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Obama’s Third-Party History
New documents shed new light on his ties to a leftist party in the 1990s.

Barack Obama campaigns for the Illinois state senate in the mid-1990s. (©Marc PoKempner, 1995)

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Stanley Kurtz

The New Party had a front group called Progressive Chicago, whose job was to identify candidates that the New Party and its sympathizers might support. Nearly four years before Obama was endorsed by the New Party, both he and Harwell joined Progressive Chicago and began signing public letters that regularly reported on the group’s meetings. By prominently taking part in Progressive Chicago activities, Obama was effectively soliciting New Party support for his future political career (as was Harwell, on Obama’s behalf). So Harwell’s testimony is doubly false.

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When the New Party controversy broke out, just about the only mainstream journalist to cover it was Politico’s Ben Smith, whose evident purpose was to dismiss it out of hand. He contacted Obama’s official spokesman Ben LaBolt, who claimed that his candidate “was never a member” of the New Party. And New Party co-founder and leader Joel Rogers told Smith, “We didn’t really have members.” But a line in the New Party’s official newsletter explicitly identified Obama as a party member. Rogers dismissed that as mere reference to “the fact that the party had endorsed him.”

This is nonsense. I exposed the falsity of Rogers’s absurd claim, and Smith’s credulity in accepting it, in 2008 (here and here). And in Radical-in-Chief I took on Rogers’s continuing attempts to justify it. The recently uncovered New Party records reveal how dramatically far from the truth Rogers’s statement has been all along.

In a memo dated January 29, 1996, Rogers, writing as head of the New Party Interim Executive Council, addressed “standing concerns regarding existing chapter development and activity, the need for visibility as well as new members.” So less than three weeks after Obama joined the New Party, Rogers was fretting about the need for new members. How, then, could Rogers assert in 2008 that his party “didn’t really have members”? Internal documents show that the entire leadership of the New Party, both nationally and in Chicago, was practically obsessed with signing up new members, from its founding moments until it dissolved in the late 1990s.

In 2008, after I called Rogers out on his ridiculous claim that his party had no members, he explained to Ben Smith that “we did have regular supporters whom many called ‘members,’ but it just meant contributing regularly, not getting voting rights or other formal power in NP governance.” This is also flatly contradicted by the newly uncovered records.

At just about the time Obama joined the New Party, the Chicago chapter was embroiled in a bitter internal dispute. A party-membership list is attached to a memo in which the leaders of one faction consider a scheme to disqualify potential voting members from a competing faction, on the grounds that those voters had not renewed their memberships. The factional leaders worried that their opponents would legitimately object to this tactic, since a mailing that called for members to renew hadn’t been properly sent out. At any rate, the memo clearly demonstrates that, contrary to Rogers’s explanation, membership in the New Party entailed the right to vote on matters of party governance. In fact, Obama’s own New Party endorsement, being controversial, was thrown open to a members’ vote on the day he joined the party.

Were Harwell and Rogers deliberately lying in order to protect Obama and deceive the public? Readers can decide for themselves. Yet it is clear that Obama, through his official spokesman, Ben LaBolt, and the Fight the Smears website, was bent on deceiving the American public about a matter whose truth he well knew.

The documents reveal that the New Party’s central aim was to move the United States steadily closer to European social democracy, a goal that Mitt Romney has also attributed to Obama. New Party leaders disdained mainstream Democrats, considering them tools of business, and promised instead to create a partnership between elected officials and local community organizations, with the goal of socializing the American economy to an unprecedented degree.

The party’s official “statement of principles,” which candidates seeking endorsement from the Chicago chapter were asked to support, called for a “peaceful revolution” and included redistributive proposals substantially to the left of the Democratic party.

To get a sense of the ideology at play, consider that the meeting at which Obama joined the party opened with the announcement of a forthcoming event featuring the prominent socialist activist Frances Fox Piven. The Chicago New Party sponsored a luncheon with Michael Moore that same year.

I have more to say on the New Party’s ideology and program, Obama’s ties to the party, and the relevance of all this to the president’s campaign for reelection. See the forthcoming issue of National Review.

In the meantime, let us see whether a press that let candidate Obama off the hook in 2008 — and that in 2012 is obsessed with the president’s youthful love letters  — will now refuse to report that President Obama once joined a leftist third party, and that he hid that truth from the American people in order to win the presidency.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. A longer version of this article appears in the forthcoming June 25 issue of National Review.



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