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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: January 2010

Last week, radical “historian” Howard Zinn suffered a fatal heart attack while on vacation. I was asked by John Leo, director of The Manhattan Institute’s “Minding the Campus” website, to write a critical obituary of him. You can read it here, or in a slightly different version at The New York Post yesterday.

One of the points I make in my analysis is that while it is easy to show how poor a historian Zinn was; indeed, I argue that it is dubious to even honor him with that title, since he was in reality little more than a leftist propagandist. Yet, I argued that Zinn was important because of the vast influence he had, and how many people took him seriously.

Little did I realize how true this was until I opened up yesterday’s New York Times, and read the incredible fatuous column by one of their regulars, Bob Herbert.  Because the paper’s editors think they are publishing an objective and centrist newspaper, they have obviously hired Herbert as their left-wing columnist. Paul Krugman, obviously, is not sufficient for that job.  Reading Herbert, if anyone does and even takes him seriously, is an arduous chore.

But in yesterday’s column, Herbert outdid himself. Calling Howard Zinn “A Radical Treasure,” Herbert writes that “His death this week at the age of 87 was a loss that should have drawn much more attention from a press corps that spends an inordinate amount of its time obsessing idiotically over the likes of Tiger Woods and John Edwards.”  Leaving aside the truth that at one moment, John Edwards was as much the darling of the Left as Zinn, (indeed, many on the Left saw the first exposes of Edwards’s  affairs as cheap right-wing smears orchestrated by The National Enquirer) Herbert’s argument rests on what he considers to have been Zinn’s great importance to America.

Ironically, Herbert’s column proves my main point about Zinn’s influence, one that in fact was  entirely spurious and in fact harmful to those who still have some hope that reading good history can serve to inform the American public at large. Herbert, of course, is enamored at the TV and film documentary Zinn and Anthony Arnove had undertaken, “The People Speak.” Like Zinn, Herbert believes whatever change came to America came only from “below,” from the dissent and protest of the poor and the oppressed.

In fact, as Frederick Douglass acknowledged before his death, change came from a combination of what abolitionists had put on the nation’s agenda, and the political system created by the Founding Fathers that led great men like Lincoln to function within the existing system and help create democratic politics that could enact legislation that led to a fairer and more just nation.

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In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama skirted gingerly and quickly over the vital issue of national security policy, and how our country will address it. He gave boilerplate attention to the overriding issue of whether the United States and its European allies will do anything meaningful to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, aside from once again saying that Iran must be stopped. While the President said all Americans stand united in protection of our national security, he said nothing about the growing debate over whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other 9/11 terrorists should be tried in civilian court in New York City, and on the scandal brewing over the failure to adequately interrogate Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab after his failed attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

Let us reflect for one moment on what we have learned the past few days about what appears to be a short 50 minute interrogation before Mutallab was read his Miranda rights, and hence became silent as he prepared to lawyer up. While the administration claims the FBI learned whatever he knew about beforehand, others have received reports that in fact, the severely burned and incoherent Mutallab was unable to provide much information. Moreover, in the recent Senate hearings, it was made clear that none of our nation’s top national security personnel, including National Intelligence chief  Dennis Blair, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano and Counterrrorism Center director Michael Leiter, were consulted about how to proceed. Nor were orders given to have Mutallab interrogated by a new agency created for just such events, the HIG- or High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.

Now, Newsweek’s top intelligence correspondent, Michael Isikoff,  has challenged their testimony. Iskioff says that in fact, Leiter and Obama’s counterrorism advisor, John Brennan, held a telephone conference call and a Justice Department lawyer briefed them and told them that Mutallab would be indicted on criminal charges the next day. Iskikoff writes:

Neither Leiter nor any of the other participants, including representatives from the FBI and the CIA, raised any questions about the Justice Department’s plans to charge the suspect in federal court, the officials said.  “If you participate in a conference call and you don’t raise any objections, that suggests you were consulted,” said one senior law-enforcement official. Another added that “nobody at any point” raised any objections, either during the meeting or during a four-hour period afterward when Abdul Mutallab was informed of his Miranda rights to be represented by a lawyer.

