Like all candidates formally endorsed by the New Party in Chicago in the 1990s, Barack Obama was expected to become a party member and sign the New Party “Candidate Contract,” as we now know he did. What did that contract say? A piece at Breitbart links to an old web-mounted version of the New Party Candidate Contract from 1999. I found an undated copy of the Candidate Contract used by the Chicago chapter in the records of Illinois ACORN at the Wisconsin Historical Society. From its position in the folder, this one appears to have been used as a reference in a special election for Alderman that was fought out in 1996-1997. So this would appear to be a copy of the contract contemporaneous with Obama’s involvement with the group.
The archived copy of the contract matches closely with the 1999 version linked by Breitbart. There are just a few extra words added to make the contract Chicago-specific. Candidates signing the contract promise: 1) a willingness “to be publicly identified with the Chicago New Party;” 2) to become “dues-paying members of the Chicago New Party during their term of office;” 3) to “use the Chicago New Party name in their list of endorsers and campaign literature;” 4) to “work with other elected officials supported by the Chicago New Party on a common agenda;” 5) to “actively work on Chicago New Party events, including fundraisers” after election; 6) to “communicate and meet regularly with Chicago New Party and its member organizations after the election.”
Importantly, the contract concludes with the following request: “We ask that candidates indicate their interest in our endorsement by signing the contract below, so that our membership may then vote on endorsement decisions.” In other words, signing the Candidate Contract and becoming a dues-paying member were conditions of endorsement.
The New Party Candidate Contract is best understood as a reflection of the New Party’s strategy. Writing of the Milwaukee New Party chapter (called Progressive Milwaukee) in his sympathetic study of the New Party, activist David Reynolds says: “The group only develops or endorses candidates who are dedicated to the broader movement. While in office, they must be dues-paying members of the organization and actively work on Progressive Milwaukee events. This relationship is formalized through candidate contracts.”
#more#The key word there is “movement.” New Party leaders believed that a movement-based strategy was the key to overcoming the problems of the left in the United States. In their view, a majority of Americans were already on the side of the left, but were simply too discouraged to vote, or to get involved in politics generally. New Party leaders believed that aggressive community organizing combined with electoral politics could create a popular movement of the left that would activate dormant but sympathetic voters, especially among the poor and minorities. All New Party members were expected to be continuing participants in this broader movement, and the Candidate Contract was an effort to say that the New Party’s elected officials must actively participate as well. ACORN’s outsized involvement in the New Party was a key to this movement-based strategy.
Obama was no stranger to this way of thinking. I argue in Radical-in-Chief that the vision of a movement-based synthesis of community organizing and electoral politics is exactly what drew Obama into community organizing to begin with. This was the vision sketched out at the socialist conferences Obama attended in New York more than a decade before he joined the New Party.
So Obama’s joining this leftist party was no reluctant concession to a marginal group just to secure elective office. Obama had been working with the New Party’s leaders for years, and their larger strategic vision was a prime example of what drew him into politics in the first place. The New Party issue is no fluke. On the contrary, it’s a reflection of Obama’s consistent and continuous life plan.