The Corner

‘The Trojan Pragmatist’

Kathryn’s thorough and informative interview with Stanley Kurtz about his new book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, is must reading. As one of a few people who read the manuscript before its publication last week, I know that this interview is the best preview yet of what’s inside — and that anybody reading it will end up wanting to read the whole book.

And no wonder. Radical-in-Chief compellingly lays out as never before the firm ideological chain running through the president’s political life. It joins Obama’s earliest radical mentors to his college Marxism-Leninism to his attendance at Socialist Scholars Conferences in the early 1980s to his years spent collaborating with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and other radicals to his steady rise in the world of socialist politics in Chicago and beyond. It also connects the dots between those decades of thought and work and associations — and current White House policy.

It’s a product of extraordinary research; see just for starters pages 392-393, where scores of libraries and librarians across the country are thanked for allowing the author access to archives that anyone else could have found too — but only Stanley Kurtz did. Frankly, reading the manuscript almost made me feel sorry for our president. He has something far more dangerous on his trail than the right-wing noise machine. He has as his political biographer a former Harvard anthropologist who learned how to research and handle evidence at some of the best universities in the world, and who’s won coveted teaching awards at Harvard and elsewhere for his ability to explain complicated issues clearly and persuasively. How scary is that? For a politician who’s depended on passing himself off as a post-ideological pragmatist, plenty.

Just one take-home thought among many others that come to mind for NRO readers is this: what on earth would have happened if any conservative candidate for office had had the mirror-image ideological history of candidate Obama? As Stanley Kurtz writes, driving the point straight to the White House:

Imagine a presidential candidate who attended CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] conferences throughout his youth, then spent years as an activist in various conservative organizations, before finally becoming a politician with the most conservative voting record in the United States Senate. (Obama had the most liberal Senate record.) Instead of campaigning openly as a conservative…he claims to be a pragmatist who rejects ideologies of the left and right. Questioned by the press about his youthful conference attendance, he denies being a conservative and insists during those same years he had also made a point of reading Karl Marx and Michael Harrington. This would not be a persuasive reply.”

It sure wouldn’t, any more than Obama’s obfuscations about his ties to radicals have been persuasive, either. Radical-in-Chief is nothing more or less than the closest reading of President Obama’s political biography that he is going to get — and it proves that he’s distorted the public understanding of his deep, longstanding, and largely unrepudiated ties to many important figures of note in post-1980s American socialism.

Was that really so hard to see? Thanks to Radical-in-Chief, not anymore.

 – Mary Eberstadt is author of The Loser Letters.

Mary Eberstadt — Ms. Eberstadt has written for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including National Review, Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, First Things, and the American Spectator.


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