Ron Radosh

A Misguided Attack on Stanley Kurtz's 'Radical-in-Chief' and Other anti-Obama Books

I knew that Stanley Kurtz’s new and important book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, would be the subject of attack. I predicted that at first, the mainstream press would either ignore it or, if they found that they could not, would seek to go on the offense by comparing it to the score of rather knee-jerk screeds written against Obama by other conservatives, many of them rather easy to ridicule, dismiss, and demonize.

Clearly, Kurtz has his hands full, having to try to distinguish his contribution from the rest of the pack and hope that it is taken seriously. I have tried to do my own on its behalf by writing a serious review of the book that will be published in the next issue of National Review. I hope readers buy that issue if they do not subscribe, and take my arguments about it into consideration. I go so far as to write in my conclusion that if the work Kurtz has done for this book had been able to be accomplished during the 2008 campaign, “Barack Obama would not have been elected President because he is simply not who he claimed to be.”

Those who actually bother to read Kurtz’s book know immediately that he bases his analysis on rigorous scholarship, a careful look through the archives of various political groups with which our president has been associated with and influenced by throughout the years. No one else has done this work. The other volumes criticize Obama by talking about his record and his views. Some of the authors easily score points — after all, the Obama administration is not hard to criticize — but at times, they are way off base and issue arguments not backed up by real evidence.

Now, the centrist conservative commentator John Avlon has written a column he calls “The Obama Haters Book Club.” I usually find  Avlon to be someone who makes shrewd and sound observations, and I have in past blog posts linked to him and singled out some of his earlier articles for praise.

What he does in this particular column, however, is purposely link together virtually every anti-Obama book as all being the same. As he puts it, “at this point the titles all blur together in a manic mad-lib, always accusing Obama of something close to war-crimes against the American people.” He next attacks the motives of the authors, writing, “You might not be able to distinguish between the self-published pathology and the semi-professional polemics — they are all fear-mongering for personal and partisan profit.  And that’s the larger point.”

So all the authors, Avlon suggests, are writing only for fame and profit, and do not even believe their own arguments. He does not seem to realize that what is sad is that some of the bad books in his list contain analysis by its writers that its authors do believe. I wonder if Avlon would like it if someone responded to his own recent book Wingnuts with a similar argument.

Yes, I think it is true that there is a strong case to be made against the Obama administration, but that  “accusing him of being a Manchurian candidate out to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Communism isn’t one of them.” And that is why it is somewhat of a real slander to list Kurtz’s new book — which most clearly Avlon has not even looked at aside from its cover — with many on his list.

I would add in addition that this goes as well for others on his list of what he thinks are all bad books, including the two short essays in the Encounter Books series by Joshua Muravchik and Michael Ledeen, which contain strong and solid arguments critical of the administration and its policies.

Avlon is particularly upset that according to polls, 55% of Americans think Obama is a socialist. He says this is a result of how Obama has been unfairly painted by the books he is writing about. But if he takes the time to read Stanley Kurtz’s volume, he will find, much to his dismay, that the conclusion is anything but far-fetched.

My advice to John Avlon is simple: Don’t judge a book by its cover or its title. Before you attack any of them, you might consider reading them first. Then you have a right to ask people to pay attention to your case against them.