Stanley Kurtz on Barack Obama, the Radical-In-Chief
HH: I have been mystified by President Obama’s conduct of this campaign, how he nationalized what was supposed to be a local campaign, how he’s adopted this most divisive, mean-spirited attack mode throughout. Well, I was mystified until I read Stanley Kurtz’ brand new book, Radical-In-Chief. Stanley Kurtz, of course, no stranger to the history of President Obama’s intellectual upbringing, his tactics. He was so prominent in the end game of the 2008 campaign. But the new book, Radical-In-Chief, which I have linked at Hughhewitt.com, is a genuine work of scholarship. It’s a detective story. It’s riveting, and I am pleased to welcome back from the Ethics And Public Policy Center and National Review, Stanley Kurtz. Stanley, great to have you on.
SK: It’s great to be here, Hugh.
HH: I must say this is a very impressive effort at scholarship. This is not a rip and run book. It’s not a dash off a polemic. You’ve been in the archives.
SK: Well, that’s right, Hugh, and I appreciate you’re saying that. You seem to get it, because that’s what I did, really, for two years. I traveled all around the country doing what scholars do when they want to write a biography of a president or any other important individual. They go into the archives of the organizations that these people worked with, are connected to, find out what the ideology, what the feel of things was among those intellectual environs. And that’s what I’ve done with Barack Obama. And to my shock, as I began this process of searching through the archives, I was forced to a conclusion that even I had not been inclined to make, and that is Barack Obama really is a socialist. And so there you go.
HH: Stanley Kurtz, I also want to begin at this point. I have resisted saying that, because I don’t want to discredit the obvious attacks on the President’s much-misguided and deeply destructive policies. And like you, I have stayed far away from the nutters out there who attack the President, from the bizarre people who attack the President. And I’m not just talking about the crazy birthers. I’m talking about people who throw around the S-word.
HH: And I can tell from your book you are so intent on not being swept up in that net of nutters.
SK: Well, that’s right, Hugh, and I, again, I resisted, despite the fact that as you point out, during the election campaign, I was certainly a critic of President Obama. I looked into the radical connections in his past. I wasn’t shy about saying that, but the socialism charge seemed to me to be a bridge too far. I mean, how do you define socialism? That’s a big problem right there. So my inclination when I started this research was to just bracket the whole thing, set it aside, and focus on the fact that Obama is ultra-liberal, much further to the left than he claims to be. But for example, I started to change my mind when I ran across the programs of the Socialist Scholars Conferences that Obama clearly attended when he lived in New York City between 1983 and 1985. And those programs really shocked me, because they included a number of people from Obama’s current political world. And they even included James Cone, who is the theological mentor of Jeremiah Wright. And when I saw that, I really had to rethink my attitude toward the socialism issue. And the more I followed it out, the more I saw that Obama at minimum lived deeply in the midst of a world of socialist community organizers. You know, people can read my book and they can agree or disagree with the idea that Obama himself was a socialist community organizer. But one thing is certain. There are a lot of socialist community organizers. They intentionally keep their socialism secret. And they were Obama’s mentors and colleagues.
HH: What is undeniable, Stanley, is that even if Obama was not in this book at all, it would still be a very impressive work of intellectual history on the socialist movement in America, and how it came to be, and where it went in the 60s, and the roots of the Midwest Institute, and the genealogy of ACORN. It’s painstakingly researched, and I appreciate the great detail that you put down so that people can find for themselves, as well as your archives. But I want to begin with a bit of argument that you put forward which I think is very bracing for people. And it’s on Page 86, because I often ran into it. I tested this out, actually, on my wife, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt, who just doesn’t have any time for the nutters. You know, she just doesn’t have any time for that, and I was telling her about the book as I was reading back and forth to New York. And she looked at me with an arched eyebrow, come on, you haven’t gone off the edge? And I said Honey, consider this paragraph. “The most popular annual convention for conservative activists is called CPAC.” And this is, by the way, on Page 86 of Stanley Kurtz’ brand new book, Radical-In-Chief. “The Conservative Political Action Conference, pronounced CPAC. Imagine a presidential candidate who attended CPAC 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 like, say, Ronald Reagan, 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 that during those same years, he had also made a point of reading Karl Marx and Michael Harrington. This would not be a persuasive reply.” You know, Stanley, that is a brilliant bit of argument.
