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Calvin Freiburger

No, Bill Sammon Didn’t Lie About Thinking Obama Was a Socialist (Which He Totally Is)

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Posted on March 30 2011 6:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

There’s only so much mileage the Left can get out of vehemently denying that President Barack Obama is a socialist. For best propagandistic results, it’s ideal to highlight people on the Right who allegedly admit the same thing (and if their remarks can be used to embarrass a hated cable news channel in the process, so much the better).

Case in point: relying upon Media Matters research, Howard Kurtz’s latest on the Daily Beast highlights recent remarks made by Fox News Channel’s Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon during a 2009 cruise hosted by Hillsdale College (my alma mater):

“Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth around.’ At that time, I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.”

That he did—on several occasions.

On Oct. 14, 2008, Sammon said on the air that Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark “is red meat when you’re talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism.”

On Oct. 21, he told Greta Van Susteren: “I have read Barack Obama’s books pretty carefully, and he in his own words talks about being drawn to Marxists… Now all this stuff’s coming out about whether he’s a socialist. I don’t know why anyone is surprised by it, because if you read his own words and his sort of, you know, orientation coming up as a liberal through college and a young man, it’s not a huge shock.”

Sammon, a former Washington Times reporter, also made sure his troops got out the word. On Oct. 27, he sent an email to staffers highlighting what he described as “Obama’s references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists” in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

Sammon’s response:

In an interview, Sammon says his reference to “mischevious speculation” was “my probably inartful way of saying, ‘Can you believe how far this thing has come?’” The socialism question indeed “struck me as a far-fetched idea” in 2008. “I considered it kind of a remarkable notion that we would even be having the conversation.” He doesn’t regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, “it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media”—and by 2009 he was “astonished by how the needle had moved.”

In defense of Sammon’s ethics, raising a subject on the air and speculating about it, even “mischievously,” aren’t the same as reaching or arguing for a firm conclusion about the subject. Indeed, if you watch the full clip the Oct. 14 quote comes from, Sammon’s not even arguing for the Obama-as-socialist charge—he’s just objectively analyzing 2008 rival John McCain’s strategic interest in pressing the issue.

Spread the wealth around,” Marxism in Dreams From My Father, Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers…these details of Obama’s life and career aren’t right-wing fabrications. Taken on their own, each story raised serious, legitimate questions about just how radical Obama’s views were, and it shouldn’t take a Republican partisan to notice, or to discuss their significance.

There is an entirely plausible interpretation of Sammon’s words that gives his honesty (if not his political judgment) the benefit of the doubt—he found these stories noteworthy but didn’t ultimately think they added up to Obama personally being a full-blown socialist, perhaps out of a hesitancy to read too much into his words or attribute the views of others to Obama himself.

Ultimately, though, what Bill Sammon believed when is a sideshow; the real purpose of this narrative is to indirectly discredit the idea that Obama’s politics are radical. And on that score, it fails utterly. So Sammon didn’t think candidate Obama’s record indicated socialism; that doesn’t make Sammon’s 2008 judgment correct. For one thing, it makes no effort to acknowledge or refute the compelling evidence and arguments for Obama-as-socialist that have been made, and is no substitute for a comprehensive, objective look at Obama’s own record. For another, it ignores something else Sammon said on the same cruise—simply looking at what Obama has done since taking office puts the debate in a whole new light:

“Now imagine my surprise when this year, I witness President Barack Obama standing in the cross hall of the White House and having taken over the American car industry, look into the camera, and announce to the nation essentially, that he would personally vouch for the warranty on your car’s muffler. All of a sudden, the debate over whether America was heading for socialism seemed anything but far-fetched…The debate over whether America is headed for socialism seems all too real, especially to those who still believe in capitalism.”

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