This is the latest installment of "Whoa, If True," an occasional look at the theories that migrate from the wilds of the Internet to the well-covered tundra of presidential campaigns.
President Obama has faded somewhat from the push and pull of the 2016 presidential campaign, as Republicans and Democrats alike battle new enemies. An exception came during the president's visit to Cuba, criticized by many conservatives and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). When the president moved on to Argentina, he held a March 23 town hall meeting with young voters that didn't make much news.
Within two days, the town hall event had become famous. "President Barack Obama downplayed the differences between capitalism and communism, claiming that they are just 'intellectual arguments,' " reported the Daily Caller. "UNREAL: Obama Thinks Capitalism and Communism Are Only 'Intellectual Arguments,' " blared a headline at RedState. At National Review, Victor Davis Hanson imagined a TV ad that could have warned voters, in 2008, that "an adolescent, inexperienced, and hard leftist President Obama could very well go to Cuba and do the wave with Raul Castro, tell Argentines to 'choose from what works' in Communism and capitalism."
These headlines were surprising. First, a traveling press corps apparently had missed a sitting president's endorsement of communism. Second, the White House had previewed the trip as a way to promote Argentina's shift away from its shambling left-wing government.
What did the president say? He started by acknowledging "a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist, especially in the Americas."
"Oh, you know, you're a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you're some crazy communist that's going to take away everybody's property," said the president. "I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don't have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works."
This was, indeed, more even-handed than any president has been when discussing communism. But the president had Cuba on his mind:
I said this to President Castro in Cuba. I said: Look, you've made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education — that's a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care — the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That's a huge achievement. They should be congratulated. But you drive around Havana, and you say this economy is not working. It looks like it did in the 1950s. And so you have to be practical in asking yourself how can you achieve the goals of equality and inclusion, but also recognize that the market system produces a lot of wealth and goods and services. And it also gives individuals freedom because they have initiative.
In context, the president was winding up. He was setting up a story about what he told one of the world's last communist leaders — that he needed to embrace markets — by not outwardly criticizing socialism.
No soft-pedaling here: None of Obama's predecessors would have talked like this. But talking like this doesn't reveal Obama as a closet socialist who only rips off the mask when he switches hemispheres.