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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: October 2008

Will the Real Barack Obama Stand Up?

October 30th, 2008 - 11:11 am

As we reach the final days before the election, there has been much speculation about what Barack Obama actually stands for. Is he a closet radical, hiding his true agenda under a facade of moderation and pragmatism? Or is he a centrist, a man who opportunistically used radical connections to start his political ascent, only to ditch them when he got to real political power and influence?

Many analysts have already commented and given their answers. At NRO, Stanley Kurtz, who has done yeoman work uncovering Obama’s past in Chicago, makes the case that Obama was a solid radical of the far Left. On Frontpagemag.com, my friend David Horowitz notes that “for his entire adult life, Obama’s closest political allies have been pro-Soviet progressives like state senator Alice Palmer who chose Obama as the politically appropriate figure whom she chose to inherit her state senate seat; or anti-American radicals like Bill Ayers,” and of course, others like Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Horowitz concludes that Obama is “a life-long radical posing as a political liberal to win the trust of a larger constituency.”

On the other hand, the MSM media has echoed Obama’s narrative that he is a mainstream centrist figure on economic policy, foreign policy and domestic policy.  Key advisors to his campaign reflect this stance and are doing their best to convince voters that their positions reflect those of candidate Obama.  Dennis Ross, a man whose defense of Israel and concern for its future is well known, is a major advisor on the Middle East. In the past few days, Ross has returned to Florida to campaign before the Jewish community. Apparently the revelations about the refusal of the Los Angeles Times to release the video they hold about Obama’s presence at and participation in the going away party for the Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi has aroused doubts about Obama’s commitment to Israel among older Jewish voters.  Ross is now there to reassure Florida’s Jews about Obama’s love for Israel and shore up their vote.  

The question, then, is who is the real Obama? What will he do when he governs?  Will he  govern from the Center, using these same advisors and refusing to move the nation to the Left. But if his real views are those of the Chicago Obama, the man who made the now famous radio interview arguing for redistribution of wealth as a valid legislative goal, will he and the  Democratic majority in both houses of Congress pass the most extreme legislative agenda  that goes way beyond LBJ’s Great Society?

I frankly do not know which Obama will turn up. We will only learn that soon after his inauguration. I do not, however, hold any doubts as to what he once believed.  Most people have not noticed this, but in a few interviews, Obama has said that in the 1980′s, he attended the Socialist Scholars Conferences held yearly at Cooper Union. That sounds like a scholarly assembly of intellectuals who approach their fields from a socialist perspective. Its innocuous name, however, is more than misleading.

I know this, because I was a founder of the original Socialist Scholars Conference, a group started in the 70′s by actual Marxist and socialist scholars, that discussed intellectual issues. The group held a few meetings, and it soon faded into oblivion. A decade later, its name was taken over by a new group that held meetings that were anything but scholarly. They were, in fact, an assembly of left-wing activists from extreme far Left to moderate Left, with panels galore on political issues and activism, without much scholarship of any kind being discussed. In 1983, for example, after my book on the Rosenberg case came out, they convened a panel to attack it from various perspectives- a panel to which I was not asked to participate or given any chance to answer the slanders presented to the audience.  This was not an example of how scholars discuss serious and controversial works. There were also sessions attacking Israel, with no panels defending the Jewish state. I could continue, but the point is clear. I have often wondered which panels Obama attended, and what he got out of the meetings? No one has bothered to ask him.

 

Joe Klein “Grills” Obama

October 29th, 2008 - 3:11 pm

In the November issue of Commentary, Peter Wehner, former Director of the Office of Strategic Services in the Bush White House, does a brilliant job dissecting how members of the MSM and liberal politicians have been wrong about the surge in Iraq.  Of particular interest is Wehner’s discussion of Barack Obama’s views, from his early opposition to his post-surge reluctance to admit that the strategy had worked. When it was first announced, Obama predicted that it would increase sectarian violence, and his running mate Joe Biden said that it was a “tragic mistake.”

In November of 2007, two months after General David Patraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had testified in Washington, Obama denied the accuracy of their report to Congress, and argued that “not only have we not seen improvements, but we’re actually worsening, potentially a situation there.” When the two men returned to the Hill in April, reporting that security in Iraq was “significantly better than it was 15 months ago,” Obama still claimed  that “the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true.” Finally, while acknowledging that the surge had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” he told ABC TV reporter Terry Moran that knowing what he now knew, he would still not have supported it.

Senator Obama’s contradictory assertions should raise questions if he is ready to be Commander-in-chief .  As Mr. Wehner writes, not only did Obama and others deny American progress, “they actively promoted an alternative policy of withdrawal and retreat that would have made an American defeat, and a jihadist and Iranian victory, inevitable.”

