by Paul Gregory

As campaign rhetoric heats up, pundits and talking-point guys and gals debate what is on or off limits. Can or should the Democrats talk about 16-year-old “bully” Romney or about his “weirdness” (a veiled reference I guess to his Mormon faith)?

Can or should the Republicans revive Reverend Wright’s black liberation rants, the Bill Ayers connection, or the President’s youthful drug use, which apparently was prolific.

One such pundit on the democrat side (who and where I forget) referred to “crazies” who call Obama a “socialist.” Such statements are beyond the pale, he declared in disgust. They are on a par with the “birther” claims.

Despite such dismissals, there is strong and legitimate interest in whether President Obama is a socialist. My Forbes piece Is President Obama Truly a Socialist continues to attract many readers three months after it was posted. It showed the remarkable overlap between Obama’s electoral platform and the Party of European Socialists, which represents leftist and socialist parties in the European parliament. My French Socialists Test Drive Obama’s Electoral Platform showed that French socialist Francois Hollande’s and Obama’s platforms are virtual carbon copies, and Hollande is quite open about and proud of being a socialist.

Democrat strategists know that the American electorate reacts strongly negative to “socialism” and are doing their best to discredit any and all who call Obama a socialist. There can be no doubt that Obama is a socialist in the European reform-Marxism tradition. In France, Obama would be the candidate of the French socialist party. In Spain, he would be at home in the Socialist Worker’s Party. In Germany, Obama would be torn between the Social Democrats and Die Linke. In “Old Europe,” the welfare state is well entrenched. Elections are about tinkering at the margin. The United States has still to decide whether it wants the European welfare state or not. Obama does. Romney does not.

Democrat strategists discredit Obama-is-a-socialist claims by equating them with the ludicrous charge that Obama is a card-carrying communist of the cold war tradition. That is not what is being said. European socialists are proud of their rich tradition and heritage that date back to the split with revolutionary Marxism at the turn of the last century. In the United States, however, candidates must conceal rather than openly proclaim their socialist beliefs.

The upcoming November election offers American voters a choice that is starker than they understand. Obama brings to the table a deep distrust of free enterprise and a belief in government as the solution to most problems. Romney offers a vision of faith in private enterprise and a distrust of government intervention. Obama will disguise his views with “fair share” slogans and weak protestations of faith in private enterprise.

Both sides might as well come clean. Obama should make his health care reform a centerpiece of his campaign rather than pretend it does not exist. Romney should explain the insights into American capitalism he gained at Bain Capital and why that qualifies him for the Presidency. Both should state their positions clearly and let the electorate decide. The winner will have a mandate for action.

That’s the way democracy should work. It rarely does. Let this election be an exception.

Paul Roderick Gregory’s latest book,  ”Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina, ” can be found at amazon.com.

Paul R. Gregory is a Research Fellow, Hoover Institution Cullen Professor of Economics, University of Houston. Gregory has a regular blog http://blogs.forbes.com/paulroderickgregory/at Forbes.com. He also serves on the GRIH Board of Scholars.