SK: Well thanks, Hugh. I really think that it clarified it for me, frankly, to think about it in terms of the Conservative Political Action Conferences, CPAC conferences that so many young college conservatives attend. And you know, if you just plug in the Tea Party, imagine a young college conservative going to CPAC and hearing Sarah Palin speak, then he decides to become an organizer for the Tea Party movement. And he does such a great job that they eventually put him forward for elective office. Obama was on the exact parallel conveyor belt, so to speak, but in the world of socialism. It’s just that people don’t realize this, because they don’t understand that community organizers are largely socialists, and that there is a conveyor belt from the kind of socialist conferences Obama attended, to community organizing, and then to electoral politics, exactly parallel to what everyone understands with conservatism.
HH: I also want to point two other things out. It was not so long ago that Bob McDonnell was running for governor of Virginia. And in the course of that, his 1989 senior thesis, or Master’s thesis for Regent University became a hammer with which to beat him around the head for a very long time by the Washington Post and others. They displayed a fanaticism about that one document, despite McDonnell’s honest and forthright complete responses to that. That is nowhere in the mainstream media about President Obama’s intellectual roots, or the streams in which he swam all those years, Stanley.
SK: Well, that’s right, Hugh, and let’s not forget that the most important person arguing that President Obama’s past, his biography, his history, is relevant to his political present, is President Obama himself.
SK: …with his biographies, which by the way, in the book, I go over with a fine tooth comb, and show all the little things that Obama was leaving out of his memoirs. But I want to emphasize, Hugh, that I really do follow this conveyor belt through and beyond his youth, right into his adult political career. You can see the continuity of his early socialist convictions. So this is not, by any means, merely going and looking at the past of either a teenager or even a very young man.
HH: Absolutely not. And it’s the first time I’ve actually seen a significant discussion of his law school teaching years at the University of Chicago, as well as his state senate career, as well as the ACORN connections. It’s all in Radical-In-Chief by Stanley Kurtz, a brand new book which is a must-read right now.
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HH: And as we will learn in just a moment, it explains a lot of the almost unbelievably politically self-destructive tactics of the last two months that the President has displayed. Before I go there, though, Stanley, I have been reading Radical-In-Chief in tandem with Karl Rove’s Courage And Consequences, because I have to, I don’t have to, I’m appearing with Karl on Friday night in Denver, www.710knus.com, anyone in Denver who wants to come out and see us. So I wanted to reread Courage And Consequences. And in reading it in parallel, here’s what’s happening. Everything you examine and you completely expose Dreams From My Father as being opaque, as being at best disingenuous, as quite misleading about President Obama’s past. Karl Rove goes the opposite way. Rove tells you every detail, for example, about his life in the College Republicans, his friendship with Lee Atwater, every job he had, every conference he went to, and every vote that he attended. It is, in fact, an amazing comparison when you look at the Rove autobiography and the Obama autobiography. The former is intended to disclose, the latter, really, to conceal.
SK: I think that’s right, Hugh, and I think it’s part of a larger patter. Conservatives in the United States, although they are in some ways locked out of certain districts, the mainstream media, Hollywood, et cetera. Nonetheless, conservatives are a plurality in this country, and they’re not shy about touting their views. Of course, Ronald Reagan is the ultimate example of someone who was president of the United States and very honest about his ideology, and who used that honesty and his persuasive powers to bring the country along with him instead of to work against what so many people in the country thought. But if you are not only liberal, and liberals are shy about saying they’re liberals, but if you’re even further to the left than that, you are going to have to hide what it is that you have to say, and what you really believe. And that is the difference.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you as well, though, given all of this interesting stuff you’ve found, and given the record of the President’s first two years, we still run into an almost willful indifference to who he is, where he’s been, and what he believes, exemplified today by an interview in Slate.com with Gary Trudeau of Doonsebury fame. He’s asked who’s the hardest political to satirize on the 40th anniversary of Doonsebury. And Trudeau responds, believe it or not, Obama’s very tough for business. The contradictory characterizations of him as a fascist or a socialist only serve to confirm the truth. He’s a raging moderate. And satirists don’t do well with moderates, especially thoughtful ones. Stanley Kurtz, that’s really incredible.