This is certainly a harsh judgment. But as to whether or not Senator Obama has learned anything, one can turn to Joe Klein’s article and interview with Obama in the current issue of Time, which announces on its front cover “Exclusive: Joe Klein Grills Obama.”  (Any “grilling” of Obama has gone only in the magazine editor’s head) When Obama met with General Petraeus in Iraq, Klein reports, the General pulled out all the stops and made the “strongest possible case against” a timetable for a 16 month withdrawal.”  Klein observed that Obama could have thanked Petraeus and promised to take his views under advisement, or he could have told him what he really thought.   Klein was thrilled that Obama, who the reporter thinks has been too cautious, “chose to speak his mind.”

According to Klein, Obama ended his meeting with Petraeus by “laying down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war-an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly)-Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.”

It does not seem to occur to Joe Klein that perhaps President Bush found Petraeus’ argument and path to be correct, and gave it his full approval. For that, our nation should be thankful. It also does not seem to occur to Klein that McCain too understands why it was right to accept Petraeaus’ counsel, and is not a case of “hero worship.” These two comments reflect only on Joe Klein’s very bad judgment and reveals how his hostility to the McCain campaign and anger at George W. Bush interferes with his own ability to think rationally.

What if Obama and Petraeus had been discussing the case for the surge, rather than the issue of a timetable for withdrawal? Rather than listen to the General’s advice, would he have stuck to his own ill considered opposition to the surge, and vetoed the General’s suggestions?

To be fair, in Obama’s actual answer to Klein, he says that Petraeus “cares about facts and cares about the reality on the ground” and does not come at his policy from “an ideological predisposition.” That, he tells Klein, is “one of the reasons why he’s been successful in moving the ball forward in Iraq.” If this is so why does not Barack Obama say bluntly that he was wrong, and that Petraeus was right?  And would he be willing to listen to Petraeus’ advice in the future?

In the hard choices facing the next President in dealing with the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, Barack Obama’s contradictory musings and inexperience are grounds for concern.

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Left Wing Journalists Celebrate Themselves

October 28th, 2008 - 1:41 pm

There are plenty of journalism awards- the most prestigious, of course- being the Pulitzer Prize. It seems that almost every major institution feels the need to have its own, as if there are not enough already to honor journalists employed by the MSM.

The latest, however, is a new one announced by the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University.  The Foundation announced its award last July, but I only became aware of it when the VOA News Blog featured it on its website on Oct.23rd. Its first recipient is John Walcott, Bureau Chief of the McClatchy Company, John Walcott, whose reporters for this news company produced, as the VOA site put it, “dozens of stories that, virtually alone among news organizations, challenged Bush administration claims about the threat posed by Baghdad.” Or as the Nieman Watchdog site explained, Walcott and his team “refuted the Bush administration’s claims about the need for war and exposed the serious reservations many intelligence, Foreign Service and military officers had about the rush to invade Iraq.”

Put aside what many commentators have noted, most recently Robert Kagan, that not only U.S. but British and French intelligence, as well as the stance of Saddam Hussein himself, convinced the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to use, and that sanctions by the UN were not working. Also put aside that the consensus among Democrats, including the outgoing President Bill Clinton, was that Iraq was a serious threat, and that his removal was a dire necessity. Remember that the major case for invasion was made by the Clinton administration advisor Ken Pollock, who spelled out the case in the strongest terms in his 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

The name of the award: The I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. Those of the new generation who might never have heard of Stone should realize that in the late Stone’s heyday, he was a virtual pariah; a left-wing journalist looked on askance by a then patriotic Cold War media. As time passed, and a new generation responded with horror to the Vietnam War, Stone’s star began to shine. Before the era came to an end, Stone had become an icon, a symbol of journalistic  integrity who most observers now believed had always been prescient and right. Thus the Nieman Foundation calls the award as much a tribute to “the spirit of I.F.Stone,” who showed in his own day- the 1940′s to 1971- “independence, integrity and courage.”

The now accepted view of Stone, as The New York Times put it, was that he used his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, “to oppose McCarthyism, racism, the nuclear arms race, American military involvement in Vietnam and other issues he regarded as stains on democracy.” Stone, in other words, has become the no.1 journalist hero of the American Left.

The only problem is that this judgment about Stone is totally false. There is much to learn from Stone’s work, but it is not what his avid supporters think it is. His most well known “accomplishment” is his own exploration of the Korean War. In 1951, in a book that if one reads now he will have the reaction of cringing, was titled The Hidden History of the Korean War. Therein he argued that Sygman Rhee, South Korea’s authoritarian ruler, “deliberately provoked” an attack  by Communist North Korea, with “secret support from Chiang kai-shek and some elements of the U.S. Government.” That war was, to Stone, an American aggression against an indigenous revolutionary government. His book was a conspiracy theory argument par excellence, on accord with those today about American causation of the 9/11 attack.

