Radical Son? Obama at Columbia

That man was not some hot-headed political agitator but a cool, serene, comforting presence who espoused liberal policies using the most moderate language. He never spoke of "revolution," only "change." And the ideas that he espoused had been tossed around mainstream liberal salons and think tanks for a quarter century or more. Is it possible that both candidate Obama and student radical Obama are the same person? Can one moderate their views so drastically?

If you ask David Horowitz and the many thousands of radicals from the 1960s and 70s who eventually broke with their revolutionary brethren and made the painfully arduous intellectual journey from left to right, the answer would be a resounding "yes." Horowitz and his "Second Thoughts" conferences showed that a not insignificant number of former leftist radicals had their eyes opened by excesses of the movement and discovered friendlier turf on the right.

Then I imagine there are many like me who were radicalized by what we thought we knew about the Vietnam War and, filled with the utter certainty (and stupidity) of youth, believed that revolution was inevitable. We saw exactly the same things Obama saw about the United States then and probably asked the same questions.

What changed? We grew up. We expanded our reading list beyond that which had been ordered up by the educational establishment and discovered a whole new world of ideas. It did not happen overnight, but eventually the wheel turned and I am constantly amazed by how many followed the same intellectual path out of the radical wilderness of our youth toward  a more realistic worldview as represented by conservatism.

I believe most young radicals eventually come face to face with this reality -- a job, marriage, kids -- and moderate their views. Many do not square the circle and become conservatives. But their calls for revolution fade away as they join the political mainstream and become good Democrats.

Did this happen to President Obama? Did he toss aside his youthful dalliances with far left radicalism and enter the mainstream of Democratic politics?

Judging by the radical company he has kept over the years and some of his foreign and domestic policy initiatives, an argument can certainly be made that the president still has radical tendencies. But I also see some moderation in the president's attitude toward America, as he took his own journey of self discovery as related in Dreams of My Father. He no longer sees America as quite the villain he did in his youth. And judging by the speeches he has given since becoming president, he has come to realize that America can indeed be a force for good in the world. We may disagree violently with how he will go about realizing that notion. But it is still an internationalist vision and not the radical isolationism that was the current of thought when he was at Columbia.

It is true that the voting public had little idea just how liberal Barack Obama truly is when they elected him. But it is also true that Obama is probably not the radical  he was when he burned with revolutionary fervor at Columbia.