Tuesday, March 19, 2013

800 Words: 10 Years Ago... (Part 2)

With the Republican party’s late sixties resurgence, the Democratic party lost not only the vote of Dixiecrat bigots and religious fanatics, they also lost organized labor and defense hawks. These are four demographics that were by no means the same. However tenuously, from Truman to Johnson the Democratic party stood for civil rights at home and civil rights abroad, and did everything they could to drag the more backward elements of their party into helping them build a better world. In the process, they ditched party elements that could not acclimate to a better world, but they also ditched many who could. But without a belief that America was a force for good that could help institute civil rights abroad, America lost its zeal to grant civil rights at home. The end result was two entire generations who surrendered American progress to a conservative rule that became ever more conservativeas the decades advanced.

The Vietnam War was a tragic disaster beyond reckoning, but so were the lessons learned from it. By the 1970’s, the majority of Democratic party activists saw little difference between America’s moral credibility and the Soviet Union’s. So sclerotic and unsure was the Democratic party that even Hubert Humphrey, the greatest Civil Rights hero and champion the Democratic establishment ever had, could not galvanize liberals and progressives into uniting against Richard Nixon’s potential election in 1968. All it would have taken to beat Nixon was 500,000 votes more.

The Civil Rights movement, America’s moral conscience of the early 60’s, fragmented and radicalized beyond recognition. By 1965, the brotherly love of Martin Luther King and the political intelligence of Bayard Rustin were replaced by the bellicose provocation of Stokely Carmichael, who declared that “The liberal democrats are just as racist as (Barry) Goldwater,” and the righteous anger of Malcolm X, who declared “the day of turning the other cheek to the brute beasts is over.”

Just when Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs seemed set to bring about the long-needed change - to give black people the education they needed to compete with whites and to integrate blacks into the American labor movement - the black community grew impatient with the rate of change, and all too many listened to their most incensing leaders. Had they held on to Dr. King’s dream just two years longer, The Great Society may have been achieved. But just as they fell prey to demagoguery, so could White America. Many blacks believed that Civil Rights moved too slowly, but by 1966, two-thirds of whites believed that Civil Rights were moving too quickly. The end result of Black Separatism was the Republican congress of 1967, which slashed Great Society programs to levels unrecognizable – programs that would have helped white laborers enormously as well as black ones.

The involvement in Vietnam did not help matters. Harry Truman instituted containment, and should be credited with implementing the policy that ultimately defeated the Soviet Union. But Truman went too far. The Truman Doctrine committed America to the assistance of all democratic movements in the face of Communist threat – as attractive in theory as so many progressive axioms, but just as difficult in practice. George Kennan’s original proposition of containment warned that assistance in a place where communism combines with nationalism is doomed to failure – a warning that the United States often did not heed, and with risible results. Nevertheless, it was still possible to oppose the Vietnam War with every fiber of one’s being, and still believe in the export of liberal democracy, to see the Soviet Union as a totalitarian threat to the whole world, and to believe that America’s presence in the world was still a on the whole a much greater force for good than evil.

But to a new generation of the American left, American liberalism was the problem itself. To the New Left, the very existence of The Vietnam War displayed the corruption at liberalism’s heart. The very belief in the moral superiority of America’s government to others and the belief in America’s fundamental benevolence on the world stage showed the older generation’s liberal sham for what it was. For many on the New Left, America was exhibiting all the same signs of totalitarian rule as could be found in the Soviet Union and even Nazi Germany. Many of them looked at The Vietnam War and the South, and they saw Munich and Kronstadt.  

Liberals wanted reform, The New Left wanted revolution. And because they agitated for revolution in a society that had reformed so much in so little time, they alienated the rest of America and drove two generations of voters into the arms of Conservative Republicans.

But The New Left did not agitate for Communist revolution. They agitated for a revolution of the educated. Their main organ, Students for a Democratic Society, saw organized labor as a stale remnant of the old liberal order which barred blacks and built the machinery of war. Both Richard Nixon and George Wallace seized the opportunity like vultures in a slaughterhouse. During the 1968 election, George Wallace claimed he was campaigning not only for segregation, but for the “average man in the street, the man in the textile mill, the man in the steel mill, this barber, this beautician, this policeman on his beat.”. In his convention speech, Richard Nixon declared that “Working Americans have become the forgotten Americans. In a time when national rostrums and forums are given over to shouters and protesters and demonstrators, they have become the silent Americans."

In 1972 and ‘76, the Democratic primary candidate Republicans truly feared was Henry “Scoop” Jackson, from Washington. The “Senator from Boeing” never met a defense budget increase he didn’t approve and repeatedly criticized President Eisenhower for not spending enough on the military, he supported the Vietnam War with a fervor that most Republicans could not equal, he supported the Japanese internment camps as a beginner congressman during World War II, and after the camps were disbanded, he opposed allowing Japanese Americans to return to the Pacific Coast. Scoop Jackson was also, next to Hubert Humphrey, perhaps the staunchest advocate of civil rights in the mid-century Senate. He helped create Medicare, anti-poverty spending, and environmental protections. He was at the forefront of the fight to allow Soviet Citizens to emigrate from the USSR, and few if any senators were as supportive of organized labor. Lastly, he was one of the few senators to vocally oppose Joseph McCarthy at the height of the Red Scare.

Scoop Jackson’s contradictions made him the ultimate embodiment of America’s mid-century folly. He was a tax-and-spend liberal who was equally brutal when fighting enemy combatants abroad and poverty at home. Like Truman, he was too idealistic about war to be a truly great president, but he’d have been miles better than either Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter – and he was more likely than any other Democrat to win two terms.

Jackson’s presidential campaigns were positively bathed in patriotism’s rhetoric. It was a last-ditch attempt to reclaim an unabashedly pro-America worldview for Democrats. When he declared his candidacy, he said that he was “fed up with people running down America. This is not a guilty, imperialistic, and oppressive society. This is not a sick society. This is a great country… that is conscious of its wrongs and is capable of correcting them.” The contradictions continued throughout the campaign, he was unabashedly pro-labor, he believed in national health care. He also voiced vehement opposition to using busing as a means to desegregate schools, and was the only Democratic candidate of his time who brought up escalating crime rates as an issue. By the end of the ‘72 campaign, Scoop Jackson, the civil rights lion, was denounced as a racist.

Scoop Jackson’s campaign assistant was a young Democrat named Richard Perle. Other young Democrats who worked for him included Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Charles Horner, and Ben Wattenberg. The politicians who’ve cited Senator Jackson as an influence include Joe Lieberman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jane Harman, and R. James Woolsey.

Scoop Jackson is the patron saint of neo-conservatism. And because the Democratic party chose defeat rather than the victory of an ideologically compromised candidate, the neoconservatives of Scoop Jackson’s office decamped to the Republican side. These ‘Scoop Jackson Democrats’ learned a foully wrong lesson. Because of the Democratic party’s insistence on ideological purity, the Jackson Democrats saw their party as weak and mendacious. And because their hero was spurned for being too strong, they decamped to the American party which made a religion of strength. Their philosophy was mid-twentieth century American liberalism perverted into a tool to aid the goals of the delusional  and corrupt. By decamping, most of these neoconservatives demonstrated neither Jackson’s commitment to social progress nor his realism when it came to dealing with true conservatives.  When Ronald Reagan approached Jackson for a presidential endorsement in exchange for a cabinet post, Jackson refused: “My mind is still with The New Deal.”

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