Debs Rushes In

by Stanley Kurtz

Once again, a Democratic activist who writes under the pseudonym “Eugene Debs” at FrumForum has claimed to refute the argument of my forthcoming book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism. In that book, I make the case that President Obama is a socialist.

The odd thing about Debs’s latest post is his assumption that I have already made my case. Debs thinks he’s somehow brought my “entire argument” crashing to the ground. He even says: “Kurtz thinks he has proven a lot.” Proven a lot? I don’t begin to think that a few blog posts promising the imminent publication of a book of interest have proven that the president is a socialist. The book itself makes a powerful case, I believe, but the book has not yet appeared. Debs has rushed in to refute an argument he has not yet read and that I have not yet publicly made.

Radical-in-Chief addresses virtually every point Debs raises in his latest foray — including the public option, Obama’s relationship to the left wing of his party, his Afghanistan policy, etc. But it does so in light of a socialist past that deeply illuminates the specifics of Obama’s present. Why not wait until the book comes out to judge it? While posing as a bulwark against hot-headed conservatives, Debs himself, just by claiming to refute a book he hasn’t read, gives a pretty good exhibition of intellectual prejudice.

While Radical-in-Chief will take the matter up in detail, let me briefly address Debs’s core point in his latest piece. The fact of the matter is, a whole wing of American socialism has long sought to work within the Democratic party. That was Michael Harrington’s approach, along with that of most other “democratic socialists.” These socialists acted on the assumption that it was possible to be Democrats while also being socialists. They found the two identities complementary, yet distinct. By no means are all Democrats socialists, but many socialists are Democrats.

If Debs denies that it is possible to be both a Democrat and a socialist, he is mistaken. If, on the other hand, Debs agrees that it is possible to be both a Democrat and a socialist, but simply denies that Obama fits this category, why not wait to see my evidence and hear my argument?

It takes a bit of digging to unearth the president’s secrets, but it can be done. And contrary to what Debs implies, Obama’s political past has a great deal to do with his policies as president. As the author of two autobiographies (the first one, Dreams from My Father, highly misleading, I shall show), Obama based much of his own run for office on the relevance of his political past to his policies in the present. Obama’s socialist past has so much to do with his presidency that the two phases must be discussed in tandem. The past illuminates the present, but laying out the connections must await the publication of my book. In short, to form a reasoned judgment on my argument, it might be best to actually read Radical-in-Chief.