Our friend G gives us another well-researched look at a little-known aspect of Barack Obama's life: Until recently, the current Democratic nominee was affiliated with a political party other than the Democrats.
Like G, I can live with a number of the things that the New Party stands for. So why is this story important?
First, because truth is important. The Obama campaign stands truth on its head when it denies the candidate's documented past. Worse, several key figures within the media have decided that the general public need not know this information. That decision reeks of bias and elitism.
Second, the story you are about to read speaks to Obama's chameleon-like nature. He took far-left positions when doing so served to advance his career, and now repudiates those same positions in order to advance further. I'm reminded of that brilliant speech Claude Rains gives in Lawrence of Arabia
:"Perhaps I have told lies. But you have told half-lies. The man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. The man who tells half-lies, like you, forgets where he put it."
We will soon learn whether Barack Obama is a man who told lies or half-lies. Everything after the asterisks was written by G.
* * *
At this point in time, when Obama eschews even the "liberal" label, there's a story that has remained remarkably untouched by the MSM - Obama's involvement with, and, apparently, membership in the New Party.
I decided to write this piece because much of the information below has not been noted elsewhere and because I dislike dishonesty. This is, in part, a story about shapeshifting and dissembling, abetted by supporters and campaign aids. It's also a story about suppression of stories within the MSM.
At each step of the way in his political career, Obama has risen by convincing people that he's on "their" side. When Ken Adelman and Noam Chomsky endorse the same politician, you know something's seriously wrong.
The New Party was a Left political party, founded in 1992. It was basically social democratic (but with a "localist" twist). In many locations, the membership largely came out of ACORN (with some participation by the Democratic Socialists of America). It practiced a strategy called "fusion", which involved sometimes endorsing candidates running as Greens or Democrats who were sufficiently far Left. The New Party was, in general, a relatively thoughtful construction -- though, in my experience, the members also tended to be somewhat vanguardist and doctrinaire.
I'm rather sympathetic to their project (I tend to fall in social democrat territory myself). Obama apparently was a member of the New Party in Chicago - a useful affiliation in the very left leaning State Senate district he initially occupied. But that information is essentially being suppressed, and Obama's campaign claims he was never a member.
Basically, this is the same pattern as Obama's response when asked about a questionnaire he filled out in 1996 for the liberal Chicago group IVI-IPO. The liberal positions which he took on the questionnaire (e.g. supporting a handgun ban), which helped him secure an IVI-IPO endorsement when running for the Illinois State Senate, would be inconvenient in the current Presidential campaign.
In response to a Politico story about the questionnaire, Obama's aides said he "never saw or approved" it, claiming that the responses were filled out by a campaign aide who "unintentionally mischaracterize[d] his position." But a Politico examination "determined that Obama was actually interviewed about the issues on the questionnaire by the liberal Chicago nonprofit group that issued it. And it found that Obama — the day after sitting for the interview — filed an amended version of the questionnaire, which appears to contain Obama’s own handwritten notes added to one answer."
Charlie Gibson: "...In 1996, your campaign issued a questionnaire, and your writing was on the questionnaire that said you favored a ban on handguns."
Obama: "No, my writing wasn't on that particular questionnaire, Charlie. As I said, I have never favored an all-out ban on handguns," said Obama.
Here's the questionnaire
Despite backing Obama in every race heretofor, IVI-IPO decided to make no endorsement
in the Democratic presidential primary.
"One big issue was: Does he or does he not believe the stuff he told us in 1996?" said Aviva Patt, who has been involved with the IVI-IPO since 1990 and is now the group’s treasurer...."I always believed those to be his views"
Details of the New Party story follow. The material below is organized into six key section, to facilitate readability.1. On the question of Obama's membership.
"New Party members and supported candidates won 16 of 23 races.... New Party member Barack Obama was uncontested for a State Senate seat from Chicago. "
"Illinois: Three NP-members won Democratic primaries last Spring and face off against Republican opponents on election day: Danny Davis (U.S. House), Barack Obama (State Senate) and Patricia Martin (Cook County Judiciary)."
See the scan here
. And here
"New Party members won three other primaries this Spring in Chicago: Barack Obama (State Senate),..."2. Of course, during the current Presidential campaign, Obama (abetted by supporters and the MSM - see below) has sought to deny his past affiliation with the New Party.
