For several years now, the distinguished journalist Stanley Kurtz has been endeavoring to answer a simple question: Who is Barack Obama? It is not an easy question to answer.
Back in August of ’08 when Obamamania swept the country, Mr. Kurtz was patiently looking into the murky abyss that is the history and background of our 44th president. The chap who during the campaign presented himself as a “post-partisan,” “post-racial” uniter of America was, when you scratched the surface, pretty much what Winston Churchill said of Russia in the 1930s: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. What, after all, did we really know about this freshman senator from Illinois? His upbringing was — was what? We don’t know much about the who, what, where, or when, do we? A Kenyan father and American mother. Some years in Indonesia. And what about his education? We have the place names: Occidental, Columbia, Harvard: but what did he study, how did he do? We don’t really know, do we? Later on? We know that he began his political career in the living room of that “just a guy in the neighborhood” domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers. We know that he was a faithful congregant and financial supporter of Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright. But somehow that wasn’t relevant to the mass hysteria that catapulted this greenest (in two senses of that much-abused word) of politicians into the Oval Office.
One thing we do know about this international man of mystery is that he stood before his acolytes at the end of October 2008 and told them they were on the verge of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” As I’ve previously had occasion to observe in this space, this was no hustings hyperbole: it was, depending on your point of view, an earnest promise or an earnest threat. The last 19 months, in any event, have demonstrated that fundamentally transforming the United States of America has been an ambition that Obama has struggled mightily to fulfill.
It is still — just barely, but still — too early to say with certainty how successful Obama has been at dismantling the old America and replacing it with the new, greener, less assertive, much poorer, and much more regulated and conformist America of his dreams. The full damage report may be sharply revised come November. But for anyone seeking to understand what manner of beast we are conjuring with in Obama, Stanley Kurtz’s new book Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism is essential reading. The book, which will be officially published October 19, is a meticulous work of political archeology, an excavation of Obama’s radical roots and socialist affiliations, from ACORN to the United Neighborhood Organization in Chicago.
Does it matter? Isn’t Barack Obama’s past as a radical “community organizer” just a dead datum in the historical dossier? Shouldn’t we be rather concerned with the present — and with the future? No quite. As Thomas Mann famously put it, the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. “It could be argued,” Kurtz writes, “that Obama’s past no longer matters.” But he argues, on the contrary, that “when it comes to Obama, the past, in a sense, matters more than the present. Only the president’s socialist past reveals the full meaning of his plans for the future. The president himself won’t honestly tell you his ultimate intentions.” What are those intentions? Kurtz shows in sobering detail that Obama’s intentions now are exactly what they were when he cut his teeth as a “community organizer” in Chicago. The agenda is socialism, but just as modern militaries employ stealth technology to camouflage their armament, so socialists in a capitalist country dissemble about their real goals. Occasionally, the mask falls, as when Obama admitted to Joe the plumber that he wanted to “spread the wealth around.” Generally, though, the socialist ambitions are semi-concealed. It’s a strategy of what Kurtz calls “stealth socialism.” The goal, Kurtz writes, is “to push the country into socialism well before the public can figure out what’s happened. Stealth-socialism community organizers habitually disguise their long-term goals. That is why we must turn to Obama’s past to discover the hidden ideological underpinnings of his policies.”
Radical-in-Chief is an important work of historical investigative reporting. But like its subject, its relevance is not so much what happened then, but what is happening now. Obama is not yet two years into what might be an eight-year tenure. Already he has altered the course of this country away from the principles that informed its founding — principles that revolved around the ideals of limited government and personal liberty. He might have more than six additional years to complete the fundamental transformation he boasted about on the campaign trail. Stanley Kurtz’s book helps us understand the lineaments of that ambition and, I fervently hope, will help to supply the friends of liberty with the backbone to push back.