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 sayanythingblog.com.
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
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