When administration officials were queried about this by Iskikoff, administration spokesman meekly replied that they were “informed” about the decision but not “consulted” about it. In other words, they indeed knew what the administration’s course of action would be, and said nothing at all to indicate any opposition. Rather than admit this before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the responsible officials preferred to obfuscate by engaging in semantic wordplay.

All indication is, in fact, that the decision to proceed with a criminal indictment, as well as that of trying the five Al Qaeda prisoners in a criminal court in NYC, rather than before a military tribunal, came from Attorney General Eric Holder. All of this raises an important question. Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, are making it clear that they will urge Congress not to vote funds to hold a trial in New York, and yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed his mind and officially stated that the trial, if held, should take place elsewhere and not in the city he presides over as its chief executive.

Although Bloomberg said he hoped that Holder and the President would change their minds, little indication exists that they will. This raises two important political and constitutional questions: Is the decision to try them as criminals rather than as prisoners of war legal, and are those who made this decision to be held accountable? If it is not legal, and if it was indeed Eric Holder’s decision, is this an impeachable offense?

The case for impeachment of Eric Holder has been made boldly and forcefully by a friend and colleague, the distinguished economic historian of recent America, Martin J. Sklar.  He has done so in a Memo on the issue of War and the Law that he has been privately circulating.  He has given me permission to summarize and quote from what I consider to be a compelling case.

Written in mid and late November, Sklar’s argument holds up even more so given recent developments. His premise is that POWs are subject to the laws of war, and not to the civil or criminal law of the detaining country or government.  If they are put on trial, they may not be tried in civilian courts, but only in military tribunals in accordance with the laws of war. As we know, this is indeed the course followed by FDR during World War II. As Morris Davis, chief US Military Commission prosecutor at Guantanamo, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in November of 2009,  the classification of defendants as POWs rather than criminal defendants is consistent with Geneva Convention requirements.  As he explained, “Military commissions satisfy the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, which are the source of the detainees’ rights. The rights in federal courts surpass the Geneva Conventions requirements and give detainees more than their status and the law demand.”

First, Sklar argues that neither the President nor the Attorney General has given any adequate reason why the five Al Qaeda defendants are any different than those who are going to be tried in tribunals.  Moreover, the claim of both that civilian juries will find them guilty, so there is nothing to worry about, is of course prejudicial in itself and makes a mockery of any civilian trial, in which defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. Of course, we already know in advance that they were guilty. As Sklar concludes on this issue, the statements of both Holder and President Obama “compromise the integrity of the judicial procedure, and may place it in a disruptive jeopardy.”

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Last Friday, along with millions of others, I watched Glenn Beck’s first TV documentary, “The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die,”  his attempt, as he puts it on his website, “to examine the roots of socialism and communism and the evil that followed.”  As one of the most controversial and one might say hated contemporary media figures on the Right, it was to be expected that his entrée into the documentary field would meet instant harsh criticism.

The first round of attacks came from some academics interviewed by Michael Calderone for Politico. Calderone saw it not as an attempt to educate viewers about the totalitarian monsters of the previous century, but as a mechanism for using “imagery pulled from the 20th century’s totalitarian past to make a point about citizens needing to be wary of government overreach in the present.”   He quoted Beck as having previously promoted the program by saying that “‘progressives’ don’t want the public to know about this history and that it’s  ‘not being taught in classrooms in America.’”

Next Calderone queried academics, including Clemson University Professor Steven Marks and Boston College noted political scientist and author Alan Wolfe, both of whom found little of merit, if anything, in the documentary. Marks thought Beck was trying to hint at a resemblance of contemporary liberals to figures like Hitler and Stalin. Moreover, Marks argued that “no one in their right mind is going to defend Stalin or Mao or Che Guevara.” Evidently Prof. Marks has not seen or heard about Steven Soderbergh’s recent lengthy film on Che, or the scores of pro-Che and pro Castro documentaries broadcast over the years on PBS, or anyone wearing a T-shirt heralding Che as a great liberator.

