October 10, 2008
Why Obama's Communist Connections Are Not HeadlinesBy Paul Kengor
There's a lot of frustration among conservatives over how Barack Obama's radical past seems to be making no impact whatsoever among the American public. His connection to communists in particular, from communist-terrorists like Bill Ayers to the communist agitator-journalist Frank Marshall Davis to fellow travelers like Saul Alinsky, has simply failed to resonate beyond the political right. Quite the contrary, the more information that becomes available on Obama's radical associations, the more he seems to widen his lead over John McCain, a man who was tortured by communists in Vietnam.
I understand these frustrations completely. I'm also not surprised.
I have seen for quite some time that although we won the Cold War -- and defeated the Soviet communist empire -- America is vulnerable to varying degrees of collectivism, wealth redistribution, "creeping socialism" (Ronald Reagan's phrase), class-warfare rhetoric, and generally milder, more palatable (but still dangerous) forms of disguised Marxism. Why? How? The answer is simple: The history and truth about communism is not taught by our educators.
That total failure to remind and understand means that Americans are painfully vulnerable to repeat mistakes that should have been forever tossed onto the ash-heap of history.
Communism and the Cold War has been my area of research for years. I've written books on the subject. I lecture on the subject at Grove City College and around the country. The book I'm currently researching with Peter Schweizer is a Cold War book, which, ironically, inevitably brought us into contact with Marxist characters who allied with and even mentored Barack Obama.
Of all the lectures that I do around the country, none seem to rivet the audience as much as my discourse on the horrors of communism. In these lectures, which are usually connected to my books on Ronald Reagan, I do a 10-15 minute backgrounder on the crimes of communists-from their militant attacks on private property, on members of all religious faiths, and on basic civil liberties, to their total death toll of over 100 million bloodied, emaciated corpses in the 20th century.
As I do these presentations, the young people, especially on college campuses, are locked in, amazed at what they are hearing. I think they are especially struck that I always ground every fact and figure in reliable research and authorities -- books published by Harvard University Press and Yale University Press, quotes from the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and Vaclav Havel and Alexander Yakovlev, anti-Soviet appraisals from certain Cold War Democrats like Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy and even early liberals like Woodrow Wilson. I rarely use right-wing sources because I don't want the professors of these students to be able to later shoot a single hole in my presentation -- a potential tactic to undermine the overall thesis.
And speaking of those professors, that gets to my point here: As the young people in my audience are fully engaged, hands in the air with question after question -- obviously hearing all of these things for the first time in their lives, from K-12 to college, as they are eager to inform me after my talk -- the professors often stare at me with contempt. In one case, a British professor, who could not stop sighing, squirming, and rolling her eyes as I quoted the most heinous assessments of religion by Marx and Lenin, got up and stormed out of the room.
These professors glare at me as if the ghost of Joe McCarthy has flown into the room and leapt inside of my body. In fact, that's the essence of their criticism: It is not so much that these professors approve of communism as much as they disapprove of -- actually, utterly despise -- anti-communism. They are anti-anti-communist more so than pro-communist. Conservatives need to understand this, so as to avoid broad-brushing and losing credibility. Sure, a lot of professors are Marxists, and many more share the utopian goals of Marxism, but the vast majority are simply leftists.
Being on the left entails many strange contradictions and political pathologies, one of which is this bizarre revulsion toward anti-communists. These leftists -- to their credit -- despise fascism, and will preach anti-fascism until they're blue in the face. They are as appalled by fascism as conservatives are by communism. But while conservatives detest both communism and fascism, liberals only detest one of the two.
For instance, I recently saw that Human Events created a list of the top 10 worst books ever written, which included, as the top two, Marx's Communist Manifesto (#1), followed by Hitler's Mein Kampf (#2). That ranking is easily defended solely on numbers: Hitler killed at least 10 million; communism killed at least 100 million. Either way, kudos to Human Events, a conservative newspaper, for putting both communism and fascism in its top two. Yet, conversely, any liberal version of such a list would not even place the Communist Manifesto in the top 10. I guarantee that liberals who read the Human Events list will snicker at its alleged Neanderthal anti-communism.
The leftist intelligentsia that dominates higher education, and which writes the civics texts used in high schools -- I've read and studied these texts -- and which trains the teachers who teach in high schools, is not in the slightest bit notably anti-communist. These liberals do not teach the lessons of communism.
What's more, aside from failing to instruct their students in the crass facts about communism's unprecedented destruction -- its purges, mass famines, show trials, killing fields, concentration camps -- these educators are negligent in failing to teach the essential, non-emotional, but crucial Econ 101 basics that contrast capitalism and communism and, thus, that get at the heart of how and why command economies simply do not work. Each semester in my Comparative Politics course at Grove City College, it takes no more than 50 minutes to matter-of-factly lay out the rudimentary differences. Whereas capitalist systems are based on the market forces of supply and demand, which dictate prices and production levels and targets, communist systems are based on central planning, by which a government bureau attempts to manage such things. Capitalism is based on private ownership; communism on public ownership. Capitalism thrives on small government and taxes; communism on large government and taxes, typically progressive income-tax rates and estate taxes -- both advocated explicitly by Marx -- and much more.
This stuff isn't rocket science. It is easy to teach, if the professor desires. The problem is that it isn't being taught. Consequently, Americans today do not know why communism is such a devastating ideology, at both the level of plain economic theory and in actual historical practice. It is a remarkably hateful system, based on literal hatred and targeted annihilation of entire classes and groups of people. (Nazism sought genocide based on ethnicity; communism sought genocide based on class.)
Most Americans generally know that the USSR was a bad place and that it was good that the Berlin Wall fell; they lived through that. But they know little beyond that, especially young Americans in college today, born around the time the wall fell -- Obama's biggest supporters. Nowhere in America is Barack Obama worshipped as he is on college campuses, by students and professors alike.
What does it all mean for November 2008? It means that millions of modern Americans, when they hear that Barack Obama has deep roots with communist radicals like Bill Ayers and Frank Marshall Davis, don't care; they don't get it. Moreover, the leftist establishment -- from academia to media to Hollywood -- will not help them get it. To the contrary, the left responds to these accusations by not only downplaying or dismissing them but by ridiculing or even vilifying them, given the left's reflexive anti-anti-communism. The left will create bad guys out of the anti-communists who are legitimately blowing the whistle on the real bad guys.
When the leftists of the ‘60s took over higher education and the media, they really knew what they were doing. This was brilliant, masterful, a tactical slam-dunk, a tremendous coup for them and their worldview, with ripple effects we can scarcely imagine.
Does this mean that the McCain camp, talk radio and conservatives generally shouldn't bother exposing these things? Not at all. The truth is the truth, and needs to be told. Moderates especially need to be informed that Barack Obama is not your typical liberal: he is the most hard-left Democrat that his party has ever nominated for the presidency. It is absolutely not a coincidence that the man with these far-left associations just so happens to be ranked -- quantifiably, objectively, by non-partisan, respected sources like National Journal -- the most far-left member of the U.S. Senate, which is no small thing given the leftward drift of the modern Democratic Party. In other words, Obama's extremist associations matter; they are fully revealing, illustrative of the political-ideological realities that the pro-Obama media will not expose. His voting record bears this out.
That said, I warn my fellow conservatives: Be prepared to be really, really frustrated when few people seem to care.
The Santayana aphorism is correct: those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. For decades now, we haven't taught the next generation what it needs to know from its immediate past. And now, to borrow from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, America's chickens have come home to roost.
Paul Kengor is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).