“To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.” – Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope”
As a college student, Barack Obama expressed Marxist views, including the need for a new socialist U.S. government, according to a student who says he shared the future president’s opinion at the time.
Such views by a college student may not be surprising. And like most students who hold radical views, Obama’s positions, at least publicly, have evolved substantially.
However, this new window on Obama’s youth and early political thinking demonstrates how little is known about the background of America’s 44th president.
Dr. John C. Drew, a grant writing consultant in Laguna Niguel, Calif., tells Newsmax he met Obama in 1980 when Obama was a sophomore at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Drew had just graduated from Occidental and was attending graduate school at Cornell University.
Drew’s then girlfriend, Caroline Boss — now Grauman-Boss — knew Obama because she shared classes with him at Occidental.
During Christmas break, Drew says he was at Grauman-Boss’ home in Palo Alto when Obama came over with Mohammed Hasan Chandoo, his roommate from Pakistan.
“Barack and Hasan showed up at the house in a BMW, and then we went to a restaurant together,” Drew says. “We had a nice meal, and then we came back to the house and smoked cigarettes and drank and argued politics.”
For the next several hours, they discussed Marxism.
“He was arguing a straightforward Marxist-Leninist class-struggle point of view, which anticipated that there would be a revolution of the working class, led by revolutionaries, who would overthrow the capitalist system and institute a new socialist government that would redistribute the wealth,” says Drew, who says he himself was then a Marxist.
“The idea was basically that wealthy people were exploiting others,” Drew says. “That this was the secret of their wealth, that they weren’t paying others enough for their work, and they were using and taking advantage of other people. He was convinced that a revolution would take place, and it would be a good thing.”
Drew concluded that Obama thought of himself as “part of an intelligent, radical vanguard that was leading the way towards this revolution and towards this new society.”
In contrast, “My more pessimistic Marxist perspective indicated this was not a realistic possibility, that we really hadn’t seen a sort of complete revolution take place anywhere in Western Europe, and that this isn’t what had happened in more socialistic Germany or in France,” Drew says. “He was pretty persistent, that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Drew’s viewpoint that a revolution was unrealistic “made me very unpopular that evening. It was considered a reactionary and insensitive thing to argue,” says Drew.
Drew saw Obama again at a party Obama and Chandoo gave in June 1981 at the house they shared. Drew went on to become an assistant professor of political science at Williams College.
In 1981, Obama left Occidental to attend Columbia University. During that year, Obama spent “about three weeks” visiting Chandoo and his family in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the account of Obama spokesman Bill Burton during the campaign.
Chandoo is now a financial consultant who was formerly a broker at Oppenheimer & Co. He has contributed to Obama’s campaign and helped raise more than $100,000 for him as a bundler.
“If that’s what John Drew said, that’s what he said,” Chandoo commented. “I can’t remember Obama ever talking like that. It sounds a bit absurd to me, but that’s my opinion. I can’t remember him ever expressing an interest in being a Marxist.”
Much of what is known about Obama’s past has been revealed and defined by Obama himself, largely through his two bestselling books “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.”
In these works and throughout his career, Obama has clearly identified with the oppressed. In “Dreams from My Father” Obama details how white settlers and sugar companies came to dominate and exploit his native Hawaii.
In that memoir, Obama said that at Occidental, “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.”
As president, Obama has espoused the view that the rich are not sharing their wealth with the less fortunate. In a Sept. 6, 2001, radio interview, Obama expressed regret that the Supreme Court hadn’t engaged in wealth redistribution.
In some ways, Obama’s opinions about American-style capitalism seem to mirror the views of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., Obama’s minister who was his self-described mentor and “sounding board” for 20 years. Wright’s “Black Value System” denounced “our racist competitive society” and included the disavowal of the pursuit of “middle-classness.”
The Black Value System defined “middle-classness” as a way American society seduced blacks into achieving economic success, thus snaring them rather than “killing them off directly.”
In a similar vein, when he discussed politics with him in 1980, Drew says that in Obama’s view, “America was definitely the enemy, and American elites were the enemy, and whatever America was doing was definitely wrong and bad. He thought that perhaps the Soviet Union was misunderstood, and it was doing a better job for its people than most people realized.”
Chandoo said he doesn’t know which professors Obama was referring to in his book. Asked when he last saw Obama, Chandoo said he has not seen nor talked with him since before Obama became a U.S. senator. However, under “community member,” the White House listed Chandoo as a guest at Obama’s Ramadan dinner last fall.
When asked about that, Chandoo acknowledged from his home in Armonk, N.Y., that he attended the dinner. Despite the fact that fewer than 70 people were in attendance, Chandoo added, “I did not get a chance to see the boss.” He then said he shook hands with Obama in a receiving line.
Chandoo said he has been in touch with Caroline Grauman-Boss over the years. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Burton, now deputy White House press secretary, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Drew’s encounter with Obama’s early political thinking adds to the mystery that has shrouded his past.
For more than a year during the campaign, the media were aware of Obama’s ties with the Rev. Wright, for example, but the press did not reveal them until Obama was far ahead in the primaries.
Obama has contributed to the lack of knowledge about his past by refusing to release early documentation about his life, including his college and Harvard Law School transcripts and his senior thesis at Columbia.
Referring to Obama’s quote from “Dreams from My Father” that he associated with Marxist professors, Drew says, “What he’s not saying is that he was in 100 percent total agreement with those Marxist professors. When you understand that, Obama’s later associations and policies make more sense, including why he was taken in by Rev. Wright’s ideology.”
In 1983 and 1984, Drew says he came to realize that his own Marxist views were rubbish. He now considers himself a conservative.
In contrast, Drew says, Obama has never revealed how his political thinking evolved and “what were the logical steps he took to get out of his Marxist world view.”