For Not Having 'Members,' the New Party With Which Obama Was Associated in the Mid-90s Sure Had Lots of Members

June 9th, 2012 12:21 PM

At National Review (here and here), Stanley Kurtz has proven beyond doubt that Barack Obama sought the far-left New Party's endorsement in 1996. In the process, he has rendered a central claim made by the Obama campaign at its "Fight the Smears" web site in 2008 ("Barack Did Not Seek New Party Endorsement") and swallowed whole by the gullible establishment press utterly false.

In 2008, Ben Smith, who was then at Politico, also swallowed the line from the New Party's founder that the party never really had "members," which is going to be the focus of this post:

When this first emerged, I called up the founder of the New Party, a University of Wisconsin professor named Joel Rogers, who objected both to the characterization of the party and Obama's relationship to it.

... As for Obama's membership?

"We didn’t really have members," said Rogers. They also didn't have a ballot line in Chicago. So he said the line in the party newsletter appeared to refer to the fact that the party had endorsed him.

... UPDATE: Rogers emails to clarify how his party could have referred to "members" without having any:

"I meant that there was no formal membership structure in the usual party sense of members, with people registering with election boards for primary and other restrictive elections, for the obvious reasons that we didn't even have official party status in any state and were always looking to get progressive registered Ds, Rs, Gs, or whomever to accept our nomination if we liked them. We did have regular supporters whom many called "members," but it just meant contributing regularly, not getting voting rights or other formal power in NP governance...."

"Anyway, [Obama] certainly wasn't either. He was just a good candidate whom we endorsed."

 In an item at Buzzfeed on Friday, where he now toils, Smith is still standing by the "no members" meme:

I returned to Rogers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison today, and asked him about the minutes Kurtz found, which seem to contradict both his and Obama's claims. Rogers stuck by what he told me four years ago.

"I have no idea what the Chicago people were saying about him being a member," he said. "We didn’t have membership, it wasn’t a membership organization."

Kurtz provides ample evidence that the party had a membership structure:

At just about the time Obama joined the New Party, the Chicago chapter was embroiled in a bitter internal dispute. A party-membership list is attached to a memo in which the leaders of one faction consider a scheme to disqualify potential voting members from a competing faction, on the grounds that those voters had not renewed their memberships. The factional leaders worried that their opponents would legitimately object to this tactic, since a mailing that called for members to renew hadn’t been properly sent out. At any rate, the memo clearly demonstrates that, contrary to Rogers’s explanation, membership in the New Party entailed the right to vote on matters of party governance. In fact, Obama’s own New Party endorsement, being controversial, was thrown open to a members’ vote on the day he joined the party.

Further evidence should be unnecessary, but since neither Smith nor Rogers have conceded this point, I will offer some. A memo of September 3, 1993 to “Interested Parties” from “ZAP” (almost certainly ACORN and national New Party political director Zach Pollett) is labeled “Re: August ‘93 New Party Membership Report.” There follows a chart listing the numbers of New Party members in each area of the country and targets for offering local membership groups official New Party “charters.” This charters meant formal recognition from the national office for a given local, and the right of that local to send representatives to the party’s governing council. The chart is followed by a “Membership Recruitment Analysis.”

And, in case anyone thinks that what people involved with the New Party were actually calling themselves and allowing themselves to be called in the mid-1990s when the party was active matters, let me offer just one of many potential examples anyone can find in going through the Google News Archive.

In an item findable in full in library databases ("Appellate court's rules could aid third parties in state elections"), the Minneapolis Star Tribune covered a ruling on whether a candidate could list multiple party affiliations on an election ballot:

New Party members said Friday that the decision represents a major breakthrough in their efforts to legalize what they call "fusion," or cross-party endorsement politics.

"It makes it more effective for third parties to organize," said Lisa Disch, a New Party member and University of Minnesota political science professor.

"In a state like Minnesota, where we have a number of relatively progressive legislators, we {New Party members} want to be able to make bridges . . . and bring in voters who have been turned off by mainstream politics. Fusion makes a coalition-building strategy possible," she said.

(Then State Representative Andy) Dawkins and New Party members also have worked jointly on election changes that Dawkins plans to introduce in the Legislature. They include allowing multiple nominations for candidates without approval of major parties.

Maybe, to paraphrase something truly odious Whoopi Goldberg said in another context, the New Party is saying it had "members," but not "member-members." Give me a break.

Cross-posted at