By Barry Rubin
Barack Obama is not a Communist, a fascist, a Muslim, a Marxist, a Progressive (in the pre-1920s’ meaning of that word, before it just became a cover for Communists and other leftists), or even a socialist. Obama and those who control much of America’s academia, mass media, and entertainment industry—plus a number of trade unions and hundreds of foundations, think tanks, and front groups—are believers in a new, very American form of leftism. It is very statist, very dangerous for freedom, and economically destructive. But we first have to identify what “it” is. Our difficulty in doing so has been a huge reason why we have not persuaded more people–though goodness knows a lot of people have woken up that there is a huge problem here.
Yet calling Obama those various names doesn’t persuade a large portion of the American population because they sense that these definitions aren’t accurate and can come up valid counter-arguments or be fed by schools and media with phony ones. And all of those who rage in the talk-back columns of websites aren’t persuading anyone anything except, perhaps, that Obama’s opponents are delusional. You may not like hearing that but it’s the truth.
I’m amazed and amused by people who say that Obama cannot be a leftist because he–gasp!–appointed people from Wall Street to his cabinet and favors certain specific companies and banks. Excuse me, you are merely saying perhaps that by engaging in corruption and getting some big favored capitalists to give him big campaign donations in exchange for favors that Obama isn’t an “honest” leftist. Íf the left can get support from some such people it would be foolish to throw away the chance. Refusing to act like that was how the Old Left and the 1960s’ New Left behaved and we saw what happened to them.
We are in a totally new era. The nineteenth and early twentieth century debates and categories no longer hold. Indeed, when the New Leftists climbed out of the wreckage of the 1960s-early 1970s they realized this and successfully built something very new. (If you are looking for a “prehistoric” founding document in terms of some important themes, albeit very much altered, read the original Weatherman Manifesto and then delete all the hysterical parts. Dress it up in a suit and tie and seat is behind the desk of a professor, foundation director, reporter, or politician. I don’t have the space here to explain this point in detail.)
Let’s start with the word “socialist.” The European socialist, or social democratic, movement was strongly anti-Communist. Did they hate their countries? Remember, these were the people who remained patriots during World War One, that’s one of the main reasons they first broke with the Communists. The European Socialists gave up the idea of abolishing capitalism many decades ago. While some parties were further to the left (notably in Spain and Sweden), most had settled into relatively moderate positions. When was the last time they nationalized anything?
Moreover, remember that European statism is as much of conservative as of socialist origin. Consider France, a country whose high degree of centralization goes back to feudal times and Napoleon, not to mention the Gaullists. America is very exceptional all right, but because it broke with both European conservative and leftist models. The welfare states there were the results of multi-partisan efforts.
Have European socialists—I’m not talking here about left-wing academics and journalists—fallen in love with Barack Obama? Not at all. They might like Obama more than George W. Bush but they liked Bill Clinton better than either one. Not only do they not see Obama as a comrade but they could probably give him good advice about why his policies will inevitably fail. They may not have the answers for their own countries but they understand capitalism and how to make it work—and want to make it work—far more than he does.
So here’s a key point: Obama and his ideological comrades—let me call them the New New Left (NNL)—are to the left of almost all of the European Socialist parties.
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Is Obama and company a Marxist group or a bunch of Communists, (referring to the movement begun by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and run thereafter by Joseph Stalin? Well, certainly there are parallels and ideas taken from that movement. But in many ways they have turned Marxism on its head. Let me give one critical example. Marxists held that material conditions were primary and would determine the course of history. The NNL rejects this and argues that it can use ideas and modern methods of advertising, educational indoctrination, a takeover of most media, and so on to bring about the fundamental transformation of America. They draw mainly from a deviant form developed by such people as Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School. But they have learned the most by taking mainstream American techniques and putting them at the service of radical ideology.
Moreover, in contrast to the NNL, Marxists saw the “bourgeois” government as an inevitable enemy. Impossible to change it could only be overthrown. The NNL sought to take over that government and use it to force “revolution” from above. The Marxists focused on the proletariat; while working with some (mostly government workers’) trade unions, the NNL bases itself on certain elements of the upper middle class while trying to buy off crony capitalists and the poor, who Marx called the lumpenproletariat.
Well, of course, the result is a disaster when an anti-capitalist regime takes over a capitalist system. How can the system do anything but crash? The pilots are motivated by something that blends deliberate suicide with incompetence, and an ideology that ensures a crash. And they will never ever get better because they are just uninterested in learning what to do that works.
So what are we dealing with here? A radical leftist movement pretending to be liberal, growing out of the New Left of the 1960s, painfully aware of how the far left miserably failed in American history, and trying to create a twenty-first century stealth leftism. The first step was to gain hegemony in the key institutions that created ideas, rather than the factories that created material goods. They succeeded brilliantly.
The next step was to shape millions of Americans, especially young Americans, to accept their ideas that the United States was a force for evil in the world; a failed society; a place of terrible racism and hatred for women; a country where the vast majority didn’t have a fair chance because the system was unfair. In fact, if you take away the varnish rhetoric, they argue that America is a virtual dictatorship of a small minority of wealthy people who just set everything up for their own convenience. Obviously this parallels both Marxist and non-Marxist historical leftism.
The fact that their description of America has so little to do with the actual country makes it all the more impressive that they’ve been able to sell this set of ideas. Having one of their indoctrinated products become president was a special bonus. That doesn’t mean Obama was backed by some conspiracy or singled out for highest office. There are thousands of such people who are in positions of power, including one-third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Obama just perfectly fit the needs of the moment.
Is Obama a Muslim? Of course not and there is no evidence that he is no matter how much you jump up and down and holler about it. On one side, Obama is—like his NNL colleagues–rather obviously a cynical atheist who has no serious religious belief.
On the other side, he certainly had close contact with Islam and functioned as a Muslim in Indonesia. It is worth mentioning that generally speaking Indonesia has about the most moderate form of Islam in the world. Note how in his autobiography, Obama describes his Muslim step-father’s tolerance for “pagan” Indonesian practices. This would be virtually unimaginable in any other country.
Coming from that experience, Obama fancies himself as an expert on Islam with a special rapport and sympathy to Muslims. His policy is a disaster because he refuses to recognize that non-al-Qaida Islamists are extremely anti-American, totalitarian, and anti-democratic. Does Obama want to help Islamists take power? In many cases, yes, but that isn’t because he’s a Muslim but because he falsely believes—encouraged by various “experts”—that this would tame them and they will like America and become democratic.
Has this kind of thinking happened before? Absolutely yes. In the 1950s, the U.S. government decided that Arab nationalists would be anti-Communist modernizers when they turned out to be bloodthirsty anti-American tyrants. In the early 1990s, both the U.S. and Israeli governments decided that helping Yasir Arafat would transform him into a statesman who just wanted to have his own country and settle down to fixing potholes.
Note that even if Obama were to be defeated in the election, the far left’s relative monopoly over mass media, academia, many schools, and much of publishing and entertainment would not be affected. The left-wing’s control over the Democratic Party might also well not be affected, because that would require a revolt by courageous people, further motivated by disastrous defeat, of which so far there is no sign whatsoever.
Obviously, only so much can be said about these things in 1000 words and these are central themes in a book I hope to complete before year’s end called Silent Revolution. But unless we can persuasively explain what is going on and avoid being labeled—at least by anyone who has been duped but wants to be honest—as a bunch of crazy name-callers, there’s just going to be years more of the same.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.