FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Extremists
Chapter three of seven
B. The Extremists
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our setereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.But this strategy alone couldn’t provide the distance I wanted, from Joyce [a former girlfriend] or my past. After all, there were thousands of so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated. No, it remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.
-Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, describing his choice of friends as a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, which he attended for two years. He also wrote about “socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union” after transferring to Columbia, and “went to hear Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and Black Power fame, speak at Columbia.” Carmichael, of course, was a famous Sixties radical, a subject that apparently interested Obama as early as his college years.
If Obama was going to pursue his dreams of political activism, he wasn’t going to follow the route of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in relying on his roots to his home town, nor did he have John McCain’s advantage of a famous war record. He was going to need a political base that would accept an outsider, and needed to bring something to the table. And this is how he built one. The groundwork for Obama’s entree into Chicago politics was laid through networking in the very same radical chic circles he described in the passage above. There’s not adequate space here to revisit in full the left-wing radicalism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Fr. Michael Pfleger, the New Party, Alice Palmer, Rashid Khalidi, Khalid al-Mansour, and others in Obama’s circle, but the thumbnail sketches and links below should clue you in to the common theme – Obama carefully cultivated an image as a friend of Sixties radicals, race-baiters, Marxists and worse. Maybe this was due to the same romantic impulse of his college years and maybe it was craven political opportunism, but the record shows how firmly he ingratiated himself with these people, with the result that he gets endorsements to this day from avowed Communists. Even as a presidential candidate, Obama is willing to lend his appearance and good name to the operations of wholly disreputable far-left figures like Al Sharpton.
Yet while Obama was adept at showing one face to the hard left, he and the organizations he worked with were also acutely aware of the need to present a more respectable face to the broader community, as the Woods Fund noted in a report on its grant to ACORN (more on which below):
Indeed, the report brags about pulling the wool over the public’s eye. The Woods Fund’s claim to be “nonideological,” it says, has “enabled the Trustees to make grants to organizations that use confrontational tactics against the business and government ‘establishments’ without undue risk of being criticized for partisanship.”
(1) Rev. Wright, Fr. Pfleger & Racialism
The most notorious of Obama’s associations is his spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the United Church of Christ. You can find samplings of why Rev. Wright’s race-baiting, his crackpot anti-American conspiracy theories and his all-purpose loathing of this country have caused Obama so much justifiable grief at the following links *. Obama has written movingly of the impact that Wright’s preaching had of shaking him from his agnosticism and leading him to Jesus, and I have no way of evaluating the sincerity of any of that, or for that matter criticizing the strange ways that men are brought to the Lord. But the overtly political nature of Wright’s preaching was evident from the very beginning, starting when “”[a]s a young biracial man building a black identity, Obama found Wright’s Afrocentrism appealing. The first time he visited the church, in 1985, he saw a ‘Free South Africa’ sign on the lawn.” As he sat through years of Wright’s fiery sermons, Obama could easily, at any time, have chosen to move on to a less divisive church (Protestants have no particular religious obligation to stay with any one preacher or congregation), but as the liberal magazine Salon explains, Obama had obvious political motives for coming to and staying with Rev. Wright:
[J]oining a black mega-church was also a quick way for a young man on the move on the South Side of Chicago to address some gaps in his resume. In any American town, it’s not uncommon for anyone launching a business enterprise that depends on name recognition and personal contacts to join the Lion’s Club or the Rotary and one of the biggest churches on Main Street. In “Audacity of Hope,” Obama is talking about networking when he describes what brought him to Wright’s church in 1987. He was a community organizer then, and one of the black ministers with whom he was consulting suggested that the work would go more smoothly if he joined a congregation. “It might help your mission,” said the pastor, “if you had a church home … It doesn’t matter where, really.” The pastor was talking about Obama’s community organizing mission, but he was also giving him good advice about politics. When Obama picked a “church home,” he chose one that helped him with another weak spot in his biography. Before Obama joined Trinity United, Rev. Wright warned Obama that the church was viewed as “too radical … Our emphasis on African history, on scholarship…” But Obama joined anyway. With that act, he had become significantly blacker — and more like local voters. Part of the cultural divide between the half-Kenyan Hawaiian and his Chicago neighbors, most of them products of the Deep South’s black diaspora, was bridged.
