Ben Smith answers my post, “A Party Without Members?” by conceding that my analysis of the facts regarding Obama’s New Party ties is essentially correct. Unable to dispute my account of the facts, Smith takes guilt by association one step further. Rather than confronting what I actually say and believe about the significance of Obama’s radical ties, Smith tries to put me in a box with Jerome Corsi, whom I do not know and whose work I have never commented on (or done more than glance at). Smith’s rhetorical strategy (based on his apparent near-total unfamiliarity with what I have actually written) is to set up a false dichotomy between the not-so-respectable search for Obama’s crypto-radicalism and a respectably policy-wonkish attempt to itemize Obama’s good-old-fashioned Democratic liberalism.
My piece, “Barack Obama’s Lost Years,” is precisely an effort to show that the two enterprises cannot be separated. In that piece, I present a contextualized treatment of Obama’s radical associations, showing exactly how they played into his broader legislative program, which I also examine in detail, and on its own. Smith does his best to avoid confronting my actual writings by erecting a Corsi-like straw man, into which he can stuff both me and my Corner colleagues. In fact, as I have said in numerous interviews (and as Andy McCarthy has eloquently noted on The Corner) the fundamental point is not to find a single, killer, smoking-gun, radical association (although many of them are in fact deeply disturbing and arguably disqualifying).
The larger point is that the very existence of so many of these radical political partnerships (and that is what they are, significant political partnerships, not mere “marginal relationships,” as Smith would have it) reveals a systematic pattern–a pattern that shows Obama to be a man of the left–so far left that he long had one foot out of (but also one foot in) the conventional Democratic mainstream. It’s true that the McCain campaign has not effectively made this point. Yet my Corner colleague Andy McCarthy has eloquently complained about that. The most important point is what Obama’s many radical political partnerships reveal about his overall perspective, and how his radicalism ties in to, and helps explain, even his more conventional-seeming Democratic liberalism. I have written extensively about all of this.
Radical or liberal? It’s not an either/or. What’s certain is that Obama is not the post-ideological, post-partisan pragmatist he presents himself as. The press has shamefully colluded in that false presentation.
Ben Smith has done us a favor by putting his journalistic bias out in the open. We no longer need to ask: “What were they thinking?” Now we know. Smith’s obvious distaste for the Corner, and other critics of Obama’s radical past, has gotten the best of him. His obvious desire to avoid validating conservative concerns led him to abandon proper journalistic standards in the case of Obama’s ties to the New Party. It’s not really a question of whether Ben Smith, or the New York Times, or the Washington Post thinks Obama’s links to the New Party ought to matter to the American people. Their job is to thoroughly report the facts, and let the public decide. By that standard, on the matter of the New Party, Smith has failed.
If Smith really believes that he and I have little substantive disagreement on the facts of the matter, then he had no business writing his initial post in the way that he did. Yes, quoting Joel Rogers’ ludicrous denial of the documented fact that the New Party had members did possess the potential to “advance the story.” But the credulous way Smith reported on Rogers’ statement had the effect of suppressing the story, not advancing it. I believe that any fair reader of Smith’s original post would see that it was designed to suppress the story, and not to advance it.
Contrary to Smith’s claim, I have not been “dismissive” of those who argue that the New Party was effectively socialist. On the contrary, I have taken their arguments very seriously. Nothing in my stance toward the socialism question should be used to justify Smith’s sarcasm, which goes far beyond the socialism point and extends to dismissing completely legitimate concerns about Obama’s radical ties, and Obama’s failure to be frank about them. Yes, I have bracketed the socialism question. But that is all.
Smith himself acknowledges that Obama has not in fact being forthcoming about his past. Yet this awareness had no visible effect on Smith’s response to the New Party story. Apparently, instead of responding to the Obama camp’s protestations with amply justified skepticism, Smith’s antipathy toward conservatives, Corner-posters, etc, was sufficient to outweigh even his own knowledge that Obama has been less-than-honest on these issues. This is not responsible journalism. It is bias unmasked.