Although the Times never complained when lefties called George W. Bush and other Republicans "fascist" for eight years running, reporter Mark Leibovich is suddenly concerned with rhetorical precision now that conservatives are using "socialist" as a "demonizing" epithet against President Obama's massive spending plans.
Leibovich used the news hook of the recent 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington to write a front-page Sunday Week in Review story portraying conservatives as mindless mockers of the concept of socialism:"'Socialism!' Boo, Hiss, Repeat."
Conservatives might be seeking a spiritual leader, organizing principle and fresh identity, but they at least seem to have settled on a favorite rhetorical ogre: socialism.
As in, Democrats are intent on forcing socialism on the "U.S.S.A" (as the bumper sticker says, under the words "Comrade Obama").
It seems that "socialist" has supplanted "liberal" as the go-to slur among much of a conservative world confronting a one-two-three punch of bank bailouts, budget blowouts and stimulus bills. Right-leaning bloggers and talk radio hosts are wearing out the brickbat. Senate and House Republicans have been tripping over their podiums to invoke it. The S-bomb has become as surefire a red-meat line at conservative gatherings as "Clinton" was in the 1990s and "Pelosi" is today.
Of course, there is nothing remotely new about "socialism," or the willingness of conservatives to hit the opposition over the head with the term, just as the name callers among the liberals have bludgeoned conservatives as "fascists," "fundamentalists" and "plutocrats" and whatnot for decades.
But the socialist bogey-mantra has made a full-scale return after a long stretch of relative dormancy.
The contemporary era of socialist demonizing dates to the general election campaign between Mr. Obama and John McCain. Mr. McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, repeatedly accused Mr. Obama of wanting to "spread the wealth," an offshoot of Mr. Obama's caught-on-tape exchange with an Ohio plumber (i.e. "Joe the," last seen signing copies of his new book at CPAC).
"Socialism" became a star of subsequent McCain and Palin rallies in the same way that a dead bull is the star of a bullfight - an object of slings, spears and overall bloodlust.
The early fiscal activism of President Obama has provided a heap of new fodder for anti-socialists, effectively turning a useful label meant to inspire fear into a we-told-you-so taunt.
Leibovich talked to the one admitted socialist in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, then lamented that those closed-minded conservatives at CPAC didn't debate the merits of European socialism.
Still, when Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, denounced "European-style socialism," in his speech at the conference on Thursday, the jeers from the crowd did not exactly signal an openness to debate it on the merits.