Obama’s political motivations for sidling up to Wright are evident in a 1988 essay by Obama touting the need to organize black churches:
Possessing tremendous financial resources, membership, and-most important-values and biblical traditions that call for empowerment and liberation, the black church is clearly a slumbering giant in the political and economic landscape of cities like Chicago.
Indeed, far from being repelled by Wright’s Manichean view of race relations, Obama himself sometimes took the posture of enforcer of strict racial solidarity in Chicago:
A Chicago Defender story of 1999 features a front-page picture of Obama beside the headline, “Obama: Illinois Black Caucus is broken.” In the accompanying article, although Obama denies demanding that black legislators march in perfect lockstep, he expresses anger that black state senators have failed to unite for the purpose of placing a newly approved riverboat casino in a minority neighborhood. The failed casino vote, Obama argues, means that the black caucus “is broken and needs to unite for the common good of the African-American community.” Obama continues, “The problem right now is that we don’t have a unified agenda that’s enforced back in the community and is clearly articulated. Everybody tends to be lone agents in these situations.”
When the 2000 census revealed dramatic growth in Chicago’s Hispanic and Asian populations alongside a decline in the number of African Americans, the Illinois black caucus was alarmed at the prospect that the number of blacks in the Illinois General Assembly might decline. At that point, Obama stepped to the forefront of the effort to preserve as many black seats as possible. The Defender quotes Obama as saying that, “while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats.” As in the casino dispute, Obama stressed black unity, pushing a plan that would modestly increase the white, Hispanic, and Asian population in what would continue to be the same number of safe black districts. As Obama put it: “An incumbent African-American legislator with a 90 percent district may feel good about his reelection chances, but we as a community would probably be better off if we had two African-American legislators with 60 percent each.”
(UPDATE: Via Ed Morrissey, Stanley Kurtz and others look at how the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, under Obama’s direction, spread funding around to “Afrocentric” educational programs that espoused many of Wright’s racial ideas).
Obama has also come under fire for his ties to the Catholic priest Fr. Michael Pfleger, due to Fr. Pfleger’s own racially incendiary remarks (more: *) from the pulpit of Rev. Wright’s church. Fr. Pfleger, too, has a long rap sheet of extremism:
[H]e has welcomed the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan to preach in his church; he has hired prostitutes to worship there; he has been arrested for defacing billboards; and he once urged the crowd at an anti-gun rally to hunt down a gun store owner ‘like a rat’ and ‘snuff’ him.
Obama’s alliance with Fr. Pfleger, “a longtime Obama friend,” is similarly decades-long in duration and political in nature. Pfleger supported Obama in his primary battle with Bobby Rush in 2000. Among the many causes on which they worked together was a joint appearance in 2000 to protest the payday loan industry.
(2) Ayers & Dohrn and Alice Palmer
The hot issue of the moment is Obama’s relationship with unrepentant terrorist and unreconstructed left-wing radical Bill Ayers and his wife and fellow Weather Underground terrorist Bernadine Dorhn, an alumna of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. I’ve discussed the nature of Ayers’ and Dohrn’s radicalism, Obama’s ties to them, and the implausibility of Obama’s claim to not have known who they were here, here, here, here, and here. (To add another example of Ayers’ and Dohrn’s decades-long national media press clipping file: Dohrn was profiled in the New York Times in 1993 *). Leaving aside for now the debate on exactly when and where Obama and his wife first met Ayers and Dohrn – among the evidence that he’d known him since the 1980s is the relationship I mentioned above between the organizations Obama and Ayers were running at the time – the short summary, from Stanley Kurtz:
From 1995 to 1999, [Obama] led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists.
To briefly summarize, CAC was largely Ayers’ brainchild; Ayers’ anti-American, left-wing beliefs haven’t changed a whit since the Weather Underground days, and he now espouses the view that his radical left-wing ideas should be passed on to children through political indoctrination posing as education; and Obama, who headed the CAC’s process for disbursing funds and who could not possibly have been unaware of Ayers’ views on education, nonetheless funneled millions of dollars to educational projects under Ayers’ direction in 1995. The core of the Ayers issue is not friendship but money, and Obama’s judgment that a left-wing terrorist was an appropriate person to entrust with the education of children.
And that same year, 1995, Obama had what was essentially his coming-out party as a first-time candidate for public office – the State Senate seat to which he’d be elected the following year – at Ayers’ and Dohrn’s home, as his predecessor, Alice Palmer, announced that she was passing the torch to Obama:
“I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers’ house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress,” said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. “[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor.” Obama and Palmer “were both there,” he said.
