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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: September 2009

In the 70’s, when I taught a course that covered the Civil War era and I dealt with slavery, I recall that black students in my class were outraged when I assigned a collection of slave letters edited by a white historian.  The argument they made was simple: whites cannot teach black history. That claim lead eventually to the absurdities of Afro-centrism.

Later, some feminists would argue that only women could teach women’s history. While mainly histories of the American Left have been written by sympathetic historians who are also on the Left- and who mine the past largely to rescue their heroes as models to follow for today-there is proof that conservatives can write sympathetically and with insight about the Left’s own history. The key example is the 2008 book by Daniel J. Flynn, A Conservative History of the American Left, which I reviewed favorably.  

But given the new polarization in America, the question must now be raised as to whether these same left-wing and liberal historians- most scholars who get Ph.D.’s in American History are of the Left- can write fair and insightful histories of the emergence of the conservative movement in America. The answer I have, a resounding yes- surprisingly comes from a lengthy cover article that appeared in the September 28th issue of The Nation.  It is called “Right On: Tracing the History of Movement Conservatism,” and is written by Kim Phillips-Fein, an assistant professor at NYU’s Gallatin School.

Make no mistake. Ms. Phillips-Fein is unabashedly a woman of the Left. Aside from her first book that was published last year and that deals with this topic (and which I have not read) all her other popular pieces are from the standard left of center publications. Yet, in this lengthy discussion of twelve books that deal with the past of American conservatism (some old and others recent) Prof. Phillips-Fein offers interesting assessments and some shrewd observations, as well as challenging some of the Left’s own assumptions about the failure of conservatism and the triumph of their own side in the American political arena.

She starts noting that for a long time, the death of conservatism has been predicted on a fairly regularly basis. Despite the rifts and tensions that exist today among conservatives, she writes that in the past not only have they failed to lead to a predicted collapse, but “On the contrary, they have generated a strangely durable, tenacious politics that has avoided being shunted to the margins of American life.” Thus she joins the ranks of younger historians who not content with older New Left veterans who spent all their academic time doing research on the 60’s Left they once were part of themselves, have decided to follow the path suggested fifteen years ago by historian Alan Brinkley of Columbia University. Young scholars, he suggested, even or particularly liberal and left-wing scholars, study those whose movement had become “something of an orphan” in the literature, the conservative movement.

Now, studies of the conservative movement have become yet another cottage industry, just as studies about American Communism written by left-wing historians had become a few decades earlier.  She acknowledges that much of the motivation for this effort is that many of these new historians “have sought to understand the conservative movement partly to forge the tools to undermine it.” This is undoubtedly true, but to make this admission is to acknowledge that history should be a tool for understanding, not a tool to enable activists to learn what they should do in a current political fight.

What Prof. Fein-Phillips wants is something else, “a retelling of the larger narrative of the postwar period incorporating the insights of recent histories of the right,” especially at a moment when with the election of Barack Obama, the most  left-wing president in our history, so many assume the forward march of inevitable liberalism. She knows, however, that before Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, most scholars thought conservatism was a “relic” never to be revived, a sect made up only of “a menagerie of resentful oddballs and misfits…eccentric racists and assorted cranks.” A good historian, she does not want others to make such a mistake again.

She offers readers of her essay a summary of how since that time, historians have dealt with the reality that at first shocked and surprised them. First was a theory of social backlash that explained for many working-class reaction to 60’s social radicalism; then a realization that a shift had occurred in American politics and that a new political force had managed to grow and rise. Next came studies of movement conservatism and the social origins of its participants, who were “not driven by irrational fears or anxieties but rather by a deeply held set of beliefs about how society ought to be organized.” They were not those left out of a failing economy, but those who had won, and who sought to use the same kind of tactics previously engaged in by left-wing movements. She writes:

For some, the New Left’s inability to moderate its strident moralizing and appeal to a broader public made it tragically culpable for the ultimate failure of consensus liberalism–the left had been unable to speak to working-class Americans, who turned instead to the right. For others, the clash simply revealed the intractable racism endemic to segments of American society, meaning that there was no particular tactical failure on the part of the left. Yet most of these earlier scholars, who focused on the collapse of the New Deal electoral coalition, agreed that the modern right was born in this furious, embittered reaction against civil rights, feminism and the antiwar movement.

A newer generation of historians saw things differently. They argued that

Far from being a sudden, explosive and negative reaction to the decade’s tumult, the conservative movement simmered throughout the postwar period, motivated by its activists’ positive vision of small government, the perfect social ordering promised by the free market and a world without communism. The social crises of the 1960s may have offered the movement an opportunity to broaden its base of support, but conservatism was thriving before that upheaval. The earlier generation of scholars, after all, never did explain how thirty years of conservative politics could have sprouted from a few explosive conflicts in the 1970s. Nor could they elucidate how the blue-collar workers who cheered for George Wallace wound up supporting a politics committed to promoting the free market, fighting unions and rolling back the welfare state.

Thus, Prof. Fein-Phillips concludes that “it was necessary to look at the rise of the conservative movement on its own terms- to study its internal logic, its intellectual history and the way its activists promoted their agenda.” (my emphasis) For one, she challenges the common idea that the new right-wing exists as a populist revolt, and recommends books studying the origins of the revival of laissez-faire economics in the Southwest, and anti-statist politics among groups like truckers, and suggests that conservatism’s success comes instead of “deeper economic changes in the country.” She suggests that the entire postwar period “might be seen as no more than a ‘long exception’ to the more lasting conservative project of individualism and laissez-faire that has defined so much of American history.” Citing the new book by the conservative historian Patrick Allitt, she writes that to some “the post-1945 conservative movement is one more development of a strain of politics reaching back to the founding fathers.”

