The Washington Times - March 8, 2009, 09:48AM

President Obama was so concerned that he had appeared to dismiss a question from New York Times reporters about whether he was a socialist that he called the newspaper from the Oval Office to clarify his policies.

“It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question,” he told reporters, who had interviewed the president aboard Air Force One on Friday.

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Opening the unusual presidential call to reporters by saying that there was “just one thing I was thinking about as I was getting on the copter,” he said it wasn’t he who started the federal government’s intervention into the nation’s financial system.

“I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement -– the prescription drug plan — without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks throw these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word ‘socialist’ around can’t say the same.”

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The New York Times asked, “So whose watch are we talking about here?” but Obama wouldn’t name names.

“Well, I just think it’s clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people if that coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. The fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis.”

He concluded the brief call by saying, “I think that covers it.”

The phone call came after the president was asked aboard his plane: “Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?”

He was clear in his first answer: “You know, let’s take a look at the budget – the answer would be no.”

“Is there anything wrong with saying, ‘Yes’?” a Times reporter pressed.

“Let’s just take a look at what we’ve done,” Obama said, ticking off efforts his administration has made to stabilize the economy. But he acknowledged that, as he told Joe the Plumber, he plans to try to spread the wealth around.

“If you look on the revenue side what we’re proposing, what we’re looking at is essentially to go back to the tax rates that existed during the 1990s when, as I recall, rich people were doing very well. In fact everybody was doing very well… . We said that we’d give a tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans. That’s exactly what we have done.”

— Joseph Curl, senior political correspondent, The Washington Times