I don’t know what planet Professor Marks is living on, but if he wants to get in touch with me, I’ll bore him to death with scores of examples from prominent figures in both the academy and the political Left who in fact regularly engage in precisely just such glorification. If they do not glorify them, they will come up with scores of reasons to explain why their mechanisms of political control were forced on them by the opposition of American imperialism to their valiant attempt to establish socialism. This used to be par for course to explain Stalinism; now it is more often used by many to account for and to excuse Castro’s transformation of Cuba into a totalitarian state.

So, I suspect that although I did not learn anything new from Beck’s program (I am hardly, however, the average viewer), his footage and interviews on Communism were excellent. On Cuba, the two talking heads were Cuban scholar Humberto Fontova, author of numerous books and two exposing Che Guevara in particular; and Reason magazine’s former editor in chief and now head of Reason TV, Nick Gillespie. Both did a yeoman job of putting Castroism in context, and in revealing the reality of Castro’s prison island.  Gillespie essentially said on camera much the same thing as appears now on his magazine’s website. Beck also included a tear-wrenching interview with a Cuban widow and her daughter who witnessed the execution of their husband and father by firing squad on Cuban TV after Castro took power.

On the Soviet Union, the documentary concentrated on the Ukraine, and included an interview with the outgoing current President as well as the comments of  Rutgers University Professor Taras Hunczak, who told the story of the state induced famine and the horrendous consequences for the people of the Soviet Union who lived under the regime of terror created by Lenin, Stalin and their successors. Also presenting material was a Latvian prize winning documentary filmmaker, Edvins Snore, whose own film, “The Soviet Story,” reveals  how the current generation of young Russians remain ignorant of their own past history and now, as a consequence, often mindlessly defend Stalin as a great leader of his people.

On Mao and China, Beck brought to his camera the noted Chinese exile author, Jung Chang, whose magisterial biography of Mao, co-authored with her husband Jon Halliday, has been justly praised as definitive. Her own family memoir, Wild Swans, is one of the most powerful and impressive works of literary biography, in which Chang weaves her family’s stories through three different eras of Chinese history. It is clear from the caliber of the people Beck used to tell the story of Communism that the documentary has to be taken as a serious effort, and not dismissed as easily as did the academics who spoke to Calderone.

I suspect what most irked the academics was Beck’s choice of the general commentator on the roots of fascism, National Review contributing editor Jonah Goldberg, author of the best-selling book Liberal Fascism, which received the disdain of not only most academics, but that of liberal journalists and writers, who trashed it in various venues. This is not the time or place to discuss his thesis, but those interested in seeing how professional historians loathe it can immediately go to the fierce round of attacks up this week on the website of the  History News Network.

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The special election in Massachusetts has highlighted the vast disconnect between commentators on the right and the left about what President Barack Obama stands for. To libertarians like Glenn Beck and conservatives like Sean Hannity, Obama is either a Marxist or confirmed radical, who has sought to put over an overt socialist or even communist agenda. But to proud leftists like the editors and writers for the Nation, he is, as Gary Younge puts it, a candidate “who never claimed he was a radical,” but who offered the left only “hope and inspiration.” He was a progressive candidate, which Younge argues “is not the same as his actually being progressive.” Take that, Glenn Beck!

The same refrain comes from Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel and left-wing activist leader Robert L. Borosage.  Obama in his first year, they write, did not create the “transformational presidency” some thought he promised; instead, he gave in to the big banks, big pharmaceuticals and the corporate world as a whole. Indeed, their side learned a hard lesson: “Obama is not the Messiah.” Some of us might have told them that a year ago, when to all indications, the entire left viewed Obama the candidate in just such a fashion. But Vanden Heuvel and Borosage, like their colleague Younge, note that Obama  “has never been a movement progressive the way Reagan was a movement conservative.”  Thus he has ceded the “terrain to the legions of the old order that are mobilized to fend off real reform.”

Their editorial statement, written before the election, indicates that they were probably not too surprised at the election results, although their compatriots immediately would join in spinning it in a way that allows them to try and save face. Seeing Obama as a failure who raised hopes only to smash them when president, their argument essentially is that it was their fault not to create the mass movement that might have pushed Obama to really enact their socialist (i.e., “progressive”) agenda, and to let the right-wing populists of the tea party movement usurp the frustration of the people.

