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A Party Without Members?



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Have you ever heard of a political party that has no members? Ben Smith has, and he believes. Based on a claim by New Party co-founder Joel Rogers that “we didn’t really have members,” Smith seems to think he’s disposed of the issue of Barack Obama’s ties to the “dread New Party.” In other words, Smith has accepted a transparently absurd statement by an intensely interested Obama supporter responding to a dangerous charge just before an election, while rejecting not only logic, but written evidence contemporaneous with the events in question. Smith has also ignored arguments at the heart of the New Party dispute. In his post on “The Obama Temptation,” Mark Levin describes a press that disregards evidence of Obama’s past radicalism, mentions it only when it must, and then simply to dismiss those who raise it in the first place. Smith’s credulous, incurious, sarcastic, and transparently biased post fits the bill.

Let’s have a look at the evidence in question. First and foremost, the spring 1996 issue of New Party News, the leading publication of the New Party at the time, clearly claims that Barack Obama is a party member. If the New Party didn’t actually have members, why would the chief party organ claim that it did? Again, logically, how can a political party exist without members?

Rogers claims that the identification of Obama as a party member “appeared to refer to the fact that the party had endorsed him.” That claim is inconsistent with the way the New Party News treats Danny Davis. Consider, first, this picture of Obama with Danny Davis and several others. Notice that the caption identifies three victorious “NP-endorsed candidates” standing alongside two “Chicago New Party members.” How could those two non-endorsed, non-candidates be identified as party members if the New Party “didn’t really have members?”

Even if the New Party, contrary to Rogers’ absurd claim, did indeed have members, does the caption show that Danny Davis and Barack Obama could not have been members? After all, Davis and Obama are identified merely as “NP-endorsed candidates,” rather than as “Chicago New Party members.”

Take a look at the account of Davis’s history with the New Party on page 2 of the spring 1996 issue of New Party News. NPN explains that in early 1995, Davis chaired a meeting at which several New Party members spoke: “When he heard the NP members talk about their efforts to fight for jobs and the environment, he quickly became an NP member himself. Several months later, a long-time congressional incumbent announced her retirement. After consulting with leaders of community, political, and labor groups, Davis decided to enter the race.”

So according to the chief national organ of the New Party, published at the time of the events in question, Davis became a New Party member (something Rogers claims could not have happened), months before he even had an opportunity to run for office, much less an occasion to be endorsed by the New Party in his run for that office. This establishes that the New Party did have members, that membership was not the same as being endorsed for office, and that the caption on the Obama picture in no way proves that Obama could not have been both a New Party endorsed candidate and a member, just as we are told he was on the front page of the spring 1996 issue of New Party News.

This is entirely consistent with the evidence I posted yesterday from pages 292-293 of David B. Reynolds book, Taking the High Road. Reynolds notes that New Party chapters in places like Chicago did run candidates on the Democratic Party line, which thereby “blurred political distinctions.” But that didn’t mean that New Party membership was non-existent:

“While [Danny] Davis joined the New Party and agreed to promote it, he ran as a Democrat.” So, according to Reynolds, it was entirely possible for Davis to run as a Democrat, and yet still be a member and supporter of the New Party. And this, of course, is entirely consistent with what we’ve already learned from the spring 1996 issue of the New Party News.

We know that in early 1995, before he even realized that he would soon run for Congress, Davis was a New Party member. So what was Barack Obama doing in early 1995? As I showed in “Inside Obama’s Acorn” and “Senator Stealth,” in early 1995, Obama was moving, with great success, to push the Woods Fund into strengthening its already existing support for community organizers, especially including ACORN. During that period, Obama was cooperating closely with Madeline Talbott, a key figure in the formation of the New Party nationally. And as I’ve shown in “Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools” and “Obama’s Challenge,” in his position as board chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Obama began channeling yet more foundation money to Chicago ACORN in 1995. This is important, because the Chicago New Party was largely an electoral arm of Chicago ACORN. So we know that in early 1995 (and long before that, as well), Obama had extremely close working ties with Chicago ACORN. In fact, he was funding it. As with Davis, then, we have every reason to believe that Obama’s ties to ACORN/New Party were deep. Especially in light of these close ties, the claim that Obama was both a member and an endorsed candidate of the New Party is entirely credible.

