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Wednesday, October 13

Steve Diamond lets rip about phony radicalism

Too many on the left fall for ... pro-Castro and pro-Hugo Chavez politics, a modern day version of the third worldism that the Weather Underground propagated in the 1970s.

I always mean to introduce an essay by Dr Stephen Diamond with just a few words then give him the floor. But I don't know what it is about so many of his writings that set off a Pundita rant; maybe it's because they're thought-provoking.

His latest essay, Obama and Ayers: Faux Radicalism Redux, is a take-down of phonies on the American left and right, although he patiently terms some of them 'naive.' It's bound to anger many American readers who assert that communism is a threat to democracy. I myself don't think communism and democracy are compatible so I'm always in disagreement with Steve on this point.

Yet one only need listen to the excuses from American apologists for China's communist regime to realize that U.S. policy is two-faced on the issue of communism. ('It's not really communism; it's just quasi-capitalism with Chinese characteristics.')

Worse, the policymakers and voters who keep returning them to office have never thought it strange that they'll support any kind of repressive regime if they find it expedient. When they're called out on their behavior they reply, 'Oh well that's just realpolitik.'

Oh, yes? Then what happened to America the great defender of democracy?

Legions of phonies is what happened.

When was the last time you saw Bill Ayers, or any of his buddies on the American left, chain themselves to a fence outside a Mexican consulate to protest the Mexican elites' rape of Mexico's poor? Never. You never saw that.

And you never saw them stage a march to protest the Mexican presidential election that was as much stolen from the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Same for the American union leaders who yammer about solidarity with their downtrodden brothers and sisters in Latin America.

The American unions and the American left were as silent as the grave about what was done to López Obrador with the help of American political consultants. They were joined in keeping their mouths shut by their American opponents on the so-called right, who jabber endlessly about their support for democracy.

Why were they silent?

Because he said there was no need to raise taxes on Mexico's elite; just get them to pay the taxes already on the books. Because he said that Mexicans shouldn't have to find work in the USA. Because he promised that if he became Mexico's President he'd create enough jobs so that Mexicans didn't have to demean themselves by running to the USA for employment.

That campaign pledge went over like bacon at a bar mitzvah with U.S. labor unions that wanted swell their ranks with Mexican immigrants and with U.S. agribusiness and the construction industry. Ditto for the Democrat party machine, which has been using illegal Latin American immigrants to supplement voter lists of Americans who died a century ago.

That's why.

So I can't muster any patience for these types, who attempt to hide their hypocrisy behind political and philosophical discourses. But that's just me. Steve's essay, which I republish below, makes many points about phony radicalism that are important to ponder, no matter how much one may disagree with his argument that communism is compatible with democracy.

For readers who'd like to read more of Steve's essays, he has his own website now, which is called, Stephen Diamond; it's linked on my blogroll.

Obama and Ayers: Faux Radicalism Redux
by Stephen Diamond
October 13, 2010

Get ready for an onset from the wacky anti-communist right wing. One of their most loyal -- and actually reasonably honest -- scribes, Stanley Kurtz, is just in time for the fall election with a new book on what he calls our "radical in chief," by which he means, believe it or not, Barack Obama.

Yes, the same Barack Obama who has sent tens of thousands of young Americans off to central Asia for no discernible reason other than the preservation of U.S. influence in the region. The same Barack Obama who has steadfastly refused to nationalize a sclerotic and corrupt banking system. The same Barack Obama who brought centrists like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner into office to steer the economic ship that had run aground under President Bush.

Whatever Barack Obama thought his politics were when he and I were both active in the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s (he was at Occidental College while I was at U.C. Berkeley, both schools part of the statewide Campuses United Against Apartheid), he had long since abandoned them in favor of his opportunistic and winding road to political power.

But that has not stopped the troglodyte right from hoping that the red-baiting tactics of the 1950s can help restore the Republicans to power. And Stanley Kurtz has been among the most effective in misleading people about the real nature of Obama's politics, which I believe are fundamentally bureaucratic and authoritarian in a faux radical guise.

Stanley and I crossed blogging paths during the election campaign because of our shared concern that the University of Illinois denied him access to the archives stored there from the now defunct Chicago Annenberg Challenge, or CAC. The CAC was a non-profit corporation established in Chicago in 1995 to funnel a $49 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation (matched by $100 mn more in grants from other Chicago groups) to reform projects in the Chicago public school system.

The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, then an education professor at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus. Ayers appointed Barack Obama as the CAC's board chair after consultation with the small coalition of foundation and reform groups he had built as part of designing the CAC proposal.

(While I was attacked by left Democrats when I had the temerity to point out the role of Ayers in elevating Obama to this post at a critical stage in Obama's young career - just months before he launched his first campaign for political office - Ayers' role was confirmed recently by liberal David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine in his book on Obama.)

While Kurtz was eventually allowed access to the CAC documents, it was disturbing to learn that the former CAC executive director, Ken Rolling, who was appointed by the CAC board headed by Obama, had been in touch privately with the library asking to delay Kurtz' access to the documents which were already listed as available for public use and had been, I was told by a Chicago Tribune reporter, accessed earlier in the year by another researcher.

I had also been told that a source in the Obama campaign had direct knowledge that David Axelrod was personally in contact with Bill Ayers in an attempt to coordinate a response by the campaign to the CAC documents. And a senior Democratic Party source said that Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dorhn were providing Obama and his wife Michelle with suggested names for enventual appointees to White House positions.

