Jerome R. Corsi, "The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality" (New York: Threshold, 2008)
News Flash: A “Calculating Politician”
To fully understand right-wing hatchet man Jerome R. Corsi’s new neo-McCarthyite book “The Obama Nation” (New York: Threshold, 2008), you have to differentiate between the accurate, the wacky, and the vile in his presentation.
The accurate parts of arch-conservative Corsi’s hit-job relate to his observation that Obama is “at heart a coldly calculating politician, driven more by winning… than by the lofty principles he espouses” (p. 122). Consistent with that elementary observation (no less true of John McCain than Obama), Corsi accurately portrays Obama:
* misrepresenting the circumstances of his own conception (claiming to owe his interracial origins to the early victories of the Civil Rights Movement).
* Falsely attributing his Kenyan father’s arrival in the United States to an African airlift organized by President John F. Kennedy.
* Inventing (in his first book “Dreams of My Father”) a fake teenage partner in black anger (“Ray”) at his Honolulu prep-school.
* Distancing himself from people (above all his longtime pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright) who were useful to him at an earlier stage in his political career but subsequently became threats to his electoral viability.
* Betraying his former political sponsor Alice Palmer, a onetime progressive state senator on the South Side of Chicago.
* Lying repeatedly about the extent of his connection to the recently convicted Chicago slumlord and government influence-peddler Tony Rezko.
* Brazenly stealing speech material and campaign rhetoric from other politicians (above all Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) and Hollywood.
* Working with big money campaign consultant David Axelrod to craft a presidential bid that privileges carefully constructed media image and candidate personality over substantive matters of policy and ideology.
Okay, so Corsi got the news flash: Obama is a crafty politician from the Chicago Machine, not a messiah sent to bathe Washington in the holy waters of moral purity.
Corsi is on solid ground when he observes that Team Obama is playing a longstanding political “con game.” It is using advertising techniques and “image packaging” to “sell [its] candidate…the way a business sells its products” (pp. 280-281). But this is no less true of the supposed centrist “maverick” John McCain (actually a hard-right messianic militarist and arch-plutocrat) and other political candidates in both parties.
Obama as a “Far Left Radical”
Now we move from the obvious to the madcap. The truly wacky part of “The Obama Nation” is Corsi’s repeated claim that “Obama…is and always has been a radical on the far left” (p. 122).
This is a ridiculous assertion given Obama’s recurrent demonstrations of deeply conservative fealty to reigning domestic and imperial hierarchies and doctrines. As I demonstrate in my forthcoming book “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics,” a close and careful analysis of his record shows that Obama is a conservative conciliator and compromiser from whom traditional economic and political elites have little to fear.
Presidential candidate Obama takes his economic policy counsel from corporate-friendly pro-"trade" economists from the University of Chicago and Harvard. He has functioned as a stealth fiscal and political supporter of the Iraq occupation. His repeated declarations of aggressive military globalism (made to such bodies as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and The Council on Foreign Relations) have won accolades from the neoconservative foreign policy adviser Robert Kagan.
Obama has called for the significant religious-based privatization of social services, upheld the illegal U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, rejected substantive structural reform of the health care system, refused to embrace slashing the military budget to boost social expenditures, and absurdly praised the American “free market” system and “business culture” (U.S. capitalism) for creating a “prosperity that is unmatched in the world.” He has voted to cap civil damages that consumers can win in court from corporations, voted for deepened federal wiretapping authority (with retroactive immunity for telecommunications corporations who illegally helped the Bush administration spy on U.S. citizens), and distanced himself from the struggle against institutional racism. He has repeatedly insinuated that poor black people bear primary responsibility for African-Americans’ disproportionate presence at the bottom of domestic U.S. social and institutional hierarchies.
It’s not for nothing that the "Obama brand" has been sold with the potent sponsorship of concentrated economic powers like Goldman Sachs, Exelon (the likely secret to his pro-nuclear power position), Henry Crown Investments, Lehman Bros., UBS, Arial Capital, Google, the insurance lobby, a number of corrupt Chicago real estate developers (including Rezko) and a host of international law firms dedicated to advancing the regressive corporate globalization project.
