February 8, 2012 10:07AM

Barack Obama, Leninist?

In his much-discussed New Yorker article on the strategy memos that have shaped the Obama administration, Ryan Lizza writes:

Most of Obama’s conservative dinner companions from his evening at George Will’s home now describe him and his Administration in the most caricatured terms. Will declared Obama a “floundering naïf” and someone advancing “Lenin-Socialism.”

Really? Mild-mannered George Will compared President Obama to Lenin? That set off my skepticism meter. So I summoned the vast fact-checking resources of the Cato Institute and Googled the phrase. Which quickly turned up this video:

And as you can clearly hear at 1:30, Will isn't saying "Lenin socialism." He's making the much milder and entirely valid charge of "lemon socialism," which he described as "transferring wealth from the successful to the unsuccessful." That's an old term for the government takeover or bailout of failing firms. On the left it's often described in terms such as "socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor" or "privatizing profits and socializing losses." People on the right deplore the practice of bailing out unsuccessful firms with taxpayers' dollars.

That's a point that Will also made in his column, first when the Bush administration started bailing out failing banks and auto companies. And it's also been made by Charles Krauthammer on the auto bailout and again on the Solyndra deal. And by Cato adjunct scholar Lawrence H. White. And by lots of Cato-at-Liberty bloggers. Even Paul Krugman and Robert Reich.

Where was the skepticism of a New Yorker reporter when he thought he'd found the prudent, mild-mannered George Will comparing the president to Lenin? Where were the famous New Yorker fact-checkers? Some things, I guess, are just too good to check. So to answer the question in the title, Is Barack Obama a Leninist? No, just a lemonist.