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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Stanley Kurtz, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor for National Review Online. He has also written for National Review, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, Policy Review, and Commentary. He is the author of the new book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.
FP: Stanley Kurtz, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about your case for Obama’s socialism and why Obama’s radical past matters today.
I think it is best to start with these two questions:
Do the American people really understand Obama’s vision for our country? And if not, why not?
Kurtz: Thanks Jamie.
A widely-reported poll found that 55 percent of likely voters think Obama is a socialist. These folks are regularly mocked by liberal opinion-makers, of course. Yet my research shows that the people who believe Obama is a socialist have been right all along. Obama wants to move America as far as he can toward European-style socialism, and many Americans do get this.
On the other hand, the full truth about Obama’s socialism is not well understood by voters on either side of the political spectrum. That’s because the recent history of socialism has been intentionally shrouded in mystery. Peeling back the curtain explains a lot about Obama’s plans, and puts our debates about the president’s political convictions in a whole new light.
The reason few understand the truth about Obama’s socialism is that the community organizers who trained Obama and sponsored his political career intentionally keep their socialism secret. They do this because they understand perfectly well that the American people would reject their socialist views were they frankly stated. So Obama’s organizing models and mentors–some of the most influential socialists in the country–intentionally adopted a strategy of stealth. Obama’s stealth-socialist mentors developed methods of political disguise, including a vocabulary and strategy for advancing socialism without openly saying so. Obama has mastered their techniques. I wouldn’t have believed all this myself if I hadn’t read about it in the papers of these socialist community organizers. But there it is in black and white.
FP: Tell us about your research and sources.
Kurtz: I traveled across the country, searching for archives preserving the papers of the community organizations and socialist groups to which Obama was connected. These archival documents were incredibly revealing. They form the basis of Radical-in-Chief. I also did a great deal of research in long-forgotten issues of obscure journals, many of which contain articles which frankly state the socialist plans of Obama’s organizing colleagues. Various socialist groups maintained semi-public/semi-private publications called “discussion bulletins,” in which they would air their disagreements and reveal their strategies in ways they dared not do in their official newsletters.
Also, the archives of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington contain historic documents detailing the contacts between Obama’s original community organization and the Washington administration. The Harold Washington archives even hold remarkable documents revealing the political history of Jeremiah Wright. This is only a small sample of the sorts of archives I visited. Putting the story together was like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle. I traveled from archive to library to archive, following a set of clues and piecing together the hidden story of Obama’s past.
FP: What shaped Obama’s vision? His years at Columbia, it seems, were quite instrumental.
Kurtz: Obama was a socialist even before he reached Columbia. But it was in April of 1983, in his senior year, that Obama walked into an off-campus Socialist Scholars Conference. That conference changed the future president’s life and gave him a program he’s been following for his entire political career, right up to this day.
It was in the early eighties that American socialists turned in force to community organizing as a long-term strategy for transforming American society. With Reagan as president, conventional socialist nationalization of America’s businesses was impossible. So instead the focus turned to grassroots strategies for creating socialism “from below.” Community organizations like ACORN would take hold of the capitalist system from the ground up, forcing banks to make risky subprime loans, for example. The idea was to create de facto public control of businesses through community organizations, rather than through formal government ownership.
The symbol of all this was Chicago’s Mayor Harold Washington, who worked closely with Chicago’s small but influential collection of socialists, many of whom brought the community organizations they controlled onto the Washington bandwagon. The buzz at that 1983 Socialist Scholars Conference was that minority-led political coalitions would work in tandem with community organizations to swing the Democratic Party left. This would incrementally move America toward socialism. Harold Washington became Obama’s political idol, and Obama was swept up in plans to create a partnership between quietly-socialist community organizers and left-leaning minority politicians to reshape the American system.
Amazingly, the Socialist Scholars Conferences Obama attended in New York in the mid-eighties even put him on the path that led to Reverend Wright. The Democratic Socialists of America, which sponsored those conferences, had just formed an alliance with the black liberation theologians who were Reverend Wright’s mentors. Obama would have learned all about the ties between black liberation theology and socialism at those conferences.
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