"First, in relation to its infrastructure, the NP's membership has increased since January '95 from 225 to 440. National membership has increased from 5700 in December '95 to 7000. Currently the NP's fiscal balance is $7,000 and receives an average of $450/month is sustainer donations....
All four candidates attended the NP membership meeting on April 11th to express their gratitude. ... Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration."
According to Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt "he was never a member"
Huh. This certainly seems to conflict with the documents linked above.
(Hit PERMALINK to read the rest)Anyway, Ben Smith contacted Joel Rogers, one of the founder of the New Party and currently an Obama supporter, to seek clarification:
"As for Obama's membership?Huh? I live in Madison (yes, I know - I'm partially outing myself - so be it). I'm on the Left, with a long-term activist history here (since '79). I know people in the New Party. The Dane County chapter was called Progressive Dane, and it still exists. Of course the New Party had members.
'We didn’t really have members,' said Rogers."
So Ben Smith later posts an update. Ben had gotten criticized online by Stanley Kurtz for accepting (without question) Joel's assertion that the New Party could refer to "members" without having any. Joel Rogers sends Ben a clarification:
"I meant that there was no formal membership structure in the usual party sense of members, with people registering with election boards for primary and other restrictive elections, for the obvious reasons that we didn't even have official party status in any state and were always looking to get progressive registered Ds, Rs, Gs, or whomever to accept our nomination if we liked them. We did have regular supporters whom many called 'members,' but it just meant contributing regularly, not getting voting rights or other formal power in NP governance...."Wait a minute! I knew/know New Party/Progressive Dane members. Democratic governance via member votes (for bylaws, policy positions, budgets, endorsements, etc,) was a core principal that the party was built on.
So, off to the internet archives. From the 1992 NP interim governance document (still available online):
"Reflecting our commitment to democracy, the NP is internally democratic. Even as it seeks to compete for state power, and thus look beyond its current membership in making electoral appeals, its strategy for doing that, and for all other things, is determined by the free deliberations of its membership. ...
MEMBERSHIP & DUES(See discussion under 'Local and State Organization.')
Membership in the NP is of two kinds: individual and affiliate. Individual members are people. Affiliate members are groups (e.g., trade unions, community groups, women's federations) who pledge support for the NP as a collective body and on behalf of their members. Membership carries responsibilities and rights. The central right it carries is the right to meaningful (e.g., informed and equally weighted) participation with other members in the governance of the NP itself. The central responsibilities it carries is the responsibility to uphold the principles and operating procedures of the NP and to advance the NP as an organization, in part by supporting it materially through dues.
The dues structure is as follows. The standard individual membership costs $36 annually. For low income individuals, defined as those with annual incomes below $12,000, individual membership costs $12 annually. Affiliate members, pledged by one group or another, are assessed $2.40 a year, or a monthly per cap of $.20. Members of a group thus affiliated with the NP can take out an individual membership as well. All affiliate member participants in NP decision-making bodies, at the local, state, or national level, must themselves be individual members.
All membership dues are paid to the national office, which then rebates a portion of them to local and state organizing efforts. Depending on the stage of those efforts, that rebate is a matter of discretion, or right.
The membership governance structure for the New Party/Progressive Dane (the chapter of the party here in Madison) is carefully spelled out:
"Only members in good standing of the organization may vote on matters of business before Progressive Dane County."3. Getting endorsed by the New Party, at least in Chicago, was not a passive process:
"Candidates must be approved via a NP political committee. Once approved, candidates must sign a contract with the NP. The contract mandates that they must have a visible and active relationship with the NP."4. The New Party had strong roots/ties to the DSA.
Some of the above items are from Chicago DSA newsletters. DSA newsletters usually allocated space for New Party outreach/info. Another typical example:
"On Saturday, January 14, the New Party in Chicago took another step in its effort to establish itself as a political force by holding a major outreach meeting directed at Chicago's Left. About 100 people, with sizable delegations from DSA and CoC among others, heard Bruce Colburn and Elaine Bernard preach the gospel of the New Party... "The DSA roots/ties were not confined to Chicago. E.g. The DSA states that it co-sponsored the Working Families Party in NY State.
"Veterans of the left will remember that the 1968 Peace and Freedom Party and the 1980 Citizens Party arose at moments of greater left-wing strength and did not significantly alter the national electoral landscape. Nor has, unfortunately, the New Party, which many DSAers work with in states where 'fusion' of third party and major party votes is possible (such as the DSA co-sponsored Working Families Party in N.Y. State)."Incidentally, Obama was also directly endorsed by the Chicago DSA.