His greatest weakness, however, was his longstanding support and whitewashing of Stalin’s tyrannical regime in the Soviet Union. Ignoring reports in the 1930′s about the existence of a secret gulag as well as how Stalin framed up those in the great purge trials that began in those years, Stone believed the accurate facts about Stalin’s regime were fabrications meant to forestall the socialist future. In August 1939, Stone signed a letter to the Nation  accusing the anti-Communist socialist Sidney Hook of maligning the Soviet Union when Hook had compared Stalin and Hitler. A week later, the world learned of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which united the two totalitarian leaders and revealed the accuracy of Sidney Hook’s judgment.

Stone’s sycophancy is now known to have been so blatant that even a reviewer in our own day’s Nation, film critic John Powers, wrote that “Stone’s true failing was his tardiness ing rasping the full monstrosity of actually existing Commuism, especially Stalinism.” Stone’s “tiger eyes,” Powers wrote, “that could spot the threat to liberty in the footnotes of a Congressional report couldn’t clearly see the meaning of show trials, slave labor, and class-based mass murder.”  Powers correctly concluded that Stone, “faced with one of the most tyrannical political regimes of his lifetime, got things so badly wrong that another man might have died questioning his own judgment.”

Yes, this is the journalist in whose name the Nieman Foundation is now going to present an annual award. And there is much more. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence, corroborated by Venona decrypts and KGB files,that using the code name “Blin,” or pancake, that Stone at one time had actually been in the pay of the KGB in 1935, and had been reapproached by the Soviet secret police to work for them again in 1944.

Stone, in other words, had been at least a Soviet dupe for a large portion of his career. It was not until 1956, and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, that he had begun to have second thoughts. Then he wrote, shocking many of his pro-Soviet readers, that the USSR was “not a good society and it is not led by honest men.” If it was a worker’s paradise, it was only “for a rather stupid type of Communist Party member.” By then, his fellow-traveling days were over. Yet, he continued to believe that American democratic capitalism was doomed and that socialism was the only future for his own country.

And while he was critical of the Soviets, he maintained a belief in the moral equivalence of the two super-powers. The Soviet empire in Eastern Europe was to him the same as the American interest in Latin America. He opposed the war in Vietnam, but foolishly called Ho Chi Minh “a very human man” and a leader who wanted a “democratic state.”  Even then, he must have known how Ho had slaughtered thousands of dissident Marxist followers of Trotsky in his own country. He knew that conservatives called those with illusions about the socialist states “dupes.” But, he reasoned, “events have also shown that in the long run the dupes proved less misleading than the dopes.”

Of course they had not, and his own explanation reveals the constancy of Stone’s own illusions. The last regime he thought would fulfill his hopes was none other than Castro’s Cuba.

One might well conclude, upon evaluating I.F.Stone’s entire record, that his journalism should hardly serve as a guide for what journalists should aspire to today. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the Nieman Foundation would give the reward named after Stone to a journalistic team whose reports were meant to turn the public against the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

At least, the public should know the truth about Stone, and look with a slightly jaundiced eye about the worthiness of those who follow in his footsteps and receive this award.

What Did Obama Mean in 2001?

October 27th, 2008 - 1:19 pm

You already know from posts on PJM by Tom Blumer and Roger Kimball about Barack Obama’s 2001 radio interview on WBEZ, a Chicago PBS station. Blumer’s post publishes the entire broadcast comments by Obama on the issue of redistribution of wealth, but those who want to listen to Obama’s actual interview can find it here.  

 

If there is any doubt that Obama at one time believed in an essentially socialist economic agenda, the proof is here. On TNR.com, John B. Judis offered a video defining socialism, and argued intelligently that Obama’s belief in a progressive income tax system is not socialism. I think Judis is correct in his argument; a progressive income tax has long been a staple of our modern mixed economy. But I wonder what Judis would think about Obama’s interview, in which he argues that redistribution of wealth  is a legitimate legislative goal necessary to attain “political and economic justice in this society?”

 

Bill Whittle has a first rate analysis of the meaning of Obama’s words at National Review’s website. They mean, he writes, that Obama does not favor “creation of wealth and certainly not the creation of opportunity, but simply taking money from the successful and hard-working and distributing it to those whom the government decides ‘deserve’ it.”  Whittle terms this “garden-variety socialism.” Anyone has a right to espouse such policies, but it now is legitimate to ask Barack Obama whether he once subscribed to that view, whether or not he has abandoned it, or whether he still favors it.  One might also inquire from Obama whether he believes, as he implied in the radio show, that it was unfortunate that even the Warren court was not more radical, and that the constraints put in the Constitution by the Founding Fathers might have been wrong.

 

Given  all the above is clear, one must simply look in wonder at the Obama spin machine and how it is dealing with this.  The first shot was offered by Andrew Sullivan, who writes on his Atlantic blog that Matt Drudge, who first posted the Obama interview, distorted its meaning by writing the headline: “2001 Obama: Tragedy That ‘Redistribution of Wealth’ Not Pursued by Supreme Court.” According to Sullivan, Obama was only “making a case against using courts to implement broad social goals- which is, last time I checked, the conservative position.”  He was therefore only “arguing that the Constitution protects negative liberties and that the civil rights movement was too court-focused to make any difference in addressing income inequality, as opposed to formal constitutional rights.” Hence Obama was simply making a conservative case about “the limits of judicial activism.”

