Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Even Stanley Kurtz doesn't buy Jonah Goldberg's defense of red-baiting Stanley Kurtz

Remember last week, when Jonah Goldberg said that Stanley Kurtz's new book calling Obama a socialist isn't the same thing as calling him a communist -- and it's those oversensitive liberals who are conflating communism and socialism? Remember that?

For example, I’ve just been dipping in and out of Stan’s book, but nowhere I’ve seen does he call Obama a Communist. I’m sure Dave understands the distinction and he might have simply found the word-play irresistible, but it’s worth noting that the Hammer and Sickle are not symbols of socialism but of Communism.

Who is seeing Hammer and Sickles everywhere now?

I responded by noting that the cover of Kurtz's book actually features Obama's face superimposed on a red star. But it turns out you don't need to read into the cover symbolism to believe that Kurtz is doing a bit of red-baiting here. Here's Kurtz himself, today

There’s no doubt that Radical-in-Chief’s cover art draws the reader’s eye with a spectacular symbol of classic Marxist socialism. It would have been tough to put a picture of the Midwest Academy on the book, since no-one’s ever heard of it, and since the Midwest Academy keeps its socialism secret in any case. I get at the stealthy, pragmatic, and incremental Midwest Academy-style socialism the reader will learn about inside through the book’s subtitle.

But the fact is that a lot of Radical-in-Chief is about good old fashioned Marxism. There’s the story of Reverend Wright’s adventures in Cuba, for example, which drew Obama to Wright’s church, I claim. And Obama himself was a revolutionary Marxist at Occidental College. Also, many of the Swedish-style socialist organizers who trained and sponsored Obama supported Marxist regimes like Cuba and Nicaragua. Alice Palmer, who chose Obama to be her successor in the Illinois State Senate, was a fan of the Soviet Union. Bill Ayers often wears the red star. Despite their democratic professions, many of Obama’s stealth-socialist community organizer colleagues believed that a violent socialist revolution would be necessary in the future. And some of Obama’s mentors favored Swedish social experiments that skirted the boundary between democratic socialism and outright authoritarianism. Even Obama’s most gradualist mentors saw their ideological stealth as a modern version of Communist Party strategy during the Popular Front period.

So while American socialism definitely changed during its turn to community organizing in the eighties and nineties, the hard-core Marxist past was never entirely shed. The book grapples with that complexity. The Swedish alternative is real, but the links to the bad old Marxist days remain. That’s part of what makes even reformed socialism a matter of legitimate concern to those who love liberty.

Now, maybe this isn't directly calling Obama a communist. But he's certainly making a direct case that at one point, at least, Obama was a Marxist. (Can we agree that word is a synonym for Communist, or is more parsing called for?) And he's certainly making the case that Obama is so tied to and enmeshed with Marxists that his presidency endangers our country. I'm not sure that Goldberg's effort at pedantry -- communism is different from socialism, and Democrats are getting their feelings hurt because of their own inability to make distinctions -- really stands up at all in light of Kurtz's own words.

In any case, if Obama's a socialist, he's a damned lousy one. Tax cuts for the rich? Putting GM back on the market after saving it? Passing health reform by keeping insurance entirely in the hands of private companies? No doubt Kurtz and others will view this as Alinskyite go-slow subversion of free markets, but most of the rest of us don't see a president who looks all that radical. 

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