So what are these self-proclaimed “progressives” saying about the meaning of Scott Brown’s victory? Are they going to learn the lesson that Bill Clinton learned early in his administration? Clinton learned that to get something done he had to listen to the electorate and move to the center/right. Rather than forge ahead with a highly unpopular attempt to create universal health care, he had to stand for programs that had bi-partisan support and that were opposed by the left. As we know, it was with Republican backing that Clinton got NAFTA through and initiated welfare reform, much to the consternation of that era’s leftists.

If the president listens to his supporters, he will not, and will surge forward in the same car that is about ready to go over the cliff in next November’s election. Take the advice of E.J. Dionne, who at one time was the most sensible and nuanced of liberal commentators. Now, Dionne argues that the failure was not Obama’s, but that of the Republicans who refused to support programs they had valid reasons to oppose. If Obama engaged in secret “inside deal-making,” Dionne says, it was the opposition’s fault.  The administration’s secret measures alienated Obama’s own base, who “believed in his promises of transformation” as well as the center that liked the president’s “conciliatory” style.

If only the Republicans  backed a bill that would have greatly increased the deficit, resulted in new high premiums for insurance and higher taxes, then all would have been well. But they didn’t, and hence, Obama had to make deals for no lower priced drugs and create a program that was a windfall for the insurance companies. So, Dionne says, moderates “saw expanding deficits and high unemployment,” which opened the electorate to accept  a “Republican story that linked the two and blamed the Democrats.” Does Dionne really think there is no connection?

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I did not intend to blog today, since all the pundits you could check out have made their own analysis of what led to the gigantic Scott Brown victory last night. But having read many articles and analysis, I want to point the way for PJM readers to a few of what I consider the very best and the most insightful.

First, at TNR.com (Jennifer Rubin also links to this on Commentary’s Contentions website) is John B. Judis’ absolutely brilliant and essential analysis. Judis makes this point about the still important white working-class vote:

 Since the 1960s, when the Democratic Party split over race, and later over cultural issues as well, the white working class has been a key vote in elections. Their departure from the Democrats in the South helped account for the transformation of the Deep South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. And in the Northern states, and particularly in Midwestern states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, they have been the swing vote in state and presidential elections. It’s a fair measure to say that if a Democrat can get about 45 percent of the white working-class vote, he or she can carry Ohio–Obama got about 44 percent in 2008. But if he gets only 40 percent or less in these states, he will lose those states and lose national elections. The white working-class vote may not be as important in five or ten years, as the demography of America shifts, but it remains so now—an enduring legacy of the politics of the late ’60s.

He then makes the following point:

These two groups of voters have not viewed Obama’s presidency in a fundamentally different way from many other voters, but they, and particularly working-class whites, have been the prime source of a populist anger against the Obama administration. They have perceived Obama as robbing Peter to pay Paul–or more concretely, taking benefits from and imposing higher taxes on them in order to provide greater income and benefits to others. And we are talking here about perceptions.

He notes that what Obama has created is almost the impossible: his policies have united both right-wing and left-wing populists, because, as he writes,  the opposition to health-care “derived in part from the plan to tax ‘Cadillac’ health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance,  and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies.”

Also at TNR.com is the analysis of Thomas B. Edsall, who throughout his career, has been always cognizant of the intersecting ways in which race and class effect the electorate.  Noting the anxiety of voters who fear that the health-care reform is based on the fear that “many voters consider the health care bill a multibillion-dollar transfer of taxpayer money to the uninsured, a population disproportionately, although by no means exclusively, made up of the poor, African Americans, Latinos, single parents, and the long-term unemployed,” Edsall writes that the white working-class “view themselves as only marginally better off than those they perceive as the recipients of new government benefits. They look at health care reform and worry that they have little or nothing to gain and much to lose. In the end, Democrats failed to tailor their salesmanship of health care reform to allay the qualms of these voters, of the white working class.”

