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[Editors’ Note: Below is a speech given by Stanley Kurtz about his new book, Radical-Chief, at the Restoration Weekend event hosted recently (November 18 – 21) by the David Horowitz Freedom Center in Palm Beach, Florida.]
For Part II of the video, click here.
Introduction by David Horowitz: Welcome to the 16th Annual Restoration Weekend, which began, actually, as the Dark Ages Weekend in 1994, a creation of Laura Ingraham and Jay Lefkowitz, with the Center as a silent partner at the time. We changed the name because the Republicans said they would boycott the event. They couldn’t take the joke, or the joke was too politically dangerous for them. So we came up with the Restoration Weekend idea.
The program we’ve arranged for this weekend is to analyze, interrogate and celebrate the year of unintended consequences. Actually, it’s three years of unintended consequences.
The American people in 2008 did not intend to elect the most radical, anti-capitalist, anti-American President in the history of this country. And then, the radicals certainly did not intend to destroy the Democratic Party two years later. It sort of goes to validate Lincoln’s famous statement that you can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
There are people, and certainly lots of conservatives, who would be disturbed — or some conservatives maybe now, since people are waking up — to hear Barack Obama described as a radical anti-capitalist. And that’s because — well, if he was a radical anti-capitalist, if he was a Marxist, he would have taken over the means of production already. But this underestimates the deviousness and intelligence of our opponents.
When my parents were members of the Communist Party, and Joseph Stalin was the revered leader, the slogan of the American Communist Party was, “Peace, Jobs and Democracy.” Leftists are not dummies. They are religious zealots. They’re very intelligent people, but they are a cult phenomenon. So they understand that if they tell you their agendas, that would be the end of them.
Actually, that’s the most redeeming feature of my radical generation of the ‘60s. I mean, we said we were revolutionaries and proud of it. And that’s why we got nowhere.
But because it’s a religious calling, being on the Left, a lot of leftists continued. I mean, it’s like the millennialists who think the end of the world is coming on a certain day. Then, when it doesn’t, they reconstitute themselves, which is what happened after the ‘60s.
And our speaker this morning, Stanley Kurtz, has written an indispensable book called “Radical-in-Chief.”
To me, his take on the President was obvious, because I’ve spent so many years on the Left. I understand the mentality. And it didn’t take me two seconds to understand that a man who sat in the church of Jeremiah Wright — and it’s more than that; this was his confidant for 20 years — and who was friends with Billy Ayers, was a communist. I use that term with a small C. And by that, I mean that they saw the world the way we saw it, the way my parents saw it — that America is ruled by evil corporations, America’s the dominant corporate power in the world. And the solution is a socialist transformation.
But unlike me Stanley is not and never has been a leftist. He wasn’t brought up in the Left, and this is not part of his mentality. So his book actually benefits from that, in that it is a search actually to try to understand the forces that shape Barack Obama. In the process of completing this search he has reconstituted a picture of the Left that I was a part of after the ‘60s. And he’s done a remarkable job of this.
And if you read this book, you will get an understanding of Obama and of the people around him. Because he’s surrounded, and his whole career was engineered, by people from the radical Left, and actually, the worst part of the Left. When I was a ‘60s radical — and would’ve described myself, if you had met me, as a Marxist revolutionary — I despised Bill Ayers because he was such a shallow narcissist and so destructive. And yet, this is a man who’s worked for 20-odd years side-by-side with Barack Obama.
Stanley is a National Review writer; And here he is.
Stanley Kurtz: Thank you.
Well, first let me just follow up on what David just said. You know, I’ve been reading, as background for coming down here, Radical Son, David’s extraordinary memoir. And you really ought to pick up that book. And I’ve been reading Ron Radosh’s memoir, Commies. And I really have been struck, reading through these things, how everything that David and Ron experienced really is a kind of variation on the world Obama lived in and the world I expose in this book.
So I know exactly what you’re saying, David. And as for me, yeah, I had a standard-issue liberal American upbringing, nothing super leftist. But I am by training an anthropologist. So I actually approached this project as an anthropologist. To me, it was a strange, unfamiliar world that I had to somehow unravel and explain from the ground up. And that’s what I try to do in the book.
So the book is called “Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.” As you will glean from what David said and from the title of the book, I argue that Barack Obama really is, literally, a socialist.
Now, that is not something I expected to be arguing when I began my research for the book. It’s not that I had been shy during the political campaign of 2008 about discussing Obama’s radicalism. I did the research. We’ll get into this a little bit. But you may have heard about Bill Ayers during the 2008 campaign, and about the organization ACORN. So some of the research I did helped to inject those issues into the 2008 campaign. So I was hardly shy about calling Obama someone from the far left, even calling him a radical.