It is clear, therefore, that in evaluating what explains the growth of a conservative movement, Prof. Fein-Phillips does not slight the work of conservatives who have also sought to explain their own movement’s growth. She notes “Allitt emphasizes the continuities between postwar conservatism and the laissez-faire politics of the nineteenth century.” Indeed, she writes that “the old narrative has been turned upside down: more and more, historians are depicting the century as one of conservative strength only briefly interrupted.”

Historians, of course, look at the past, and do not as a rule try to predict the future. But turning to the current debate about conservatism, and to  Sam Tanenhaus’ much discussed book predicting its end, she writes that “the intellectuals who have brought conservatism to a broader public have been moving away from their old certainties.” She agrees with David Frum- although she does not mention him- that many are talking only to a small segment of the population, whom she calls “a narrow and frustrated segment of opinion,” and thus risk becoming more marginal and no longer part of the central focus of American politics. She cites approvingly the stance of Ross Douthat and Rehan Salam, “that Republicans need to win back the ‘Sam’s club’ voters and convince working-class people that family values are actually in their economic interest” and that they might have to give up a hard-line laissez-faire position.

Her article is serious, although her concluding paragraph reads like old-line left-wing boilerplate. She worries that many Americans still believe in laissez-faire politics and a purely market driven world. She criticizes Obama for being surrounded by Wall Street plutocrats. Yet for conservatives who seek to gain in influence once again, she warns her friends on the Left that “History has a strange way of rescuing the defeated.” And just when conservatism seems to be on its lowest rungs, she asserts that it is only now “that we can for the first time assess the full significance of all that the right has won.”

Obviously, readers of this blog will have much to argue with Prof.Phillips-Fein. Conservatives will disagree with her assumptions and how it shapes her own examination of the conservative movement. But we should welcome a real debate, especially one done without rancor and written in a serious fashion. At a moment when most liberal/left commentary is purely a set of venomous screeds, this essay by Prof. Phllips-Fein stands alone.

It was one of those ironies that the new issue of The Atlantic, which features the brilliant article “The Story Behind the Story” by Mark Bowden, arrives just after ACORN, Van Jones, and Yossi Sergant were brought down by bloggers, young conservative activists and talk-show hosts on Fox News. What Bowden deals with is the amazing debate that took place during the period that Judge Sonia Sotomayor was preparing for her Senate hearings prior to her Supreme Court confirmation.

We all recall watching on virtually every news station — not only cable but the MSM key outlets — her remarks at a Duke University panel in 2005 and a speech at Berkeley Law School in 2001, at which the then Circuit Court judge said that her identity as a “Latina woman” made her judgment superior to that of a “white male.” At the Duke panel she seemed to say that appellate judges make policy, and then followed that with these words: “I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don’t make law, I know,” at which her law school audience all laughed.

It was these remarks that led many conservatives to oppose her and caused many to argue that Sotomayor was not going to be the moderate she claimed to be. How did these videos get to the stations immediately after it was announced that Obama picked her as his choice? The answer is that it came not from scores of network or news reporters combing through files, but from one conservative blogger in particular. He is Morgan Richmond, a man who runs a computer consulting business and blogs during his spare time as a hobby at the relatively unknown website VerumSerum.com, which he runs with a Christian conservative, John Sexton.  His goal was, Bowden writes, “to develop original stories that attract attention” and would resonate, not to damage the candidate.

Usually his website gets 30 readers a day. Yet what he uncovered, after going through long tedious tapes of the judge speaking at the two law schools, would soon be known in almost every American household, at least those who watch at least one news program. Every news program ran his tapes and never verified their accuracy, or checked to see if Sotomayor’s remarks were made in context. Nor did they cite the source of the videos, thereby, as Bowden says, “abdicating its responsibility to do its own reporting.” Thus, he writes, “several hours of Internet snooping by Richmond at his upstairs computer wound up shaping the public’s perception of Sonia Sotomayor.”

Critics portrayed her as a racist and liberal activist, which Bowden, and even Richmond, now acknowledge was not accurate. Richmond told him: “She’s really fairly moderate, compared to some of the other candidates on Obama’s list … she really wasn’t all that bad.”

Bowden says in conclusion that we now live in a “post-journalistic” world, in which our democracy is in a constant political battleground. Bloggers exist to help one side or the other, which leads to what Bowden sees as “distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context,” which do not bother the bloggers, since they are simply ammunition for their own chosen side. Truth is simply what comes out of whoever wins a particular battle — it is winning that is key, not who is right. This, Bowden argues, is not journalism.

What he despairs is the result that we have more propaganda, and not news, with no room for compromise. Hence he asks a key question:  “Isn’t there, in fact middle ground in most public disputes?” Can’t one weigh public good against factional goals? Can’t we decide the public interest in other than through a “partisan lens,” in which “politics becomes blood sport”?

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Those who were skeptical of Barack Obama’s bona fides before the campaign, particularly the nature of  his apparent relationship (or non-relationship, if you believe Obama) with Bill Ayers, will be stunned by Jack Cashill’s new revelation. Remember Cashill? He is a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University and a blogger at American Thinker, one of the multitudes of conservative websites.