 

Sullivan too offers his readers the full Obama text, to show that he is not taking words out of context. That only makes one question whether Sullivan himself has carefully read what Obama had said. Clearly, at least to this reader- as well as most others who have read it- Obama is bemoaning the fact that the Court has no authority to enact redistributive economic policies. Therefore, it is his hope that they be achieved through “political and community organizing on the ground” that will enable them to “put together the actual coalitions of power” that will then “bring about redistributive change.”

 

Obama’s words are important because they reveal his actual policy prescriptions, not because he has offered a conservative position on judicial activism.  For some time now Sullivan has joined the ranks of those who have been seduced by Obama. But can’t he come up with a better argument than he has in his blog today?

Good Advice from the MSM

October 24th, 2008 - 10:54 am

 

Kudos to Newsweek

 

Yes, you’re not reading this incorrectly. For once, a major newsweekly- one of the most representative of the much despised MSM-gets it right, and gives us serious food for thought. Most of the Oct.27th issue is devoted to a series of articles that provide valuable historical perspective on the Presidential candidates and the election.

             Most impressive is the lead article by the magazine’s editor, Jon Meacham.  In “America the Conservative,” Meacham warns Barack Obama to keep in mind, as his introductory heading puts it, that “America remains a center-right nation,” which he calls a “fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril.” If a Democratic President does not move further right than he intended, he warns, they, like LBJ and others, end up paying “for their continued liberalism at the polls.”  Using polling data as well as examination of the records of past Administrations from Johnson through Reagan, Meacham reminds his readers that most Americans are more conservative than liberal. This fact is especially true when we compare the United States to European social-democracies, although he acknowledges that in the current crisis, we are in for a new stimulus package and increased governmental spending.

       For those who fear a President Obama is a closet socialist, Meacham points out that like most conservatives, Obama is against gay marriage, says he supports tax cuts, proudly proclaims his Christianity, and supports veterans’ benefits. The chances, he suggests, is that as President, he will govern right-of-center.  To succeed, he cautions, any President has to appreciate our “nation’s intrinsic tendency toward conservatism.”  Unlike other journalists who present negative caricatures of conservatives, he writes that to be conservative is not “necessarily to be racist, or retrograde, or close-minded.”  He takes into account the views of our best historians, including the late Richard Hofstadter and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., as well as new younger historians such as Rick Perlstein, who tells Meacham that he thinks we are now living among a generation that is progressive, but subject to a center-right political system.

             So, Meacham cautions a new Democratic Congress not to overreach, leaving aside the issue of whether or not a President Obama will have the will and toughness to stand against his filibuster proof Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

             Meacham is answered in turn by the magazine’s Jonathan Alter, who responds in “We’re Heading Left Once Again,” that America is becoming a center-left nation. He rests his case on the vast dissatisfaction with the past eight years of the Bush Administration. Alter believes that given this context, Obama could rewrite the American social contract. But even he cautions that Obama not given into what he calls “the dumb left” that seeks capitulation to left-wing interest groups, since he realizes that even those who want a Left turn are not “ACORN activists.” What Alter advocates is a slow turn towards an America akin more to some of the European social-democratic states. He does not take into account what is widely understood- that many of these countries have a social fabric that is quickly unraveling, and that their outmoded political and economic arrangements are bringing many of them quickly to bankruptcy.  He ends with his cry of hope for America: “Leftward ho!”

            Finally, the brilliant Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who wrote perhaps the best book on the Reagan Presidency to appear this year, offers “A Tale of Two Fine Roosevelts.”  Wilentz advises that Barack Obama look to one of John McCain’s heroes, the Progressive era President, Theodore Roosevelt.  TR, who once said that “a Progressive is a conservative who sets his face towards the future,” acted much like his modern day counterparts when in the 1907 bust, when he accused business of engaging in “speculation, corruption and fraud” and masqueraded their action in words about economic freedom and individualism.  And later, he reminds us, FDR denounced those whose remedies were “tinctured by the fact that they can make huge profits from the lending of money and the marketing of securities.”

             Yes, Wilentz is an avowed liberal historian, considered by many to be our contemporary successor to Schlesinger Jr. And Wilentz is right to reminds readers that his mentor’s observation that FDR’s goal was to “save capitalism from the capitalists” holds true. He is astute to note that if “left unchecked, the system could self-destruct.” Indeed, had FDR not acted, demagogues like Huey Long, Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald L.K. Smith and others, and revolutionaries like the American Communists, were waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces.

