This is far from a new phenomenon — the use of “socialist” as a political epithet in the U.S. dates back to pre-Civil War days when abolitionist newspaper editor Horace Greeley was branded a socialist by some pro-slavery adversaries. In the 20th century, many elements of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal — including Social Security — were denounced as socialist. So was Medicare when it was created in the 1960s.

But to many historians and political scientists — and to actual socialists as well — the persistent claim that Obama is a socialist lacks credence.

He’s widely seen as a pragmatist within the Democratic Party mainstream who’s had ample success raising campaign funds from wealthy Wall Street capitalists. Even some of his strongest critics acknowledge that his administration hasn’t sought one of the classic forms of socialism — government control of the nation’s means of production.

Terence Ball, a political scientist at Arizona State University, said “socialist’ has gained currency as an anti-Obama slur because “the ‘L’ word (liberal) has lost it shock value.”