Ron Radosh

What Does Obama Believe? Norman Podhoretz Gets it Right

Before we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012, we need clarity on what he stands for, so we know how to make arguments that resonate with the American people, and so we oppose him accurately. Today, the conservative movement’s most formidable intellectual, Norman Podhoretz, weighed in with his estimate of what precisely our president believes.

Writing in the weekend Wall Street Journal, the long-time former editor of Commentary essentially made the case that Obama is a leftist and an advocate of a European style social-democratic state for America. Podhoretz starts from the common acknowledgement on both Left and Right that Obama’s star no longer shines. The Left and the trade unions are fed up with him, since except for ObamaCare, he was not able to give them what they hoped he would accomplish almost immediately. They see him as a compromiser, a poor politician, and a man afraid to fight their conservative opponents.

Podhoretz puts it nicely in this paragraph:

In short, the spell that Mr. Obama once cast—a spell so powerful that instead of ridiculing him when he boasted that he would cause “the oceans to stop rising and the planet to heal,” all of liberaldom fell into a delirious swoon—has now been broken by its traumatic realization that he is neither the “god” Newsweek in all seriousness declared him to be nor even a messianic deliverer.

But contrary to those who think that Obama does not know what he believes or is simply an opportunist who will do anything to get re-elected, Podhoretz stands firmly with observers like Stanley Kurtz — whom he does not mention — who have for a long time been arguing the case that our president indeed is a serious leftist, who developed intellectually and politically in the left-wing culture of his time and who believes deeply in its goals and its programs. Democrats have denied this, he writes, but do so only by ignoring or dismissing what Mr. Obama himself, in a rare moment of candor, promised at the tail end of his run for the presidency: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Like others, Podhoretz points to Obama’s long association with Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Rashid Khalidi. When Kurtz and many others documented these ties, they were ridiculed or ignored. Many bought the phony argument that the president was only eight years old when Ayers planted bombs. While that was true, they completely ignored his many ties with Ayers and the Left while Obama was an adult and living in Chicago. And that the president took the title of his own memoir from a Wright speech, was close to the reverend, and was a member of his congregation for years. Evidently, the press bought the lame excuse that when Wright made his most contentious comments, Obama was not present and knew nothing about them.

Contrast that with how liberals examine the past ties of their current conservative opponents. In last week’s issue of The New Yorker, correspondent Ryan Lizza dug back deeply into Michele Bachmann’s ties, going to old friends, her pastor, and other associates. He writes: “Her appeal, along with her rapid ascent in the polls, is based on a collection of right-wing convictions, beliefs, and resentments that she has regularly broadcast from television studios and podiums since 2006, when she was first elected to Congress.” He goes through all of them, many quite disturbing, and of course, Lizza’s readers take them into account in evaluating whether or not to support her candidacy. When conservative writers did the same for Obama, they were roundly condemned for dealing in irrelevant smears, and written off completely. I do not recall Lizza, when he was a correspondent during the 2008 election, writing a similar piece on Obama, and engaging in the same kind of legwork about his background and ties. In dealing with Bachmann, Lizza goes all the way back to her associations in the 1970s and 80s, and argues that they are most relevant for understanding how she thinks and estimating what her beliefs are. As usual, liberal journalists have one standard for conservative candidates and another for those on the Left, like Barack Obama.

Returning to the observations made by Norman Podhoretz, I fully concur in his conclusion that after years of failing to get a candidate to their liking, “It was only with the advent of Barack Obama that the leftists at long last succeeded in nominating one of their own.” Why did so many give Obama a pass? Podhoretz thinks it was because he was black, and secondly, because it was supposedly ancient history — as if one’s past has no relationship to what one thinks in the present.

He concludes with this thought:

And so it came about that a faithful scion of the political culture of the ’60s left is now sitting in the White House and doing everything in his power to effect the fundamental transformation of America to which that culture was dedicated and to which he has pledged his own personal allegiance….

He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president, and it is this rather than inexperience or incompetence or weakness or stupidity that accounts for the richly deserved failure both at home and abroad of the policies stemming from that reprehensible cast of mind.

In the coming campaign — one of the most important for our nation’s future — the president’s past will again be put up to scrutiny. This time around, let us hope that unlike in 2008, it will not be ignored.

Addendum: A kindly reader has pointed out to me that indeed, Ryan Lizza did write about Obama’s past, both in  The New Republic and in The New Yorker. But the point of his articles was to immunize Obama from the charges made against him by conservatives, and to ridicule the charges that he was still some kind of radical. In Kurtz’s book, he cites Lizza as being too credulous about understanding the purposes of Alinskyite organizing.