             A lot of American conservatives see FDR as the original 20th Century villain. Here, a good antidote to that view comes from Conrad Black, who recently wrote his own massive history of the Roosevelt Presidency.  In “Why the Right Should Leave FDR Alone,” appearing in TheDailyBeast.com,     Black defends FDR from the assault of supply-side economists who argue that Roosevelt prolonged the Great Depression. Black reminds us of how dire things were when he took office, and how Herbert Hoover’s policies of high taxes, high tariffs and a shrunken money supply were sinking America to the bottom.  FDR saved the day, by guaranteeing bank deposits, refinanced residential and farm mortgages, tolerated cartels and collective bargaining with unions to raise prices and wages, increased the money supply, and departed the gold standard.  He created the Securities and Exchange Commission and Social Security—and generally succeeded. Unemployment, he notes, declined  from 33 per cent when he took office to half of one per cent when he died 12  years later. “The American loony right,” Black warns, “should aim their spitballs elsewhere” at more deserving targets than FDR.

             Wilentz, in his article, calls on Obama to adjust swiftly to new realities if he seeks to update FDR’s legacy.  Obama, he notes, has claimed to be postpartisan. Wilentz calls on Obama to master transactional politics rather than transformational posturing, and take his lead from how both Roosevelts acted when they held office. The current crisis has given him the lead. Yet his cool demeanor means that he will not be able to avoid political conflict—this time with his own Democratic majority.  Whether or not he has the gumption and the will to do just that, we will know after mid January.
           

 

When Obama Wins

October 23rd, 2008 - 12:50 pm

Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Gerson raises the question of whether Barack Obama is a closet radical, or a moderate political figure who “embraced, then discarded, the leftism of South Chicago in pursuit of a restless ambition? There is evidence for both views.”  Certainly, Obama has already moved towards the center, taking positions on gun control, wiretapping, the death penalty, and defense of strong military action when necessary that has led elements on the Left to already condemn him for selling out.

So taking the best case scenario, let us for the moment take the view that at present and in his heart, Obama is devoted to reconciling opposites, and governing from the political center. He might, as Gerson puts it, concentrate when President on “achievable goals, run by seasoned, reasonable professionals, reaching out to Republicans in the new Cabinet and avoiding culture war battles when possible.”

The question is the context of his victory. Do the Republicans manage to keep enough seats in Congress to prevent that magical number which gives the Democrats a filibuster proof majority? If Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is successful, the Democrats will indeed achieve that end, and they will have the power and the will to enact the most leftwing legislation on various issues that we have seen since the days of the Great Society under LBJ. Their most radical stalwarts, like Senator Bernie Sanders in Vermont and possibly even joined by newcomers like or Al Franken of Minnesota (who is on the verge of winning) would be pressing hard for the most extreme, or in their eyes forward looking, programs possible.

Gerson thinks that Obama might fight their ability to inflict such “self-destructive tendencies of his own party.” I’m not so sure. For an indication of what kind of things they have mind, two articles in the Oct.27th issue of The Nation, the flagship publication of the American Left, give us solid examples of their hopes. Their goal, Washington correspondent John Nichols writes, is to at least gain 57 Senate seats and “thus ending the need to rely on the McCain backing Joe Lieberman and a handful of hypercautious Southern and Western senators to maintain a majority.” With that number, he posits they could reach out to remaining GOP moderates like Arlen Spector and Richard Lugar to break deadlocks and to gain freedom in making judicial appointments.

But Nichols’ main point is this: “A Democratic caucus that does not have to bow to its most conservative members will be freer to press Obama to take progressive positions, especially when it comes to trade and fiscal policy, in which this year’s Democratic candidates tend to respond more to the needs of workers, farmers, consumers and the environment than to the whims of Wall Street.” He will moreover need a “cooperative Senate” to implement his own promised measures on healthcare, housing and education. Their goal: not only to elect Obama but to provide him as President with a “governing majority that makes the promise of change much more than a rhetorical flourish.

We know what The Nation editors mean by “progressive” positions-revision of NAFTA and institution of protectionist trade policies, combined with massive government spending on new entitlements at home. Their first editorial makes this more than clear. “The idea that government should cut back spending during a recession,” they argue, “is dangerous folly.” There is but one path to take: “The only way to relieve economic suffering…is for the federal government to step in and bolster demand by spending money. Lots of it.” It would go for extended unemployment insurance, universal health care, and “large-scale social programs and infrastructure,” along with, of course, repeal of the Bush tax cuts.

For a long time, Democrats had been arguing that when Clinton was President, he left his office with a large surplus and a giant deficit reduction. They were proud of that. Now they are arguing that deficits do not matter, and the key is more spending, whatever the cost to our children’s future.

Their second editorial, written for them by Howard Zinn (of A People’s History of the United States fame) is so bizarre I had to read his words twice to believe what I had read. Zinn’s model is FDR’s New Deal, when Roosevelt put the nation to work with the CCC, the PWA, the WPA and passed new legislation including the creation of Social Security. The Left has to push for now carrying it further, and press for “free healthcare for all, administered by the government, paid for from our Treasury, bypassing the insurance companies and the other privateers of the health industry. All that will take more than $700 billion.” (my emphasis.)