Dr. Young and another guest, Maria Warren, described it similarly: as an introduction to Hyde Park liberals of the handpicked successor to Palmer, a well-regarded figure on the left. “When I first met Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in the living room of those two legends-in-their-own-minds, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn,” Warren wrote on her blog in 2005. “They were launching him – introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread.”
* Obama’s alliance with Ayers didn’t end when he got into office, either. In 1997, Ayers’ book on juvenile justice, which like everything else about Ayers was bursting with radical left-wing sentiments, got ‘a rave review in The Chicago Tribune by Mr. Obama, who called it ‘a searing and timely account.’” What did that book say, and how closely did Obama embrace Ayers’ theories?
Ayers opposes trying even the most vicious juvenile murderers as adults. Beyond that, he’d like to see the prison system itself essentially abolished. Unsatisfied with mere reform, Ayers wants to address the deeper “structural problems of the system.” Drawing explicitly on Michel Foucault, a French philosopher beloved of radical academics, Ayers argues that prisons artificially impose obedience and conformity on society, thereby creating a questionable distinction between the “normal” and the “deviant.” The unfortunate result, says Ayers, is to leave the bulk of us feeling smugly superior to society’s prisoners. Home detention, Ayers believes, might someday be able to replace the prison. Ayers also makes a point of comparing America’s prison system to the mass-detention of a generation of young blacks under South African Apartheid. Ayers’s tone may be different, but the echoes of Jeremiah Wright’s anti-prison rants are plain.Given his decision to recommend Ayers’s book in the Tribune, it’s fair to say that Obama is at least broadly sympathetic to this perspective. When Obama offers examples of ill-conceived legislation, he often points to building prisons: Instead of building another prison, why not expand health care entitlements? Biographer David Mendell cites Obama’s irritation with fellow legislators who “grandstand” by passing tough-on-crime legislation, while letting bills designed to bring “structural change” languish. Debating Bobby Rush in 2000, Obama bragged that he had “consistently fought against the industrial prison complex.” Obama’s Hyde Park Herald column echoes these points.
Ayers walks the reader through his Hyde Park neighborhood and identifies the notable residents therein. Among them are Muhammad Ali, “Minister” Louis Farrakhan (of whom he writes fondly), “former mayor” Eugene Sawyer, “poets” Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and “writer” Barack Obama.In 1997, Obama was an obscure state senator, a lawyer, and a law school instructor with one book under his belt that had debuted two years earlier to little acclaim and lesser sales.
Here are Ayers and Dohrn on national TV in 1998, reiterating how completely unrepentant they were and are:
In fact, Obama went on to collaborate closely with Ayers in 1997-98 on a joint push for “reform” of the juvenile justice system, including appearing on a panel with Ayers hosted by Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago, where Obama was then teaching and Michelle working. Ayers donated $200 to Obama’s campaign in 2001, and Obama appeared on another panel with Ayers at a conference Dohrn spoke at as late as 2002.
More on Obama, Ayers, Dohrn and Ayers’ and Dohrn’s radicalism: And here’s Obama’s original effort to downplay the relationship.
At the meeting at Ayers & Dohrn’s house, Obama was introduced by the woman who was then vacating the seat, Alice Palmer. * Obviously the blessing of the incumbent is a thing of great usefulness – what convinced Palmer that Obama was an ideological comrade? Consider who Alice Palmer is, and what that says as well about the district Obama was courting:
Ten years earlier she was an executive board member of the U.S. Peace Council, which the FBI identified as a communist front group, an affiliate of the World Peace Council, a Soviet front group. Palmer participated in the World Peace Council’s 1983 Prague Assembly, part of the Soviet launch of the nuclear-freeze movement….In June 1986, while editor of the Black Press Review, she wrote an article for the Communist Party USA’s newspaper, the People’s Daily World, now the People’s Weekly World. It detailed her experience attending the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and how impressed she was by the Soviet system.Palmer gushed at the “Soviet plan to provide people with higher wages and better education” and spoke of the efficiency of the Soviets’ most recent five-year plan, attributing its success to “central planning.”…
(3) Rashid Khalidi, AAAN, and Ali Abunimah
Obama also had a longstanding relationship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi, among other Palestinian activists going back to a class Obama took with Edward Said at Columbia. Khalidi has acted as an adviser and spokesman for the PLO, which of course was long on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for obvious reasons: “From 1976 to 1982, Mr. Khalidi was a director in Beirut of the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA. Later he served on the PLO ‘guidance committee’ at the Madrid peace conference.” * (Khalidi denies that the PLO ever formally employed him). Khalidi was, typically enough, “practically the best friend of Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers features Khalidi in some of his books about how to politicize the teaching for students….Bill Ayers publish[ed] Rashid Khalidi’s essay in [his] book of collected essays”.
