In sifting through the intellectual landfill upon which the American left has built its worldview, a researcher can find any number of artifacts to help decrypt the Obama presidency.
Among the more illuminating is Weather Underground, a watchable 2002 documentary on the soi-disant Weathermen and their times. Although superficially objective, the film allows the final comment of Weatherman Mark Rudd to stand as something of a thesis statement.
"It was this knowledge that we couldn't handle," says Rudd, explaining the group's turn to violence. "It was too big. We didn't know what to do. In a way I still don't know what to do with the knowledge."
The Russian equivalent for Rudd's "big" knowledge is pravda, as in "larger truth" or "truth and justice." In the Soviet era, Communists hammered the facts until they fit the "truth." Small "c" communists like Rudd and his former colleague, Bill Ayers, still do. Their indifference to history stuns the knowing observer, especially in regard to the defining event of their era, the war in Vietnam.
By contorting every fact that did not naturally fit their template, the Weathermen and their allies concluded, in Ayers' words, that America's "intentions were evil and her justifications dissembling, her explanations dishonest, her every move false." This was the "knowledge," uniquely intuited by the hard left, that Rudd and his colleagues found "too big" to handle.
In Weather Underground not one of the seven or eight Weathermen interviewed in 2002 questions this assumption about America and the Vietnam War. Neither do their liberal critics in the film, nor do the filmmakers for that matter. All that anyone questions are the futile ends to which the Weathermen applied their superior insights.
The film offers no hint that the 1968 Tet offensive proved disastrous to the Viet Cong. No hint that by August 1972, U.S. ground forces had so whipped the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) that they were able to withdraw fully from Vietnam. No hint that the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (ARVN) held their own for nearly three years and collapsed only after a Democratic Congress cut off all military funding. No hint that Cambodia sunk into horrific genocide and Vietnam into a repressive Stalinist state after the Weathermen's communist heroes took over. No hint that the anti-war left ignored, or cheered, the horrific consequences of America's withdrawal. In sum, no hint that the Weathermen's larger truth was largely false.
More troubling, in neither of their memoirs -- Ayers' 2001 Fugitive Days quoted above and Rudd's 2009 Underground -- does either author give any sense that his "big" knowledge is any less true or relevant today than it was forty years ago. America was and remains, in Rudd's words, "racist" and "imperialist." It must be thus, as Ayers declaimed in a 2006 speech in Venezuela, because "capitalism promotes racism and militarism -- turning people into consumers, not citizens."
Since hitting the mainland Obama has surrounded himself with leftists well versed in the knowledge too big to handle. "I chose my friends carefully," he writes in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, "The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." With his new friends, Obama discussed "neocolonialism, Franz (sic) Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy" and flaunted his alienation.
The literary influences Obama cites include radical anti-imperialists like Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X, communists like Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and tyrant-loving fellow travelers like W.E.B. DuBois. "Joseph Stalin was a great man," DuBois wrote upon Stalin's death in 1953. "Few other men of the 20th century approach his stature."
In Dreams, Obama gives no suggestion that this reading was in any way problematic or a mere phase in his development. He moves on to no new school, embraces no new worldview. At least five of the authors he cites -- Wright, Fanon, Hughes, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin -- Bill Ayers cites in his writings as well. (As an aside, both Obama and Ayers misspell Fanon's name in the same way as "Franz.")
For mentors, Obama chose men like Ayers, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the fraudulent Palestinian wannabe Edward Said, and the radical PLO groupie Rashid Khalidi. These are the men he turned to for wisdom. In 2003, for instance, Obama publicly thanked Khalidi for providing "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."
Khalidi, in turn, publicly thanked Ayers in the "acknowledgments" section of his 2004 book, Resurrecting Empire. "Bill was particularly generous in letting me use his family's dining room table to do some writing for the project," he says of Ayers, a gifted writer and editor. In Rudd's "acknowledgments" section, he thanks his agent, Jane Dystel, who was Obama's agent as well. To complete this left wing cluster back scratch, Obama thanks Dystel, but, understandably, not Ayers.
Not surprisingly, given his inputs, Barack Obama has embraced a vaguely Marxist, post-colonial view of the capitalist enterprise. In the 2004 preface to Dreams, written after his keynote speech at the Democratic convention, he describes an ongoing "struggle -- between worlds of plenty and worlds of want." America, he implies, prospers only at the expense of the rest of the world, a zero-sum fallacy common among those who refuse to understand the way free enterprise works.
"I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago's South Side," Obama continues. When the powerless strike back, the powerful respond with "a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware."
By equating Chicago with the third world Obama endorses the link between racism and imperialism, the presumed motive for America's involvement in Vietnam. Later in the book, he makes this point more explicitly when he talks about righteous insurrections in "Soweto or Detroit or the Mekong Delta." For the left, racism at home parallels imperialism abroad, one or both of which must inevitably underwrite the capitalist adventure.
To be fair, the "Detroit" and "Mekong Delta" references -- the whole preface for that matter -- are more likely to have come from Bill Ayers' pen than Obama's, but if so, Obama surely felt comfortable with Ayers' conclusions. And from all evidence, even after eight months as president, he still seems to accept the left's relentless, anti-capitalist, anti-American agitprop as "knowledge."
Whether it is "too big" for Obama to handle only time will tell.