Of course, we already have allocated that very amount for the bailout of our financial institutions, so Zinn is talking about an additional or greater amount. Where, you might wonder, would that come from? Alright, you know what’s coming. Take a guess. You got it: “The money is there: in the $600 billion for the military budget, once we decide we will not be a warmaking nation anymore.” (my emphasis.) You see, the assumption of Zinn and the magazine’s editors, obviously, is that the United States faces no threats, and we merely have to dismantle our entire military budget! It’s that simple. Why didn’t we think of that before?

Finally, we have yet one more source for these funds, that will extend the New Deal to a socialism for the 21st Century: “the bloated bank accounts of the super-rich…by taxing vigorously their income and their wealth.” Zinn does not define for us what he and the magazine’s editors define as the amount to certify one as super-rich. Perhaps, while we’re waiting, Mr. Zinn could contribute his own enormous royalties for his international best seller and the movie rights and start us off first, before the rest of us are taxed.

On a more practical level, Zinn calls for Obama to distance himself from the “fossilized” old line Democrats, thereby giving his agenda for change real meaning. And if he does not, pursuing the kind of agenda Michael Gerson hopes for, the “people’s” goal is clear: “to raise a shout that will …compel the politicians to listen.” The Nation has given us all warning.

Life on the Upper Left Side

October 22nd, 2008 - 7:06 am

 

 

       Many of you have seen the video of what happened when some naïve or perhaps brave McCain volunteers decided to march, hold signs and give out leaflets for their candidate during the annual Upper West Side Street fair in Manhattan.  The fair takes place each Fall between 65th Street and 96th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. The fair, one of Manhattan’s largest, is a family event, and everyone regularly goes if the weather is nice.  It offers clothing bargains, home-made items, food, and on two stages at each end, an array of bands and other entertainment. 

        Each year, candidates or their supporters regularly appear and make their appeal for  votes. I recall Ed Koch himself marching with a few people when he was running for Mayor. Most people go and shake a candidate’s hand, or ignore them. After all, one does not go there to engage in political action.  But the Upper West Side is what Tom Hayden once called “one of the liberated zones in America,” putting it alongside Berkeley, California and Madison, Wisconsin as safe havens for the Left. Virtually everyone who lives in what once was an eclectic and diverse neighborhood, now more than ever gentrified and inhabited by wealthy lawyers and account executives,  see themselves as anywhere from the liberal side of the political spectrum to the far Left.

 So when Obama supporters saw the little band marching on their turf, they erupted in anger.  You might think that this was the pro-Nazis parade marching through Skokie Illinois.  And in fact one of these Upper West Side Liberals yelled “Nazis” at the McCain volunteers as they passed by. Others chanted “McCain is a lying pig;” “You have no brains,” and some of these intellectuals held up their middle finger and booed in unison as the campaign workers passed . Many of them, I suspect, are on the faculties of the City University of New York, New York University, Columbia University, Fordham University, and other institutions of higher education whose faculty members almost all choose this neighborhood as their home.

       What they have revealed is not that they oppose John McCain- we knew that already-but that their dedication to civil liberties- a cause they extol at length when they charge the Bush Administration with severe violations of it- is not very deep. At the very least, they still hold to the old 60′s Marcusean dictum that those they deem fascists do not have the right to speak.  These liberties  are reserved for people having the correct opinions and who have the people’s true interests at heart; ie, themselves.

       I lived in that neighborhood from 1970 to 1992, when I moved with my family to the Washington  DC area so I was not too surprised to see the video of what transpired there.  Living in “a liberated zone” can feel oppressive if you differ from what the late educator and art critic Harold Rosenberg called the “herd of independent minds.”

THE REAL CAMPAIGN SMEARS

       Just as I was about to  publish the above, I was alerted to an important op-ed that appears in The Daily News written by James Kirchick, an Assistant Editor at The New Republic. Kirchick brilliantly raises the issue of smears. He begins by raising what many others saw as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strange assertion that leading Republicans have suggested that Barcak Cobama is a Muslim and a terrorist.  He goes on to rveal how scores of liberal writers, some quite prominent, have regularly made their own equivalent smears against John McCain, without anyone calling them to the carpet. His main point: “If these fringe (and most of them are hardly fringe) Individuals don’t speak for American liberalism write large…then the stray hecklers at McCain-Palin rallies cannot represent American conservatism. By imputing the crazy views of a few right-wing extremists to all conservatives, Obama supporters cut off legitimate concerns about their  candidate’s positions and qualifications for office.”

        I also should note that Mr. Kirchick writes for and is an editor at The New Republic. As long as writers like Mr. Kirchick appear in its pages, it is more than foolish to write this journal of opinion off as a source that is not worthy to read and learn from.

