Kurtz was especially offended by this paragraph in our op-ed:
Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.
As the author of a new book that seeks to prove President Obama’s adherence to socialist ideology, Stanley takes these remarks personally. He suggests I am trying to delegitimate him, silence him, banish him from political debate. He calls me an aspiring policeman of our democratic debate.
All of which raises a question:
When Stanley Kurtz wrote his book, Radical in Chief, what was his purpose?
Was he arguing: “I think Barack Obama is a socialist, let me explain why his ideas are mistaken?” Of course not. The badness of socialism is taken entirely for granted in the pages of Radical in Chief. Kurtz’s goal is precisely to delegitimate.
And in that goal, Kurtz has enjoyed some considerable success. Obama is regularly described as a socialist on conservative radio and television, and by politicians like Newt Gingrich. So one might expect a more triumphant tone from Stanley – perhaps even a restatement of his proofs that Obama really and truly is a socialist.
Yet Stanley does not sound triumphant, and he does not restate his case. What we get instead is a lot of aggrievement, seasoned with a noticeable flavor of threat. If people like me do not get out of the way of people like him, well he won’t answer for the consequences.
I had to think hard about the reasons for this ill temper, but I won’t pretend to have fathomed them.
Perhaps part of the problem is that while Stanley Kurtz’s general thesis – Obama is a socialist – is almost universally accepted in the conservative world, Stanley himself has received very little credit for his labor. Kurtz grumbles that the New York Times and other lamestream media types have ignored his book. But it goes deeper than that. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have also neglected Radical in Chief.
Why? Because I whistled up the speech police? Obviously not. The problem is that Kurtz didn’t get the goods. Yes, he worked enormously hard and did considerable research. And at the end of the day he discovered for instance… that Obama once attended a socialist scholars conference. Very possibly Obama was invited to attend a second conference, although there is no evidence he attended. Beyond that, Kurtz’s research amounts to a footnoted version of a 1920s dance tune: “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” Obama worked for a man who had once belonged to an organization that supported a magazine… well you get the idea.
Barack Obama has written or spoken millions of words. He has cast hundreds of votes as a legislator. Now as president there’s an even more extensive record. And if you can’t find your evidence there, you’re not going to find it by tallying the various people he met on his ascent through Chicago and Illinois politics. For Obama as for Ronald Reagan as for all politicians, the rule is always: “They endorse me, I don’t necessarily endorse them.”
And even if Kurtz had succeeded in his research- if he had unearthed an old membership list of the Democratic Socialists of America with Barack Obama’s name on it – he’d still have nothing very exciting. You’re not going to excite a Fox News article with the news that Obama shared an ideology with the president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. (Unless of course Megyn Kelly is modeling some of those garments.)
Somebody who understands all this much better than Stanley Kurtz is Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza did not bother with Kurtz’s tedious archival drudgery. D’Souza went right for the motherlode: he accused Obama of being motivated by racial animus, Kenyan anti-colonial ideology, revenge against the white overlord. Proof? Does Glenn Beck care about proof? Just assert whatever the hell you feel like asserting, if people dislike the president enough they won’t be fussy about the paperwork.
Which may explain why so many have adopted Kurtz’s conclusion while disregarding Kurtz’s convoluted paper trail. They don’t need to know whether the young Barack Obama read Commonwealth or Commentary or both or neither. For that matter, they don’t care that the Obama administration is liquidating its emergency holdings of Citibank and GM stock, or that corporate profits are soaring, or that the stock market is rising, or that Obama has been taking his advice from Paul Volcker and Tim Geithner, not Robert Reich and Paul Krugman.
The people who call Obama a “socialist” are not looking for an analysis, and they do not thank Stanley Kurtz for trying to provide that analysis. They are reaching for an epithet. And it’s against the use of epithets that the No Labels movement is protesting.
Five years ago, nobody would have appreciated this point better than Stanley Kurtz. In the days when international journalists regularly described Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice as “neocons,” Kurtz would have well understood how a formerly meaningful term like “neoconservative” can be transformed into a meaningless slur with overtones of bigotry. Those who objected to the politics of epithet in 2005 should feel at least some discomfort at the politics of epithet in 2010. I remember that earlier wave of irrationality, I hated it, and I resolved then that I would never lend aid and comfort to anything like it in the future. That’s the route that took me to where I am in. I wish I could figure out how Stanley arrived at his destination. Then maybe there’d be some hope of finding him a route back.