David Frum, Speech Policeman
Who appointed these guys the referees of American political debate?


Stanley Kurtz

I don’t want to imply that the only believers in Obama’s socialism who should get a pass from No Labels are the ones who rely on my book. Two and a half years of research into Obama’s past has left me with a healthy respect for the many Americans who concluded long ago that Obama was a socialist. No doubt some of these folks are intemperate and open to criticism. But I’m struck by how the critics were largely right — and for the right reasons, too. They looked at Obama’s questionable political partnerships, the not-so-hidden hints of radicalism in his memoirs, his own unguarded remarks during the campaign, the general tenor of Alinskyite community organizing, and the upshot of his political program. This yielded a rough-and-ready judgment that was harsh, but by no means unsupported. Two years of painstaking research in archives scattered across the country confirms that, on the whole and in the round, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Joe the Plumber, a host of bloggers, and even John McCain were correct: Obama really is a socialist. These critics are the folks Galston and Frum want to delegitimize and silence, but they had Obama correctly pegged from the start. My book irks Frum because it proves that his favorite targets have been right all along.

I suppose Galston and Frum will now put Jonah Goldberg’s thoughtful piece on Obama’s socialism beyond the pale of respectable public debate as well. What, exactly, other than Galston’s and Frum’s decree, disqualifies it? Among other things, Goldberg does an excellent job of showing how some of Obama’s strongest and most respected public supporters use the word “socialist” to characterize his policies. Will No Labels attack those who praise Obama for his socialism, or only the president’s critics?

And where do we draw the line? Political philosopher and commentator Peter Berkowitz recently published a piece in Policy Review analyzing and exposing the deceptive and illiberal nature of Obama’s progressivism. Berkowitz may not use the forbidden word “socialism,” but his offense, from Galston’s and Frum’s point of view, is arguably greater. Berkowitz takes the currently approved label “progressive” and exposes many of those whom it describes as employing a hypocritical and undemocratic ruse designed to deceive the public into overlooking the real intentions of its practitioners. To be sure, Berkowitz concedes that the deceptions of today’s progressives likely stem from some difficult-to-determine combination of honest self-delusion and intentional stealth. But if it’s out of bounds to call Obama a stealth socialist, why shouldn’t we also reject out of hand Berkowitz’s critique of stealthily illiberal progressivism? We could forgo all attributions of bad faith in public debate — if we could always rely on human honesty and transparency. Yet Galston’s and Frum’s argument actually depends on the attribution of bad faith to their “brain-dead partisan” opponents. It’s only President Obama’s good faith and transparency that they appear to place beyond question.

Berkowitz’s point is that, under the guise of furthering democratic debate, today’s progressives actually scheme to find ways to suppress it. Galston and Frum are up to the same thing.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.