But even though I didn’t think he was literally a socialist — and frankly, I didn’t even want to think that he was a socialist because it’s just not a respectable kind of argument to make, even among many conservatives — but the tiny little problem is that Barack Obama is a socialist. And so as I ran across all of this evidence, I really had no choice but to be loyal to that evidence.
So let me talk about the beginning of the book. And this is the evidence that first pulled me onto the trail. At the beginning of the book, I describe in a couple of chapters the Socialist Scholars Conferences that Barack Obama attended when he lived in New York City between about the years 1983 and 1985.
Now, Barack Obama was a senior at Columbia University during the first of these conferences. And this was the exact moment that Obama decided to become a community organizer. And going through all of this in the book in the manner of a detective story, I argue that Obama really discovered his vocation as a community organizer at this first Socialist Scholars Conference at the Cooper Union in New York City in 1983.
And if you read Obama’s memoir, you really see that he’s explaining everything; he’s just leaving out the socialism part. But we can find that part because of little admissions that Obama makes in disguised ways in his book and because I was able to get into the archives of the Democratic Socialists of America, which put on these conferences; found his name on a signup sheet, and such. And you can read all the evidence in the book.
So what went on at these conferences? Well, the overall theme of these conferences was that community organizing is the way to turn America socialist. That’s what community organizing is really all about, although you’ve probably never heard that until now, because community organizers make a point of keeping the socialist story hidden.
Now, how is it that community organizing would make America socialist? David already alluded to this when he said people pooh-pooh the socialism idea by saying, Well, is Obama nationalizing all the industries? Well, this was the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. Now, it’d be very difficult to run a nationalization strategy by Ronald Reagan.
And of course, by the early ‘80s, the dreams of the socialists for revolution had collapsed. Through the ‘60s, through the early and even mid-‘70s, there were still hopes among the members and then ex-members of the SDS that they could spark a revolution. And I followed the story of their socialist groups after the ‘60s. No one really followed the history of American socialism after the ‘60s.
And for awhile, the veterans of the SDS and other socialists in the United States still thought that America was heading for a kind of giant economic collapse and socialism was just around the corner. Well, it wasn’t just around the corner. Ronald Reagan was finally elected.
And so they came up with a new strategy, and that strategy ran through community organizing. The idea was to go out into local communities and to build socialism from the bottom up. How? Well, you’ve heard of this group ACORN. ACORN confronts banks, uses intimidation tactics to force banks to make subprime loans to people with risky credit histories. That actually, at this conference, was touted as a kind of strategy for socialism. You create a de facto public ownership — not by formal nationalization from above, but by pressure from these community groups from below. Another strategy was to get community organizers represented on the boards of directors of various companies.
So this is the strategy that entranced Obama. And it was at these Socialist Scholars Conferences he would’ve first heard about organizations, like ACORN and Project Vote, that he spent his entire lifetime working with. These socialist conferences also laid out strategies — strategies to turn the United States socialist. I’ve already talked about one of them — this ground-up notion.
Another focal strategy was the socialist realignment strategy. What that means is that there was an effort to polarize the Democratic and Republican Parties along class lines. How do you do that? You do that by attacking business interests and driving them out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. Now, that might sound crazy — why would anyone want to drive anyone out of their party, especially people who are donors, have money and all of that? It seems crazy. I mean, I’ll get to this, but just think about what Obama’s been doing lately with the Chamber of Commerce and whatnot.
But in fact, the idea is that once you attack these business interests and drive them out of the Democratic Party and into the Republicans, you jumpstart a populist, anti-business movement of the Left. And all of those people pour into the Democratic Party. And then, presto, the country has been polarized between the haves and the have-nots. And the thought of the socialist strategists who mentored Obama was that over time, the party of the have-nots would inevitably gravitate toward socialism, if you could just make class the underlying issue of American politics.
And Project Vote, for example, was part of this strategy. Because the thought was that the poor and minority individuals who don’t vote in large numbers need to be registered, they need to pour into the Democratic Party; and that will help in this process of pulling the Democrats to the left and polarizing the country along class lines.
So all of Obama’s years of work with groups like ACORN and Project Vote was understood by him from the start as part of this larger socialist strategy. And another crucial theme at these early Socialist Scholars Conferences was that the electoral route to socialism will be led by minorities in the United States.
And the inspiration here was the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington, which occurred just at the time of this first Socialist Scholars Conference, when Obama embraced community organizing. Harold Washington managed to defeat the machine in Chicago. He created an alliance with the community organizations run by socialists, which are very powerful in Chicago. And this so excited the socialists that they saw it as a model for how to turn America socialist.
