the Oval Office.
He then dismissed the criticism, saying the large-scale government intervention in the markets and the expansion of social welfare programs had begun under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
“By the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system,” he said, adding, “The fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis.”
It’s well established that this president and his apologists can hardly articulate a policy position without blaming something on the previous administration, but the fact that President Obama felt compelled to “clear up” his answer to the socialist question speaks to the pressure the administration must be feeling perhaps from opinion polls like this. One rule of politics is that once it becomes necessary to explain what you are not it is probably too late.
The harsh lesson for the Obama spin meisters is that once policy is established by signed legislation it is much more difficult to erase the stamp such positions put on the politician, an inconvenient truth perhaps for a politician with as little experience as Barrack Obama.