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U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has never been known as a wilting flower. During his time in the U.S. House, the Georgia Republican has become known for his strong, conservative opinions and controversial statements involving evolution.
Those strong positions were on full display in a recent fundraising letter to donors that surfaced this week. In soliciting funds for his run for the Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss, Broun criticized President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and alleged their policies are ruining the country.
"I was the first member of Congress to call him a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies like government control of health care and redistribution of wealth," Broun says of Obama in the letter.
PolitiFact Georgia sets the bar high when someone says they’re the "first" to make a particular statement, so we researched the claim to see if Broun’s bar should be lowered.
Stories about Broun’s letter were published earlier this week by other news outlets and political pundits across the state.
The conservative political blog Georgia Tipsheet called the letter "a predictably confrontational fundraising appeal" and noted that Broun was among the earliest to attach the (socialist) barb to Obama. The liberal blog Daily Kos called Broun’s letter "crackpot haiku."
In August 2009, Broun told an audience at North Georgia Technical College that Obama -- along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reid -- were members of a "socialist elite," while deriding Obamacare (what critics call the national health care law). Then, in January 2011, after Obama delivered his State of the Union address, Broun said in a Twitter post that the president did not believe in the Constitution, and instead "You believe in socialism."
Broun compared Obama’s policies to those of Hitler or a Marxist dictator in November 2008, but apologized a week later for making the statements. "The point I tried to make is that he is extremely liberal, he has promoted a lot of socialistic ideas, and it just makes me concerned," Broun told an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter at the time.
Obama’s socialist moniker doesn’t stop with Broun.
In October 2008, then-Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain accused Obama of pursuing a "socialist" agenda for telling blue-collar worker Joe the Plumber during a campaign stop that spreading the wealth around is good for everybody. That same month, then-Ohio U.S. Sen. George Voinovich told a newspaper reporter, "(Obama) is left of Teddy Kennedy. With all due respect, the man is a socialist."
PolitiFact has examined before whether Obama is a socialist, a claim made by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. We ruled that claim Pants on Fire.
But we’re ruling on a different claim here: whether Broun was the first to place the "socialist" label on the president. So was Broun’s claim accurate?
We called and emailed questions about the letter to Broun’s staff for comment, but received no response.
PolitiFact Georgia found that Broun’s socialist name-calling goes back to 2009 when he said the president was a member of the "socialist elite," and in 2011 said the president believed in socialism. But one of Broun’s congressional colleagues, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, called Obama a socialist in October 2008; and Sen. John McCain of Arizona criticized Obama’s "socialist" agenda during that same month.
Based on our research, Broun was not the first member of Congress to specifically call Obama a socialist. In November 2008, Broun did compare Obama’s policies to those of Hitler or a Marxist dictator. Philosopher Karl Marx is described historically as a revolutionary socialist, and Hitler was head of the National Socialist German Workers Party.
But even that criticism was made a month after other congressional members lobbed their socialist charges.
Congress consists of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and Obama was called a "socialist" by an Ohio senator a year before Broun actually used the term "socialist."
We rated Broun’s claim False.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Political Insider, "Paul Broun: ‘I was the first to call Obama a socialist,’" Jim Galloway, Feb. 13, 2013
Georgia Tipsheet, "Socialist hunting: Broun donor letter talks of Obama barbs, West support," James Richardson, Feb. 13, 2013
Daily Kos, "Paul Broun wants to be a senator because Obama’s a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ who rules with ‘iron fist,’" Feb. 14, 2013
PolitiFact, "Rick Perry says Barack Obama ‘is a socialist,’" Bill Adair, Jan. 8, 2012
The Huffington Post, "GOP Congressman Paul Broun to Obama during SOTU address: ‘You believe in socialism,’" Nick Wing, Jan. 26, 2011
The Athens Banner-Herald, "Obamacare a ‘rotten fish,’ says Broun at town hall," Blake Aued, Aug. 12, 2009
The Toledo Blade, "Voinovich: Obama a ‘socialist,’" Oct. 17, 2008
The Washington Post, "The ‘Socialist’ scare," Ruth Marcus, Oct. 28, 2008
The New Yorker, "Like, socialism," Hendrik Hertzberg, Nov. 3, 2008
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Lawmaker sorry about Obama slam," Julia Malone, Nov. 12, 2008
Phone interview, Kerwin Swint, political science professor, Kennesaw State University, Feb. 14, 2013
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