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Bush, Obama, and the 'socialist' label

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, November 27, 2010;

Exactly two years ago today, an Associated Press headline read: "World economy shaky despite massive bank rescues." The story was about the U.S. government's decision to rescue banking giant Citigroup.

Economic conditions at home and abroad were the worst since the Great Depression. The outlook was so dire that the U.S. Treasury secretary pressured high-profile giant American banks to sell shares to the federal government as part of a financial rescue package - a Washington action until then unimaginable.

Yet the vilification of President Obama as a socialist began before he had fully unpacked at the White House. It has been relentless ever since, even though the charge misrepresents the truth.

Said Rush Limbaugh on Fox's "Sean Hannity" program on Jan. 22, 2009, just two days after Obama took the oath of office: "So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail. . . . Why would I want socialism to succeed?

Six months later, Sarah Palin weighed in on "Hannity": "Our country could evolve into something we do not even recognize. . ." Hannity interrupted her: "Socialism?" Palin: "Well, that's where we are headed."

Listening to those rantings, one might think Obama's entry into the White House was the dawn of the attack on American free enterprise.

Alas, some memories seem to fade with time - or succumb to political opportunism and the urge to lie.

History tells another story.

The architects of that breathtaking marketplace intrusion in 2008 were President George W. Bush and his Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson. And the Republican administration didn't stop there.

Watching the continuing economic meltdown, Bush launched another leap into the free market. In the name of protecting jobs and essential industries, Bush orchestrated a bailout of the auto industry. By the time Bush handed over the reins to Obama in January 2009, Washington had massively intervened in the U.S. economy.

The TARP that Tea Party members fulminate about? That's the Troubled Assets Relief Program, a multibillion-dollar Bush baby, used by the feds to purchase stock in banks and to acquire assets from sick financial institutions. TARP funds were also used to support the car industry. In fact, Bush issued an executive order that allowed the Treasury secretary to spend TARP funds on anything he deemed necessary to avert a financial crisis.

And Bush and Paulson weren't the only champions of bailing out Wall Street and Detroit.

Vice President Dick Cheney, that fierce protector of free enterprise, also lobbied for federal support for the automobile industry. In a December 2008 statement to Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday," Cheney accused Congress of failing to help a dying U.S. auto industry, charging that Bush had no choice but to step in with $17.4 billion in rescue loans to automakers.

Did anybody denounce Cheney as a socialist?

The "Let's sink Obama" crowd will tell you that it wasn't only the bailouts that got their jaws out of joint. They point with disdain to Obama's 2009 stimulus package, which they say only boosted the deficit, bringing nothing in return.

Another descent into amnesia, refusal to face the truth or an intentional misrepresentation of history.

Stimulus package? Let's go back to the beginning of 2008, the final year of the Bush-Cheney reign. Lest we forget, the $168 billion economic stimulus package that Congress passed in 2008 was sponsored by Bush. That stimulus was aimed at boosting the economy and staving off a recession. The Obama bashers are silent about what really happened.

The Bush stimulus wasn't balanced by a cut in spending. Along with his two wars, the Bush stimulus package contributed to a $500 billion deficit. Moreover, Bush's spending helped leave the country $10 trillion in debt by the time he blew town for Texas.

True, Obama followed Bush with a larger and more job-sustaining stimulus and spending packages of his own. And Obama signed into law a health-reform bill that will dramatically alter health-care financing and extend health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans. It's amazing, however, how the right-wing collectives fail to apply the socialist label to conservatives Bush and Cheney, the two Republican leaders most responsible for leading the country in the direction of socialism, where Palin said "we are headed."

Of course, Palin et al are wrong on history and substance. Averting the collapse of the financial and auto industries - and the U.S. economy - served the country's best interests. The federal presence in both industries is now being ratcheted down. Bush and Obama were right to act as they did.

It's the singling out and demagoguing of Obama that's wrong and disgusting.

kingc@washpost.com

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