The list included Van Jones, an environmental activist with a maoist background who was first appointed and then quickly pushed off the President's staff when it was alleged he had signed a petition supporting a group that questioned the fact that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were instigated by fundamentalists.

Valerie Jarrett, another member of the Obama inner circle, publicly confirmed at a NetRoots convention that Obama had kept an eye on Jones from his days as a maoist activist in the early 1990s.

Until late in the campaign very few people, however, had paid attention to the close relationship between Ayers and Obama. But a senior Democratic party figure supporting the Obama campaign confirmed that the relationship was longstanding and that the CAC appointment was a way for Ayers to help advance Obama's career.

Because of Bill Ayers' history as a terrorist with the Weather Underground movement the right saw a gold mine in these connections. Certainly a relationship with Ayers would be toxic to Obama, who deftly sidestepped efforts to link him to Ayers during the campaign.

A compliant mainstream media did much to help in the effort, most notably the New York Times which despite sending several reporters to cover the story somehow could not discover what was common knowledge among many on the left in Chicago, that Obama and Ayers were friends. Such good friends, in fact, that no one raised an eyebrow when Ayers appointed him to the CAC board or when Ayers and his wife, fellow terrorist and now law professor at Northwestern Bernardine Dohrn, hosted a campaign event for Obama in the fall of 1995 at their Hyde Park town house.

Here is where Kurtz, however, begins to misread the Ayers/Obama relationship. The blind spot he shares with many on the right is the presumption, conscious or not, that the left and democracy are somehow incompatible.

In my view the only meaningful left is firmly committed to democracy. Thus, as an academic I have researched the tensions in the Sandinista revolution between those committed to democracy versus those committed to top down state controlled solutions to economic backwardness. I have examined the issue of international labor rights in stalinist controlled eastern Europe as well as communist China. As a union organizer before pursuing my academic career I advocated for democratic rights inside the union movement as well as inside the workplace.

But one need only spend a few minutes reviewing the political perspective of Bill Ayers and those who support his views to conclude that authoritarianism, not democracy, is at the heart of their politics.

Granted, it takes a strong stomach to closely study the views of Ayers and his wife Dohrn and their adopted son Chesa Boudin (biological son of jailed terrorists who were comrades of Ayers and Dohrn in the Weather Underground) or their 60s SDS ally, Mike Klonsky. Klonsky is the leader of a maoist sect who received his PhD under Bill Ayers and then got approximately $1 million in grant money from the CAC led by Obama and Ayers.

Yet ironically the major policy issue that likely first brought Obama and Ayers together, and was later at the heart of the CAC project in mid-90s Chicago, was what I view as an undemocratic approach to reform of education. While you can do a search for my numerous blog posts on this issue here, the short story is that Ayers and Obama both backed the imposition in Chicago in the late 1980s "local control" of public schools, against the will of the Chicago teachers' union and many leading community groups, particularly those in the black community. The fear of the union, rightly in my view, was that local control would enable foundations and big business interests in Chicago to manipulate parents against teachers.

Far from being "democratic" as Ayers attempted to argue, local control was bureaucratic and allowed those powerful groups to hide their attempt to break the union behind the understandable frustration of many parents with the poorly funded and organized schools. No wonder then that the Heritage Foundation praised the local control movement. They saw that local control was a stepping stone to "school choice," their misguided effort to introduce a naive view of capitalist markets into the education system.

The CAC in the mid-90s was an effort to revitalize that local control movement in what was called at the time the Chicago School Wars. By then big business in Chicago and its mayor, Richard Daley the second, had lost interest in Ayers' pet project as it had failed to break the union. And so Obama and Ayers worked side by side against the Daley administration to beef up the local school councils they had both fought for nearly a decade earlier, when Obama was a community organizer on the Chicago South Side.

But in what Stanley Kurtz has written so far about the CAC, for example in a long article about it in the Wall Street Journal, he ignored the real meaning of this odd alliance of the right, business, foundations, Ayers and Obama behind "local control" and concentrates on other far less important efforts like money that was funneled by the CAC to pan-African oriented curricular reform.

Of course, Kurtz is not alone in being fooled by what it means to fund a project like the South Shore African Village Collaborative as the CAC did. Too many on the left view such politically correct efforts as genuine and constructive approaches to reform.

Too many on the left fall for, as well, Ayers' and Dohrn's pro-Castro and pro-Hugo Chavez politics, a modern day version of the third worldism that the Weather Underground propagated in the 1970s. Some, a small minority, on the left actually think people like Chavez and Castro are leftists but far more are taken in by the naive view that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend." This idea hobbled the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s, when thousands cheered "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win" despite Ho's record as a butcher of the real Vietnamese left. And today too many cheer Chavez as he crushes genuine life out of the Venezuelan poor and working class or Hamas and Hezbollah when they wave the image of "Che" Guevara on the west bank.

Faux radicals like Ayers and Dohrn exploit that kind of thinking to disable the left and isolate it. No doubt at some point a young Barry Obama himself fell for this kind of world view, changing his name to Barack, joining the church of Jeremiah Wright, joining the law firm of Dohrn law school classmate and former anti-war radical Judson Miner, and using those relationships to carve a path to political power through the south side of Chicago where the remnants of a stalinist-influenced labor movement could still be found in new Obama friends like SEIU's Tom Balanoff.

But to confuse this career path with a genuine left, a genuine commitment to democracy, is to do a disservice to historical and political analysis.

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