Stanley Kurtz hit an Organizing for America nerve during Barack Obama’s campaign for president. Stanley, a Harvard-educated social anthropologist, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has written for National Review and National Review Online for over a decade. When he started not only asking questions but digging into Barack Obama’s academic and activist past, the campaign tried to shut him down — literally, organizing a phone slamdown on Chicago radio.
Well, this still is America. And so Stanley has done what he is trained to do — research and present evidence to present a complete picture, in this case of the man who is currently president of the United States. The fruit of that project is a gripping, meticulous new book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, which he discusses with me here.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is so bad about being a Radical-in-Chief?
STANLEY KURTZ: There are two key problems. First, Obama’s slow-motion socialism undercuts liberty and prosperity on behalf of a highly questionable view of fairness. Second, and at least as disturbing, Obama’s practice of disguising his ideological views is bad for democracy, which depends upon informed public choice.
LOPEZ: “Community organizing is a largely socialist profession.” How does one back that up? A lot of faith-based types could be described as community organizers, couldn’t they? And they’re not necessarily socialists. They certainly needn’t be.
KURTZ: If you define community organizing very broadly, you could include even conservative groups under its banner. From some perspectives, the Tea Party is a form of community organizing. But the community organizing I discuss in the book is a self-consciously radical tradition that flows from the early achievements of Saul Alinsky, along with the work of Students for a Democratic Society and the National Welfare Rights Organization in the early-to-mid 1960s. The leadership of these groups was largely socialist, and remained so as they moved into community organizing in the 1970s and beyond. More to the point, the community organizers who trained and worked with Obama were largely socialist, although they made a point of not advertising that fact. Even the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a faith-based group that has done much to support community organizing (including Obama’s own early work), is an effectively socialist group, although it doesn’t say so directly. My book carefully unpacks a great deal of archival evidence to substantiate these claims.
LOPEZ: You wrote, “When I began my post-campaign research for this book, my inclination was to downplay or dismiss evidence of explicit socialism in Obama’s background. I thought the socialism issue was an unprovable and unnecessary distraction from the broader question of Obama’s ultra-liberal inclinations. I was wrong. Evidence that suggests Obama is a socialist, I am now convinced, is real, important, and profoundly relevant to the present.” Explain.
KURTZ: It takes a whole book to explicate that statement. But to be brief, when I first found programs from the Socialist Scholars Conferences Obama attended in New York in the 1980s, I saw a number of people who were later part of his political circle. I was particularly struck by the name James Cone, who was Jeremiah Wright’s theological mentor and the founder of black liberation theology. There were other talks on black liberation theology at those conferences as well. That meant Obama would very likely have known about Wright’s theology even before he met Wright, and would have recognized its socialist content. Following this trail, I discovered that many of Obama’s organizing mentors and colleagues in Chicago were prominent socialists, with ties to the group that had sponsored those early socialist conferences. The policy preferences, tactics, and strategies of these socialist organizers are recognizable in the administration’s conduct today. In fact, the Obama administration continues to coordinate its grassroots support through many of the same socialist organizers he worked with in previous years.