Obama’s Republican Senate Candidate Cousin Fears the Gulag, Minimum Wage

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 14 2014 11:59 AM

Obama’s Republican Senate Candidate Cousin Fears the Gulag, Minimum Wage

The revelation that Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts does not actually keep up a home in his state has sparked some new media interest in the senator's Aug. 5 primary. Roberts' sole primary opponent is Dr. Milton Wolf, a radiologist who happens to be Barack Obama's second cousin. When I pointed the genetic fact out last week, an irate reader asked me what the hell that had to do with anything.

Quite a lot. The Tea Party movement helped lots of average Americans rise from obscurity to take on politicians. Wolf rose a little faster because he never hesitated to mention his link to Obama. In speeches, and in the column he swiftly obtained in the Washington Times, he took a more-sorrow-than-anger tone when he described how awful Barack Obama, the president, was behaving.

"The truth is there’s nothing to be gained by insulting each other, and I won’t have it," wrote Wolf in a 2010 column. "I told them I will be the first to defend Barack or anyone from personal attacks. Besides, I’d rather win in the marketplace of ideas."

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The GOP had a good year in 2010; it didn't do as well in 2012. In 2013, before his column ended and he ran for Senate, Wolf was much harsher on Obama. Tim Murphy, who's sort of mastered the "GOP candidate who will matter soon said crazy things in public" beat, dug through Wolf's tweets and columns for the best examples. The lede: Wolf has asked "other than killing Jews, what domestic policy of the Nazis do today's American liberals oppose?" and decreed that "Scapegoats of history: Hitler - Jews & gypsies. Mussolini - Jews & Bolsheviks. #Obama - Successful Americans." He's basically compared his second cousin to Hitler. But, hey—marketplace of ideas!

Any time you compare someone to Hitler, it's going to be a story. But I think Wolf's other post-Trayvon Martin, post-2012 election columns are more interesting than the tweets. In "Tyranny in our Time," one of his final columns, Wolf deployed a blunt version of the old road-to-serfdom trope.

The conflict between liberal collectivist ideology and its application was easily predictable by anyone who has studied big-government economic failures throughout history, from the collectivist all-stars including Mao’s China, Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union to today’s honorable mentions such as Castro’s Cuba or Chavez’s Venezuela. Enforcement of collectivism has always depended on government power, from Stalin’s iron-fisted gulags to Mr. Obama’s mere heavy-handed plan for punitive fines for failure to purchase your government-imposed health insurance.

In "What Happened to My Barack Obama?," also cited by Murphy, Wolf adopts another popular conservative trope. The killing of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy, yes, but just as tragic was how he'd adopted a "gangsta" persona, and how Obama had allowed "race-baiting" to go unchecked. In a statement to Murphy, Wolf apologizes for his word choice, but the only semi-original idea in the column has nothing to do with Martin.

The black teenage unemployment rate of 40 percent is roughly double that of white teens. In the 1940s and 1950s, when in some quarters a black man couldn’t sit at a lunch counter, let alone sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, black and white teen unemployment were both around 10 percent. The difference? The essential absence of minimum-wage laws enabled teens to get their first jobs -- and skills -- without the government pricing them out of the job market.

But that's not even true. The federal minimum wage was introduced in 1938; the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in happened a generation later. Wolf could have pointed out that Davis-Bacon's prevaling wage was introduced in 1931 and endorsed by Dixiecrats who wanted to keep blacks out of labor jobs. But he really seems to be bluffing it and endorsing the most click-bait conservative idea possible whenever the topic at hand is not Obamacare.

Oh, well. Hey, at least he lives in Kansas!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.