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Do any of PJM’s readers recall or know about Ramparts Magazine? A writer for @Issue,  an Online Magazine of Business and Design, writes that “today Ramparts is little known, except by those over 55 and serious magazine history buffs, but in its day it rocked the editorial world with its explosive investigative reporting, entertaining style and sophisticated design. More than a fringe periodical put out by young radicals, it was a political force to be reckoned with and a launchpad for some of the top journalists working today.” Well said, but why the sudden attention and the sudden new hype?

The reason is the recent publication of a book by Peter Richardson, A Bomb In Every Issue: How the Short Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America. The title alone gives the magazine perhaps more clout than it really had. Despite the new attention paid to it, and the reviewer in The New York Times Book Review arguing that it was “a slick, muckraking magazine that was the most freewheeling thing on most American newsstands during the second half of the 1960s ,” the book does not appear to be on any best seller lists, it is not easily found in bookstores, and its number is quite high on Amazon, which indicates it probably is not selling that well.

Yet, it is certainly true that Ramparts was the only left-wing magazine of its day, and perhaps the only one to ever achieve such heights, that had a circulation in 1968 of 250,000. Reading about Vietnam on its pages, Martin Luther King Jr. was so upset that against the advice of his own advisors in the civil rights movement, he began to speak out publicly in opposition to the Vietnam War. That act alone was proof enough of the magazine’s reach and influence. 

Its other major scoop was the revelation that the CIA had, as Sol Stern recalls, secretly penetrated and financed the National Student Association. His story soon led to a virtual avalanche of mainstream reporting when Tom Wicker, the New York Times Washington DC bureau chief, assigned a team of top notch reporters who had both access and unlimited funds, to flesh out the story with how the Agency was funding scores of other front groups, labor unions, cultural journals and book publishers.

In San Francisco, the cheerleading crowd is doing its best to remember the magazine that was published in that city, and whose top resident journalist today, Robert Scheer, was once its co-editor. They have held forums and celebrations, remembering vividly those good old days when they dominated the mainstream culture and pushed others in their direction.

But the two most important articles about the real and very negative influence on our politics and culture that the magazine had comes from former editors. The first is the one by Stern,who took an editorial job with Ramparts in 1965, and along with Scheer and the San Franciso whirlwind character Warren Hinckle, became the triumverate that put the magazine on the map. The second is by Peter Collier, who along with David Horowitz, pulled off a palace coup that led to Scheer’s ouster in 1969-70 that put Collier and Horowitz on the top rung in place of Scheer and the already departed  Hinckle, who had left in1969.

Both former editors, who are now important conservative intellectuals, make a similar analysis about the very negative effects on our culture and polity that Ramparts had. The first is that the magazine tred a thin line between journalism and a vehicle for radical activism. One of the first Collier-Horowitz issues featured a front page photo of a Bank of America branch burning to the ground, after radical students in California had torched it. Their cover logo stated its destruction “may have done more for saving the environment than all the teach-ins put together.” Another cover featured four hands- those of the magazine’s editors-burning their draft cards. Both were a clear call for radical action and not reportage.  As Stern writes, “I don’t know if burning our draft cards advanced the antiwar cause, but it surely added to Ramparts’ media luster.”

It was quite early that the magazine’s cache in the radical movement got to the editors’ heads. Hinckle sent ten top writers and other friends to Chicago to cover the planned action at the 1968 Democratic convention. But instead of staying in Grant Park and the streets with the movement, they ensconsed themselves at the posh Ambassador East Hotel and held court in the expensive Pump Room restaurant, more fun than fleeing tear gas and billy clubs. When it came time to write their story, they moved to the equally famous Algonquin in New York. As Stern notes, they had no special inside scoops. The one they could have run with they chose to ignore. That was their inside knowledge that Tom Hayden, the guru of the New Left, planned in advance for a “violent confrontation with the ‘war machine,’” in order to in their eyes expose the fascist core of the supposed democratic American political structure.

Before Stern left, Scheer and Hinckle, and later  Collier and Horowitz,  devoted many issues to praise of the Black Panthers and Huey Newton, running a Hayden article in which he extolled the Panthers as America’s “internal Viet Cong,” and his now famous call for creation by white youth of “liberated zones” from which the Revolution would spread, “liberated” areas similar to Ann Arbor,Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; Berkeley,California and New York City’s Upper West Side.

