Author Paul Kengor wants you to know just how radical Frank Marshal Davis — a man many consider to have been a mentor to President Barack Obama during his teenage years — was.
“Obama’s mentor was considered so radical, and such a potential pro-Soviet threat, that the federal government placed him on the Security Index,” Kengor told The Daily Caller in an interview about his new book on Davis, simply titled “The Communist.”
“That meant that if a war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, Frank Marshall Davis could be placed under immediate arrest. Think about that. Obama had that sort of influence. And The Washington Post will focus on whether Mitt Romney was bullying in high school? With the kind of influence that Obama had, Obama would have trouble getting a security clearance for an entry-level government job.”
Obama refers to Davis in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” simply as “Frank” and never elaborates on his radical history. Kengor believes this is because Obama wanted to avoid the political liability of being associated with Davis’ politics. But if Obama was concerned about protecting his future political prospects while writing his memoir, why would he include details of his drug use?
“On matters like cocaine, he grew up in an era when that was going on,” Kengor, who is a professor at Grove City College, argued.
“To do cocaine was certainly not the norm, but it wasn’t unheard of. In short, he rightly saw his adolescent association with Davis — a literal card-carrying communist — as a greater political liability than cocaine use.”
Kengor doesn’t argue that Obama is a Marxist today, but even if he cannot definitely prove, he does believe that Davis’ influence on Obama was significant.
“Do I think that Obama, if he was a Marxist at Occidental, remains one today? No, I don’t,” Kengor said.
“I believe — and this is really the central argument of my book — that Frank Marshall Davis was another of those far-left influences that helped Obama develop into the leftist, generally speaking, that he is today.”
Read TheDC’s full interview with Kengor about Obama, Davis and his book below:
Who was Frank Marshall Davis in a nutshell?
First off, he was a black man born in Kansas in 1905, and would suffer very real racial persecution. When he was five years old, little Frank was nearly lynched. I have a five-year-old son. To think of that makes me sick. So, I would encourage conservatives that no matter how much they hate the man’s politics, they should never hate the man. I always retained sympathy for Davis. As I followed his life, I always rooted for him. I found that he worked his tail off. Early in life, this was a very hard-working, innovative, African-American entrepreneur, who should have never, ever become a communist.
Nonetheless, he did just that. It’s a long story as to how that happened, but, during World War II, Frank Marshall Davis joined the Communist Party [(CPUSA)]. His party number, which I publish on the cover of the book and in the FBI documents in the appendix, was 47544. He was unwaveringly loyal to the Soviet Union, as were all CPUSA members. To go that far — to actually join the party — was to become a loyal Soviet patriot, dedicated to what the CPUSA leadership called a “Soviet America.”
Davis was involved in all sorts of communist front-groups and wrote pro-Soviet propaganda for the Chicago Star (1946-48) and the Honolulu Record (1949-57). This stuff is shocking to read. Davis was especially brutal to the Democrats, because they were the party in power opposing Stalin after the war. He absolutely eviscerated Harry Truman, not to mention great American initiatives like the Marshall Plan.
Democrats and liberals need to realize that Davis and his communist friends were not their friends.
How close was he to President Obama? Is there any evidence of correspondence or meetings between Davis and Obama after Obama left Hawaii to begin college?
They were close — so close that I confidently call it a mentor relationship. (And I’m not alone.) We don’t know how frequently they met. I avoid trying to affix a number in the book. I’ve had people tell me everywhere from a handful of times to weekly, which I can’t confirm at all. David Maraniss, in his new biography, says they met upwards of 15 times, which is a lot, especially given that they met one-on-one and often late into the evenings. In “Dreams from My Father” alone, Obama describes several meetings. He mentions “Frank” 22 times directly by name, and dozens more via pronouns and other forms of reference — but never discloses his full name once in the entire book. I’m sure that’s because of the political sensitivity of who Davis was. In fact, in the audio version of “Dreams,” released 10 years later in 2005, there are no references to the communist “Frank.” He was completely purged — blacklisted, if you will. That’s no easy task. “Frank” is mentioned in the original text in every section of the memoir, not just the Hawaii years.
