A Legitimate Question
By Victor Morawski
Whether or not Barack Obama is a Marxist is one of the most prevalent philosophically-related questions asked about him. Yet, if we are to go by the reaction of current Vice President Joe Biden when he was confronted with the question on the campaign trail by Orlando television reporter Barbara West—“Are you joking? Is this a joke?”—the question isn't even legitimate and is a “ridiculous comparison.”
But the Vice President never gave that particular reporter a good reason why the question is ridiculous. He merely attacked her for asking it.
Many studied philosophers, including myself, think the question is far from ridiculous and can not be dispensed with by mere Ad Hominem attacks against those who ask it. We will deal with it by asking two more questions over the course of the next two Philosopher's Stone columns: “Can we tell that he is a Marxist from his associations?” and “Can we tell that he is a Marxist from the principles he adopts?”
Attempts to argue that Barack Obama himself is a Marxist, given his past connections with known Marxists, have abounded on the Internet and on conservative talk radio, especially prior to the November election. That those connections do exist is hardly a matter for debate.
Abundant evidence has been cited to show that his long-time mentor and father figure in Hawaii, Frank Marshall Davis, was a full-blown, active member of the Communist Party. After coming to Chicago, Obama for years attended the church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an ardent and vocal advocate of Black Liberation Theology, a movement with its roots planted firmly in Marxism.
Obama also had extensively documented contact in Chicago with Bill Ayers, former member of the Marxist-influenced Weather Underground, and a self-identified Marxist:
In an interview published in 1995, Ayers characterized his political beliefs at that time and in the 1960s and 1970s: "I am a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist ... [Laughs] Maybe I'm the last communist who is willing to admit it. [Laughs] We have always been small 'c' communists in the sense that we were never in the Communist party and never Stalinists. The ethics of communism still appeal to me. I don't like Lenin as much as the early Marx.”
Obama's defenders characterize the above charges as mere “guilt by association.” They contend that his connections with known Marxists do not necessarily imply that he shares their views. They claim we can draw no legitimate conclusions about Obama's own beliefs from the above facts concerning his associations.
In so doing, they are in effect charging his detractors with committing a reasoning error logicians call a “Circumstantial Ad Hominem Argument.” They thus gainsay his opponents' claims that because of his own special circumstances—in this case that Obama has had ongoing relationships with many known Marxists—he must share certain specific views (namely, Marxist). They argue that these relationships are, in fact, utterly irrelevant to his actual beliefs and should not be cited as evidence of them.
One who commits the above fallacy wrongly assumes that there is a necessary logical connection between Being an A and advocating a particular view. As a textbook example, I would be doing so were I to contend that, because you are a Democrat, you cannot be Pro-Life. Here, I would be assuming wrongly that being Pro-Abortion (or as they would prefer, Pro-Choice) is a necessary aspect of being a Democrat, when it in fact is not. There is no necessary logical connection between your being a Democrat and your abortion views, and it would be wrong for me to assume that there is just because so many with whom you associate are Pro-Abortion.
But, in philosophical terms, the connection claimed to exist between Obama and his Marxist associates is not merely logical, but causal. His life-long, self-selected connections with known Marxists are claimed to have had a causal influence on his own beliefs. And that is a vital distinction when examining one's resultant behavior patterns.
It is probabilistic, not deductive, reasoning that best deals with causal relationships. While we cannot conclude with certainty from the truth of documented facts concerning his Marxist associations that Barack Obama himself is a Marxist, it is reasonable to conclude that there is a significant probability that he is and doing so commits no logical fallacy. So his associations are not, as his defenders maintain, irrelevant as evidence of his own beliefs. They are, in fact, determinant.
Yet, all of the above might be a moot point when another of his associations, rarely discussed, is considered: that of his relationship with his own Marxist father, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. Guessing whether he was influenced significantly by the Marxism of his father is utterly unnecessary here for, in his first book Dreams from my Father, the younger Obama clearly states that it was his deliberate intention to build his own life in his father's likeness: “It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.”
Others have speculated that part of that image involved carrying out his father's Marxist dreams. In view of this president's nationalization of the banking and auto industries—and his impending nationalization of health care—it's hard to seriously gainsay such speculation. Next week we shall see that a major means of his doing so involves adopting the Marxist principle that his father championed most: that of wealth redistribution.
Victor Morawski teaches philosophy at Coppin State University. His column, "The Philosopher's Stone," is distributed nationally free of charge by the Liberty Features Syndicate. Should you wish to subscribe, contact Alex Rosenwald at email@example.com.