This is the second in series of posts that, inspired by Stanley Kurtz’s compelling book Radical-In-Chief, considers whether Barack Obama is a socialist. In Part One, I suggested two ways to analyze the question — biographically and doctrinally — and then proceeded to examine Obama’s ideological biography from his time in college until 1996 when he first ran for elected public office.
I found that Obama unquestionably was a socialist as a college student; pursued the career path — community organizer — recommended by socialists as the best means of advancing their agenda; and did in fact advance such an agenda as a community organizer. As a result of his successes in this enterprise, he ran for the Illinois State Senate as the handpicked successor to an avowed socialist, Alice Palmer. He launched that campaign at the home of a communist (and former terrorist), his political collaborator Bill Ayers.
Now let’s turn to the ideological content of Obama’s career as an office holder.
In the Illinois State Senate, Obama won high marks for his legislative skills and his ability at times to work with Republicans. But the substantive thrust of his work in Springfield was quite consistent with the contemporary socialist agenda.
Obama ardently pushed for redistributionist social welfare legislation. Two political scientists who graphed the legislation Obama sponsored as a state senator found that the bar for social welfare legislation towered over every other category. The result was similar for legislation that Obama co-sponsored. The two professors concluded that other than social welfare and a sprinkling of government regulation, Obama devoted very little effort to most policy areas. This is how we would expect a socialist state legislator to behave.
Not surprisingly, Obama was focused on health care. Working with a socialist colleague, Quentin Young, Obama repeatedly proposed a state constitutional amendment mandating universal health care. And he openly favored a single payer system. Again, his conduct is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that, during this period, Obama was a socialist. Coupled with the evidence that he came to the state Senate as a socialist, there is little basis for concluding that he was other than a socialist during the state Senate years.
As a state Senator, Obama probably was best known for his effort to combat racial profiling by the Chicago police. The Republicans thwarted his anti-profiling legislation when they held the majority, but when the Democrats took control in 2003, the bill passed.
Anti-profiling legislation is not distinctively socialist, of course. But Obama’s pursued such legislation in a way that dovetailed with the hard left’s long-time goal — the goal of his allies Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger — of promoting “liberationist” black churches. Thus, in 2001, the Hyde Park Herald praised Obama for organizing a “grassroots lobbying effort” on racial profiling that featured, among others, Pfleger and the associate pastor of Wright’s church. This effort was straight from the socialist-community organizer playbook by which a mainstream liberal grievance becomes the vehicle for organizing discontent around a hard-left, incendiary narrative promulgated by radicals.
Perhaps the most telling ideological judgment of Obama the State Senator comes from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and its stance in 2000, when Obama ran for Congress against Bobby Rush. Rep. Rush, a former Black Panther, had received a 90 percent rating from the liberal ADA in 2000 and a 100 percent the year before. His ACU rating was zero.
Obama was a long shot in his race against Rush, and the Chicago branch of the DSA wisely remained formally neutral. However, it tilted towards Obama, speaking of him in glowing terms while describing Rush as a disappointment to the left. It’s doubtful that there is any non-socialist space to the left of Bobby Rush.
Four years after his failed bid for Congress, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. It’s well known that Obama was rated by one prominent index as the most liberal member of the Senate. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that the U.S. Senate contains an avowed socialist member — Bernie Sanders of Vermont. To the left of Sanders there plainly is no non-socialist space.
Thus, Obama’s biography strongly suggests that, when elected U.S. president, he was, and had long been, a socialist. In my next post on the subject, I’ll consider whether his presidency is consistent with the thesis that he is a socialist.