In October 2008, Cashill penned a much discussed blog, in which he suggested the possibility that Bill Ayers actually was the ghost writer for Barack Obama’s powerful memoir, Dreams From My Father. His claim was so reminiscent of the discussion before Bill Clinton’s first campaign about who wrote the novel Primary Colors, which bore only the name “Anonymous.” Some suspected Joe Klein, the political journalist. Klein vehmently denied the allegation. Then, he was forced to admit authorship when a literary detective compared phrases in Klein’s writings and those in the novel for New York magazine, and Klein was forced to hold a press conference admitting that he indeed was the author.

In this case, Barack Obama did not pull a Klein, especially since, as Cashill wrote, “no reviewer of note has so much as questioned Obama’s role in the writing.” That left him, a rather unknown figure, isolated in trying to make the case. And as he also acknowledged, his arguments, although many found them compelling, could not be proved to everyone’s satisfaction. As he put it: “Shy of a confession by those involved, I will not be able to prove conclusively that Obama did not write this book.  As shall be seen, however, there are only two real possibilities: one is that Obama experienced a near miraculous turnaround in his literary abilities; the second is that he had major editorial help, up to and including a ghostwriter.”

And so his effort became just another one of those apparent conspiracy theories so prevalent in the ranks of both the left and the right. Then at the end of June 2009, Cashill returned to his original article. This time, he wrote yet another blog, reporting about many who sent him more material that they thought would corroborate his original suspicions about authorship of Obama’s first memoir. Two contributors whom Cashill does not name, he writes, made a  contribution that “should dispel the doubts of all but the willfully blind that Ayers played a substantial role, likely the primary role, in the writing of Dreams.” Again, the two contributors and Cashill played literary detective, offering more examples of strange similarities in the metaphors used in both Ayers’ Fugitive Days and in Obama’s Dreams. One of them found 759 striking similarities. Cashill found one of his contributor’s analysis to be “systematic, comprehensive, and utterly, totally, damning.” You can read his article and judge for yourself.

And now, Cashill picked up the new bestseller about Obama and his wife, Christopher Andersen’s Barack and Michelle:Portrait of an American Marriage. What he found simply threw him for a loop because, I suspect, it was the last thing Cashill expected to find. Andersen writes in his book that after Obama finally got a new contract to write a book, Michelle Obama suggested that her husband get advice “from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.”

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The Conservative Debate Over Glenn Beck

September 21st, 2009 - 1:13 pm

There is a major debate going on in conservative ranks about the role being played by radio and TV talk-show host Glenn Beck. David Horowitz and David Frum have been expressing their disparate viewpoints on their websites (www.newsrealblog.com and www.frontpagemag.com for Horowitz and www.newmajority.com for Frum). On Monday, both agreed to carry out a formal exchange that you can find here.

Frum argues that Beck often makes unsubstantiated or exaggerated charges. As an example, he  points to what he considers a crude and undocumented attack on Cass Sunstein, amounting to the  reiteration of the charge that Sunstein, now confirmed as director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the OMB, favors animals having the right to sue individuals via lawyers representing them against humans.

Frum contends that rather than being a wild-eyed radical, he is a choice conservatives can not only live with, but should support. He notes accurately that Sunstein’s decisions and views have been praised by scores of conservatives and besides, he is the best candidate that they could hope for in an Obama administration. Moreover, Frum argues that Sunstein does not support the rather far out views of Princeton University ethicist Peter Singer on animal rights.  Indeed, I have heard Beck continually cite Singer’s views as if they were the same as Sunstein’s. They are not, and to date, Beck has not withdrawn these claims.

Frum says Beck is a right-wing populist, whose rantings create a serious danger for conservatives who seek to reach the American people, especially the middle class and independents who are not conservatives but who are on the center-right. He’s afraid that by supporting Beck’s reckless style and thereby legitimizing him, conservatives risk further marginalizing the Republican brand. Conservatives, Frum writes, must emancipate “ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless.”

Horowitz responds that the lengths Frum goes to for the purpose of demonizing Beck are indefensible. Moreover, he argues that Glenn Beck is “on our side,” – the side of conservatism. If not for Beck, Van Jones would not have been exposed and lost his appointment, and the ACORN videos would not have had the impact that has forced Congress to vote to defund them and the Census Bureau to break its contract to use ACORN employees to canvas for the new census. In this, Horowitz is undoubtedly correct.  As for Sunstein, he agrees that Beck may have exaggerated or distorted Sunstein’s actual positions. But he argues that Frum ignores the fact that Sunstein is willing to serve with the radicals that Obama has appointed and has not spoken up about the attempts of the administration to use its power to stop dissent and isolate conservatives from a serious debate.

On Monday, Frum’s arguments were endorsed by former White House speechwriter Peter Wehner. Writing at Contentions, Wehner argues that as he sees Beck, the TV host is “more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite.” He sees many of his claims as “unfair and not good for the country” and his contempt for all political parties as anti-Burkean. Wehner’s attention is focused mainly on Beck’s style, and he calls his shtick as “a mix of fear, resentment and anger.” Acknowledging that much of what he has done is “fine and appropriate,” he concludes that the role Beck plays today  is “harmful in its totality.” Like Frum, he is upset that many are content to see Beck as the public face of today’s conservatism.