Smith writes as though the key issue at stake in this dispute is the alleged socialism of the New Party. As I’ve made clear in “Something New Here,” however, it is entirely possible to bracket the socialism question and still be disturbed by the radicalism of the New Party. Chicago’s New Party chapter was largely controlled by ACORN, with minority representation from open socialists. And we already know from a study by Rutgers political scientist Heidi J. Swarts, that ACORN members think of themselves (with good reason) as “uniquely militant…oppositional outlaws” composing “the only truly radical community organization.” ACORN’s leaders, Swarts tells us, think of themselves as “a solitary vanguard of principled leftists.” Smith tries to diffuse the radicalism charge by focusing on Rogers’ self-interested description of the New Party’s “strongest heir,” New York’s Working Families Party. But isn’t the real issue the New Party of Chicago in 1995-96? I’ve already published substantial evidence about that, which Smith has ignored in favor of a credulous touting of Rogers’ self-interested talking points.

As I noted in “Something New Here,” New Party endorsements were not casually granted. Instead, they were carefully targeted to a small and select group of candidates who were chosen to represent the New Party’s specific goals and image. Although we have every reason to believe that Obama was in fact a member of the New Party, just as the New Party News, says him to be, the “mere” fact of his endorsement is anything but a minor issue. Smith might have shown more curiosity about just what it took to gain a New Party endorsement. Were endorsed candidates interviewed? Did they have to sign or otherwise affirm a statement of policy or principles? Would they not have had an opportunity to address the membership issue in the course of conversations with leadership leading to the endorsement itself? It is extremely difficult to believe, given its selectivity at this early stage, that the New Party would have endorsed any candidate at all without first carefully vetting and discussing the entire matter with him personally first. Why didn’t Smith ask Rogers about this?

It’s no surprise that Obama would try to deny his New Party ties today. But why should we believe him when he’s already so grievously misrepresented his links to ACORN, of which his New Party ties are yet another variant? On top of this, Obama had many reasons to downplay his New Party connection, even in the mid-nineties. After all, as I’ve noted, Obama was channeling hundreds of thousands of dollars in supposedly non-partisan foundation money to ACORN, at the very same moment when ACORN’s de facto electoral arm, the New Party, was endorsing him–and even, arguably, when ACORN/New Party-members were acting as his campaign foot-soldiers. (See “Inside Obama’s Acorn” for details.) We now know that this was no anomaly, but just an instance of a wider pattern of ACORN’s deeply troubling tendency to mingle the activities of its political and “non-partisan” arms.

In short, Joel Rogers’ claim that Chicago New Party did not have members is not only nonsensical on its face, but is contradicted by both contemporaneous documentary evidence and later scholarly accounts. Chicago’s New Party did have members, and the Danny Davis case clearly shows that it was possible to be both a member and an endorsed candidate–and to run on the Democratic Party line as well. The New Party News treats Obama as both a member and an endorsed candidate, and we have every reason to put credence in that report. Far more than Davis himself, Obama had long-standing ties to ACORN, the alter-ego of Chicago’s New Party. Obama was even directing extensive funding to ACORN from his position at two supposedly non-partisan foundations at the very moment he was both accepting New Party endorsement and was being listed as a member in the New Party’s premier national publication. I don’t doubt that Obama needed to be cautious, even at the time, about publicizing his highly questionable conduct. But the evidence of his party membership is credible, in writing, and published in contemporary documents. The denials, on the other hand, are self-interested, illogical, and many years after the fact.

Every thing about Ben Smith’s post, from its sarcastic title, to its sarcastic content indicates a bias against conservative concerns, combined with an utterly incurious and credulous acceptance of even the most questionable assertions by Obama supporters. Smith seems to believe he’s disposed of the issue altogether, when in fact he has neither confronted nor seriously discussed key evidence and arguments at stake in this dispute. There is something profoundly wrong with the mainstream press’s conduct in this election.



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