Socialist books in the White House library? A blog provides photo evidence but only part of the story

By Stephen Lowman

In this era of blog wildfires, one fast-moving flame can be quenched before it scorches the facts: First Lady Michelle Obama did not stock the White House library with socialist books.

The controversy erupted after a conservative radio host and blogger from North Dakota took the White House tour on Wednesday and spotted two suspicious volumes on the shelves.

Rob Port, 29, who hosts a political call-in show in his home state, was surprised to come across "The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912" and "The Socialist Party of America."

He snapped a photo and posted it on

Under the headline: "Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books in the White House Library," Port wrote that the White House tour guide said the library was stocked with books picked out by Michelle Obama. "Being a bit of a bibliophile," he wrote on the blog, "I started to peruse some of the books on the shelves...and lookie, lookie what I found."

Thus flame was ignited. The blog post quickly attracted over a hundred comments and was linked on many other sites.

"Surely this means that every time President Obama is in the midst of important policy deliberations, he goes into the library, dusts off The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912, and uses it to help him figure out what the most socialist policy would be," mocked New York's Daily Intel blog.

Port, who was in Washington to cover the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), said in an interview it is "never fair to judge a book by its cover" and that you can't conclude Obama is a socialist just by the books in his library. "But obviously there have been question about the Obama administration's politics. You see a few socialist books sitting in the library and, well, that fits in the narrative."

The only problem is the books Port photographed have been sitting in the library since 1963.

The library came into being during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked Yale University librarian James T. Babb to oversee a committee that would select books for the library. In 1963, 1,780 were placed on the shelves.

"The White House library is a reference and recreational library for the use of the President, his family, and official staff," wrote Babb in the forward to "The White House Library: A Short Title List," a document from the White House Historical Association.

"It is intended to contain books which best represent the history and culture of the United States, works most essential for an understanding of our national experience. The collection has to be strictly limited because the attractive library on the ground floor of the White House has shelf space for only twenty-five hundred volumes. Authors, with few exceptions, are citizens of the United States; fiction and poetry by deceased writers only have been included."

"The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912" by Ira Kinnis and "The Socialist Party of America" by David Shannon are included on that original list of books, along with books about the two national parties, communism and still others about socialism.

Babb told The New York Times in 1963 that there was "bound to be criticism" of the choices. "There will still be people telling us what should be in this library, but we'll just have to be adamant," he said.

It is impossible to know if the White House guide misspoke, or Port misheard.

"I guess if they have been in there since the 1960s then they have been there through several presidents," Port said when asked about the discovery. "All I said was that our tour guide told us they were chosen by the First Lady. I thought the books were interesting in the larger context, but now I guess it is what it is."

By Steven E. Levingston |  February 18, 2010; 4:11 PM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

This provides valuable insight as to what lies behind misplaced paranoia: More paranoia.

Posted by: kingbart | February 18, 2010 4:53 PM

Of course this story fits the narrative of right wing blogs being straw-grasping fools, eager to find the next big reason why they don't have to participate in an adult conversations.

I just wish there wasn't so much material to choose from in building THAT narrative.

Posted by: boloboffin1 | February 18, 2010 4:59 PM

Again this much ado about nothing. Whatever books are in the WH library are the property of the American people. The person in charge of it is responsible. These right wingers are nothing more than professional haters. They aren't Repuclicans. I've no idea who they are. The Republicans that I grew up with and voted for were sensible, decent human beings who you could talk to. You may not have liked what they said but they were trustworthy. You could bet the ranch on that. These dousche baggers and right wing nut cases aren't to be trusted. If you do you're a bigger sucker than Warren Harding.

Posted by: resistancerd | February 18, 2010 6:45 PM

Obama Still Leads Possible 2012 Challengers
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds President Obama leading all of his potential 2012 Republican challengers.

He leads Mitt Romney, 45% to 43%, tops Mike Huckabee, 46% to 43%, beats Sarah Palin, 50% to 43% and crushes John Thune, 46% to 28%.

Obama's approval rating is now 48%, compared with 47% who disapprove.

Posted by: omaarsblade | February 18, 2010 7:17 PM

Deliberate actions to stir controversy by right wing nuts!

Posted by: Shingo56 | February 18, 2010 10:27 PM

I took the trouble and read

Now I know what is in the mind of people like Rob Port and comrades.
Unfortunately I am not able to understand their reasons. Can a psychiatrist help me out ?

Posted by: mixedbreed | February 19, 2010 6:41 AM

It was my understanding the photographs were not allowed on White House tours, how did this get past the Secret Service?

Posted by: tattootim1 | February 19, 2010 10:44 AM

Rob Port, an idiot in a half shell.

Posted by: hayden1 | February 19, 2010 11:04 AM

Oh my gosh, will the ridiculousness never end?

Posted by: bugged | February 19, 2010 1:29 PM

"Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books in the White House Library"

Yeah, and so what? So does every other major library in the world, including the Library of Congress.

We study, read about, watch videos of, discuss, debate and write about the brutal, repressive regime of Iran. Does that make us totalitarian Iranian dictators?

Such ignorant, straw-grasping and blatant agent provocateur tactics are unbelievable.

I guess the White House should now have a public book burning on the front lawn to prove its patriotism.

Rob Port should be ashamed, then crawl back under his tiny rock.

Apparently he didn't care to photograph all the OTHER 2,498 books in the library or to mention these on the same shelf:

"Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties"
"US Senators and Their World"
"The Invention of the American Political Parties"

Leaders and informed citizenry educate themselves about EVERYTHING.

And the last time I checked, the First Amendment gives you the right to read any book you want.

Posted by: gmblais | February 19, 2010 9:04 PM

In history we teach us the zhdanov and truman texts.
We can understand with these texts that each side have been studying the other side.
Not only we need socialists book in the white house but it must be mandatory!!!

Posted by: jeanbarre | February 20, 2010 2:11 PM

The right wing of our country is so pathetic. They are scared of their own shadow, so it's only natural that a book would send them into a clinical panic attack.

Posted by: B2O2 | February 20, 2010 2:20 PM

Boy the (R)Wing Nuts are really reaching on this one. I bet Rob Port thought he had a real scoop on this one, huh? I suppose it just shows their ignorance and the fact they really don't appreciate history. Better to only read Glen Beck and Rush Limbo. I heard the new (R) Senator from MA Scot Brown blame the horrific airplane crash incident in Austin last week on President Obama. He said the incident showed how desperate Americans have become lately. I guess he didn't read the part that the pilot has been raging against the IRS and government long before President Obama was elected. Paranoia strikes deep with the haters.

Posted by: Bucephalus1 | February 21, 2010 5:55 PM

Nicken poops like Rob Port are the kind of people who are tearing apart the fabric of our society. Photographing two books out of more than 1700 that were selected 47 years ago is great journalism especially when you don't do any research on the subject. Port is nothing but an opportunist.

Posted by: L-D-M | February 22, 2010 8:05 AM

"Rob Port should be ashamed, then crawl back under his tiny rock."

I doubt his rock is tiny. I know Rob Port.

Chances are pretty high that he needed to purchase two plane tickets to D.C. from Fargo, ND.

Posted by: wpjunk | February 22, 2010 5:09 PM

"Rob Port, an idiot in a half shell."

Wrong. Rob Port needs several shells in which to be an idiot.

Get your facts straight.

Posted by: wpjunk | February 22, 2010 5:11 PM

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