Indeed, I would agree that Beck does often go over the top. Wehner is correct that Beck throws out words like American imperialism, and last week I heard him complain about how America became an empire. He does not seem to comprehend that many of these assertions are those of the Left and men like Van Jones, whose job in the administration he rightfully fought against because of Jones’ Communist views. No one seems to have told Beck this or stopped to correct him.

I have my own tiff with him. In the chart he put on this famous blackboard on Friday, he put Woodrow Wilson at the bottom as the centerpiece and creator of the radical statist or socialist country that he fears America is becoming.  He rattled on about the number of political prisoners Wilson had in jail, and the war he brought the nation into. Now I realize Beck gets his view of Wilson from a chapter in Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, but aside from this, I doubt whether Beck has read anything else about Wilson. If he had, he might have realized that Wilson was an opponent not only of the Bolshevik regime in Russia, but of America’s domestic radicals at home. The people Wilson thought of as dangerous to America were the counterparts of those Beck is fighting today. Yes, Wilson violated civil liberties and used the Espionage and Sedition Act of 1918 to imprison dissenters- including my own cousin, who became the subject of a major Supreme Court case, Abrams v. United States.

This week, Beck achieved the ultimate — the cover of Time magazine.  He also received an extended analysis from the New York Times’ ultra-liberal columnist and former theater critic, Frank Rich. The Time article by David Von Drehle , despite some real negatives about Beck, has guaranteed perhaps a tenfold increase in his audience, at least this week. Whatever the article says, the cover photo of Beck, who characteristically shows his disdain for the MSM by sticking his tongue out for the magazine’s photographer, makes it clear that the man is important and cannot be ignored — and perhaps is somewhat of a clown.

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Irving Kristol: 1920-2009

September 19th, 2009 - 9:22 am

The conservative movement, and America as a nation, has lost one of its great intellectual and moral figures: Irving Kristol. Such is the respect and admiration for him that surprisingly, even The New York Times ran a first rate and warm obituary of him, written by one of its book review editors, Barry Gewen. His overview of Kristol’s life gives the reader as good a picture as one can get of his accomplishments and his way of looking at the world.

Irving’s smile and the twinkle in his eye, that is on display in the accompanying photo of Kristol receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2002, is the expression that adorned Kristol’s face when he regularly met friends and associates. Whenever I met him for lunch or saw him when we attended conferences, he greeted me with that same expression. He was a man who loved seeing people, who went out of his way to help them and give them advice, who took great pleasure in the simple joys of life.

Most will remember Kristol, as all the obituaries note, as the godfather of neo-conservatism. My first memories of him, however, go back to the great debates of the 1950’s over McCarthyism and anti-communism. Irving was, one must say, among the first of the liberal anti-communists, and a fierce opponent of those who were determined that liberalism be anti anti-communist. In 1952, as some of the obituaries note, Kristol wrote an essay called “ ‘Civil Liberties’ 1952-A Study in Confusion.” He knew that Senator Joseph McCarthy was a “vulgar demagogue,” but what shocked people was his now famous comment: “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with some justification.”

It was a barb that stung. Decades later, in either the 1970’s or early 1980’s, I attended a forum in New York City held by Partisan Review, then still being published and edited by one of its original founders, the late William Phillips. Kristol was on a panel about the nature of liberalism in a new era. The panel turned into rounds of condemnation for Kristol for those words he wrote back in 1952. Irving quipped: “When I die, I fear that my comments on McCarthy will be the only thing I’ll be remembered for.” Fortunately, he lived long enough to know that would not be the case.

Years later, I explored the nature of the debate over McCarthy and anti-Communism in a long essay I wrote for PR. I found that Kristol also wrote a now forgotten but key document in the fight against the Stalinist mentality—the defense by most liberals of the Asian scholar Owen Lattimore, whom Senator McCarthy had stupidly called the major Soviet spy in America, “Alger Hiss’s boss,” he stated on the Senate floor. McCarthy had said he would “stand or fall” on this charge that Lattimore was “the top Soviet espionage agent in the United States.”

And fall he did, since no evidence existed at all to substantiate such nonsense. Later McCarthy backed down a bit, saying that at least Lattimore had a major role in the State Department, where he became the “ ‘architect’ of our Far Eastern policy” that according to McCarthy, resulted in China falling into the hands of Chairman Mao. This too was wrong, since Lattimore had but a peripheral role at State, as anyone who investigated the issue knew.

Yet, as Kristol emphasized, Lattimore was a major intellectual force and stood first and foremost among those scholars who sought to whitewash Chinese Communism. Irving took the time out to read the transcripts of Nevada Senator Pat McCarran’s Senate hearings into the Institute for Pacific Relations, the left-wing think tank of the day to which Lattimore was affiliated, as well as Lattimore’s testimony before a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Millard Tydings of Maryland.

He found in Lattimore’s own words that he regularly supported whatever position was advocated in foreign policy by the Soviet Union, and urged the U.S. Government to adopt a policy that would back Soviet efforts. He noted Lattimore’s proposal that all aid to Chiang-kai-shek be stopped unless his Nationalist regime agreed to form a coalition government in China with the Communists.