SK: I agree, Hugh, and of course, it’s been going on for some time. Now some people might really believe this. In fact, I’m quite certain that some people do really believe this.
HH: Oh, I believe Trudeau believes it, but it’s just not rational.
SK: Yes, that’s right. But I’d say, well, to some degree, people are simply afraid that if the truth comes out, it will be too destructive, and so they don’t allow it to come out. And to some degree, they really believe it. And I think there’s a mixture going on. You know, there was a certain point in the 2008 election after the Jeremiah Wright issue came up, after the Bill Ayers issue came up, I think the wall went down at that point from the mainstream media, because there was a realization that if any other accusation of radicalization gained any credibility whatever, it will be linked up with these other cases, and that will be the end for Obama. It’s a miracle, in a way, that he survived Wright and Ayers. I remember back when Edwin Muskie was really run out of the Democratic presidential race when he was the leader because he cried, and George Romney said he had been brainwashed. That was the end of him. Compare all of that to Wright and Ayers, and you see how amazing it is that Obama survived at all.
HH: You know, before I, I’m going to depart from my outline just to make sure people understand. Your work on explaining the hyperconnectivity between these radical left foundations in Chicago would obviously confuse and just simply be beyond the capacity of most working journalists. That’s very difficult. It’s financial, it’s almost forensic writing, is what I’ll call it. Do you think it’s partly because the tracks have been so carefully and deeply buried, and the discretion so almost inculcated into the members of the left after the breakup of the 60s radicalism, that it’s just too daunting for, let’s face it, it’s not really a high brainpower profession in MSM anymore. They’re news readers. They’re not really journalists.
SK: Oh, there might well be some element of that, Hugh. It’s true that journalists are used to interviews, which are important, of course. But they’re not used to doing archival research. And so that’s a part of it. But you know, I do think it goes beyond that, Hugh. Take David Remnick’s book.
HH: Yeah, very well, you treat it very fairly, by the way, throughout the book.
SK: I appreciate that, Hugh, and I tried to do that. But you know, the interesting thing about David Remnick’s book is that he says virtually nothing, no more than a paragraph or two at most, about Obama’s time at these foundations. And I argue that the reason for that is that it really is impossible to say just about anything serious about his time at these foundations without getting, not only into the Bill Ayers issue, but to this whole vast network of Chicago socialists that I lay out in the book. So I think that there is a certain amount of conscious avoidance here.
HH: What’s interesting about the Remnick book, since we’re talking about it, on Page 286, you give him the acknowledgement that he notes that, “Ayers helped bring Obama onto the Annenberg board,” meaning that in the course of writing that many pages, Remnick gave us some stuff, Remnick gave us some stuff which was useful, original, and which you found in the middle of generally, you know, producing a very uncritical review of Obama’s life.
SK: That’s right, Hugh, and I don’t know how intentional it was, but the objective function of Remnick’s book has been to dribble out a lot of very damaging information in the friendliest and least damaging possible way, almost to inoculate Obama. What Remnick does is he lets out some damaging information in a way that no one even realizes what’s happening, and then he says something to try to negate the whole thing. So I sort of go through and pick up these nuggets of revelations that he gives, and I show that his attempts to negate them are just not valid. And voila, we have remarkable clues about Obama’s radical past.
HH: You’ve also got Remnick describing Obama in the classroom at the University of Chicago saying, we’re quoting Remnick now, although you find it on Page 331 of Radical-In-Chief. “Obama agreed entirely with the theory of reparations.” You know, I’ve never seen that anywhere before.
SK: Absolutely. That really was surprising to me, because I’d looked into the issue, and again and again, people had accused Obama of being for reparations, and he denied it. And I couldn’t find any evidence of it. And here, Remnick says Obama favors reparations in theory. Yes, Remnick went on to say that Obama was against it in practice, but that is hardly an argument for the moderation of Obama, because he recognizes that pragmatically it’s not going to fly politically in America right now. The fact that he believes in it as an ultimately just solution is very disturbing.
