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What Charles Dickens and Barack Obama Have in Common

Both Dickens and Obama Accused of Being Socialists

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Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, author of "A Christmas Carol" and "Hard Times" among other popular novels, was often accused of being a socialist.

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Updated December 11, 2010


What do legendary British author Charles Dickens and U.S. President Barack Obama have in common?

Both Dickens and Obama were accused of being socialists in their day.

Dickens, who is often referred to as the man who invented Christmas, advocated for social reform and the betterment of the working class in A Christmas Carol and other novellas. Such writings were extremely popular among socialists.

Obama was called a socialist after being accused of trying to redistribute wealth and orchestrate a government takeover of health care during his first term in office.

Roots of Socialist Claims Against Dickens

Most readers associate Dickens with the Christmas classic A Christmas Carol and its stingy lead character Ebenezer Scrooge.

But it was the author's 1854 publication of Hard Times, a serial advocating for social reform, that ignited debate over whether Dickens was a socialist.

Many critics of the time saw Hard Times as an attack on capitalism and portrayed Dickens as a "sullen socialist."

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British poet, historian and politician at the time of Dickens' popularity, was said to have dismissed Hard Times as "one or two passages of exquisite pathos and the rest sullen Socialism."

Famous socialist Harold Laski praised Dickens in a 1932 article, calling the author a "great social reformer," according to Laurence W. Mazzeno, writing in The Dickens Industry.

Others disagreed.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, writing in Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, disputes the notion that Dickens was a socialist.

"To call Dickens a socialist is a wild exaggeration," Chesterton wrote. "... The truth was that Dickens was not a Socialist, but an unspoilt Liberal; he was not sullen; nay, rather, he had remained strangely hopeful. They called him a sullen Socialist only to disguise their astonishment at finding still loose about the London streets a happy republican."

Roots of Socialist Claims Against Obama

It wasn't long into Obama's first term in office that conservatives began calling the Democratic president and his policy proposals on taxes and health care socialist.

Clinton White House adviser Dick Morris claimed in a column that conservatives were "enraged at Barack Obama's socialism and radicalism."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went a step further, titled his book about the administration, To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine.

On the campaign trail in 2008, then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin also accused Obama, at the time a U.S. Senator, of having socialist tendencies.

"Senator Obama said he wants to quote 'spread the wealth.' What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit," Palin said at one campaign rally. "But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism."

The claims of socialism spanning the centuries prove, yet again, that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Dickens was accused of being a socialist after writing "Hard Times."

Obama was accused of being a socialist for trying to end hard times.

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