At least in Chicago and Little Rock, the New Party also had strong ties to ACORN. Much of the membership came out of ACORN.
Also, there's a piece on this by Stanley Kurtz:
By the way - I'll mention that, over the last couple of decades, I've seen many on the Left complain that ACORN does not play well with others. The instinctive reaction of many on the Left is to protect ACORN when it's criticized in the media (and not publicly air dirty laundry), since it's "one of us". But let's just say - it's not universally loved.
5. Is the New Party is "socialist"? It comes down to a matter of semantics.
As I mentioned above - I live in Madison, I'm on the Left, I'm an activist, and I'm personally pretty familiar with the New Party/Progressive Dane.
I think Noam Chomsky (a prominent New Party member) gives a rather useful description vis a vis the "socialism" question. The following is from an e-mail that was posted online by Dan Cantor, who founded the New Party along with Joel Rogers: "Subject: NP Online News #3: Chomsky on New Party." Chomsky:
1. Am I a member? Yes.In case you're not familiar with use of the term "state capitalism" by the Left, see this.
2. Do I think it's a constructive idea? Yes.
3. Is it just a 'reform movement within capitalism'? Yes.
4. Am I against capitalism? Yes.
5. Is there a contradiction between 3 and 4? No.
6. How is the New Party different from liberalism? Hard to answer without some clarification. If by "liberalism" is meant the Democratic Party, it is plainly different from liberalism. If what is meant is some kind of social democratic version of state capitalism, presumably not -- at least now, though the project is one that has a possible evolution in mind, and in prospect, I think.
From my experience, Chomsky's stance is a pretty accurate reflection of the New Party membership (at least in Madison).
"As two of the NP's charter organizers, Sandy Pope and Joel Rogers, put it in The Nation (July 20, 1992), it would be locally based yet nationally linked, broadly social democratic in philosophy, and a vehicle for a fundamental 'rethinking of basic institutions like the family, firm, and state.'"Here's a relevant passage from that article in The Nation:
"Ideologically, we want the New Party to be broadly 'social democratic' in its orientation. That is, it should recognize that capitalism needs to be regulated if it’s not going to kill us, and that government 'by the people' and 'of the people' can be more than rhetoric (and government can be significantly more satisfying and efficient) if the “people” get organized. At the same time, it should recognize that traditional social democracy needs to be reinterpreted in light of the 'new' social movements of racial pluralism, feminism and environmentalism. Drawing on all these movements, the New Party should get beyond the single-Issue politics no one is happy with. It should be the party of labor but not just a labor party, a party of environmentalists but not just a green party, a party of racial pluralism and Justice but not just a black or Latino party, a party of feminists but not just a feminist party. Rather, within a framework of commitment to sustainable development, distributive equality, racial justice, gender equity and collective security and development, the New Party should convene popular discussion of how all these things are mutually and practically achievable, and then set about competing for and using state power (though not necessarily government bureaucracies themselves) to help achieve them."Joel Rogers was also quoted in an article about the New Party in the LA Times, January 27, 1997:
"I think it would be unfair to characterize it as just a marketing strategy for old defeated socialists. . . ," Rogers says. "It attaches much less weight to the state--much less than even conventional liberalism."One question here is precisely what is meant by "old defeated socialists" (e.g. Eastern block country style socialism?).
Another online description that seems pretty accurate:
"New Party - This leftist party advocates a 'democratic revolution' to advance the cause of 'social, economic, & political progress' in America. Their agenda is much in the style of the Western European socialist and labor movement -- and somewhat similar to that of the late-1990s formed Labor Party. Rather than fielding their own national slate or local candidates, the New Party has taken to largely endorsing like-minded candidates from other parties (mainly pro-labor Democrats like Chicago Congressman Danny K. Davis). Their New York State affiliate party -- the Working Families Party -- qualified for permanent ballot status based on the 1998 election results. Small informative site with clean layout. An amusing question: if the New Party lasts for 50 years, will they rename themselves the Old Party (or the Fifty-Something Party)?"There are obviously many ways of defining terms such as "socialist" or "capitalist".