Obama has been a conservative, power-friendly player from the beginning of his political career. As Ryan Lizza notes in a recent well-researched New Yorker essay on Obama’s early political career in Chicago and Illinois, “Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.”
Besides being laughably false, Corsi’s thesis of a “far left” Obama is impossible under the rules of America’s “dollar democracy.” No radical left or even remotely populist candidate can raise the money or receive the favorable (corporate) media treatment required to make a viable bid for higher office in the America’s “democracy – the best that money can [and did] buy.”
Guilt by Association
The “evidence” Corsi offers to support his “far left” Obama thesis is thin enough to make a thought-policewoman like Lynn Cheney blush. “The Obama Nation” makes numerous tenuous “guilt by association” (GBA) linkages between Obama and various supposed dangerous radicals past and present. Corsi’s black book of treacherous "radical" Obama friends and influences includes:
* Obama’s “atheist” mother Stanley Ann Dunham
* Obama’s “socialist” father (a “radical economist” who once quoted Karl Marx!)
* Bill Ayers – the former SDS Weatherman turned liberal education professor and charter school advocate, with whom Obama is said (by Corsi) to “share anti-American sentiments.”
* the anti-colonial African intellectual Frantz Fanon, who Obama read during high school.
* Malcolm X (another favorite young Obama author).
* progressive and pro-Palestinian Middle East professors Edward Said (with whom Obama is accused of once having had a conversation) and Rashid Khalidi (with whom Obama had dinner).
* The Woods Fund of Chicago – a liberal-centrist foundation that underwrites supposedly radical community organizing projects
* The Hawaiian black ex-Communist poet Frank Davis, a supposed Obama “mentor” during high school (Corsi actually refers to “the Obama/Communist Party connection through [Frank] Davis” on page 87).
* An obscure young Obama campaign blogger who is “a follower of Karl Marx” and who once met “radical MIT professor and author Noam Chomsky.”
* Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga – a “fellow Luo tribesman” and “a Muslim sympathizer [!] with well-known Communist roots.”
Of course the biggest GBA link of all is to the "Afro-Centric" preacher Jeremiah Wright, who has for decades had the unforgivable (for many whites) audacity to give occasionally angry voice to much of what mainstream black America thinks about American racism and imperialism at home and abroad.
Corsi’s dark list of “radical” Obama friends, affiliations, and infleunce reads like something out of the 1950s McCarthy witchunt.
Another favorite Corsi method is preposterous "radical left" threat inflation in relation to some of Obama’s more outwardly progressive campaign statements and policy positions.
Corsi takes Obama’s call for the reduction of global nuclear danger and turns it into a scheme to make the U.S. and Israel vulnerable to nuclear attack.
Corsi turns Obama’s call for ultimate withdrawal of (just) combat troops from Iraq into an embrace of imperial surrender. He ignores strong indications that an Obama presidency would maintain the criminal occupation of that country and only adjust the invasion in accord with broader perceived requirements of U.S. global dominance.
Corsi takes Obama’s call for the repeal of some of George W. Bush’s worst tax cuts for the super-rich and turns it into a call for "radical income redistribution."
Corsi interprets Obama’s tepid statements against poverty and for universal health insurance as the embrace of international socialism.
At one especially ludicrous point in his book, Corsi says that Obama developed “radical leftist friends” to “advance his political career in Illinois politics, in which leftism is a virtue” (p. 120). The notoriously corporate-friendly masters of Illinois (and Chicago) politics (people like Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) would be amused to learn that embracing radical Marxism is a good way to advance one’s political career in the state. Obama’s Illinois-based ultra-leftism reached its ominous pinnacle, Corsi suggests, during a campaign event in Iowa in September of 2007 when, Corsi informs us, Obama failed to put his hand over heart during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner (pp. 253-255). Imagine!