In his article, Peter Collier vividly portrays the magazine’s accomplishments in one paragraph:

 The magazine had stumbled into a historical sweet spot. Vietnam had pried the lid off of America’s long postwar consensus and Ramparts, often confusing wish fulfillment with for fact-checking, was there to publish what came out of Pandora’s Box. Conspiracy theories? We had the assassination franchise and made the country drink the witches’ brew Jim Garrison had whipped up down in New Orleans. Black liberation? The magazine made the Black Panthers into a national phenomenon, a locked and loaded makeover of the civil rights movement. The romance of Third Worldism? Ramparts was an open mic for Castroism and helped author the myth of Saint Che by secretly obtaining and publishing the Guevara diaries. The war itself? In one of those pictures that actually is worth a thousand words, Ramparts made a stipulation when it produced one of its classic covers showing Ho Chi Minh in a sampan posed as George Washington crossing the Delaware.

It is clear enough, thinking about this, that what the magazine did is in fact to popularize so many of the destructive myths that now many who never saw the magazine or even heard of it assume is pure factual truth. Was Ho Chi Minh Vietnam’s  George Washington, rather than its Mao and Stalin? Of course not. But today, Ramparts’ claims are Oliver Stone’s  and Howard Zinn’s true history of the 1960’s. Was Cuba and Fidel the island’s liberator rather than its Lenin? No, but it is the truth if you ask Danny Glover or Harry Belafonte or Steven Speilberg, etc etc. Scheer, Hinckle, Stern, Collier and Horowitz made these views commonplace. 

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Tomorrow is the Democrat’s D-Day, and the entire nation will be watching. At present, depending on which poll you prefer, Scott Brown is anywhere from 5 points to 10 points ahead of the Democratic incumbent in the Massachusetts Senate seat, Martha Coakley. From all accounts, the momentum is with Brown. Indeed, as Mike Barnicle said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Brown was even ahead in working-class Democratic Marlboro. Brown has been out driving his truck throughout the state, shaking hands, standing in the cold and missing no beat. The clueless Coakley, on the other hand, when asked why she left the state to attend a fundraiser for DC lobbyists, retorted  “what do you want me to do, stand in the cold at Fenway Park and shake hands?”  Well…..

The result might well be the once unthinkable-a win for the mainstream conservative candidate, Scott Brown. As Boston TV political analyst Jon Keller points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal  “after Kennedy’s death in August, few imagined there would be any problem replacing him with another Democrat in the U.S. Senate. It’s been 16 years since Massachusetts elected a Republican to a congressional seat, 31 years since the last Republican senator left office. Gov. Patrick appointed a former Kennedy aide as the interim senator, and Democratic primary voters chose the well-regarded state Attorney General Martha Coakley as their nominee for the special election.”

But as Keller points out, independents- who outnumber Democrats in Massachusetts by a large percentage of over 51% of voters- are breaking for Brown by a three to one margin. Coakley is out of touch with the views of the electorate on issues of national security, taxation, as well as on the big one- health care reform. With nation-wide revulsion over the payoff to big Labor, who get an exemption for the Cadillac tax on high cost insurance premiums until 2018, while regular workers start paying in 2013, it is not surprising that so many voters in the Bay State are willing to give up Ted Kennedy’s old seat to a Republican.

And as everyone knows, the campaign is above all a referendum on the Obama administration’s health care bill. The American public does not like it, does not trust the Democrats’ assurances that it can pass without an increase in the deficit, without having to pay higher premiums for their insurance, while getting less secure medical care in exchange.  This is especially true in MASS, where the state already has an expensive state-wide health insurance plan.

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Health Care and the Fall of Obama

January 15th, 2010 - 1:21 pm

If  you want to know why President Obama’s poll ratings are slipping daily, and why  in Massachusetts the unthinkable may actually occur- a win for Republican Senate hopeful Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in the forthcoming Special Election- look no further than the new deals being made in an effort to pass health care legislation.

