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Ponnuru Reviews Radical-in-Chief


Thanks for your review of Radical-in-Chief, Ramesh. I appreciate your agreeing that Obama has deceived the American public about his socialist past, and that he has in fact “been trained in the simultaneous advancement and concealment of leftism.” Even if Obama might by some chance have privately repudiated his past socialism, it seems to me he nonetheless ought to openly answer questions regarding these issues.

Let Obama confess that he grievously misled the public when he stood for election in 2008, and let him admit that he has been trained in precisely such deception by his socialist mentors. Then let him argue that, despite all this, he is no longer socialist and no longer practices to deceive. Allow the American public to decide whether Obama can then be believed. He owes us that. If it’s true, as you say, that “the press has not made Obama strain himself” on the matter of his past or present ideological convictions, then it seems to me the press ought to hold Obama to account for the material I’ve dug up in Radical-in-Chief.

If it’s true that I concede a lot by acknowledging that Obama is tactically pragmatic, and that modern socialism is now incremental rather than revolutionary, it’s also true that you concede a great deal by acknowledging that the modern Democratic party now favors policies that will drive us toward European-style socialism. Here is where I think biography does in fact add value. Although some knowledgeable conservatives will recognize the socialist implications of policies favored by the contemporary Democratic party, Democrats themselves will generally not avow this. Knowing the socialist background of a Democratic president — and knowing that he has hidden that background — is an excellent way of educating the public about the true implications of Obamacare, and other Democratic policies as well. Biography may not be the only educational tool, but it is one legitimate tool among others.

As I’ve argued recently, moreover, Obama’s incrementalism helps him to disguise his ultimate goals, and to paper over his differences with moderate Democrats, too. Obama would not have passed health-care reform had he openly acknowledged his hopes of levering reform into a single-payer system over the long term. Yet I think that is the best way to make sense of the law as written. Obamacare is unstable and will almost certainly force us toward a single-payer system. In fact, the law was almost certainly designed to do so. While some Americans understand this already, many others do not. Here is where I think the president’s political biography combines with present policy to make a persuasive case for long-term socialist intentions that Obama will not publicly confess.

Perhaps the root of our differences is the political judgment you express at the end. I agree that it would be a mistake for conservatives to go overboard by attacking Obama the way the left did with President Bush. Unfortunately, the birther controversy has already played into that dynamic. Yet Bush did not consciously lie about WMD in Iraq, whereas, as you seem to agree, Obama has indeed deceived the American public about his own political past. It’s also true, as you seem to agree, that current Democratic polices advanced on pragmatic grounds do in fact move us substantially in the direction of European-style social democracy, or socialism. Given all this, the truth about Obama’s past does indeed have implications for his party as a whole, and is by no means just a matter of personal idiosyncrasy. Even if Obama’s outlook is on the left end of the Democratic spectrum, that very fact can be used to make a broader point about the implications of policies favored by many other Democrats, which is what you call for.

I agree that calling out Obama on his deceptions about his radical past is fraught with political danger. Yet so is pretending out of misplaced politeness that the president’s radical history doesn’t exist, or that it tells us nothing about the ultimate intent or effects of his current policies. Maybe if the president was finally called to account for well-documented flaws in his self-presentation, it would help prevent conservatives frustrated by the press’s coddling of Obama from embracing unsubstantiated theories. If the uncomfortable truth about Obama’s history is seen to be backed up by serious and substantive research, the public will make an informed judgment on its significance without punishing Republicans for bringing it up.


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