The Real Threat Posed by Bill Ayers

October 20th, 2008 - 6:14 pm

Paul Berman, one of the most influential political intellectuals writing today, has penned a searing indictment of former Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. His essay is no surprise. Berman was the first activist/writer to tie SDS’s drift towards Leninism with its cadre’s decision at the Port Huron conference to admit to its ranks representatives of the American Communist Party. At its very start, SDS took the pose of “no enemies on the Left.” Writing at TheDailyBeast.com, Tina’s Brown’s new website, Berman correctly calls Ayers “the stupidest man in America” who “has learned nothing” since the 1960′s when he sought to launch guerrilla warfare against the United States through his now well-known bombing campaign.

Berman continues to note that Obama “is saddled with Ayers” not only because of his past associations with him, but because of what Berman calls “a culture of mendacity on the far left in America, …that allows Ayers to go on proclaiming his own nobility and ideals, quite as if his own principles were those of any liberal-minded person, which they are not.” Berman is rightfully angry that over 3000 people have now signed a petition of support to Ayers, that depicts the unrepentant terrorist as a victim of McCarthyite slander. The petition’s writers are furious that Ayers has been described as a “lunatic leftist.” As Berman writes, “if this phrase does not apply to Ayers, it applies to no one.”

It is a great shock to find that among those who signed the support Ayers petition are two editors of the social democratic magazine Dissent, educator Debbie Meier and the journal’s co-editor, Mitch Cohen. Meier signed, she explains, because her own conversations with him convinced her that Ayers “has fundamentally changed his mind” since his Weatherman days. Either Meier is disingenuous, or she has failed to read most of his recent political statements.

Their signatures are especially disheartening because the magazine, founded by the late Irving Howe in the 1950s, was once the stalwart of anti-Communist socialism as well as an opponent of the emerging New Left’s anarchism and proto-communism. Back then, Howe wrote a seminal and later suppressed essay, “New Styles in Leftism,” in which he had the honor being the very first figure on the Left to attack head on the new youthful leftists and their illusions. Years before Ayers even conceived of breaking away from SDS and founding the Weathermen, Howe pointed to the new “kamikaze radicalism, …white Malcolmism,” that he saw emerging. This New Left, he noted, castigated everything American, and thought that any talk “about Communist totalitarianism were simply…a bogey to frighten infants.”

This group according to Howe, was neo-Stalinist, authoritarian at its core, espoused black nationalism and racism, favored guerrilla warfare, and rejected the intellectual heritage of the West and a commitment to democracy. They had a “vicarious indulgence in violence,” Howe wrote, and even when merely theoretical, was still “all the more irresponsible.”

Howe might just as well have been talking about Bill Ayers today, which is why it is such a shock that some of his old associates now sing Ayers’ praises. On these points, Berman stands true to Howe’s old argument. But even Berman, who so accurately describes Ayers’ real legacy, begins by calling Ayers “a good and decent educator” whose old pre-school center in Manhattan was “first-rate,” and whose post Weather Underground educational work as a professor has been carried out with “admirable sincerity and skill.” The old Ayers:bad- the educator Ayers:good. The disjunction between proclaiming Ayers still stupid and yet a good educator today does not seem to strike Berman as strange.

Berman’s misjudgment of Ayers goes to the heart of the actual threat posed by him today. It is not that 40 years ago he was a terrorist, and that Barack Obama still associates with him. Even if Obama did not know about Ayers’ past as he now asserts, a response that is actually more than difficult to believe, he did know- and did fund through the Annenberg Challenge, Ayers’ extremely radical educational projects. All one has to do is read the many articles and critiques of Ayers written by Sol Stern for The City Journal and The Wall Street Journal,to see what Ayers’ “educational” work is all about.

Stern points out, rather than being a school reformer, Ayers is “a school destroyer” who hopes “for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism.” Rather than see public schools as a way of assimilating children, especially immigrants, into a common civic and democratic culture, Ayers sees education as the mechanism to destroy “capitalist hegemony.” One has only to look at the course outline for his UIC course on Urban Education: “Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression- we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things…We cannot be child advocates…in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine.”

Stern documents Ayers’ favored curriculum elsewhere. Here he cites sections of books Ayers and Maxine Greene have edited on social justice teaching, published by Teachers College Press. Education schools are rushing to implement such a curriculum. Science, for example, is heralded as a medium that is essentially a “political activity” that can be used to transform “institutional and interpersonal power structures” that play a role in student’s lives. Math too has to be politicized. One must teach percentages and fractions by using charts of income distribution, to show students how wealth is concentrated at the top in America and benefits mainly the superrich. One has to show, for example, how military budgets for Iraq deprive Americans of their fair share of the nation’s resources.(They do not have to go into history; there the option for the radical educator is simple: assign the works of Howard Zinn.)