Agreeing that Lattimore “was no spy in the sense that Alger Hiss was,” and that McCarthy’s description of him “was irresponsible and wide of the mark,” Kristol argued that Lattimore was nevertheless an individual who posed a real danger to American policy. He was, Kristol wrote, a man transported “by the conviction of his own infinite innocence and righteousness.” Thus he saw Lattimore as the type of academic who translated Communist dogma into academic rhetoric, where it could not be deciphered easily. Thus, he knew enough not to describe Mao’s Communist troops as “agrarian reformers,” as some of the China hands called them–but rather referred to Mao’s  headquarters in Yenan by “the more pompous, ‘dynamic popular government in North China’.” And he was so successful that his views became those of “the entire body of respectable opinion–conservative as well as liberal–on the Far East.” Thus “ingratiating pseudo-Marxist platitudes became the stock-in-trade of all the ‘experts’,” a modern trahison des clercs.Kristol’s words were so informed that even the late historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. cited them in essays and urged readers to study Kristol’s conclusions about Owen Lattimore.

Kristol, then as in later years, clearly differentiated the differences between liberals who sought to ally with Communists or to tolerate them, and those who understood they were America’s enemies. He even composed a list of prominent liberals who failed to understand the threat that faced our nation, and dared to name some of Washington’s favorite intellectual luminaries.  As for Communists losing their jobs after refusing to answer the questions put to them by Red-hunting members of Congress, Kristol retorted that he had no pity for any liberal who wailed that Communists were “in danger of being excluded from well-paying jobs!” One could not forget that Communism was not just another idea, but was rather a “conspiracy to subvert every social and political order it does not dominate.” To tolerate Communists was thus to tolerate a conspiracy against the democratic polity. As Irving Kristol summed up: “So long as liberals agree with Senator McCarthy that the fate of communism involves the fate of liberalism and that we must choose between complete civil liberties for everyone and a disregard for civil liberties entirely, we shall make no progress except to chaos.” As for the defense of the rights of Communists to speak, Kristol had no objection, as long as liberals spoke as “one of us defending their liberties,” lest they be “taken as speaking as one of them.” The latter was a distinction most liberals of the day refused to make.

Irving Kristol continued through the decades to shed clarity on our nation while others once his allies lost their critical faculties. Decades later, his once ally Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. would praise Gorbachev alone for ending the Cold War, eschewing Ronald Reagan’s role, a mistake Kristol would never have made. And when Schlesinger returned from a trip to Cuba in the 1990s, he praised its dictator Fidel Castro as an authentic and noble leader, forgetting completely about Castro’s totalitarian rule, the huge numbers of political prisoners rotting in his jails, and his espousal of obsolete Leninist ideology.

In contrast, by then a firm neo-conservative, Irving Kristol continued to shed his light on the dangers facing his country, and the need to confront them honestly. We will miss his humor, his shrewd ability to get to the heart of an issue in short essays, and his moral compass. R.I.P.

Last week, James Traub, a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, wrote yet another ode to Obama and his weak policy on the Middle East—-this time serving up a article about J Street, the new Israel lobby, that purports to be an alternative to AIPAC.

Traub’s article can be counted as one among many regularly  appearing in the paper of record, that consistently attacks Israel for intransigence, and that criticizes the government of Benjamin Netanyahu for not seriously pursuing the “peace process” favored by the Obama administration. Just today the Times ran an op-ed by Richard Goldstone, head of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict, that engages in a fit of moral equivalence and equates Hamas and Israel as forces that both injure civilians during battle, ignoring that Israel was defending itself while Hamas regularly targets civilians as its raison d’être. As Max Boot writes,  “it’s a good thing that the United Nations wasn’t around during World War II. I can just imagine its producing a supposedly evenhanded report that condemned the Nazis for “grave” abuses such as incinerating Jews, while also condemning the Allies for their equally “grave” abuses such as fire-bombing German and Japanese cities.” As Israel’s President Shimon Peres responded, Goldstone “makes a mockery of history” and fails to distinguish between “an aggressor and the defender.”

If that is not enough, the Times recently ran an editorial stating that “President Obama needs to prod Mr. Netanyahu toward bolder action by making a direct — and better — case to a skeptical Israeli public on why a settlements freeze and reviving peace talks is in its interest.” Perhaps its editors do not realize that the reason the Israeli public backs its government and elected Netanyahu in the first place is that it knows that the settlements are not the real issue, but the refusal of Fatah and Hamas to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.

In his article on J Street, James Traub repeats the many facile arguments made over the years, chiefly that the traditional “Israel lobby” has made criticism of Israel out of bounds. He charges that Israel had a blank check during the Bush years when groups like AIPAC endorsed his policy, although AIPAC is non-partisan, does not endorse candidates or parties, and has support from members of Congress across the aisle.

Groups like the Israel Policy Forum and others that function to pressure Israel while claiming to be its best friends, are described by Traub as “progressive,” which by implication means AIPAC is the opposite. He goes on to mention liberal Jews and Democrats and Israeli-Americans who contributed money to set up J Street, while ignoring the recent revelations that Arab and Muslim groups have contributed to its coffers, as well as the presence on its board of people openly opposed to Israel. You can read about this here and here and here.

The most substantive critique of J Street comes from Lawrence White, writing at the site of the American Thinker. White argues that J Street is made up of what are called “court Jews,” people who take positions harmful to the security of the Jewish State and try to claim that they are doing it in the true interests of Israel- which evidently the Israel population that votes is too dumb to understand.   White claims that Barack Obama is pursuing a doomed policy based on “ahistoric and simplistic thinking.”  He puts it this way:

The President needs to be sure that in the process of leaning on Israel, he does not lose the American Jewish community. They were needed last year to ensure an electoral majority and will continue to be needed in the future. Having campaigned on a strong pro-Israel platform, and having assured many prominent and well-connected Jews that he was committed to the security and welfare of Israel, he needed a credible way to validate that impression in order to prevent any erosion in support. This is where Jeremy Ben-Ami, the director of the new organization J Street, comes in. Ben-Ami has become the very model of the “court Jew”.