I have no record of correspondence between the two after Obama left Hawaii. I wouldn’t know where to find it. Obama notes in “Dreams” that his parting advice before he left for college was from Davis — incidentally, a Davis diatribe blasting “the American way.” That diatribe is almost verbatim to Davis’s “American way” rants in the Chicago Star.
Davis died in 1987. Obama left for Occidental in 1979. Very interestingly, Obama wrote two poems about Davis when he got to Occidental. One of them is titled “Pop.” Even David Maraniss concedes that the subject of “Pop” is “Frank.” Read that poem carefully and then try to tell me that Frank Marshall Davis didn’t have a deep influence on Barack Obama.
What is the most interesting nugget you discovered researching this book?
I’d say it was the fact that Obama’s mentor was considered so radical, and such a potential pro-Soviet threat, that the federal government placed him on the Security Index. That meant that if a war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, Frank Marshall Davis could be placed under immediate arrest. Think about that. Obama had that sort of influence. And The Washington Post will focus on whether Mitt Romney was bullying in high school? With the kind of influence that Obama had, Obama would have trouble getting a security clearance for an entry-level government job.
You suggest that while Obama mentions “Frank” in his memoir, he doesn’t ever specify it is Frank Marshall Davis because it would somehow be a political liability to associate himself with the communist. For similar reasons, you suggest he doesn’t mention the political discussions you are convinced they must have had. But Obama mentions his drug use and other politically inconvenient facts in his memoir — why would conversations with a communist in his teenage years be politically worse to mention for a young man who probably never dreamed of being president?
Actually, I don’t say that they had political discussions. I can’t say for certain that they did, especially if you go by “Dreams” alone. For that matter, I can’t say that Ben Cleaver and Reagan or Hillary and Don Jones had political discussions — though no one questions they had an influence and were mentors.
Now, that said, I would be very surprised if Obama and Frank didn’t have political or even ideological (and certainly intellectual) discussions. They met a lot, and “Frank” was extremely political. All you need to do is read his writings. He was very emotional and expressive and angry about his politics. I think it would be naïve to imagine that he never raged against American “imperialism” or colonialism or excess capitalism when he was around young Obama, especially as the hours went on and as Frank drank more and more whiskey.
On matters like cocaine, he grew up in an era when that was going on. To do cocaine was certainly not the norm, but it wasn’t unheard of. In short, he rightly saw his adolescent association with Davis — a literal card-carrying communist — as a greater political liability than cocaine use.
In fact, don’t you quote Obama’s memoir indicating that while Obama interacted and engaged in lively conversation with “Frank,” he ultimately rejected his radicalism, at least at the time? For example, you quote Obama responding to one political diatribe by Frank as follows: “Frank, said Obama, ‘made me smile. … In some ways he was as incurable as my mother, as certain in his faith, living in the same sixties time warp that Hawaii had created.’”
That’s right. That’s why I quote everything — and it isn’t totally clear in that passage if Obama is referring to Frank’s “incurable” views on life, race, college, the American way, or something else. Life is complex — not simple, not always black and white. Here, in this case, Obama seems to smilingly shake his head at the old communist. I don’t know, however, that this reveals a rejection of Frank’s radicalism. To some degree, it might.
In the book, I follow up that section with a long chapter on Obama at Occidental, where I think Obama might very well have been a Marxist at the time. I quote at length Dr. John Drew on that subject, who knew Obama at Occidental, and knew him as a fellow Marxist. As Drew told me, Frank Marshall Davis is probably the link that would explain that Obama interest in Marxism at the time.
Do I think that Obama, if he was a Marxist at Occidental, remains one today? No, I don’t. I believe — and this is really the central argument of my book — that Frank Marshall Davis was another of those far-left influences that helped Obama develop into the leftist, generally speaking, that he is today.
What policies has President Obama advocated while in office that you think have seeds of Davis’ influence and wouldn’t have been supported by other leftwing presidents like Jimmy Carter and FDR?
On specific policy questions, it’s just too much speculation on my part to do that definitively. I’m trying hard to resist that temptation (it isn’t easy). Generally speaking, though, I see Obama’s incessant class-warfare rhetoric, which I believe is unprecedented for any modern Democratic president — certainly compared to, say, a Jimmy Carter — as the most remarkable similarity to Davis. Davis, too, was constantly engaging in Marxist rhetoric.