Obama’s Past Tells the Truth

 

Obama loves capitalism like he opposes gay marriage.  That is the larger lesson I take from President Obama’s recent decision to stop defending DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act).  What does gay marriage have to do with capitalism?  It’s all about Obama’s true beliefs.

About a week before Obama’s inauguration, the Windy City Times (“the voice of Chicago’s gay, lesbian, bi and trans community”) revealed that on February 15, 1996, in the midst of his first campaign for the Illinois State Senate, Obama told a local gay paper in answer to a questionnaire: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”  That was news in early 2009, because Obama maintained steadfast opposition to gay marriage throughout his 2007-08 presidential run.  (The Windy City Times reporter who found the original questionnaire with Obama’s statement claims to have stumbled upon it only just after the election.)  So it turns out that if you unearth previously hidden documentary evidence of what Obama believed about same-sex marriage in 1996, you have a better guide to his actions as president than his own campaign promises or early presidential statements from 2007-2010.

I think this pattern applies across the board.  Essentially, Radical-in-Chief, my political biography of the president, argues that the Obama of 1996 is the real thing, while the president’s “post-partisan pragmatist” persona merely serves as a cover for his long-held incremental program of radical change.  Or, as I put it in the book, only the president’s past reveals the full meaning of his plans for our future.  That Obama favored gay marriage in 1996, disguised that fact during the 2008 campaign, then effectively reverted to his original position when president, doesn’t prove that the same pattern applies to other issues.  Yet it certainly does make my argument in Radical-in-Chief more plausible.

It’s sometimes claimed that Obama’s early leftism was nothing but a sop to his Hyde Park constituents.  Yet it would be tough to argue that Obama’s pro-gay marriage stance in 1996 was insincere, while his later opposition was deeply held.  Gay marriage didn’t become a national issue until 1995, when it looked like Hawaii’s highest court might force legalization on the state.  That prompted Congress to pass DOMA, as a way of preventing other states from having to follow Hawaii’s lead.

DOMA cleared Congress with ease in 1996.  So when Obama first endorsed same-sex marriage, he was taking an outlier position on the left.  How many people “evolve” from that kind of stance to sincerely held opposition to gay marriage?  Religious conversion might prompt such a change.  But Obama embraced Reverend Wright’s Christianity back in 1988, and Wright was in any case well known for acceptance of homosexuality and hostility to Christian social conservatism.

We also have an interview Obama gave to Windy City Times in 2004, when he was running for US Senate, in which he explicitly frames his new-found opposition to same-sex marriage as a strategic move, rather than a matter of principle.

By the time Obama published The Audacity of Hope in 2006, his support for gay marriage and open talk of strategic positioning were both suppressed.  Yet if you read the book closely, the political calculations are clear.  Obama never directly says he opposes same-sex marriage in Audacity.  Instead he says that society “can choose to carve out a special place” for the union of a man and a woman.  (Not “should” carve out a special place for man-woman marriage, but “can.”)  Then he rests his view on the “absence of any meaningful consensus” on a new definition of marriage.  (The unspoken implication is that, as public opinion shifts, Obama might shift, too.)  Obama even says in Audacity that his opposition to gay marriage may be due to his “infection” with society’s prejudices, so he pledges to remain open to “new revelations” on the issue.  In retrospect, it’s clear that Obama was setting himself up in Audacity for a policy shift as president. Although he ostentatiously wonders whether he’s been “infected with society’s prejudices,” in reality he’d never actually shared those “prejudices” to begin with.

It’s also emerged since his recent policy shift that the Obama justice department has been “defending” DOMA in a manner designed to subvert the law.  Obama has tailored his arguments in defense of DOMA in such a way as to play into the hands of the law’s opponents.

Now if someone were to say that Obama’s socialist views in 1996 tell you more about his plans for our economic future than his campaign promises or public statements as president–while adding that Obama’s efforts to shore up the free enterprise system are actually designed to undermine it over time–that person would sound extreme.  Yet this apparently intemperate statement accurately characterizes Obama’s history on the gay marriage issue.

Have a look at the famous video montage in which Obama makes early statements in support of single-payer health care, then years later admits the long-term strategic intent of his presidential health-care plans to a friendly interviewer, and finally suppresses that past altogether. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-bY92mcOdk

The pattern of Obama’s moves on gay marriage is repeated here.  In leftist Hyde Park, Obama admits his radical plans.  Later on he shifts rightward, while confessing to allies that his long-term goals are unchanged.  Finally, as president, Obama moves into full stealth mode, until the opportune moment for a leftward lurch arrives.  Re-elect Obama, and you’ll see this pattern play out time and again.