 Pretending to be a “centrist” force that is both pro-peace and pro-Israel, in reality  J Street  puts the blame for any failure to reach peace on Israel.  As White writes, “They have lobbied Congress to oppose an initiative calling on Obama to pressure Arab governments to normalize relations with Israel, They favor negotiating with Hamas. They support the Arab Peace Initiative. And when the President awarded the Medal of Freedom to the Durban anti-Semitic ringmaster Mary Robinson, it was J Street that was tasked with defending the indefensible.”  When Israel was forced to fight Hamas in Gaza, it was J Street that opposed Israel, arguing that its defensive actions were a danger to peace.

To achieve its ends, J Street needs to convince the Obama administration that it, and not AIPAC, represents most American Jews. And this is where Traub’s article comes in. J Street needs to convince the American Jewish community that they represent its interests, and not that of the Obama team. And Obama needs them to maintain the fiction that American Jews completely back him.

Traub tries to present J Street as an “open” and dynamic group, unlike those run by aging leaders like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League. He gives an example of its would-be dynamism.  Traub mentions how Donna Edwards, an African-American freshman member of Congress from Maryland was endorsed by J Street. J Street backed her despite the fact that she did not support Israel’s fight in Gaza, and is opposed to settlements. Yet when she feared a primary challenge from a pro-Israel candidate, J Street’s PAC got $30,000 for her in a couple of days after an internet appeal. “That,” Traub writes, “made people in Washington take notice.”

In reality , that amount is small potatoes given what people have raised on the internet, in much shorter periods of time, as Joe Wilson just showed. Traub is clearly inflating J Street’s importance. But what the example of Edwards does show is how J Street is in front when it comes to supporting those who are against Israel, but who are definitely in the mainstream of what passes for liberalism today.  J Street has, and here I agree with Traub,  “cemented its position on the left side of the spectrum.”

If there is any doubt that the left side of the spectrum is opposed to Israel’s real interests, look no further than the article about J Street by Reza Aslan that appeared on The Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s website. Aslan claims that AIPAC’s influence is declining, as the public supposedly is fed up with its support of hard line and conservative Jewish governments.

Moreover, Aslan is pleased that Obama is “the first president in recent memory who seems…not to be beholden to the interests of the pro-Israeli lobby.” Although he says Obama respects the special relationship between our country and Israel, he argues that that if one does not believe the real issue is settlements and that the administration should not start a peace process by demanding action on them first, then one is ipso facto a hardliner. And Aslan engages in circular reasoning: since he says American Jews are overwhelmingly against the settlements, that means that J Street  represents “a more progressive and even-handed approach”  which really represents the interests of American Jews. His proof—the Traub article in the Times magazine!  In this manner, one propagandist for J Street cites another as definitive proof that J Street is the future of American Jewry.

Aslan, however, gives his hand away when he says that Osama Bin Laden, in his recent tape, is “tapping into an increasingly prevalent sentiment among the public that the pro-Israel lobby in Washington may have far too much political influence in driving American foreign policy.” How does he know this is what the American public thinks? There is nothing like citing no evidence when seeking to prove your point.  Moreover, he admits he is thankful for Bin Laden’s comments, since they serve to keep alive the need to debate the U.S.-Israel relationship.

With friends like these, Israel needs to look no further for real enemies.

Andrew Sullivan’s Bust: The Real Issue

September 11th, 2009 - 1:29 pm

It seems that Andrew Sullivan’s application for US citizenship hangs in the balance — but not really, and that is the issue. Gawker and other sites report that this past summer, blogger and columnist Sullivan was arrested on national seashore in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for illegal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor that would incur a $125 for Sullivan, if he was found guilty. No big deal — it happens a lot in that area of our country.

The only stumbling block is Sullivan’s pending U.S. citizenship, which might have been adversely affected should he have been brought to court. Enter the office of the U.S. Attorney. The local court was ordered to drop the charges, so that Sullivan would be able to gain his citizenship without a problem. It was clearly special treatment afforded the illustrious pundit. Robert Collings, the magistrate who would have heard the case, was stunned.

One court report noted: “Collings says he expressed his concern that ‘a dismissal would result in persons in similar situations being treated unequally before the law. … persons charged with the same offense on the Cape Cod National Seashore were routinely given violation notices, and if they did not agree to [pay the fine] were prosecuted by the United States Attorney. … [T]here was no apparent reason for treating Mr. Sullivan differently from other persons charged with the same offense.’” You can read the entire court comment by Collings here .

The question, then is simple: Why did Andrew Sullivan get special treatment from the U.S. Attorney? As the Collings statement makes clear, other similar offenders have regularly been hauled before the court, and forced to pay the fine if found guilty.  In Sullivan’s case, there are other far more important implications.

Andrew Sullivan has moved from the stance of a fierce conservative to that of a liberal supporter of the Obama administration. When Obama met after his election with liberal journalists, Sullivan was part of their group—not among those of the conservative journalists who met the President-elect.  He regularly blasts conservatives, especially those having anything to do with the Bush administration, and stands among the group constantly demanding fierce punishment for Cheney and company for authorizing torture of Gitmo detainees.

