Politico has the latest on Barack Obama and his economic policy positions — but only if you’re interested in Barack Obama Sr., and if by latest you mean 1965. Spurred on by bloggers, Ben Smith and Jeffrey Ressner exhume a paper written by the elder Obama while in Nairobi that addresses Kenya’s adoption of socialism by attempting to parse whether new ruler Mzee Jomo Kenyatta intended on imposing Soviet-style socialism or something softer. This will have readers scratching their heads in bemusement:
Now, a long-forgotten essay written 43 years ago by Obama’s father has surfaced, and its contents reveal much not only about the senior Obama’s grasp of economic theory but also the iconoclastic politics that, his son would later write, sent him into the spiral of career disappointment that concluded with his death in 1982 in his native Kenya.
Parts of the article, titled “Problems Facing Our Socialism,” have been making the rounds on several small blogs over the past week, but Politico is now reproducing the entire piece in its original form online for the first time. …
Published in the esoteric East Africa Journal in 1965, the year after Kenyan President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta took power and the country declared independence from British rule, the paper takes a gently mocking tone to the Kenyatta government’s key, controversial statement of economic policy, titled “African Socialism and its Applicability to Planning in Kenya.”
Obama Sr.’s journal article repeatedly asks what the Kenyan government means by “African Socialism,” as distinct from Soviet-style communism, and concludes that the new phrase doesn’t mean much.
So what does this have to do with the 2008 presidential election in the US? Not much. Some have called this the “Rosebud” that explains Barack Obama fils, but Obama apparently has never read the paper. It focuses on Kenyan economic politics, and actually critiques the application of socialism in Kenya by Kenyatta.
In any case, it has little to do with the current presidential race. Obama Sr isn’t running for President, and his son only saw him once after this paper was written. Like many who grow up without a parent, Obama spent some time pursuing his ghost for very personal reasons, but this paper didn’t come to his attention. Obama grew up and developed his own political philosophies, which is what voters should consider in 2008 — not a dusty paper written by someone he hardly knew and who is in no position to exert any political influence over the candidate.
James Joyner agrees:
Obama’s a liberal Democrat who wants more government regulation of the economy, more redistribution of wealth, more deference to international institutions, more nationalization of medicine, and so forth and so on. Some of his policies — although probably none of his goals — are indeed “far to the left … of mainstream America.” He’s as close to a socialist as it gets in serious contenders for the presidency; but that’s not very close.
He’s part of a long movement that has adopted some of the tools of socialism in an effort to make society better, with decidedly mixed results. The state hasn’t taken over the means of production, but it has created layers of bureaucracy to oversee them. The tax code has more than a smattering of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” And we’ve instituted speech codes and a thought police in our schools and institutions, ostracizing those who dare to speak other than the orthodox Truth.
Again, this is mostly, if not all, well-intentioned. These were all reactions against real injustices, if often over-reactions, that had negative unintended consequences. But Obama’s not talking about cleaning up these messes but rather moving further in that direction.
The above is argument enough about Obama’s politics to convince people to cast their votes elsewhere. We should stick with Obama himself and the team that has surrounded him during his political career rather than chase ghosts. This paper chase makes the argument against an Obama presidency look like it’s reaching when unnecessary.
Update: Baldilocks has a very unique perspective on this, and agrees that way too much is being made of this paper.