I wouldn't normally bother to wade into the the fevered discussion currently happening on the Right over Barack Obama's purported ties to ACORN, domestic terrorists, and so on, but Stanley Kurtz, one of the lead theorists of all of this, over on National Review Online, has done me the favor of actually reading my book on third parties in America, Spoiling for a Fight, and quotes generously from my chapter on the rise of the New Party, to buttress his claim that Obama is secretly a socialist, "substantially to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream" and "far from the post-partisan, post-ideological pragmatist he pretends to be."
Okay. For the purposes of argument, let's stipulate that Obama was indeed a member of the New Party in 1996 when he ran for state senate in Illinois in 1996. I don't doubt that he was endorsed by the New Party, if that's what this NP newsletter uncovered by the Powerline blog shows.
My point is, so what?
Kurtz, who seems as obsessed as the Joseph Conrad character he shares a name with, imagines that the New Party was some kind of "hard-left," "militant" "party-within-a-party" with a master plan for subverting the US economy and political system. He waves the red flag of "socialism" around a few times, notes my own description of the New Party as being "social democratic" and then ultimately settles on the scary sounding "redistributionist" as its sneaky socialist goal. (As if all of Washington's various programs, subsidies and tax rules--many which favor the wealthy and big corporations, and some which help the middle class and the poor--aren't already "redistributionist.")
Considering that it's President Bush who has presided over the biggest nationalization of American banking since the 1930s, it must be hard for Kurtz and his ilk to understand the difference between socialism and "social democratic." It starts with a fundamental distinction on the role of the state. Socialists want the state to own industries; social democrats want to use government's tool chest to bend private industry toward public goods.
Here's what the New Party's founders wrote about their goals, from a section of the chapter in my book that Kurtz didn't bother to include in his NRO post:
We are tired and outraged by the corruptions of U.S. party politics and the public policies they produce. We are fed up with declining living standards, rising poverty and inequality, bad jobs and bad wages, racial and gender injustice, and the denial of a fulfilling life to too many working Americans and their children. We are fed up with exporting violence abroad, lying to citizens at home, and leaving political power to the rich and infamous.
What do we want? We want to invest in ourselves: in health, education, housing, retraining and physical infrastructure. We want an economy that is competitive, trade that is not ruinous to our standards of living, and an ordering of economic relations that doesn't wreck the environment on which we all depend. We want to reward hard work: with better wages, working conditions, and a say in the running of the economy. We want accountable government that works, and a political process that's not completely corrupted by big money interests. We want fair taxes, based on the ability to pay. We want to build a pluralist society where skin color doesn't determine life chances, gender doesn't determine labor market position, sexual preference doesn't lead to ostracism, every child is housed and fed and decently educated, and the parents of each child are respected for doing the hardest work of all--raising and nurturing the children who will be our future. We want, in short, to take this country back. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It's that simple.
To be honest, it's hard for me to see how this differs substantially from what Obama is talking about today. The horror, Kurtz, the horror!