Now, more than ever, it appears that the United States Attorney is repaying a debt to Sullivan for his support to the administration. Why else would he be singled out for exclusive treatment? And doesn’t it also mean that Sullivan now will be more careful than ever to continue giving the administration his approval, at least until after he becomes a citizen? A debt paid leads to a debt owed.

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The Lessons of the Van Jones Resignation

September 9th, 2009 - 5:37 pm



 We won the battle to get rid of Van Jones; now the question must be asked: what have we learned, and what can we do to help explain the real questions that his quick resignation raises?

First, it is clear that President Obama should have fired him, from the first moment the truth about his past was made public. That it took some time indicates that the White House hoped that it would blow over and be viewed simply as a silly right-wing attack on the President’s program. By resigning before being fired, Jones hopes clearly that his resignation statement plays to this narrative.  Jones says, as ABC News reports, that he was forced out because of a “vicious smear campaign” against him by enemies of reform.  It is not simply a matter of his inadvertently “offending anyone,” as Jones tries to explain his comments. What he calls a smear campaign is simply an accurate pointing out of what he believed, and how recent his beliefs are.

The reports this morning concentrate on Jones’ signing of the 9/11 truther petition, which Jones has said he never agreed with, and on which his name was used without his permission. Early this morning, the White House was still defending him. Nancy Sutley, who heads the White House environmental council, said in a statement early Sunday that Jones “had been a strong voice for creating jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources,” ABC reported.

In other words, they are trying to make it appear that someone who wrote a best-selling book on the green economy would have made a great contribution, but now to save the President’s program is no longer able to proceed. They have not showed as so many bloggers have, how Jones’ views on the environment are also extremely radical, and racist to boot. They have not, as I pointed out earlier this week, how Jones means his green jobs movement as a stepping stone to overturning the “oppressive” and exploitative economic system in America.

Secondly, because of his Sunday resignation, the media has not picked up on the latest video report featured on Powerlineblog and  Gateway Pundit that exposed the CD issued by Jones and the group he founded, The Ella Baker Freedom Center. Since Jones produced and distributed the CD, and is actually on it himself voicing vicious anti-Israel smears in which he says the “occupation” of Palestine by Israel began in 1948, there is no possible way he can dissociate himself from it. Moreover, others on the CD talk about America as the real enemy of freedom and accuse our troops of being baby-killers.

(I might add that the name of Jones’ Oakland group, The Ella Baker Freedom Center, is most appropriate. Most people have referred to the late Baker as simply a civil rights activist. I am writing from vacation in Nantucket, without benefit of my files at home. But in my book, Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996,”  I point out that the late civil rights lawyer Joe Rauh, had noted that everything Baker said in the 60’s might as well have been taken verboten from The Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper. Baker was so pro-Communist that she attacked Hubert Humphrey and other liberal anti-Communists as ultra reactionaries.  Known as the “grandmother of SNCC,” Baker was aligned with those in the movement who were trying to push the organization to the far left.)

On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace this morning, Howard Dean defended Jones and argued that he clearly signed the 9/11 petition without looking at it, because a man as busy as him signed something thrust in his face without looking at it. This kind of ridiculous apologia is going to be made over and over. Sure, and his comments on the CD were made because he didn’t have time to look at the words he wrote on the script before he stated them.

Finally, we must raise the question who vetted him, and how could the President not have known Jones’ views? Of course, the White House did know. Valerie Jarrett made it clear that they recruited him because they were familiar with his record in Oakland, and they wanted him in the White House. If Jones knew, Obama knew. When a candidate for a government job fills out a form, either the FBI clearance form or the one given candidates by the administration, they are asked if they have done anything, said anything or been involved in groups that could prove embarrassing to the President. I know this, because I had an investigation myself for a commission on which I sit, and I had to answer that question. My position too is not one that had to be voted on by the Senate, yet I had to fill out the form and directly answer the agents’ queries.

In my case, my rather old radical past is an open book; I have written about it many times, including in my own published memoir,  Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left . Indeed, I told the two agents interviewing me that rather than waste their time, they read the memoir and then ask me any further questions they might have. I gave them an autographed copy, and never heard from them again. I received my top security clearance. Of course, for decades I have made more than clear how and why I changed my political views. Anything I wrote or said when I was on the Left is indeed ancient history, and everyone knows that my old views are not those  I now subscribe to.

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By now we all know most of what there is to be said about Van Jones. What is most interesting, however, is how so many representatives of mainstream liberalism have no compunction at all about honoring Jones as one of their own, and of condemning Barack Obama for casting him to the wind, as if the administration had no good reason to do so.

First, as one might suspect, is Arianna Huffington. She writes with anger about what she calls the “vile and vicious smear campaign” against Jones waged by Fox News star Glenn Beck. Not one word about what Jones believes and who he is, aside from her claim that he is “a thoughtful leader who knows how to use words to move people to action.” A leader? Perhaps.  But thoughtful?  Maybe she means words like these, spoken by Jones in January of 2008:
“The environmental justice community that said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you know, you’re regulating, but you’re not regulating equally.’ And the white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people-of-color communities, because they don’t have a racial justice frame.”

Of course Arianna is a “good friend” of Jones, so she either overlooks what he believes, or agrees with his unreconstructed radicalism. Reading Huffington, one gets the impression that all he is doing is trying to purse “a clean energy future for America,” and building coalitions on its behalf.  So although she was his friend at the time, she somehow misses his candid description of his own proclaimed strategy, spoken in April of 2008:

Right after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat if the civil rights leaders had jumped out and said, ‘OK now we want reparations for slavery, we want redistribution of all the wealth, and we want to legalize mixed marriages.’ If we’d come out with a maximum program the very next day, they’d been laughed at. Instead they came out with a very minimum. ‘We just want to integrate these buses.’

