On the afternoon of April 1, 1983, Barack Obama, then a senior at Columbia University, made his way into the Great Hall of Manhattan's Cooper Union to attend a "Socialist Scholars Conference." There Obama discovered his vocation as a community organizer, as well as a political program to guide him throughout his life.
The conference itself was not a secret but it held a secret. For it was there that a demoralized and frustrated socialist movement largely set aside strategies of nationalization and turned increasingly to local organizing as a way around the Reagan presidency -- and its own spotty reputation. In the early 1980s America's socialists discovered what Saul Alinsky had always known: "community organizing" is a euphemism behind which advocates of a radical vision of America could advance their cause without the bothersome label "socialist" drawing adverse attention to their efforts.
A loose accusation of his being a socialist has trailed Obama for years -- but without real evidence that he saw himself as part of this radical tradition. The evidence exists, however, if not in plain sight, in the archives -- for example, the archived files of the Democratic Socialists of America, which include Obama's name on a conference registration list.
That, along with some misleading admissions in the president's memoir, "Dreams from My Father," makes it clear that Obama attended the 1983 and 1984 Socialist Scholars Conferences and, quite possibly, the 1985 conclave as well. A detailed account of these Socialist Scholars Conferences (along with many other events from Obama's radical past) and the evidence for Obama's attendance at them can be found in my new book, "Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism" (to be published Tuesday)...
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