In August 2008, back when it mattered, the Washington Post ran a 10,000-word article by its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Maraniss titled, “Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible.” For reasons that will soon become clear, Maraniss should have excused himself from this assignment once he discovered the identity of the man in Hawaii who made that rise possible.
Barack Obama referred to this man in his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, as “Frank.” If there was any mystery to Frank’s identity, Gerald Horne, a leftist scholar from the University of Houston, dispelled it in a March 2007 speech. Horne identified “Frank” as “an African-American poet and journalist by the name of Frank Marshall Davis.”
Davis, Horne acknowledged, “was certainly in the orbit of the CP – if not a member.” Horne was pulling his punches. “Here are the facts and they are indisputable,” wrote historian Paul Kengor in his insightful 2012 book, The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor. “Frank Marshall Davis was a pro-Soviet, pro-Red China, card-carrying member of Communist Party (CPUSA). His Communist Party card number was 47544.”
As Kengor observed, Obama dedicated 2500 words in Dreams to Davis, who “surfaces repeatedly from start to finish, from Hawaii to Los Angeles to Chicago to Germany to Kenya… from the 1970s to the 1980s to the 1990s.” Indeed, the two were sufficiently close that the young Obama wrote two poems about Davis — a story I broke in February 2010 — and Davis appears to have written one poem about Obama. I should add that in addition to being a card-carrying communist, Davis was a bisexual pornographer with at least a fictional taste for sex with minors.
Horne did not deny Davis’s influence; he called it “decisive.” In fact, Horne implied that Obama “decamped to Chicago” as a way of “retracing the steps of Davis.” The Davis name had lingering resonance in Chicago, Davis’ adopted city. When Obama first arrived there in 1985, the city’s most influential columnist was Davis protégé Vernon Jarrett. His daughter-in-law Valerie emerged, of course, as Obama’s closest adviser.
The Davis-Obama relationship should have mattered. It did to Horne. Said Horne in the conclusion of his 2007 speech, “At some point in the future, a teacher will add to her syllabus Barack’s memoir and instruct her students to read it alongside Frank Marshall Davis’ equally affecting memoir, ‘Living the Blues.’” That future would have to wait at least until after Obama was elected and reelected. Until then, it was all quiet on the mainstream front.
No journalist risked more of his reputation in this conspiracy of silence than did David Maraniss. Incredibly, in his August 2008 article on Obama’s Hawaii years, the only “Davis” Maraniss cited was Miles Davis, the jazz great who allegedly made Obama’s adolescent playlist. Maraniss had no excuse for not knowing. New Zealand blogger extraordinaire Trevor Loudon picked up the Davis story immediately after Horne opened the door on it in March 2007, and Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, among others, followed up on the work of Horne and Loudon.
By the time of the Democratic convention in 2008, Davis’s relationship with Obama was common knowledge on the right side of the blogosphere. As a case in point, a month before Maraniss’s article appeared, American Thinker published a lengthy and accurate article on Davis’s communist history by David Walden of the Hawaii Free Press. Walden detailed the reasons for Davis’s strategic move to Hawaii in 1948 as well as his influence on Obama’s Chicago years.
Up until this week, I presumed that Maraniss ignored Davis as a way of protecting Obama’s candidacy. If so, he was in good company. I could find no mentions of Davis in the New York Times before the 2008 election and precious few mentions afterwards. In the Times’ humble defense, however, only the Post commissioned a 10,000-word article on Obama’s Hawaii years by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
It turns out that Maraniss had personal reasons for this impressive exercise in truth suppression. His father Elliott Maraniss and Frank Marshall Davis had a good deal in common. Both were journalists who pledged their allegiance to the Communist Party. In a stunningly disingenuous May 13 article in the Post, Maraniss spills the beans on the old man.
The article, written to promote Maraniss’s new book, A Good American Family, should have been spiked by Post editors for its embarrassing lack of historical perspective. “My father had been, for a time, a communist,” concedes Maraniss. That “time,” however, included one horrendous episode after another in Stalin’s drive to crush Eastern Europe, terrorize America, and kill his own people.
Although he may not have known about the Ukrainian genocide from earlier in the decade, the college-educated Elliott had to know about the Great Terror in full swing when he joined the party in the late 1930s. This mind-bending purge would leave as many as 1.2 million people dead. The 1939 Nonaggression pact between the Soviets and Nazis peeled off the dewy-eyed idealists in the party, but Elliott, like Davis, hung tough. Elliott went so far as to write editorials defending the pact, which even his son finds “indefensible.”
Elliott was hardcore. Patriotism did not dictate his enlistment in the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor as David would like us to believe. Moscow did. Given Elliott’s history, he never would have enlisted had Germany not turned on its Soviet allies before Peal Harbor.
When the war in Europe came to an end, Stalin sent word through the French journal Cahiers du Communisme that any thought of postwar cooperation between the Soviets and the Americans was a “notorious revision of Marxism.” This article was reprinted in The Daily Worker and other Communist journals all over the world. As Elliott had to know, America may have been a useful ally during the war, but now she was glavnyy vrag, the main enemy. He stuck with the party nonetheless. So did Davis. Elliott stuck with it too after Stalin unleashed his Chinese proxies to slaughter American soldiers in Korea. So did Davis.
Elliot remained a member of the Communist Party, David tells us, until 1952 when he was flagged by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. “Whatever his reasoning,” writes David, “he held onto his ideological choice for too long.” Way too long, at least 15 years too long. And yet after all those years of allegiance to the world’s most ruthless totalitarian — the CPUSA was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union — Elliott still had the nerve to slam the House Committee for its “attempt to enforce conformity of political or economic thought.”
Elliott’s statement to the committee was strategy, pure Red theater of the absurd. If David Maraniss knew his history, he would understand that his father’s plea for his First Amendment rights was no more sincere than his enlistment in the U.S. Army.
The problem is that Maraniss does not know his history. One gets the sense from this article that the evil at the core of Maraniss’s book is not communism but “Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-hunting.” Writes Maraniss with what appears to be a straight face, “For decades, I had desensitized myself to what it must have been like for him when he was in the crucible, living through the most trying experience of his life, but now I started to absorb the pain of what he had endured. What it was like for him to be surveilled by the FBI, to be called before the committee, to be fired, to be called un-American.”
What it was like for him to be surveilled by the FBI? If Maraniss wants to know he should ask Michael Flynn or George Papadopoulos or Carter Page or President Donald Trump. But that is just the point. Maraniss, like most of his peers, does not want to know any more about illegal surveillance or FISA abuse or FBI entrapment than he did about Frank Marshall Davis.
In Maraniss’s world, Trump is the glavnyy vrag, the main enemy. Although it reads like parody, Maraniss insists it was only with Trump’s candidacy “that the themes I wanted to explore in the book about my father began echoing through the decades.” The last two of the many themes have the most comic potential: “The attacks on free speech. And the raw power of government authorities to disrupt and destroy the lives of civilians.”
Maraniss wants us to weep for our nation because his father was “blacklisted from mainstream journalism” for five years. Sorry, David, the journalists I know, the real ones, the kind that had no trouble finding Frank Marshall Davis, have been blacklisted from mainstream journalism since forever.