But, inside that minimum demand was a very radical kernel that eventually meant that from 1964 to 1968 complete revolution was on the table for this country. And, I think that this green movement has to pursue those same steps and stages. Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether. But, that’s a process and I think that’s what’s great about the movement that is beginning to emerge is that the crisis is so severe in terms of joblessness, violence and now ecological threats that people are willing to be both pragmatic and visionary. So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.

The above is a frank admission of Jones’ prescription for a stealth radicalism—making a minimum demand that others will agree with, all for the purpose of achieving the real demand of revolution.  And of course, one does this by never revealing the real goal at the start. Well, at least Huffington doesn’t pretend that he did not sign the 9/11 truther petition, only rationalizing that we shouldn’t let that mistake “define him.” Yes, no one is “foible-free,” as she writes. But Jones is all foible and no merit.

On the same site, the CEO of CREDO Mobile, Michael Kieschnick, calls for “progressives” to understand that the real issue is “how the right wing media echo machine works.” In other words, ignore what Jones stands for. Beck has forced him out; let’s make that the issue.  And let us not let Obama get off the hook for canning Jones. Jones is to be commended for “using strong language in tough times.” Not one word in his blog what that language is. The Right, he argues, denounces “progressives and Democrats with demonstrably false and outrageous claims.” But of course, they were not false; and it was Jones’ statements that are outrageous. Rather than explain what Jones means, he and others simply attack Jones’ critics without letting readers know what he thinks. And we are supposed to believe that it is only the right-wing that is dishonest.

Most surprising, however- and sadly- is the defense of Jones by the usually brilliant writer John McWhorter, who from his perch at the conservative Manhattan Institute, has been for some time now written off by many as a “black conservative.”  McWhorter actually writes “The Republican smears against Obama of late are nonsense, pure and simple.” But instead of trying to prove this, he attacks (rightfully) the ignorance of those conservatives who attacked Obama for his speech to public school children on the first day of school. What, pray tell, does that have to do with any criticism of Jones?

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Van Jones Again: Is he Toast?

September 4th, 2009 - 1:55 pm

When I wrote about Van Jones last week, the only people who took notice of his appointment were David Horowitz, who first reported on his background, and Glenn Beck, whose ranting made it appear that there was somewhat of a conspiracy on the part of the Obama administration to appoint extremist radicals to positions of importance. Nevertheless, Beck must be given all the credit to alerting everyone to Jones’ position at the White House.

Now, finally, some of the mainstream media has picked up the story. Yesterday, Jake Tapper of ABC News blogged on the Jones appointment. Fox News put various statements made by Jones on their website. Finally, TNR ran an article on its website by Kate Sheppard, which both called attention to Jones while ridiculing the entire brouhaha.

Sheppard’s piece is an example of particularly flawed argument. First, she writes that “for months now, various right-wing bloggers and Glenn Beck have been trying to whip up outrage over Van Jones, Obama’s green-jobs guru. Their feverish accusations to date—that he’s a secret communist, say—have been absurd and easily ignored.”

I used to have a saying: “Just because J.Edgar Hoover said it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”  Today, I would have to add that because Beck has first brought it to the nation’s attention, also doesn’t mean it’s not true. It turns out, of course, that Jones’ record and background is not only fair game, but that the reports about him are true. He was a proclaimed communist and Maoist, and has publicly said that today he is adopting new strategies to achieve his radical and anti-capitalist goals.  And that is why, Sheppard is forced to say, he is becoming a “political headache” for the White House.

Sheppard tries to legitimize Jones by pointing to how many national liberal leaders have endorsed him, from Nancy Pelosi on. The real question, of course, is why they have done this? It is akin to the question I asked in the pages of TNR in the 1980’s, when the peace movement was at its hilt, and I asked how they expected to be taken seriously when they accepted the participation of Soviet line Communists. The major liberal summits that featured Jones as a keynoter, and on which she reports, should be embarrassed at their willingness to feature someone with Jones’ views.

Sheppard should start by reading the analysis on Frontpagemag.com by Ben Johnson, if she can stand to read a sound argument, even though it comes from a conservative source. Johnson lays out with direct and accurate quotes from Jones what he believes, and how he intends to use his green jobs position as a vehicle for a clearly left-wing socialist agenda.

Here is the key Jones quote:

Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether. But, that’s a process and I think that’s what’s great about the movement that is beginning to emerge is that the crisis is so severe in terms of joblessness, violence and now ecological threats that people are willing to be both pragmatic and visionary. So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.    


This is left-wing lingo, and a clear call for “transforming the whole society” to the original communist vision Jones obviously still believes in.

How could such a man get any White House appointment, especially one with a large budget and a strategy for social revolution as its goal? If George W. Bush had appointed a David Duke supporter who only four years earlier was a leader of a Klan offshoot, the Left would rightfully have yelled bloody murder until the appointee was dismissed.  One must also ask what happened to the traditional FBI vetting of one’s background, and the calling attention to it by the Bureau to the President, before the appointment was made.

Did Obama know of Jones’ views and associations? If not, why not? And if he did, why did he still appoint him? One wonders if Bill Ayers had not been the subject of so much attention before the election, whether he too would have been given a major appointment as an education czar?