Khalidi’s wife headed the Arab American Action Network, which received grants from the Woods Fund during Obama’s and Khalidi’s tenure on the Woods Fund’s board, including $40,000 in 2001 and $70,000 in 2002. (More on AAAN, its vice president Ali Abunimah and his website Electronic Intifada, which frequently refer to Israel as an “apartheid” state, here: ) And he, too, repaid the favor: “Khalidi, a former spokesman for Yasser Arafat, held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000 during his unsuccessful bid for Congress.” For his part, Obama spoke warmly in 2003 about many meals shared at Khalidi’s house.
He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a “war crime” and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi’s opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.
This would be more encouraging if not for the long history of dissembling for Western audiences practiced by the PLO and its spokespeople.
Khalidi is hardly Obama’s only tie to people and groups who take a hardline pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli view. More recently at his side was his presidential campaign’s former senior foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. (Note the video here). Another is Obama military adviser Merrill “Tony” McPeak. This is how we end up with Palestinians in Gaza phone-banking for Obama and kind words for Obama from Hamas * and Jesse Jackson last week telling a foreign audience “that, although ‘Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades’ remain strong, they’ll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House”. And MyDD.com quotes Abunimah having this to say about Obama’s own efforts to cater to Palestinian anti-Israel sympathies in Chicago:
I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator — when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that’s just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.
* Certainly despite Obama’s assurances today, his courage in standing up for Israel has never proven to be much of an obstacle to cozying up to those who mean it ill.
(4) The New Party
Obama wasn’t content to give radicals, terrorists and racists his money, his name and his seat in a pew; he also went and joined the New Party, a far-left outfit that served as an umbrella coalition of Marxists and others too far to the left for the Democratic Party. Under the laws in effect at the time – changed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision – it was possible for candidates in Illinois to run on two party lines, and Obama sought out and received the New Party line endorsement – in fact, to do so, he had to follow New Party policy requiring all NP-endorsed candidates to sign a contract supporting the party’s agenda. Obama was undoubtedly viewed and touted by the New Party as a member, and sought to leverage that membership to appeal to the NP base: “Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration.” * As discussed below, the NP connection also cemented his relationship with ACORN.
The far Left didn’t forget Obama’s NP days after the party essentially faded from the scene; in 2000, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America wrote warmly of him:
Barak Obama is serving only his second term in the Illinois State Senate so he might be fairly charged with ambition, but the same might have be said of Bobby Rush when he ran against Congressman Charles Hayes. Obama also has put in time at the grass roots, working for five years as a community organizer in Harlem and in Chicago. When Obama participated in a 1996 UofC YDS Townhall Meeting on Economic Insecurity, much of what he had to say was well within the mainstream of European social democracy.
What does Obama really believe about all these people? Is the real Obama the deeds of yesterday, or the more soothing words of today, when he distances himself from so many of his old friends?
I don’t actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Bill Ayers; I only know that he was content to send millions of dollars Ayers’ way to “educate” the children of Chicago and give a glowing review to Ayers’ book. I don’t actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Rev. Wright; I only know that he was content to sit in Wright’s pews for two decades, bring his young daughters to have their heads filled with Wright’s ravings, donate to Wright’s church, declare Wright to be his spiritual mentor and name his best-selling book after one of Wright’s incendiary sermons. I don’t actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of the New Party; I only know that he was content to put his name on their party line and sign a contract to support their platform. (For that matter, I don’t even pretend to know for certain whether Barack Obama shares the sex education agenda of Planned Parenthood; I only know that he was content to push their agenda through the State Senate and never object to statutory language extending sex education all the way down to kindergarteners).
In short: maybe Obama isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool radical left-wing culture warrior; maybe he was just too afraid to stop lending his moral and financial support to such people and stop currying their favor. Either way, he never stood against them in any way. And the pattern of his relationship with the extremists would be repeated.