Obama and the Big Non-Break-Up
When Arthur Koestler broke from the Communist Party after the Hitler-Stalin pact, he broke big time. He had been a card-carrying member of the American Communist party in the thirties for all the reasons why young, idealistic, reflective young minds search for something better than the huge economic inequalities perceived in capitalist societies. But Koestler increasingly became unable to delude himself about the accretive dictatorial dimension inherent in egalitarian ideologies. The increasing power and privilege of the elite inner circle of party members who dispensed their version of social justice became increasingly odious to him.
When the two lines intersected, he broke. The result was Darkness at Noon and The God that Failed. The one is a novel, the other a collection of essays by those who made the break. The underlying theme is the innate tendency of egalitarian ideologies to become oppressive, totalitarian regimes with brutal enforcement agencies to effect the social justice vision of a ruling class elite.
The same is true in our day of those who broke with their early embrace of egalitarian ideologies. Whatever the flavor -- Trotskyite, Castroite, or Maoist -- the same innate tendency to result in a brutal regime of elite social justice engineers drove the youthful (and not quite so youthful) believers to make the break. And to make it publicly.
Christopher Hitchens never quite made the break in dramatic ideological terms so much as in policy terms -- defending the Iraq war. But in his Why Orwell Matters, he endorses Orwell's position of the innate tendency of egalitarian ideologies to become fascist over-controlling regimes. Hitchens incurred the wrath of his former Trotskyite buddies, and his war with them, and in particular Cockburn, was very public. The point remains: from Hitchens to Podhoretz to Horowitz, their disavowal -- to whatever degree -- is public and unabashed.
President Obama has never publicly disavowed the ideology of his communist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. Credit the research of Dr. Paul Kengor's new book, The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor, for making it clear that Obama never had "the break-up" characteristic of those who jettison their youthful infatuation with egalitarian ideologies.
At one point in his book, Kengor describes his interview with John Drew, who knew Obama well while attending Occidental College. Kengor quotes Drew as saying, "Obama was already an ardent Marxist when I met him in the fall of 1980." Kengor further writes:
If Obama was on the Marxist-Leninist left, we have no accounting, from Obama or anyone, of a switch. Quite the contrary, in Obama's memoirs, we hear about him attending socialist conferences and 'hanging out' with Marxist professors, but never any repudiation of those conferences, professors, or even a tiny, passing comment suggesting these were fanciful musings from a politically misguided youth.
As "Da Tagliare" (nom de guerre?) points out in his review of Kengor's book in Godfather Politics (7/18), the economic policies of President Obama are strikingly similar to those of his mentor Davis. Davis believed that that the way to stimulate the economy was for the federal government to collect taxes and then redistribute that money for health insurance, education, low-cost housing, and increased Social Security benefits. Davis believed that it was foolhardy to rely on businesses, private or large, or even Wall Street to stimulate the economy but to do it through taxation. And as Da Tagliare facetiously asks, "Sound familiar?"