President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dolores Huerta, a labor union founder whom he credited with coining the "yes, we can" that marked his 2008 campaign.
"Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, 'Si, se puede.' Yes, we can," Obama said during the Medal of Freedom ceremony today. "Knowing her, I'm pleased she let me off easy, because Dolores does not play," he joked.
Huerta, with Cesar Chavez, founded the United Farm Workers. "Without any negotiating expertise, Dolores helped lead a boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country's first farm worker contracts," Obama said during the ceremony today. "And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table."
Huerta is also an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as Heritage Foundation's Lachlan Markay notes. DSA's website explains that its "policies require the support of a majoritarian coalition of trade unionists, people of color, feminists, gays and lesbians and all other peoples committed to democratic change" in order to begin "transforming the power relations of global capitalism."
Obama's 2012 campaign slogan, "Forward," provoked stories about the history of this word as a socialist mantra, but the president has increased his efforts this year to dispel the idea that his policies amount to socialism.
"We should have a commitment to our seniors and to the disabled," Obama said in early April. "That’s not socialism." He often invokes President Lincoln's government financing of railroads, for instance, and certain tax increases passed during President Reagan's administration to demonstrate the American heritage of his ideas.
The DSA sees a relationship between its work and that of the Democrats. "Many socialists have seen the Democratic Party, since at least the New Deal, as the key political arena in which to consolidate this coalition, because the Democratic Party held the allegiance of our natural allies," the DSA says. But contemporary circumstances require a tactical change, per the DSA, which called for "realignment within the Democratic Party" and perhaps the rise of a third party, as well.
But it's not as if Obama lifts his policy positions from DSA pamphlets, or vice versa. The DSA made clear that it opposes the North American Free Trade Agreement for instance. Obama, notably, signed free trade agreements with three different countries earlier this year.
"We believe in the free market," Obama said at fundraiser in California last week. "We believe in risk-taking and innovation. This whole area is built on risk-taking and innovation. But we also understand that it doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens because of outstanding schools and universities. It happens because of a well-regulated financial market. It happens because we have extraordinary infrastructure. It happens for a whole host of reasons."