Sunday Book Review: Radical in Chief

One of the salient features of the 2008 presidential campaign was the obscured background of the Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama. While the basic facts were known (Born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, community organizer and state senator in Illinois), certain areas were kept hidden from the public: his school records at Columbia and Harvard, and his state senatorial papers, for example. Thanks to a compliant press more interested in Sarah Palin’s tanning bed than the character and beliefs of a man who might (and did) become president, by Election Day in 2008 we knew little about what Barack Obama believed and what experiences shaped him. While a few researchers raised troubling questions, we instead were left with the image his campaign and media allies projected and protected: a post-partisan liberal pragmatist.

According to journalist Stanley Kurtz in his new book, Radical in Chief: Barack Obama and the untold story of American Socialism, it was all a deception, a lie to conceal the truth: that President Obama is and has always been a committed Socialist.

To tell this story, Kurtz also has to take us through recent history of the American Socialist movement itself, from the crack-up of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s through the ideological struggles between the radical Weathermen and NAM factions, on the one hand, and the Democratic-Socialist groups that sought incremental change. The former advocated direct action and confrontations leading to revolution based on an alliance of radicalized Blacks supported by Socialist activists and an “awakened” middle class. The latter felt the United States was not in a pre-revolutionary state (the failure of the government to collapse after Nixon’s resignation stunned many SDSers), and that the best way to advance Socialism was to work through organized community groups (sound familiar?) and sympathetic politicians to pressure corporations from below and above. Changes would be gradual and would involve both creating entitlements that would be hard to take away, and “non-reforming reforms,” that would purport to fix a problem while actually making it worse and, eventually, precipitating a crisis that would make the American people open to Socialist solutions. The infamous Cloward-Piven strategy is one example.

It is this latter faction that became dominant and in which, according to Kurtz, Barack Obama found a home.

Kurtz traces two threads that converge in Chicago: the rise of Socialist-dominated community organizations and Barack Obama’s intellectual awakening as a community organizer that lead him from New York to Chicago. The former covers community organizing’s origins as a largely Socialist profession and takes us through both well-known groups, such as ACORN, and more obscure (outside of the Socialist community) ones, such as the Midwest Academy and UNO of Chicago. We encounter Socialist activists who are nearly household words these days -Bill Ayers, for example- and others who are influential behind the scenes, such as Greg Galluzzo, Harry Boyte, and Heather Booth. All of these and more became part of Obama’s network as a community organizer and a rising politician. He benefited from their connections, and they later benefited from the money and influence he could funnel their way as a board member on several foundations and as a state senator.

The other thread traces Obama’s intellectual development. Kurtz touches on his teenage association with Communist Party member Frank Davis in Hawaii and his open Marxism-Leninism at Occidental College, but focuses on his introduction to the combination of Socialism and community organizing at the two or three Socialist Scholars Conferences he attended while a student at Columbia University, and on his exposure tothe Black Liberation Theology developed by James Cone, which lead him to… Chicago and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

As Kurtz shows us this complicated and tightly-woven tapestry, he wants us to bear two things in mind: first, that the strategy of the modern incrementalist Socialists has been to disguise their Socialism (except among themselves), knowing that most Americans would reject doctrinaire Socialism if offered openly. Instead, it is clothed in terms of pragmatism and community and American values to make the program palatable to more people, only revealing the Socialist goals behind the community organization’s plans to a dedicated few. Second, that Barack Obama himself adopted this deceptive strategy to disguise his own Socialist leanings as he presented himself to the targets of his organizing efforts and then the voters.

Along the way, Kurtz examines the controversies that arose during Obama’s campaign -the associations with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, his service on the boards of the Woods Fund and the Chicago Annenberg Project, and his membership in the ACORN-controlled New Party- to see what the truth was. In each case, Kurtz concludes, either by direct documentation or strong deduction, that Barack Obama and his allies have at best been misleading or have flatly lied about these and other issues. He also shows that, had the mainstream media even done a modicum of genuine investigative work, much of this could have been uncovered, likely derailing Obama’s presidential aspirations.

In the end, Kurtz seeks to answer two questions: Is President Barack Obama a Socialist, and, now that he is in office, does his past matter? He answers both in the affirmative. Kurtz argues, and I agree, that the weight of the evidence shows that Barack Obama was not only a committed Democratic-Socialist in his early life, but that there is no evidence he ever changed his beliefs, either as a state senator or as president. Indeed, Kurtz uses the example of the supposed craziness of pushing ObamaCare in the face of terrific opposition and at great cost to the Democratic Party to show Obama following the strategies of an Alinskyite community organizer, willing to take a short-term setback to get a long-term, irreversible change. Instead of crazy, Kurtz says, Obama may be crazy like a fox.

Regarding his second question, Obama’s past matters now because, as the President and his allies have gone to such lengths to hide these Socialist values, it is only through studying his days in New York and Chicago that we form a clear idea of the path on which he wants to take America as its president. Should he run for reelection, they will again try to present him as a pragmatic problem-solver seeking to bring people together for common solutions. (This time, one expects, they’ll be greeted with guffaws.) It is up to us, since the major media will hardly help, to bear in mind the truth of Obama’s past to see through the moderate-liberal haze and focus clearly on the Democratic-Socialist reality.

Radical in Chief: Barack Obama and the untold story of American Socialism is an excellent book that should be on the short list for all those interested in modern American politics and the direction of the nation. Stanley Kurtz takes the complex stories of man and movement and, through extensive research and with meticulous footnoting, presents them in a clear, compelling fashion that makes a strong case.

Highly recommended.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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6 Responses to Sunday Book Review: Radical in Chief

  1. Signal Twenty says:

    Sarah Palin clarified her position on Korea by saying “Did you know that Korea is the world’s largest producer of people named Kim? And most of them are men! WTF!”

    SHOCKING story at:

    http://spnheadlines.blogspot.com/2010/01/north-korea-threatens-war_30.html

    Peace! :-)

  2. [...] in mind that Barack Obama is a lifelong Socialist, and that part and parcel of his ideology is the belief that the world’s problems are caused [...]

  3. [...] disagree with Bill on one point: while I’m certain Obama’s foreign policy is driven by the same Socialist ideology that informs his domestic policies, it is also incompetent. Just look at its execution. The latest [...]

  4. [...] benefits and outsized political influence. Among the ideologues and left-liberal elites, including our president, there’s a desire and a goal to reshape our nation along European social-democratic lines, [...]

  5. [...] being abusive, just honest. My contentions that Eric Holder should be impeached, Barack Obama is a stealth Socialist, and this entire administration a bunch of bumblers out to weaken the United States? Strong [...]

  6. [...] which is both a political biography of Obama and a history of American Socialism since the 1970s. I reviewed the book a while back and I think it’s crucial to understanding Barack Obama as we go into another [...]

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