Pragmatic Obama?

by Stanley Kurtz

Over at TAPPED, Mori Dinauer comments on “Obama’s Radical Past,” my preview of the argument of my forthcoming book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism. Dinauer wants to know how I link socialism to Obama’s current governing philosophy and long-term political strategy. Dinauer also suggests that Obama is not an ideologue, but merely a pragmatist who sought political advancement through socialist connections that were an inescapable part of his leftist Chicago environment.

Agree or disagree, I comment on all of these arguments at length in Radical-in-Chief. The final chapter is an analysis of the Obama administration in light of Obama’s background in socialist community organizing. The pragmatism argument doesn’t work when you follow out the consistent socialist thread that runs through Obama’s life. Of course, if Obama is merely a pragmatist, it means that his carefully crafted political persona is a lie. After all, the whole point of Dreams from My Father is that Obama is sincere — that his community organizing solved his identity crisis and gave him a politics he could believe in. Obama himself stresses that he turned down the chance for a Supreme Court clerkship to do community organizing at near-poverty wages. You don’t ordinarily try to become a politician via community organizing; socialists, on the other hand, did look at organizing as a way into elective office.

Here I believe Obama. He was a committed community organizer who sincerely believed what other community organizers believed. The only thing he left out was that community organizers are socialists. At any rate, Radical-in-Chief addresses all the usual attacks on the Obama-as-socialist argument in detail. Agree or disagree, I explore counter-arguments at every stage. Read the book and judge for yourself.