Obama and Marxism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 4 2011 11:04 AM

Obama and Marxism

Al Hunt goes after the Koch brothers for striking the "same theme" as birthers and harping on Barack Obama's Kenyan heritage. He quotes them from Matthew Continetti's long profile; I'll just quote the piece.

Ask Charles Koch what he thinks about Obama and he looks like he’s just bit into a lemon. "He’s a dedicated egalitarian," Charles said. "I’m not saying he’s a Marxist, but he’s internalized some Marxist models—that is, that business tends to be successful by exploiting its customers and workers."

David agreed. "He’s the most radical president we’ve ever had as a nation," he said, "and has done more damage to the free enterprise system and long-term prosperity than any president we’ve ever had." David suggested the president’s radicalism was tied to his upbringing. "His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya," he said. "Obama didn’t really interact with his father face-to-face very much, but was apparently from what I read a great admirer of his father’s points of view. So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve."

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This really is a weird argument. Stanley Kurtz's excellent research on Obama's past and philosophy makes it very clear that he only read up seriously on socialism and Marxism when he got to Columbia. There is no evidence that Obama ever read his father's economic papers; if he did, it's unclear how dense tracts about the problems of post-colonial Kenya would have influenced his thinking about American urban/class politics and economics.

Some serious conservative pundits who are driven mad by birtherism feel that way because birtherism is such a loud, stupid distraction that any serious effort to dig into Obama's past becomes impossible. I think that's true, even if I'm not convinced that a dig into Obama's college classes and transcripts is going to deliver a killing blow to his presidential campaign. The arc of Obama's career has been the arc of every modern liberal politician's career -- lefty college groupthink followed by liberal politics followed by big-money, centrist Democratic politics.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.