Lifting the veil on the new New Left

January 21, 2011

This is a follow-up post to “Lifting the veil of the Left”.

When I first heard of Stanley Kurtz’s book, “Radical In Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism”, I was circumspect, because I thought it might be another conservative diatribe full of anecdotes that just say, “I’m really scared of this guy, and you should be, too.” I’ve seen books like this before, and I find them useless, because you don’t really learn anything of value. However, listening to the research Kurtz has done really impressed me. What impressed me most of all is he claims to have been able to use his research to show that Obama most certainly hid some critical pieces of his past in his book, “Dreams From My Father”. By this he means that Obama would talk about his political activities, but he left out the socialist aspects of them; that he told half-truths, and in one case, lied.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t get into a deep analysis of it. I just wanted to share this, because there have been some books written that look at Obama from the outside and try to fit models of political theory to his story, to explain who he is. Kurtz appears to have written a much deeper analysis of what formed Obama’s political views and agenda, using a wealth of source material that goes beyond what Obama said in his autobiography. What follows is taken from a speech Kurtz gave at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend from 2010.

After reviewing this, it reminded me of a clip I saw online a couple months ago with Lawrence O’Donnell confronting a progressive political supporter, named Glen, on MSNBC:

I’m not so much talking about how O’Donnell admits he’s a socialist. It’s that he chastised Glen for being unrealistic, that what Obama and the progressives in the Democratic Party got through was really the best they could do, and they should be satisfied with that. This sounds kind of like what the Midwest Academy (which I get to below) advocated, in the sense that they tried to stay away from some divisive issues, like foreign policy, and certain social issues, like abortion, and focus instead on economic populist issues. What they advocated was incrementalism.

Kurtz said that the socialist left’s strategy for taking over the Democratic Party started in the 1980s when Reagan was president. There was the community organizing from below, but there was also a strategy to drive the business interests that supported the Democrats out of the party, and into the arms of the Republicans. This was an intentional polarization of the country. It was thought that this would attract community organized groups into the Democratic Party, and then the Party would become the vehicle for a class struggle between the workers, in the Democratic Party, vs. the business interests in the Republican Party. What we’ve seen must’ve been a modification of that strategy, because there are certainly business interests that have been supporting the Democratic Party of late. A coalition has developed between Wall Street and the Democratic Party that has supported ObamaCare, and cap and trade, though Kurtz uses the example of the way the Obama Administration has treated the Chamber of Commerce to make his point.

Kurtz’s thesis is that Obama is most certainly a socialist. In detail after detail, he builds a very strong case. He uses the term carefully. Kurtz seems to be an honest academic whose goal is, “Just the facts, ma’am.” He is not given to hyperbole. He says, in fact, that when he first set out to write the book he was not looking to find that Obama is a socialist. He was commissioned to write a book on Obama’s political past, and by his account there was no agenda to slant that research one way or the other. He said his finding was unavoidable, given the evidence he found. He was shocked at the amount of evidence for it.

Kurtz said that Obama is partly the product of a change in the socialist movement in this country that occurred in the 1980s. He zeroed in particularly on the Midwest Academy (I will call it “the MA” from here on). There, he found a blueprint for the way that Obama has behaved politically. A big theme was “stealth.” Members of the MA believed in stealth socialism. They did not believe that making their true agenda known would work to their advantage. This was in contrast to the New Left of the 1960s, which was very open about its socialist goals. Instead they advocated that their members speak in fairly neutral tones, using what Kurtz called “communitarian language.” In fact he said that Obama’s 2004 keynote address at the Democratic national convention, “not a red America, not a blue America, but one America,” fit this mold. Michelle Obama, the First Lady, is not an innocent in all this. She was with Barack Obama when he attended meetings of the Midwest Academy.

Richard Epstein gives a view of this “stealth” behavior in this interview from March 2009, called “Crisis and the law”, on the show Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson:

Robinson: From your weekly column in Forbes Online, I’m quoting you to yourself, “I know Obama through our association at the University of Chicago Law School and through mutual friends in the neighborhood. We have had one or two serious, substantive discussions when I sent him e-mails in the early days of his senate term.” You’re the kind of person who gets to send e-mails to senators. “He always answered in a sensible and thoughtful fashion, and yet for the likely course of assessing his presidency, I don’t know him at all.” How can you say such a thing?

Epstein: Oh, it’s very easy. One of the things about Obama is that he has the world’s most perfect human disposition. He can sit in a room with you. He can listen to you. He can talk to you. And what happens is you really get the sense of a man who is in complete self control. That is the feature that makes him so hard to read. He is so much in self control that if he doesn’t want you to know in a conversation where he’s thinking, you can be there for 30 minutes and never be able to figure out what he believes. You can only have him question you about what you believe. He keeps all of his thoughts to himself.

Robinson: So he’s Leonard Nimoy. Playing Spock, the Vulcan.

Epstein: He basically knows how to keep that shield over his face. It’s almost a little bit unnerving to talk with him, because you want to say, “Well I agree with you,” as opposed to having another question to sort of formulate your position, so that he can understand it a little better.

