Dan La Botz knows with certainty that President Barack Obama is no socialist.
He's sure because he's one himself, and finds little in common with the politics of the 44th president of the United States.
"I don't support Obama. If I did, I would be a Democrat," La Botz said. "I find it astonishing that people would think he's a socialist. He's given trillions of dollars to bankers, billions to General Motors, created a health care system that supports the health insurance companies ... his foreign policy is consistent with Bush's foreign policy."
La Botz, of Clifton, is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate this year on the Socialist ticket.
Since President Obama was elected, "socialism" is a word on the lips of many conservative politicians, tea party supporters and political pundits. A CBS News/New York Times poll in April showed 92 percent of tea party supporters believe Obama is moving the country toward socialism - while 52 percent of all Americans held the same belief.
Socialists shake their heads - but they don't really mind the attention.
"If folks like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh make their careers off of using the word socialism as a slur, how bad could it be?" asks 35-year-old Shane Johnson of Corryville, a union electrician who helped revive Cincinnati's International Socialist Organization chapter this year, which has about a dozen members.
"We should be fighting for full employment. End wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan," La Botz said. "We should immediately take over BP. What they own is too valuable and too powerful to be in private hands."
The core concept of this political and economic theory is that people should control the means of production and allocation of resources in society.
Socialists believe in equality for all - hence their devotion to civil rights - and a fair distribution of wealth. They see capitalism as a system that exploits workers in its aspiration for greater profit, therefore broadening the gap between rich and poor.
There are two basic socialist ideas, says Billy Wharton, co-chair of the Socialist Party USA, headquartered in New York City.
"We believe in a society that values human needs over the needs of corporations," Wharton said. "We think that the economy can be run in a democratic way, (allowing) people more decision-making power in the things that affect their everyday lives."He believes businesses, even big ones, could be run more like the Alvarado Street Bakery in California. Opened in 1979, the business is run and owned by its 119 employees.
"The people who work in the bakery make decisions on how much wages are, how hard they work, what they produce, larger economic decisions about how much they want to expand," Wharton said.
Miami University economics professor James Brock isn't sure socialism would produce the results its supporters want.
"I don't know whether - if you turn it over to the workers - it would make any big difference in the scheme of things," said Brock, who has taught economics for 31 years. "The great challenge is how do you create the maximum amount of creativity and opportunity and not be smothered by bureaucracy and excess. I think labor unions can be as bureaucratic as corporations."
Back from hiatus
At a recent Cincinnati ISO meeting, held at the University of Cincinnati on Wednesday evenings, eight participants discuss Marxist theory. The conversation hinges for about 10 minutes on how profits might be spent by large corporations, if the U.S. economy was based on socialism instead of capitalism.
Maybe medical research or advances in technology, a younger member opines.
"People from this generation are going to be the first to have a lower standard of living than their parents," Johnson says later. "They're going to work longer, for less pay, and their wages will get them less. They may not be able to retire and may file bankruptcy - or already have - due to illness without health care."The ISO chapter had been on a one-year hiatus when it again began meeting weekly in April.
Since then the group has organized and championed several local events,including the March for Immigration Reform attended by hundreds of people Downtown on June 5, demonstrating ISO's strong believe in equal rights.
A handful of the group's members are at the Socialism 2010 conference in Chicago this past weekend.
Third party politics
For the first time in his life, Johnson had the option to choose a Socialist ballot in May's primary election. Recent court rulings and an order by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner gave third parties easier access to the ballot.The result: Johnson ended up one of 46 people in Hamilton County who voted for La Botz, compared to roughly 50,000 votes for Republican candidate Rob Portman.
La Botz pulled in 369 statewide votes, far behind Portman, Democrats Jennifer Brunner and Lee Fisher, and also trailing Eric W. Deaton of the Constitution Party, who got 1,737 votes.
La Botz, who teaches Spanish at a local private school, remains optimistic.
"I expect to win many more votes in the general election," La Botz said. "I also think the votes are only one measure of success of the campaign. You want to use the campaign trail as an opportunity to organize people or inspire people to do what they ought to do; to fight for jobs for everyone, to defend women's right to choose, to defend gay and lesbian rights and immigrant rights."
Xavier University political science professor Mack Mariani believes Americans are frustrated with government leaders and skeptical of big business, but he's not convinced socialist thought is spreading.
"I haven't seen anything that would seem the Socialist Party is having a resurgence," Mariani said. "Even though I think capitalism as a concept has taken a hit in terms of public approval ... it wouldn't translate into support for the Socialist Party."
Still, local socialists march on.
"I think we are at a very critical moment in our history," La Botz said. "People are looking for new ideas and the answers to the problems of American society. Our goal is to offer a different point of view."