Now we turn to the truly vile. Corsi’s hit-book is laced with toxic white nationalism and ethno-religious racism. As bad as Corsi’s ridiculous red-baiting may be, the most despicable aspect of his book is its repeated subtle but insistent effort to scare white readers with lurid references to Obama as a great black racial and Islamic danger. Corsi tries to provoke Christian American Caucasians with the charge that Obama’s parental abandonment and the (supposedly evil and insane) “race doctrines” of Fanon and Malcolm X turned young Obama into a seething cauldron of “black rage.”
Corsi shames young Obama for struggling with his racial identity and embracing blackness (supposedly “reject[ing] everyone white”) when he was half-white and largely raised by white grandparents who “sacrificed” for him to attend an elite prep-school.
Corsi shames Obama’s mother for her alleged special sexual attraction to non-white and Islamic men.
Corsi reports that "Barack Hussein Obama" “received Islamic instruction” during the brief period Obama lived in Indonesia (as a grade-schooler) with this fallen white mother and her second failed husband.
Corsi ridicules Obama’s wife Michelle for having written in a 1985 Princeton thesis about her alienation from privileged whites on an Ivy League campus. Her thesis even mentioned and quoted the black radical Stokely Carmichael, Corsi darkly reports!
Throughout Corsi’s book, the slightest hint of past black alienation and race consciousness on the part of Barack or Michelle Obama is flagged as a sign of grave peril to the virtuous post-racial republic. Corsi even favorably quotes the crypto-fascist attack-dog Ann Coulter making the outrageous claim that Obama’s first book (“Dreams of My Father”) amounted to “a dimestore Mein Kampf” because of its author’s alleged total estrangement from whites (supposedly on par with young Adolf Hitler’s hatred of Jews).
Corsi’s toxic brew of race-fear, anti-radicalism, white nationalism, and Christian chauvinism culminates in his statement that if Obama wins, the Kenynan “Islamo-leftist” Raila Odinga “will correctly perceive that for the first time ever a fellow Luo tribesman is running the United States of America” (p.113).
It almost seems trivial to add that Corsi makes a great deal out of Obama’s admitted youthful experimentation with marijuana and cocaine and wonders if Obama has “quit using drugs in the U.S. Senate” (p.77). With this Jerome Corsi’s lurid portrait of the grim threat to America posed by Barack Obama becomes complete. The interrelated specters of "radical" politics, “anti-colonial black rage,” and "Islamic" sympathies are linked to the timeworn racialized specter of “Reefer Madness.” The message is clear: Wake up, Middle White God-Fearing America and run to your protector, the "war hero" (former bomber of North Vietnamese women and children and crazed arch-militarist) John McCain!
If Obama wins, Corsi wants good white Americans to beleive, the nation will very possibly be ruled by a secretly bitter, possibly drug-crazed, radical and white-hating faux-Christian “Luo tribesman” who holds “anti-American” values and seeks to advance the final, "far left” dismantlement of "American" institutions and values.
An Old Strategy That Has Worked Before
Is Corsi nuts? Sadly, he is not. To be sure, by any sane and enlightened moral and intellectual criteria, “The Obama Nation” is beyond the pale of rational and civilized discourse. But Corsi is no less a calculating political animal than Obama or Axelrod. His book is about beating Obama, not advancing public understanding or a reasonable and democratic political culture. His 2004 “Swift Boat” volume (“Unfit to Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Up About John Kerry”) played a pivotal role in the Republican Attack Machine’s successful effort to smear the centrist and militarist John ("I am Not a Redistribution Democrat") Kerry as an insufficiently "American" “radical leftist.”
The Republicans’ “Southern strategy” of sparking white fears while aburdly tying Democrats to supposed heinous “radical left” agendas is a tried and true approach on the right. It could work yet again, especially when employed against a black candidate with a technically Islamic name in the post-9/11 era. Corsi’s book is selling briskly and has been featured (and taken seriously) across dominant “mainstream” media. Seen from a practical and pragmatic Republican-electoral perspective, his latest attack volume is anything but crazy. It makes all too much perfect sense.
Paul Street ([email protected]) is a veteran radical historian and independent author, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City, IA. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005): and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman & Littlefied 2007). Street’s new book “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics” can be ordered at http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987)