The second half of it of course is that the speech is completely inconsistent with the political record in the sense that in the Senate he had the most left-wing voting record of anybody there, moreso than with people like Hilary Clinton. And that’s the way of course in which he moves.

Robinson: Charles Krauthammer described the dinner that Barack Obama attended at the home of George Will with a number of conservative journalists shortly before the inauguration. Krauthammer said that after Obama left, Will, Krauthammer, several others stayed around and talked about it for an hour or so, and they could not decide whether he was a centrist who wanted to throw bones to the left, or a leftist who wanted to throw bones to the center. Which is it, Richard?

Epstein: Well, first of all, the reason they couldn’t figure it out is the same thing that I mentioned before. The man has this sort of stone face experience, and it’s quite on purpose. Look, the answer I think is pretty clear. He’s a man on the left who will, if necessary, throw bones to the center. This is not a man from the center. Some of the appointments he has may sound centrist, but again, I just don’t believe in this as a serious indicator. David Axelrod is a high-cot politico. He has much more influence on anything that Obama does than somebody like Lawrence Summers, who might have more sense on these economic issues. How do I know that? Well, I’m certainly not there for the conversation, but when I hear Larry Summers announce how it is that collective bargaining, and organized labor improves productivity, I don’t treat that as the statement of an independent judgement. I treat that as a sense that the administration is really strongly pro-labor, and you have to sort of throw some bones in that particular direction as an independent advisor in order to lend a certain degree of gravitas to what’s happening.

Kurtz said the Midwest Academy also advocated an “inside, outside” strategy. He rephrased it as “good cop, bad cop.” Obama was, and still is, the “good cop.” Acorn was the “bad cop,” using thuggish tactics to pressure businesses into doing what they wanted, particularly the banks. He said Acorn was the organization that implemented the community organizing strategy they had for “building socialism from below” during the Reagan era when it appeared that trying to impose socialism from the top, constructing and using government institutions and policies to impose it, was not going to work in America. When Obama was in the Illinois state legislature, on the surface he played nice with people and business interests, not to cause alarm, but behind the scenes he was coordinating with Acorn.

The thing that really jumped out at me was he said that the MA had developed a strategy for “evolving” our society into socialism, using the work of a French socialist as a template, called “non-reformist reform.” He said that their first idea in this vein was to create a United States energy corporation, run by the government–a public option for energy–to “compete” with private energy companies. The key element of this strategy was it was thought to be politically palatable, using capitalist language of “competition,” to promote “fairness” in the energy market. However, it would be a “poison pill” by design. Kurtz said this was not a presumption on his part. The members of this organization openly talked about how the strategy was designed to drive private companies out of the market. Kurtz said they could do this since the government controls taxation, and regulation. I would add that in addition it could subsidize the price of energy through such an entity. The end game that was anticipated was the government would control the means of energy production for the entire country. This would transform the energy industry to socialism, and would be a significant step in transforming America into a socialist country. This strategy was the blueprint for the public option in health insurance. Kurtz said that the structure in the health insurance bill that was passed was just a path to “the public option” at a slower pace, since the public option was not politically palatable. He said that the current structure is designed to fail. It was designed to drive people out of their private health insurance plans and into the government’s health insurance exchange. So far the first half of that has been happening since last year. The health insurance exchanges are yet to come.

In one of the speeches Kurtz gave on his book he mentioned that the financial reform bill that was passed last year contained a provision that made it easier for environmentalists who are stockholders in corporations to gain seats on corporate boards, which will make it easier for the government to coordinate the means of production across many industries. I would add that even with a conservative administration, it would make it possible for these board members to advance socialist political agendas within corporate cultures.

Kurtz said that the Midwestern Academy’s overall strategy was to create polarizing situations, creating and using coalitions of workers and minorities against private industry, and we see this in the way that Obama has behaved as president. Secondly, he said that the people from the MA “thrive on crisis situations.” So when you think about the economic collapse of 2008, you can see how Obama exploited that very well in order to get elected. In fact Kurtz says that Acorn played a major role in creating the financial crisis, going all the way back to negotiations it engaged in with the Clinton Administration to set up the rules for mortgage lending.

In the speech Kurtz gave at Restoration Weekend, during the Q&A, a woman asked if he was using the term “socialist” strategically. She said, “This is communism.” He said that since he’s an anthropologist by training, he documented what these people said they are, not who he thinks they are, though he said that he considered the evidence he found to question in his book the claims some of these people made about what their true intentions were, suggesting that even though they called themselves democratic socialists, their true aims may have been more towards communism. He did not make a definitive claim to that effect, because he could not find evidence to show definitively that that was their true aim. This reserve he showed lent credibility to his thesis, in my opinion.

I guess what Kurtz says should not be a surprise. Even Charles Krauthammer has openly said on a few occasions that the agenda Obama has pursued amounts to democratic socialism, and that Obama really thinks the European model of socialism is better than what we have. I don’t think he says this to slur the President, but rather is just trying to give an accurate description of the evidence he’s seen. I think talking about this, though, is helpful in dealing with what we see coming out of the Democratic Party, because it enables us to have a more realistic discussion about what’s going on, and we can make the choice about whether we want to accept it or not.