Obama's Redistribution: What Did Frank Marshall Davis Say?

Given my book on Barack Obama's communist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, I'm regularly asked whether the latest Obama statement -- on economics, on wealth, on business, on the middle class, etc. -- rings of Davis.  Invariably, yes, it does.  Not surprisingly, I'm being asked just that in regard to the new Obama statement on "redistribution," which has just emerged in a tape recording from 1998.  Does that statement likewise smack of Frank Marshall Davis?  Yes, no question.

For starters, Davis, a literal card-carrying member of Communist Party USA, believed in wealth redistribution.  That's a central tenet of the communist faith.  Generally, Davis, like Obama, favored wealth redistribution from so-called greedy "corporations" to fund "health insurance" and "public works projects" (Davis's words).  Davis advocated government stimulus to rescue America from (allegedly) another Great Depression.  Like Obama, he supported large-scale government wealth redistribution to keep America's economy (and unemployment) from getting worse.

Beyond that, Davis blasted big business, Wall Street, banks, big oil, "excess profits," "corporate profits" and "fat contracts," "millionaires," and the "wealthy."  He attacked "GOP" tax cuts that "spare the rich" and only "benefit millionaires."  He called out the "corporation executive" for not paying his "fair" share.  He wanted to rid America of "huge funds" finding their way into the "pockets" of "Wall Street."  "Instead," he declared, "money should be spent for the benefit of the people instead of the corporations."  He favored nationalization and singled out General Motors for government action.  Broadly speaking, Frank Marshall Davis hailed the public sector over the private sector.

But in light of Barack Obama's comment on redistribution, there's one particular Davis column that stands out to me.  It was published in the January 26, 1950 edition of the Honolulu Record (the CPUSA publication for Hawaii) and titled "Free Enterprise or Socialism."

In this article, Frank Marshall Davis perceived an America on the economic brink, the victim of a "virtual dictatorship of Big Business."  He teed off on one of his most despised domestic enemies: General Motors.  He was indignant at GM's profits, which he felt were too high.  GM, said Davis, like America as a whole, was good at manufacturing one thing: "we have manufactured a national horror of socialism."

Notably, that line reminds me of one of the core Obama statements in the redistribution tape.  "There has been a systematic -- I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign -- against the possibility of government action," says Obama.

In essence, Obama, like Davis, bemoaned a national propaganda campaign against what Davis candidly (and correctly) called "socialism" and what Obama more carefully called "government action."  Davis was characteristically more blunt and farther to the left; Obama was characteristically more careful and tried to avoid being perceived as too far to the left.

Later in the recording, Obama continued: "I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution -- because I actually believe in some redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."

Obama thus posed a choice for his audience: how do we structure government to best facilitate this redistribution?

Ironically, Frank Marshall Davis had finished his column on "Free Enterprise or Socialism" by likewise posing a choice for his audience: "And so, with still rising unemployment and a mounting depression," wrote Davis, "the time draws nearer when we will have to decide to oust the monopolies and restore a competing system of free enterprise, or let the government own and operate our major industries."

Davis, who elsewhere openly advocated government nationalization of certain industries -- including the meatpacking industry, a project he worked on in Chicago with Valerie Jarrett's father-in-law, Vernon Jarrett -- did not bother explaining which option he preferred.  Given that he was a communist, it seems pretty clear what option Davis favored.

In sum, once again, Barack Obama's thinking sounds hauntingly similar to that of the man who helped mentor him in the 1970s, the formative period of Obama's adolescence.

Now, can I say for certain that Obama learned about wealth redistribution from Frank Marshall Davis, a card-carrying communist?  No, I can't.  But the similarities strike me as remarkable and notable, with Davis being yet another of many far-left influences on the young Obama.  Each day, we learn more about our president's political past -- a past that the Obama media continues to fail to expose.

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the new book, The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor.