Book: Obama’s Communist mentor influenced his political beliefs

Matt Pitchford | Contributor

A new book due out Tuesday makes the case that Frank Marshall Davis, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, mentored Barack Obama when he lived in Hawaii.

In researching “The Communist,” Kengor combed over Davis’ recently released FBI profile and his voluminous writings to show something many other authors and journalists have either ignored or failed to grasp: Davis was a communist who had an early hand in shaping the future president’s political beliefs.

Davis’ influence was apparent when Obama was in his late teens. John Drew, who knew him at Occidental College, told Kengor that “Obama was already an ardent Marxist when I met him in the fall of 1980.”

Kengor is careful not to accuse Obama of being a closeted communist or Communist Party member. But he notes that Davis’ influence would explain why Obama was so well versed in Marxist orthodoxy so early in his college days.

“[W]hat — or, better still, who — explains Obama’s Marxist political thinking at the time, fresh out of Hawaii?” Kengor asks in his book. “The obvious answer is Frank Marshall Davis.”

Since that time, Obama has never spoken of a “conversion” from these convictions.

“If Obama was on the Marxist-Leninist left, we have no accounting, from Obama or anyone, of a switch,” Kengor writes. “Quite the contrary, in Obama’s memoirs, we hear about him attending socialist conferences and ‘hanging out’ with Marxist professors, but never any repudiation of those conferences, professors, or even a tiny, passing comment suggesting these were fanciful musings from a politically misguided youth.”

Instead, Obama still seems to eerily echo his former mentor’s economic beliefs, Kengor argues. He writes that Davis “suggested economic recovery ideas hauntingly close to what President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress pursued in 2009 and 2010.”

Like Obama would advocate years later, Davis believed “the goal was not for business or Wall Street or individual businessmen and corporations to stimulate the economy, but for ‘taxes’ to be redistributed by the federal government.”

Davis wrote that “tax money should flow into shovel-ready ‘public works projects’ and be redirected and redistributed into ‘increased social security benefits, health insurance, education and low cost housing.'” This, Kengor writes, along with Davis’ suggestion of “using tax money for ‘health insurance,'” now has a familiar ring.

Despite policy similarities, media accounts have largely ignored Davis’ communist political philosophy. For example, Kengor calls David Remnick’s definitive biography on Obama, “The Bridge,” entirely “scandalous in its omissions” about Davis beliefs.

“In Remnick’s section on Frank,” Kengor writes, “the words ‘communist,’ ‘Marxist,’ ‘CPUSA’ [Communist Party USA], ‘Soviet Union,’ ‘USSR,’ ‘Russia,’ or a host of other words that established the dominant extreme-left themes in Frank’s political writings across multiple decades … appear just once: Remnick concludes his discussion of Frank with a shot at the ‘right-wing blogosphere,’ which, when Obama was running for president, allegedly smeared Frank as (in Remnick’s words) ‘a card-carrying Communist, a pornographer, a pernicious influence. The attacks were loud and unrelenting.'”

Kengor’s answer, in part, is “27544.” That’s the number on Davis official CPUSA membership card.

Davis’ interactions with Obama have been well documented. Kengor summarizes several biographies, articles, and Obama’s own memoir that show Davis’ significance in Obama’s life.

For example, Davis biographer Dr. Kathryn Takara praised Davis’ “dedication to social justice” and wrote that “Frank handed on to Obama ‘a sense of believing that change can happen.'”

But according to Kengor, that “progressive” and “social justice” orientation was a front for the communist ends toward which he was working. Davis’ consistent claim was that his work for civil rights and racial tolerance got him labeled as a communist.

“This was Frank’s explanation for why the federal government took interest in his activities: because he was interested in fighting racism, and not for anything related to his communist activities,” Kengor writes. Davis often argued that “anticommunism was a veiled form of racism.”

Davis himself wrote that he had “no intention of letting the cry of ‘communism’ sidetrack me from my goal of complete civil rights as guaranteed by the Constitution,” even as he promoted goals that differed greatly from the Constitution’s design and purpose.

Communists used the language of progessivism to “dupe” unsuspecting democrats, Kengor explains. Their explicit goal was to infiltrate and influence the Democratic Party. When the Hawaiian Communist Party officially “disbanded” in the early 1950s, Davis and others went underground.

“[T]he comrades would continue to masquerade as ‘progressives,’ except this time from within the Democratic Party,” Kengor writes.

Davis apparently succeeded. Kengor found that “Frank Marshall Davis was elected ‘assistant secretary and delegate’ to the Territorial Democratic Convention” on April 30, 1950.

“And,” Kengor adds, “it would be as a ‘Democrat’ that Frank would one day influence a future Democratic Party president.”

Davis’ beliefs, he argues in “The Communist,” often led the Obama mentor to advocate for Russia and against the United States.

Despite the USSR’s abuses of human rights and its eventual economic failure, Davis explicitly praised its leaders for both abolishing racism and creating a free economic system.

“I salute the Soviet Union,” he wrote, “for in less than a generation abolishing a discrimination and racism as crippling as anything that ever happened in Mississippi.”

“I admire Russia for wiping out an economic system which permitted a handful of rich to exploit and beat gold from the millions of plain people who had to live a hand-to-mouth existence.”

“As one who believes in freedom and democracy for all, I honor the Red nation,” Davis gushed.

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