HH: When we come back from break, I will get to the campaign tactics. The President is a thorough going Alinskyite. He could not be other than an Alinskyite, a conclusion that you must reach if you read Radical-In-Chief, the important new book by Stanley Kurtz.
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HH: His roots in Alinskyism, Stanley, is what I was writing about this morning at Hughhewitt.com. Alinsky preached pick a target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. And Obama lived that. Thus I’m not surprised to hear him on the campaign trail say, for example, this about Latinos.
BHO: Well, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to see how well we do in this election. And I think a lot of it is going to depend on whether we still have some support not only from Democrats, but also Republicans. But they’re going to be paying attention to this election. And if Latinos sit out the election instead of saying we’re going to punish our enemies, and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us, if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder. And that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2nd.
HH: Punish our enemies, reward our friends. And then the President says this about Republicans.
BHO: We’ve got to have middle class families up in front. We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can go, come for the ride, but they’ve got to sit in back.
HH: Now that, Stanley, it makes so much more sense to me after I read your book. And especially as I get to the end, that the President’s long term strategy may be in fact to force a class-based realignment of American politics. And Alinsky would teach you, and the President would personify that by personalizing, objectifying and angering people about other people in America.
SK: Well, that’s right, Hugh. You’re absolutely right. And I go over this in many ways and at many points in the book. And I can’t tell you, Hugh, how many times during my research I ran across this notion of the enemy. The Alinskyite organizers, who were Obama’s mentors and colleagues, just constantly used this word enemy. And now I do mention this a few times in the book, but I made a conscious decision not to make too much of it, because maybe people wouldn’t believe or be persuaded by my constantly mentioning how they harped on this word. But it was almost a slip, I think, because he had to be used to hearing that all the time from his friends and colleagues. But the larger point is that this Alinskyite tactic of polarization has been put within the context of a long term socialists strategy for realigning the Democratic and Republican parties along class lines. This was the holy grail of the modern American socialist movement as Obama grew up in it. And the way it works is roughly like this. You launch a series of attacks on particularly business interests, and you treat them as enemies, whether you use that word or not. You try to drive them out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. Now that might seem crazy. Why would anyone want to drive someone out of their party? But the other side of the coin is that once you start these anti-business attacks, you jump start a populist movement, an anti-business populist movement of the left. And those people start pouring into the Democratic party. Then, allied with that, you do a similar sort, you run a similar sort of polarization strategy with Latinos and blacks. And you assemble a rainbow coalition of radicalized minorities along with economic populists, with heavy participation from unions, especially public sector unions. And in this way, you try to activate the left into a kind of movement, into a kind of replay of the 60s, but this time grouped around economic populist issues. And with the business interests in the Republican party, and the what you might want to call the have-nots gathered in the Democratic party and activated, America is polarized along class lines. And the theory of Obama’s mentors and colleagues was that over time, the have-nots, once they were divided by class from the haves, would inevitably drift towards socialism.
HH: Now what’s interesting, Stanley, you also have to combine that with, as you point out in Radical-In-Chief, a vast amount of strategic patience, of the sort that the President, as you demonstrate, practiced as a state senator in Illinois, and which may in fact be the modus operandi behind Obamacare, the financial regulatory reform bill, and many other aspects which are simply bewildering in their political impact as we’re seeing them unfold right now.
SK: That’s right, Hugh. And I do think that Obama initially was prepared to move even more slowly than he has. But when he got a large Democratic majority in Congress, he decided to push for a little more than he otherwise would have. But the longer term view on that is you put these bills in place. Let, almost dare the other side to try to repeal them. And then you get people angry, who are going to benefit from those new entitlements, and that’s what jump starts the movement.
HH: Which is why it’s vastly important. Stanley Kurtz’ book has many, many practical applications. But one is the need for speed on the Republicans before these benefits deeply sink into the American people.