Now, Harold Washington never said out loud, “I’m a socialist.” He did work with socialists a little more openly than mayors in most cities would have. And that was enough for the Democratic Socialists of America in 1983. And if you read Obama’s memoir, you’ll see that Harold Washington was his model and his idol.
Again, Obama tells you a great deal. Obama — well, actually, — I was going to say Obama doesn’t lie. Actually, Obama does lie, and my book lays out lie after lie. So let me revise that. But Obama often tells the truth, but he does it in ways that are limited and disguised, so he can protect himself, to say, “Well, I said that.” And so, once you go and you see what happened at these socialist conferences, and you plug it into his memoir, everything adds up.
Now, let me mention one last thing about these early Socialist Scholars Conferences. One of the most remarkable things — and this is what first caught my eye, by the way, when I was doing this research — one of the most remarkable things Obama would’ve learned at these early Socialist Scholars Conferences is that a new alliance had been struck up between black liberation theology and socialism.
Reverend Wright, of course, was a follower of black liberation theology. And Reverend Wright’s mentor, James Cone, who was the founder of black liberation theology, had just formed an alliance in the early ‘80s with Michael Harrington of the Democratic Socialists of America. So James Cone spoke at one of the socialist conferences Obama attended, and so did a prominent follower of Cone speak at several of the conferences that Obama attended.
So even before Obama got to Chicago, he would’ve understood that Reverend Wright and his theology were part of this same socialist world, which was also the world of community organizing. And my jaw really dropped when I first saw the program of this Socialist Scholars Conference Obama attended, and I saw James Cone’s name was on it. That’s when I knew I had to take the socialism issue seriously.
Now, let me skip ahead a bit. Okay, we’re fine for time. Skipping ahead a bit to another part of the book, a very important part of the book where I discuss a remarkable community organizer training institute in Chicago called the Midwest Academy. The Midwest Academy.
Now, the Midwest Academy was, in a sense, the ultimate embodiment of the socialist community organizing strategy touted at these conferences in New York City. The organizers who ran the Midwest Institute were not only socialists; they were among the most prominent socialists in the United States of America. But they didn’t believe that you should tell the people you organize about your socialism. You keep your socialism secret. You use your socialism to devise your larger long-term strategy. But you advertise yourself as a populist, or a communitarian.
And of course, Obama frequently uses populist and communitarian language. Ordinarily, one wouldn’t think anything of it. But when you realize that all of his training were from socialists who believed in using populist and communitarian language as a kind of screen for socialism, it gets a little scarier. Now, the socialist community organizers who ran the Midwest Academy trained Obama, they funded Obama and, most remarkably, they sponsored Obama’s political career.
Another one of these amazing moments that hit me when I was doing my research — I was going through the Midwest Academy archives. And you file through all of these papers here, read all these names. And then I stumbled upon the name of Alice Palmer. Alice Palmer.
Alice Palmer was a state senator from Hyde Park, an Illinois state senator from Hyde Park. She held the post of state senator that Obama took over. She actually anointed Obama as her successor. Why did she do that? What made her have confidence to choose Obama as her successor? We’ve known that she did this at a party at the home of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, with various other socialists present.
But what emerges from my research is the fact that Alice Palmer could well have known Obama for years. But even if she didn’t, her colleagues had worked directly with Obama for years. Her socialist colleagues had worked directly with Obama for years. They were in a position to know and understand his political views more deeply than anyone else.
So why would the socialists of Chicago, who had control of this state senate seat, let it go to someone who didn’t also share their views? It seems pretty obvious that Alice Palmer chose Obama because he was part of her socialist community organizing world.
And when you study the Midwest Academy, you really learn remarkable things about the Obama Administration. The Midwest Academy, for example, virtually invented the idea of the public option. The public option.
Now, in those days, it wasn’t about healthcare; it was about energy. The Midwest Academy’s socialist organizers ran a kind of front coalition, which they called populist, on energy issues. And their big idea was to create a US energy corporation to “compete” with private energy companies. Now, of course, if the government is competing with private companies, it’s really no contest, because the government controls the power of taxation and the power of regulation. Obviously, they can drive private companies out of business. And over time, that’s what they’ll do.
So the Midwest Academy’s socialist organizers came up with this idea of a public energy corporation as a slow-motion way towards socialism. They even had a theoretical word for it that came from the work of a Marxist theorist from France named André Gorz.
Gorz’s idea — and this was a favorite idea of all of Obama’s community organizing buddies — his idea was to sponsor non-reformist reforms. Non-reformist reforms. What does that mean? It means that you advertise a change as just a tweak to the system. Hey, this is just another company. A public energy corporation’s going to compete with other companies. Competition. It’s practically capitalist. But of course, over time, a non-reformist reform is designed to undermine capitalism and move you to a different system.
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