Obama ran for office in 1996 with the endorsement of the New Party, a stealthily socialist group.  I think the New Party’s program and long-term intentions still embody Obama’s goals.  Knowledge of Obama in 1996 tells you more about his plans for our future than his public statements as president today.  This has now been proven true for gay marriage.  I think it applies to economic policy as well.  In other words, Obama loves capitalism like he opposes gay marriage–which is to say, not much.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @StuartCreque

    I apologize for not yet having read Socialist-in-Chief. A quick question: is Obama’s socialism tied to the idea of an overarching international Socialist government, where national sovereignty withers and the transnational government takes over? If so, does Obama’s Russia policy reflect a hope for a resurgence of a Soviet Union that can champion and hasten the creation of a world Socialist government?

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    @FeliciaB

    Here’s a great, big, head-nodding LIKE for this post!

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    @Harlech

    Stealth socialism! Oh come now. Dave Weigel said it best: “I’ve got another theory about Barack Obama. He’s a liberal, but he knows who he needs to impress and what they care about. He figured out early on what soothed Hyde Park socialists, and later he figured out how to win over Springfield and Washington Republicans. He’s not an unblinking, unrepentant socialist. He’s a liberal political hack. He’s just been good at knowing how much everyone else likes to obsess over labels.”

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    @

    I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he was elected, for the sake of national unity, and to promote racial healing.

    There were some issues on which I even thought he would do the right thing.

    Unfortunately, he didn’t move on those issues in the right way or forcefully enough; and he’s been moving in all the wrong directions since he arrived in office.

    In 2008 and early 2009, I would not have believed the charge of “socialist” or would have thought it was fear-mongering or conspiracy-mongering. I would have feared that saying so would discredit our real opposition to him.

    Now, I’m fully convinced. Actions speak louder than words.

    How do we convince the people who are not predisposed to believe this? How do we get the evidence in front of them in a credible way? Without being dismissed again as conspiracy-mongers, etc.?

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    @CharlesGordon

    The Socialist Party in France (Parti Socialiste), the Socialist Party in Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela), the Socialist Party in Sweden (Socialistiska Partiet), or other erstwhile socialist parties, national or not, (or other parties of any name bearing the upraised clenched fist of perpetual petulance) would never claim to form a homogeneous group.

    Each socialist party at some time accuses the other of not being socialist, and within each they accused their own of not being socialist, as in the past, the communists once accused Trotsky, Lenin’s second in command, of not having the flavor of communist to Stalin’s taste—with fatal effect.

    So perplexing it is that some would construe as meaningful the vacuous assertion that our historic first Islamic apostate president is not a socialist, when the label socialist itself is essentially without meaning.

    The federal government’s policy of terminating our energy independence in order to control our consumption will not carry the label of socialist—but it is authoritarian collectivism.

    Our impending gasoline rationing vouchers will not carry the label of socialist—but they are a time tested tool of authoritarian collectivists to control the lives of the people they rule.

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    @MelFoil

    He’s not a socialist. He’s redistributionist. It provides all the goodies of socialism, without any of the tiresome responsibility of running industries.

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    @AmishDude

    Welcome, Stanley. I listen to your interviews on a number of podcasts, including Peter’s vidcast.

    Wright was in any case well known for acceptance of homosexuality and hostility to Christian social conservatism.

    There was an interesting story about a gay music director at Wright’s church who ended up getting murdered in mysterious circumstances. I’ve read that some have speculated that it was done by people inside the church and I got the impression the church wasn’t particularly gay-friendly. Is it that the members of his flock heard what they wanted to hear? Do I just have a mistaken impression?

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    @AmishDude
    Aodhan: Stanley, what do you think of Dinesh D’Souza’s thesis that Obama–ever the ambiguous inkblot–is covertly an anti-colonialist rather than a socialist, and harbours a resentment of Western imperialism rather than free-market capitalism? · Feb 28 at 11:46am

    Edited on Feb 28 at 11:56 am

    I’ve heard Stanley being less than charitable about this thesis.

    I think D’Souza is right but not in the Rosetta Stone way that D’Souza expresses it. I think he is influenced by colonialism in the way that a person who grows up in a Christian culture but who never went to church is influenced by Christianity.

    He absorbs it, he takes its values and priorities but doesn’t adhere to any specific doctrines.

    That’s why he always talks about “social justice” but never about “helping the poor”.

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    @WesternChauvinist
    How do we convince the people who are not predisposed to believe this? How do we get the evidence in front of them in a credible way? Without being dismissed again as conspiracy-mongers, etc.? · Feb 28 at 12:01pm

    I take two approaches to exposing the Left. First, what’s so bad about calling someone, let alone being socialist? Other than it isn’t politically advantageous in this country, of course. But, I thought only Republicans and conservatives were motivated by politics? I think we need to have the tone… “he’s a socialist, not that there’s anything wrong with that!”… and establish social acceptability for the term right before we destroy the ideology a’ la Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

    Second, ask the un-predisposed to clarify the distinctions between the president and his party with the social democrats of Europe. And then sit silently while they struggle to make a case.