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HH: And Stanley, I’m obviously, I’m jumping around, and I’m just giving people hints of what they will find here. Has the media figured out yet that Radical-In-Chief is an important and provocative book?
SK: I really don’t think they have, Hugh. I think even conservatives are just beginning to get a sense of what’s in it. It’s hard for me even to explain it to people, because I put out a piece at National Review Online that summarized an important part of the argument. But I’m grateful to you for indicating that there really is more in this book than you can almost put in any single article. Just the chapter on Reverend Wright alone is filled with all sorts of new and fascinating material that usually gets lost when I try to talk about the book. But certainly, I’m assuming that the mainstream media will do everything in its power to avoid saying anything whatever about this book. It’s only if it catches the strong attention of conservatives, and it may be even a politician or two mention it that the mainstream media would deign to take notice.
HH: Well, I think Beck’s got to get his white board out. A) It’s a perfect white board book, because it’s got so many interconnections which are detailed, and I think it’s very important for all of us on the center-right side of the media to emphasize again and again your scholarly approach, your absolute, almost fanaticism on detail. I think I could even see yourself bullet-proofing yourself, Stanley, as you wrote this, knowing that if it did get legs, the counterattack would be intense, like the night you appeared on Chicago radio on Milt Rosenberg’s program, and they attempted to shut you down. The Alinskyites will come for Stanley again.
SK :Well, that’s exactly it, Hugh, and I appreciate your sort of recognizing that. Of course, I started out in my career as a scholar, and I like to approach things in a scholarly way. But there’s no doubt that I was doubly and triply careful to document everything, and to understate rather than to overstate, because I expected that if the book was taken seriously, there would be attempts to discredit it. And I have done everything in my power to rest it on facts and not on rhetoric.
HH: Oh, the diving into the Wisconsin Historical Society, the genealogy of the Midwest Institute, the absolute precision with which you follow the Black Liberation Theology, the reconstruction of the archives of the Socialist Conference, all very impressive. You know, I sit on tenure committees at law schools. And we have to go through people’s faculty applications, where every one of their footnotes is on the table, et cetera. And this would pass any committee. This could be peer reviewed again and again and again. It would pass every test. It is not, again, I want to emphasize for people, if you’re looking for some far right fever swamp thing, this is not that. This is a work of extraordinary scholarship. Now let me dive into something. You do have a very provocative theory here embedded. It’s almost a story within the story. It’s the story of ACORN. And it is a question, not a statement, that you lay, whether or not ACORN knew what they were doing when they brought about, through years of effort, the subprime crisis and the panic of 2008. Explain to people, it’s just, I had never considered it before, Stanley. It’s very well done.
SK: Well, I appreciate that, Hugh. You know, ACORN, it has been speculated by some people that ACORN was following a kind of Cloward-Piven strategy. This is the famous strategy created by Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward back in the 60s when they tried to flood the welfare system with so many applicants that it would break down. And their notion was that the federal government would then come in with a guaranteed annual income. And some people have suggested that ACORN had a conscious plan like this to provoke the financial crisis. I don’t think it was that concrete. I think that’s going too far. But in a broader sense, I do think that the Cloward-Piven style strategy had been regularized, so to speak, amongst community organizers. And they came to think that any kind of excessive financial demands on the system, even without a very specific plan, would at some point inevitably provoke financial difficulties and crises which could be exploited for socialist ends. And this was, as I show in detail, this was common currency among community organizers.
HH: That’s very provocative. So is your theory put forward about what the GM and Chrysler takeover might actually be sort of a replay of the GSE approach that drove Fannie and Freddie. And again, that’s a different model, a very provocative and novel analysis.
SK: Right, and the novelty of it, Hugh, really just comes from acknowledging the novelty of American socialism itself since the 1960s. One of the reasons that I, as an academic, who had even taught Marx in a great books program at a university, I resisted the socialism argument, because I had a very traditional definition of socialism in mind, full nationalization of the means of production by the government. But what happened in the 80s, as Obama was coming into the movement, was a de-emphasis on nationalization, understandable because Ronald Reagan was president at the time, and instead a turn to local organizing and grass roots strategies for getting a hold of the economy. So socialism itself changed, and de-emphasized nationalization, and came up with all sorts of other strategies. And these are the sorts of things I lay out in the book. And as soon as you understand this much more recent and novel world of socialism, all the connections to the Obama administration play and start emerging.
