In much of America, if Karl Marx is known at all, he’s considered a bad person: the intellectual grandfather of Communism and an enemy of organized religion, and thus an opponent of the traditional American way of life.
This is not so everywhere, such as on elite college campuses or Obama’s Trinity Church (with its unique take on liberation theology), nor in the community organizing circles where Obama spent much of his young adulthood. There’s a reason that former Weather Underground terrorists are employed as academics. Marx is popular there, as is his disregard for “individualized justice” as a bourgeois anachronism. Power to the people!
It’s more than a little bit amusing to see Joe Biden and others work so hard to ridicule the very suggestion that Obama’s program might have something in common with the ideas of Karl Marx. Indeed, what else would Obama’s promised economic redistributionism be other than a Fabian-Trotskyite strategy of transforming a capitalist society?
Andrew Sullivan quite remarkably argues that Obama’s early 2000s radio interview discussing the Warren Court shows that Obama is in fact a conservative decrying judicial activism. Even allowing some correction for Sullivan’s hero-worship of Obama, this is quite a stretch. If you admit the possibility that intelligent people might be extremely liberal–even socialists–then it’s clear that Obama wasn’t saying anything conservative. Only the results-oriented prejudice that Obama can’t be that liberal compels Sullivan, Biden, and others to dissemble on Obama’s behalf.
Obama was quite clearly saying that the notoriously activist Warren Court was, in fact, not activist enough. He was making a descriptive statement. He thinks it missed the boat by not also recognizing so-called positive rights, such as the right to a job, healthcare, a share of national wealth, etc. University of Chicago liberal Mortimer Adler said something very similar in Six Great Ideas, which was basically a Great Books defense of democratic socialism, and this idea was very current among legal academics at this time.
Since the Courts would not go down this road, Obama thinks the civil rights movement should have shifted its focus onto the legislative and presidential branches. Obama never says the Warren Court was right not to make such rulings . . . simply that it didn’t. Procedural niceties are of little moment when “economic justice” is on the line. Obama’s pursuit of the presidency is the fulfillment of Obama’s judgment about the strategic mistakes of the 1960s-era civil rights movement.
His discussion of community organizing at the end of his earlier interview is hardly a lament for the absence of a vibrant civil society, that is, a saccharine suggestions that blacks and whites should have formed Boy Scout Troops and midnight basketball leagues and other grass-roots approaches to supporting vulnerable, impoverished families. It’s a lament that the civil rights movement was content with, well, civil rights. Obama recognizes that in the last 40 years, that is after Jim Crow and other ugly and un-Christian impositions on people’s lives and livelihoods were taken away, many blacks were content to get on with their lives, achieving the American dream of upward mobility. The whole point of community organizing is to stop this process and keep people mad, to get communities riled up to seek money and power through the government, and to prevent disunity. It’s designed to coalitions among the “dispossessed” across economic, racial, and other lines to prevent economic attrition of natural leaders by their movement into the more conformist and less alienated suburbs.
It is this “contentment” and movement to the suburbs–i.e. the traditional American dream–that Rev. Jeremiah Wright condemns so forcefully. Just to give a sense of time and place, when I was in Chicago in the 90s, a popular poster said, “Bomb the Suburbs.” To Rev. Wright, and apparently to Obama, the civil rights movement is not over until the government is yoked and directed by community organizers and their agitated constituencies. The conservative criticism that the welfare state rewards idleness, promotes poor decision-making, and stifles economic growth is largely absent from Obama’s worldview. Indeed, it is this system of rewards and punishments and “trickle down economics” that is the problem to him and others of his far left ideological worldview. The traditional capitalist way is, for them, unjust, unfair, ridden with corruption, “institutionally” racist, and leads to “false consciousness” even where it seems to succeed.
The whole point of Obama and his One America rhetoric is to get everyone united over the transformational power of fleecing the rich . . . this, a group that will soon have to be defined very expansively to achieve Obama’s ambitious agenda.