I've heard certain individual members label themselves as libertarian-socialist (feels like a bit of an oxymoron to me) or soft-anarchist/socialist. We're definitely not talking hard core Left/SDS here. Most of the members that I've known could fairly be described as social democrats. Essentially all that I know are deeply critical of capitalism (not just of how it's implemented, but capitalism per se). If forced to pick in a dichotomous choice between calling themselves capitalist or socialist, I personally know none who would pick the capitalist option. Few view the old Soviet Union favorably. Most that I know view Cuba rather favorably (though most would not want to recapitulate Cuba here). Locally, Progressive Dane pushes for things like "living wage" ordinances (a worthy endeavor in my opinion, though some readers may disagree).
And, as I mentioned, they can be a bit pushy and doctrinaire.
Incidentally, the person complaining about Progressive Dane/New Party tactics here is Paul Soglin, former Mayor of Madison.
Though Paul has mellowed considerably with age, he doesn't exactly represent the center of the Democratic Party himself.
6. Of course, the MSM has effectively chosen to either ignore or suppress the Obama New Party story.
You've already seen how Ben Smith handled it (above). Make sure to note the element of dismissive snark in his article. I'll also note that Ben Smith is one of the primary gatekeepers for the national discourse in the MSM (a few sites, such as Politico.com, Drudge, etc. tend to really drive the political news coverage).
As Stanley Kurtz wrote in reply:
"Have you ever heard of a political party that has no members? Ben Smith has, and he believes. Based on a claim by New Party co-founder Joel Rogers that "we didn’t really have members," Smith seems to think he’s disposed of the issue of Barack Obama’s ties to the "dread New Party." In other words, Smith has accepted a transparently absurd statement by an intensely interested Obama supporter responding to a dangerous charge just before an election, while rejecting not only logic, but written evidence contemporaneous with the events in question....Ben Smith replies:
Every thing about Ben Smith’s post, from its sarcastic title, to its sarcastic content indicates a bias against conservative concerns, combined with an utterly incurious and credulous acceptance of even the most questionable assertions by Obama supporters. Smith seems to believe he’s disposed of the issue altogether, when in fact he has neither confronted nor seriously discussed key evidence and arguments at stake in this dispute. There is something profoundly wrong with the mainstream press’s conduct in this election."
"I agreed with Kurtz in the item that they were calling him a member, though I quote the party's chairman and an Obama aide saying he wasn't, which seems to advance the story a bit, which is what blog items can do."Stanely Kurtz replies:
"Yes, quoting Joel Rogers’ ludicrous denial of the documented fact that the New Party had members did possess the potential to 'advance the story.' But the credulous way Smith reported on Rogers’ statement had the effect of suppressing the story, not advancing it. I believe that any fair reader of Smith’s original post would see that it was designed to suppress the story, and not to advance it."It's pretty obvious that Kurtz is correct on this point. Both Ben Smith's "Choosing Corsi" entry and Kurtz's response are worth reading in full.
After seeing these entries, I contacted Ben with the information included above (about New Party membership, governance, and politics). So far, no correction has been forthcoming. I was told that Obama's New Party membership falls in "who cares" territory. No-one would care (yawn), and if publicly reported on, his New Party membership would affect zero votes.
OK. Let me understand. This is less newsworthy than Palin's clothes.
Maybe I'm weird -- since I'm from a working class background (though now inhabit ivory tower) -- but I know plenty of people for whom Obama's New Party affiliation (and subsequent campaign denial) would be significant news.
My impression of Ben is that he's basically a decent guy. In fairness, he did pursue the Ayers story somewhat. And he's gotten criticized by some Obamabots for being insufficiently deferential. However, for the most part...he reliably channels the Obama campaign (alternatively, you could argue that he channels the "elite consensus", which is essentially equivalent to the Obama campaign in this election cycle).
The way the media has treated the New Party story is an interesting contrast to the hue and cry (e.g. headline story on ABC) when Palin was thought to once have been a member of the Alaska Independence Party.
People on the Right cry liberal media bias. I don't think that's correct. It's deference to power and the insulating effect of the "elite consensus". Much like the housing bubble - they listen to each other (the media echo chamber), and so they mislead each other.
I noticed Anglachel's blog entry today about Bob Somerby, and I'll close with a quote honoring him:
"He has set for himself the sisyphean task of simply telling the truth. It is people like Bob that Hannah Arendt means when she says "Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs." He is a trustworthy witness testifying about the facts on the ground, no matter the desire of the courtiers to dismiss the destruction of political accountability."