All these themes appear in Ayers most recent writings. In the newspaper Revolution, the organ of The Revolutionary Communist Party USA, a split off from the old SDS, Ayers defines the progressive education he advocates as an education that works to promote student opposition to “the most reactionary cabal of ideologues” that control the federal government and the media. To create a genuine democratic education, teachers have to work to overturn the repressive, racist and imperialist system that he believes is the United States. Education cannot be separated from the politics of “social justice and liberation,” Ayers writes, since urban classrooms were at present merely preparing students “for prison, for unemployment and for war.” Even if Republicans lose the White House, Ayers argues that the ruling class will remain irritated by education- the one area that they cannot control. To keep education out of their hands, he argues that one has to fight to stop proposals favoring charter schools and vouchers. Ayers does not seem to realize, or care, that such reforms gain access to good education for precisely the poor whose interests he claims to represent.

Ayers, it seems, is still searching for a Latin American revolutionary hero to carry on Fidel’s cause.In a speech he delivered at Hugo Chavez’s side in Venezuela in 2006. Ayers sounded like he was reliving those glory days of the Cuban revolution. Standing by Chavez’s side, he ended with “Viva Presidente Chavez!Viva La Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta La Victoria Siempre!” You get the idea.Education, he told the assembled revolutionaries, “is the motor-force of revolution,” and Venezuela shows the path of how “to overcome the failings of capitalist education.” If anyone has any doubt about how education has replaced bomb-throwing as the way to attain his old goals, reading Bill Ayers relieves one of all doubt. Against the words of those he calls “everyday liberals” and other “radicals and armchair intellectuals,” in Venezuela Ayers has found the new revolutionary paradise. Echoing Hellen Keller in the 1920′s, Ayers endorses her cry: “Let us try revolution and see what it will do now.” Venezuela, he assures us, proves that “the failings of capitalist schooling can be resisted and overcome.”

To call Bill Ayers an educational reformer, in other words, is reminiscent of the 1950′s, when old China hands called Mao “an agrarian reformer.” Yet, the Left- even some of the so-called moderate Left- continues to uphold Bill Ayers as a model. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank penned a column “My Friend Bill Ayers.” Frank, like Obama, says that he too became Ayers’ friend when he met him in the neighborhood. Trust Mr. Frank, who also knows what’s wrong with Kansas, where regular people vote against their economic interests by regularly supporting those reactionary Republicans. And trust him about Bill Ayers, whom he calls “a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself.” Perhaps Frank is whom Paul Berman was thinking when he talks of “respectable” people who sing Ayers’ phrases. Not only is Ayers a good man, Frank writes, he should be “an honorary Eagle Scout.” Doesn’t Frank realize that Bill Ayers probably perceives the Boy Scouts as a homophobic and imperialist organization? After all, when the revolution comes, they would not be in the streets with Ayers’ cadre, but would probably be supporting the police and trying to pick up the nails the Ayers group would be throwing on the streets to break police car tires.

Whatever the actual exact nature of a tie between Obama and Bill Ayers there is; we can at least now be thankful for one thing. In the last debate, Obama promised that in his administration, he would not be taking advice from or consulting with Bill Ayers. Without this publicity, for all one knows, he might have considered appointing Ayers Secretary of Education. One might recall that Bill Clinton almost gave that position in his first administration to Johnetta Cole, only to pull back when he found out from David Twersky’s expose in Seth Lipsky’s Forward that Cole was associated with major American Communist front groups. Now, at least, Ayers’ nasty work will continue to be important only in education schools and in the tragic following he has created in scores of our nation’s future teachers.

Introducing Myself

October 15th, 2008 - 10:41 am

Hello PJM readers,

Welcome to my new blog, which I hope will prove stimulating, provocative, entertaining and hopefully, will at times get many of you angry at me.  I will be writing about current political events, history, ideas, books, articles, bluegrass and folk music, and whatever else interests me and will hopefully be interesting to readers.

Many of you may already know my work from the various books I have written, or the articles and reviews I have recently had in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Frontpagemag.com, and The New Republic. For a long time, I have wished that I had a blog, so that I could respond instantly to events and items that cross my desk. Now PJ Media has given me the opportunity, and I’m set to go.

I have been called many names—”neo-conservative,” which is how at one time I called myself, thinking primarily of my overall view of foreign policy issues. My adversaries have used harsher terms, such as “the far-right extremist historian,” “McCarthyite writer,” “extremist partisan,” and the like. These are some of the gentler characterizations. To those who ask, I tell them that I consider myself a centrist/right moderate, leaning to the positions taken by many conservatives. I differ with them, however, on many issues. While I respect the arguments of those who consider themselves pro-life, and favor a ban on partial birth abortions, I still favor what is generally called the right of a woman to choose. So when it comes to many social and cultural issues, I do not have the position espoused by many conservatives. Most recently, Marty Peretz, editor of The New Republic, has called me “the myth-busting historian.” That is, finally, a term I am rather content with.

So, I hope that in this blog, I will as time goes along come up with many other myths to bust.

Finally, although I use Ronald for my books and articles (too late to change that), for this blog, I am using Ron, which is what everyone I know calls me.  Until next time,

Ron Radosh