The notion that Obama is socialist proceeds from a specific right-wing ideological analysis. Certainly, that analysis is crazy. (Oops, I just said something uncivil. Sorry, President Obama.) Socialism is a contested term, but it has two basic meanings. As defined by American Socialists more than a century ago, it meant progressive taxation, public schools, worker-safety laws, and other reforms that have long since attained bipartisan acceptance. In the stricter sense, it means abolition of private property, or, at least, of private industry. By the first definition, both parties are socialist. By the second, neither is. There is no sense in which Obama is “imposing socialism” upon a non-socialist state. But you must establish this by engaging the analysis rather than dismissing it as uncivil.

Obama defended civility as essential to “keep[ing] our democracy healthy.” Yet he also acknowledged that American history is replete with vitriol and slander that would make Rush Limbaugh queasy. “A newspaper of the opposing party,” Obama recounted in the speech, “once editorialized that, if Thomas Jefferson were elected, ‘Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.’” If we’ve lived with “incivility” for 200-plus years, then how can it be a threat to the republic? Answer: It’s not, but pretending it is can be a useful device for a president to hold himself above the fray.