HH: And I also would think any intellectual historian of the left in the 60s, it didn’t end when Michael Harrington gave up and changed. And that’s what, they actually have this all served on a plate for you, Stanley. Did anyone push back when, for example, you dove into NAM’s newsletters, and to the Madison Academy’s records?
SK: Well, because of what had happened to me during the campaign with the attempt, successful, temporarily, to stop me from looking at the archives of the foundation where Ayers and Obama worked together, I was extremely cautious. I kept all the public notice of my book project, you know, from view. And I was very careful in the archives. I was recognized at one archive which shall remain nameless, and I have to say that the reaction when they recognized me was the opposite of the trouble. They were falling all over themselves not to alienate me, because they didn’t want to have the public focus brought on them that was brought on the library in Chicago where all the trouble happened during the campaign. But I really had to take serious measures not to let myself be recognized. Of course, you never know. You know, one Google search, and that’s it. But most of these librarians didn’t. I’d go into more detail, Hugh, but I might want to do future research.
HH: No, and my hat is off to Threshold Books, by the way, for working you in this way, because it’s an important, very important book of history.
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HH: Thank you, Stanley Kurtz, for being here for a full hour to talk about Radical-In-Chief, your brand new book. I want to close, there’s so much we haven’t talked about. I would have loved to talk to you about Stanley Hallett, who’s very interesting, and about the Wieboldt Foundation. But I want to close by talking about perhaps the antidote here, which is the light you’ve brought to bear on this, may in fact be the disinfectant on the tactics employed. They have worked again and again and again, these tactics of the hard left in America, but only when they were not being recognized for what they are. And when they are recognized, they don’t work, Stanley.
SK: I think that’s absolutely true, Hugh. I think that the most damaging potential effect of my book on Obama is you could even separate the socialism issue and just to know that Obama lived in a world where his colleagues and mentors were intentionally secretive about their true political views, I think that would truly frighten and alienate some of his supporters if they understood this, and the American public in general. And really, the theme of the book is not just what socialism has become, and what community organizing has become, but a really systematic pattern of deception and secrecy that runs through Obama’s entire political career.
HH: And through the water from which he swam all those years is polluted with this secrecy, and with this disingenuousness. And so my hat’s off to you. And I’m sure historians of the future, Stanley, are going to be thanking you, because as long as people are going to be writing about Obama, and it’s going to be a long time, they’re going to have to figure out what happened in New York, what happened in Occidental, what happened in those Chicago years which have been airbrushed away. And it’s the historian’s job to dig. And you got the trench pretty deep here. And my hat’s off to you. I just don’t see this very often, unless it’s about a long ago and far away president.
SK: Well, that’s my fantasy, Hugh, as a scholar, that it will be taken seriously, far into the future. But right now, I’m deeply concerned for what’s going on in America right now. And I urgently want to get the information out so that Americans can make an informed decision when they vote.
HH: I hope everyone listening not only will get the book, but will encourage its notice by everyone in the media, mainstream and otherwise, everyone with a radio show, everyone with a television show. Tell them to do their homework, do it in a hurry, because this is a referendum that’s about to happen next Tuesday, Stanley, on these tactics, right? This is a centerpiece of the election.
SK: Absolutely, Hugh, but I do think that while the tactics have put people off, when they really understand that there is a true method to the madness, it really will upset them, rightly so, even more than they already are to realize that Obama, who advertised himself as a post-partisan pragmatist is really intentionally polarizing as part of his core political modus operandi. And that really is the theme of the book, that community organizers present themselves exactly as Obama has presented himself, as a pragmatist beyond ideology. And yet, they polarize, and that is the core of their strategy.
HH: It’s the core of this book, Radical-In-Chief. Congratulations, Stanley Kurtz, long may it be read, and far may it be read. Right now, it’s linked at Hughhewitt.com.
End of interview.