Politics & Policy

Obama Repudiates the Moderates

The tiny leftist tail that wagged the dog in 2003.

Denver — Tonight, Barack Obama will try to convince America that he is a moderate, ideologically reasonable candidate. If his July 2004 keynote at the Democratic National Convention is any indicator, he may bring up issues of personal responsibility, or discuss the fact that, as he has said in the past, “fatherhood does not end at conception” — an idea which actually contradicts his position on abortion.

Before you buy the idea that Obama is a centrist, it is worth your time to read a story about whose support Obama values, and whose support he is willing to repudiate in order to preserve a veneer of ideological purity.

You’ve probably never read The Black Commentator. It’s a small, far-left publication with editorial offices in New Jersey. You may have noticed the paper in the fall of 2003 during the confirmation hearing of Janice Rogers Brown, a conservative black justice on California’s supreme court. That’s when The Black Commentator created and distributed a tasteless cartoon of Brown, wearing an exaggerated afro wig and huge lips, being greeted to the federal judiciary by President Bush, who accidentally calls her “Ms. Clarence.

To give you an idea of the tone and the slant of this publication, their lead editorial on January 23, 2003 was titled, “Condoleezza Rice: The Devil’s Handmaiden.” The thesis of this piece: “Condoleezza Rice is the purest expression of the race traitor. No polite description is possible.”

The Black Commentator, you might guess, is a fringe publication, a fever swamp of black radicalism. So you might be surprised to learn that its editors successfully engaged Barack Obama in a three-week correspondence when he was a candidate for the United States Senate and forced him to repudiate an endorsement by Democratic moderates.

In its June 5, 2003 issue, the Commentator’s Bruce Dixon called out Obama for the fact that his name had appeared on the Democratic Leadership Council’s list of 100 rising stars. (Dixon refers to the DLC as “the corporate money apparatus of the Democratic Party.”) In a lengthy and turgid piece, Dixon also pointed out that at the very same time Obama’s name showed up on the DLC list, the text of his 2002 speech against the Iraq War was abruptly removed from his campaign website without explanation.

Was Obama selling out? Was he a “summer soldier?” After all, a May 2003 Gallup poll had suggested that 79 percent of Americans still believed the Iraq War was going well.

On June 13, 2003, Obama responded to this criticism with a letter in which he denied any direct contact between his office and the DLC. It was published in the Commentator’s June 19 issue:

I don’t know who nominated me for the DLC list of 100 rising stars, nor did I expend any effort to be included on the list beyond filling out a three line questionnaire asking me to describe my current political office, my proudest accomplishment, and my cardinal rules of politics. Since my mother taught me not to reject a compliment when it’s offered, I didn’t object to the DLC’s inclusion of my name on their list. I certainly did not view such inclusion as an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.

Obama put the speech back up on his website, and explained that it had been removed in the first place only because his staff was trying to keep it stocked with fresh material. (Perhaps there was not enough room in the Internet’s “tubes” for it?)

The Black Commentator was not so easily placated. On June 19, 2003, they responded: “Although you minimize the weight of your decision to be listed in the New Democrat Directory . . . we give you credit for knowing better than that.” They challenged him to repudiate the DLC altogether because of its support for free trade and the Iraq war, and because of the DLC’s purported opposition to a single-payer government health-care system.

Perhaps fearing that he, too, would be denounced as a “race-traitor,” Obama responded immediately. His letter appeared in the following issue, on June 26, 2003. The Black Commentator cover story was headlined: “Obama to Have Name Removed from List.” He noted that the DLC included him in their “New Democrat” directory “without my knowledge. . . . Because I agree that such a directory implies membership, I will be calling the DLC to have my name removed, and appreciate your having brought this fact to my attention.”

Obama actually used the “Red Scare” formulation in repudiating the moderates of his own party: “I am not currently, nor have I ever been, a member of the DLC,” he wrote. Bear in mind that this was not during his days as a community organizer, but just five years ago, as he sought federal office. His pandering to the far Left was little noticed at the time among non-readers of The Black Commentator, but it would gain editorial approval from The Nation two years later.

At that time, the Democratic primary field in the U.S. Senate election for Illinois was still very much wide open. Obama would not win his primary until the following spring, when the leading candidate, Blair Hull, imploded after the release of his divorce file, which contained allegations of spousal abuse.

As he takes the stage at Invesco Field today and panders to the center with what will surely be a well-crafted speech, recall also how Obama was willing to throw his party’s moderates under the bus rather than disappoint a tiny website perhaps read by a handful of black socialists in Chicago. This incident reveals far more about Obama’s political thinking than did the words of his conciliatory keynote convention speech.

Is Obama a radical? Maybe — or maybe not. Either way, just five years ago, he was willing to say or do just about anything to placate even the least credible purveyors of left-wing radicalism.

This must be the “new politics.”

David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online. This essay is adapted from his newly released book, The Case Against Barack Obama.

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