Obama, Frankly
A president’s influences

Paul Kengor, author of The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, the Untold Story


Paul Kengor is author of The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, the Untold Story. Why is President Obama’s mentor worth a briefing now? He talks about this and the president’s record in the White House with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: The Democratic convention didn’t look like a Communist reunion, did it? Why bring up Frank Marshall Davis now?

PAUL KENGOR: It actually looked like a Planned Parenthood reunion. There was, however, the classic class-warfare rhetoric that reminded me — as Barack Obama’s rhetoric always does — of the incessant class-warfare rhetoric of Frank Marshall Davis. The bashing of Wall Street, the rich, the wealthy, “profits,” big oil, corporate executives. All of these were constant themes of Frank Marshall Davis and his comrades. When Obama took his swipe at Republican tax cuts in his convention speech, that was right out of the pages of the Chicago Star — the Communist Party USA publication that Frank Marshall Davis edited from 1946 to 1948. I’m reminded of a Star article from January 1947, titled “GOP would ‘spare rich’ with 20% tax cut plan,” which excoriated Republican tax cuts that “benefit millionaires” and “hurt the poor.”

I might also add that the 2012 Obama campaign slogan of “Forward!” is also on the cover of the May 1, 1948, copy of the Chicago Star that I’m staring at right now. Davis liked that slogan, just as he also liked the slogan “Change.” In fact, Davis’s kickoff op-ed launching the Star, published in the July 6, 1946, edition, touted the importance of advancing “fundamental change” in America. That reminds me of another Obama slogan.

Can I say that Barack Obama learned all of this from Frank Marshall Davis? No, I can’t. But these and many other similarities sure are striking. And that’s just one of the reasons Frank Marshall Davis is so relevant right now.

You don’t ignore your president’s mentors.

LOPEZ: Is your implication that Barack Obama — the president of the United States — is a “Communist” too?

KENGOR: No, it isn’t. I’m very careful about that. To the degree that Davis might have influenced Obama’s policies and ideology, I believe that it was in helping to push Obama generally to the left. In that sense, Davis is another among several radical influences on Obama, albeit a very significant one during a crucial formative period in young Obama’s life — throughout his adolescence. He influenced Obama from the time Obama was nine years old (they met in the fall of 1970) until Obama left Hawaii for Occidental College in the fall of 1979. In Dreams from My Father, Obama shares the parting words of advice he received from Frank Marshall Davis before leaving for college. It was a classic Davis diatribe trashing “the American way.” These were words identical to what I read from Davis in the Chicago Star in the 1940s.

That said, in the book I do carefully consider the possibility that Obama was a Marxist when he entered Occidental College. I interview at great length an eyewitness named John Drew, who was introduced to Obama at Occidental as a fellow Marxist. Drew, who is completely credible, swears this is true and details it exhaustively. I have no reason to doubt Drew. If Obama was a Marxist at that point, I believe (as does John Drew) that Davis would have been the primary explanatory factor.

Needless to say, this would not, by extension, make Obama a Marxist today. It would, however, expose a critical period in our current president’s ideological and intellectual development. That’s why guys like Frank Marshall Davis matter, and merit our attention. The political Left knows this; they just refuse to admit it. If Mitt Romney had a mentor this far to the right, the Left would be all over it. If Mitt Romney had a mentor who was pro-Nazi or even a John Bircher, do you think the liberal media would be ignoring him?