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    @StanleyKurtzGuestContributor

    Stuart, I don’t think Obama wants to resurrect old-style authoritarian Soviet socialism. Like the New Party he joined in 1996, I think he’s see the vision of the left parties in Scandinavia as an ideal model. Obama probably does favor long-term moves toward a transnational legal regime, as many European leftists do. But mostly I think he wants to downplay foreign policy controversies so as to concentrate on expanding and reshaping the American welfare state.

    Harlech, if all we had was information on Obama in 1996 and today, your take would be one plausible way of making sense of his motivations. When you look at the full trajectory of his life, however, I think Weigel’s idea of Obama as pandering liberal hack fails. In Radical-in-Chief I trace out a continuous thread of socialist activity. Obama himself, in his memoirs, emphasizes the sincerity and continuity of his deepest political convictions. I think that’s sincere, and tough to fake, even if Obama has omitted to tell us the full dimensions of what his convictions are.

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    @StanleyKurtzGuestContributor

    Yes, David, in Dreams from My Father, Obama speaks of his time working at a business when he was just out of college, but not yet a community organizer, as something like being a spy behind enemy lines. Speaking about the business world as your enemy is a pretty strong hint of where the young Obama was coming from, which gets at my response to Harlech’s point.

    Aodhan, Obama himself tells us that he was a fan of “post-colonial” theory. This is clearly an element of how he sees the world. Reverend Wright was effectively an advocate of what Marxist scholars call “dependency theory,” the idea that most of the troubles of Third World nations are the fault of Western capitalist exploitation. So it’s not an either/or between socialism and various forms of post-colonial theory. I just think D’Souza tries to do too much with too little. I try to build up a careful narrative, using measured language, lots of data, and running along Obama’s larger life-trajectory. I think that puts things in better perspective and makes a more convincing case.

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    @StanleyKurtzGuestContributor

    Chris, I don’t have any magical answers. The mainstream press doesn’t want to allow serious criticism based on research into Obama’s past to break through to the broader public. That’s why they hype silly theories like birtherism and the notion that Obama is committed Muslim, as a way of discrediting critics. On the other hand, Obama’s critics have provided the media with plenty of fodder for that strategy.

    Charles, it’s true that socialists argue amongst themselves all the time about what socialism is. One of the things I do in the book is to show how these factional battles played out among the socialist community organizers who schooled Obama. And, yes, they did look for indirect ways to achieve socialist ends without formal government nationalization.

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    @StanleyKurtzGuestContributor

    etoiledunord, you’re right that Obama does not focus on classic socialist strategies of nationalization. One of the themes of Radical-in-Chief is that American socialists in the eighties largely abandoned that approach in favor of alternative means of gaining public control over the economy. Community organizing was central to those new strategies. Kevin Williamson’s very thoughtful and important new book puts forward a revised definition of socialism that takes into account regulatory techniques for achieving a kind of de facto central planning, without the political drawbacks of direct public ownership.

    AmishDude, I’ve heard nothing about this case, but in the book I do talk about the fact that Reverend Wright was at war with many in his own congregation over his political views. That’s one reason of many I give in the chapter on Wright for believing that Obama had to know what his minister was up to.

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    @StanleyKurtzGuestContributor

    Western Chauvinist, I think you’ve got the right idea. We already have an openly socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, and the Washington Post features an openly socialist columnist, Harold Meyerson. Both participate in everyday American politics without calling for revolution. Obama is that sort of socialist, and so were his community organizing mentors and sponsors. I’m not interested in blacklisting Bernie Sanders supporters. For me, this is largely a question of political honesty. Socialism is more common and less bizarre than most Americans realize. That’s why one of the things I do in the book is to describe the modified and “domesticated” form of socialism that developed in the United States after the revolutionary hopes of the sixties were dashed.

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    @JosephEagar
    Stanley Kurtz, Guest Contributor: Stuart, I don’t think Obama wants to resurrect old-style authoritarian Soviet socialism. Like the New Party he joined in 1996, I think he’s see the vision of the left parties in Scandinavia as an ideal model. Obama probably does favor long-term moves toward a transnational legal regime, as many European leftists do. But mostly I think he wants to downplay foreign policy controversies so as to concentrate on expanding and reshaping the American welfare state.

    Here’s another perspective. Socialist states must run trade surpluses to sustain themselves–this is how the so-called Nordic model works (at least in my understanding). Obama coming out as a Nordic-style socialist would send a strong signal to our trading partners that protectionism is inevitable.

