Rogers Over and Out

by Stanley Kurtz

Given the evidence I presented in “Obama’s Third Party History,” reasonable people can no longer deny that Barack Obama was a member of a leftist third party controlled in Chicago by that infamous community organization ACORN. Nonetheless, New Party founder and former leader Joel Rogers continues to deny that his party ever had members, much less that Obama once joined it. Rosie Gray and Ben Smith referred to Rogers’s denial last week, and quoted another New Party veteran, Dan Swinney, making a similar denial as well. I dealt with Swinney’s claims in my earlier post, “New Party Vets Against Truth.” Now it’s time to finally dispose of Rogers’s preposterous claim that his party had no members.

Although I’ve debunked Rogers’s assertion repeatedly (as has Breitbart’s John Sexton here), Smith recently suggested that what New Party membership entailed somehow remains ambiguous or unclear. So let’s have a look at the New Party’s own account of the topic.

In April of 1992, four months after its official founding, the New Party issued a document called, “Questions and Answers About the New Party.” The document went on to describe the party’s interim governance structure, prior to the formal adoption of a party constitution (this was the structure in operation when Obama joined in 1996). Here’s an excerpt: “We are working with people in a number of organizing sites. They’re forming local chapters and state organizations. Each state where there are chapters formed gets two representatives (elected by them) to a National executive….Many other people will be looked to for advice….But they won’t have a vote. We want to make it clear from the start that in this party, voting power comes from the members.”

#more#The document concludes with the following question: “How do I sign up, and what do you want from me other than money?” The answer: “Use the attached membership form, which asks about your willingness to do different sorts of things. We do want your money, but we also want as much of your time and help as we can get. So, please photocopy this paper and give it to a friend. Sign up people at the office.”

This early New Party document, at a minimum approved by New Party founder and leader Joel Rogers, and quite possibly authored by Rogers himself, contradicts everything Rogers has told Ben Smith. First, Rogers told Smith that his party had no members. When I showed that this was false, Rogers told Smith that these so-called “members” were merely financial contributors, with no say in party governance. When I showed that members did have a say in party governance, Rogers told Smith that this was only in Chicago. When I showed that this was true not simply in Chicago but nationally, Rogers refused to change his story. In light of this document, at least, it’s tough not to conclude that Rogers has been less than honest with Smith from the start.

I’ve already quoted from an internal New Party memo authored by Rogers himself calling for additional members. Consider as well this opening line from an article on the New Party by Rogers for the January/February 1993 issue of the Boston Review: “Last year, while Bill Clinton was running for President, about 2,000 of his fellow Americans joined the New Party–a grassroots-based, membership-run, progressive political party….” Can the contrast between Rogers’s public statement in 1993 and his ever-shifting claims to Ben Smith be any greater?

There’s more. Elaine Bernard, a Harvard professor and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, played role in the founding of the New Party. Gray and Smith treated Bernard as an authority on the party in their recent piece on the controversy. One of Bernard’s contributions to the founding conception of the New Party was to offer the Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) as a model. The New Party (NP) consciously embraced the Canadian NDP prototype.

According to Bernard (writing in the same 1993 issue of the Boston Review as Rogers), not only does the NDP/NP model involve membership, but membership is actually more central to this model than it is to America’s Democratic or Republican parties: “The NDP is a self-regulated, voluntary, mass membership organization,” says Bernard. “The contrast with the Democrats and the Republicans is striking. In fact, by the crucial criterion of ownership by members and self-regulation; the Democrats and Republicans are not in any meaningful sense political parties at all. In most states, there is not even a ‘membership,’ but simply the declaration of a registration preference.”

As I showed in “The New Party Candidate Contract,” the New Party’s core strategy entailed functioning as a membership-run party in this deeper sense. The point was not simply to engage voters on election day, but to created a strong party identity, tied to regular party meetings, activism, and the accompanying sense of being a participant in an ongoing movement. That is why Obama and other New Party-endorsed candidates had to join the party and sign a contract promising continuing involvement and support.

So Joel Rogers’s denial that the New Party had members turns out to be profoundly and comprehensively false. The New Party had members. Those members contributed money, but also governed the party through exclusive voting rights and monthly meetings. Reaching specific member sign-up goals in a given locality permitted the creation of nationally chartered local chapters, and the votes of local chapter members selected representatives to a national governing council. Beyond this, the membership-governed party structure built around regular membership meetings was conceived as creating a sense of loyalty and participation in a movement. The New Party saw this conception of membership as something far deeper than anything fostered by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Barack Obama became a New Party member and joined this movement. As I show in Racial-in-Chief, in fact, all that was a bit of a formality. In truth, Obama had effectively been immersed in the same leftist movement that ultimately created the New Party for more than a decade. It’s a movement he’s never left.

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