    Even worse, the American Left is far stupider then most Europeans; the inequitable, exploitative labor protections (where the majority of workers gain, at the expense of a minority of temporary contractors and the unemployed) are very popular among intellectuals here, especially the 35 hour workweek and generous paid vacation time.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Stanley Kurtz, Guest Contributor: Western Chauvinist, I think you’ve got the right idea. We already have an openly socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, and the <snip?a question of political honesty. Socialism is more common and less bizarre than most Americans realize. That’s why one of the things I do in the book is to describe the modified and “domesticated” form of socialism that developed in the United States after the revolutionary hopes of the sixties were dashed. · Feb 28 at 5:33pm

    What do you think of this new idea of “flexicurity,” that’s all the rage in Europe? The basic idea is to have your cake and eat it too; combining flexible labor markets with generous between-job social protection (countering perverse incentives with workfare-like unemployment insurance policies).

    For myself, I’m suspicious it can work. I doubt it would eliminate the need for sustained trade surpluses–and, ultimately, no society can sustain large surpluses forever. Generous welfare states transfer of wealth from “outsiders” (people unemployed or in “temporary” work) to “insiders.” It’s obscene.

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    @AmishDude

    The three names of the murdered TUCC members are: Larry Bland, Nate Spencer and Donald Young. Apparently, they were all murdered within 40 days of each other. I hesitate to provide a link, because nothing that bing found would be called a reliable source. The stories go into conspiracy territory, but Bland and Young were murdered within about a month of each other and Spencer died of illness two days after Young.

    It seems to suggest though that some in the congregation were not as open and affirming as Wright was.

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    @Kervinlee

    Thank you for Radical in Chief.

    It’s still difficult to believe that Obama was so unexamined before being elected president. A total failure of the fourth estate.

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    @
    Stanley Kurtz, Guest Contributor: Harlech, if all we had was information on Obama in 1996 and today, your take would be one plausible way of making sense of his motivations. When you look at the full trajectory of his life, however, I think Weigel’s idea of Obama as pandering liberal hack fails.

    Dave Weigel insisting that President Obama is a shrewd, pandering hack is like the pot calling the kettle… well, you know.

    Like so many “centrists” during the ’08 campaign, Weigel is projecting onto the president — and conveniently, what he sees provides another chance to show that Dave Weigel is much more nuanced than all those National Review conservatives.

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    @Pseudodionysius

    Stanley,

    I was curious if you have any thoughts on the following obituary:

    Chicago priest, hired Barack Obama as community organizer, dies at age 70

    • #20
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    @

    Mr. Kurtz- I had been meaning to pick up RIC, seeing this post was the push I needed, and I ordered it tonight. Unfortunately it won’t arrive for a few days, so forgive me if you already answered this question in the book, but what do you think it is that prevented Obama from moving beyond these radical ideas? As a college freshman I had a professor evangelize me in the gospel of Howard Zinn, I bought into it for a while but have long since moved on. When I was a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. I think many conservatives have had the experience of embracing radical ideas in youth but later moving to the right, why do think that Obama did not?

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    @DavidNordmark

    I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Early in his career Obama could say what he really believed. In order to rise to higher office though he found it necessary to hide those beliefs. He became a mirror which would reflect back whatever beliefs you wanted. Taken from his teleprompter and in unguarded moments the mirrored mask does slip, however. Joe the Plumber and “At some point, I think you’ve made enough money” comments are examples of this. Didn’t he even say in one of this books that he was “working with the enemy” (or something like that) when he as working for a firm in the private sector?

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    @Aodhan

    Stanley, what do you think of Dinesh D’Souza’s thesis that Obama–ever the ambiguous inkblot–is covertly an anti-colonialist rather than a socialist, and harbours a resentment of Western imperialism rather than free-market capitalism?

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @CalLawton
    etoiledunord: He’s not a socialist. He’s redistributionist. It provides all the goodies of socialism, without any of the tiresome responsibility of running industries. · Feb 28 at 12:28pm

    That would make him a fascist.

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  25. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Harlech: Stealth socialism! Oh come now. Dave Weigel said it best: “I’ve got another theory about Barack Obama. He’s a liberal, but he knows who he needs to impress and what they care about. He figured out early on what soothed Hyde Park socialists, and later he figured out how to win over Springfield and Washington Republicans. He’s not an unblinking, unrepentant socialist. He’s a liberal political hack. He’s just been good at knowing how much everyone else likes to obsess over labels.” · Feb 28 at 10:58am

    you wish…

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    @TBD

    Other Conor — My thought is that Obama’s belief in his politics has been strengthened because he has personally prospered by being a proponent of those leanings.

    Mr. Kurtz — I saw your very grounded Wednesday Morning speech via the video at Powerline and have downloaded and started RIC. Thank you.

    • #26

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