As a New York Times blog explains today, “the White House and Congressional leaders struck a tentative deal with organized labor groups on a proposal to tax high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance policies as one way to pay for the legislation. The bill the Senate passed included a version of this excise tax that the Congressional Budget Office said would generate $149 billion over 10 years toward the cost of the legislation. But after making changes to mollify organized labor groups and reduce the number of union-sponsored insurance plans that will be hit by the excise tax, the version of the tax to be included in the final bill will probably generate only $90 billion, officials said.”

To get through the double-talk, what the compromises with special interests means, as the news report makes clear, is  “an approximately $50-billion hole…[in the deficit that] is expected to grow even bigger as top White House officials and Congressional leaders work through other issues that will raise the cost of the legislation.”

As another Times report explained, “under the bill passed last month by the Senate, the federal government would have imposed a 40 percent tax on the value of employer-sponsored health coverage exceeding $8,500 a year for an individual and $23,000 for a family. The tax would have taken effect in 2013. White House officials, Democratic Congressional leaders and labor unions said Thursday that they had agreed to an increase in those thresholds to $8,900 for an individual and $24,000 for a family. Moreover, they said, starting in 2015, the cost of separate coverage for dental and vision care would be excluded from the calculations. In addition, they said, health plans covering state and local government employees and collectively bargained health plans would be exempt from the tax until 2018.”

Then there is the Medicare problem, and the plan to increase the Medicare payroll tax.   The Times explains: “One criticism is that the approach would undermine one of the core original concepts of Medicare, which is that it serves a social insurance compact between generations of Americans, with the working population contributing premiums (the payroll tax) that pay benefits after retirement. By this argument, as a smaller number of wealthy Americans pay a larger share of the future benefits of Medicare for everyone, the program looks more like traditional welfare than a prepaid retirement benefit.”

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Polls show that most high school students are completely unaware of American history. They confuse the Civil War with World War II; FDR with the Founding Fathers, etc. They don’t have to worry about our nation being condemned to relive the past, since they don’t understand we have one.

It’s bad enough that they get their politically correct history from Howard Zinn, about whom I recently blogged. But now, we have learned that Americans will be getting their history from a new series directed by none other than Oliver Stone, the conspiracy monger film director.  Stone is already most well-known for his film JFK, in which those who saw it learned that discredited New Orleans DA Jim Garrison had uncovered the conspiracy to kill Kennedy orchestrated by the CIA and the mob, and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of the plot.

If JFK was, as one critic put it, “an insult to the intelligence,” Stone’s new  Secret History of America, to be aired in a 10-part series on cable-TV’s Showtime channel, promises to be a virtual assault. Stone says he will concentrate on supposedly “under-reported” events, such as President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima. Underreported? I guess that means Stone never saw the late Peter Jennings’ major ABC TV report that was based on Gar Alperovitz’s deeply flawed old book, in which Alperovitz argued that the reason the bomb was dropped was not to defeat Japan, but to threaten the Soviets. Nor has he evidently read many of the  scores of books that have appeared about this decision over the years, or the debates on the controversy, including one in which I took part.

Stone, however, says he is doing this because it is “the deepest contribution I could ever make in film to my children and the next generation.” I can’t stop Stone from trying to teach made-up history to his own offspring, but I can try to warn viewers in advance from giving him any credibility.

Stone, of course, is the filmmaker who in the past few years has given his documentary eye to making  hosannas to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and now, evidently, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Those who wonder if his high regard for totalitarian dictators will have any effect on his new series should have no fears. As was recently announced, Stone hopes to “to put mass murderers such as Stalin and Hitler ‘in context.’” Or as Stone himself puts it: “Stalin, Hitler, Mao, McCarthy — these people have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history.”  Always the skeptical contrarian, Stone evidently believes that if the majority of historians see them in any but a favorable light, it is time to reevaluate them.

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While Democrats like Senator Chris Dodd are announcing they will not run for re-election, others contemplating changing from Democrats to Republicans or trying to decide whether or not they have a chance of getting re-elected come next November’s mid-term elections, the left-wing of the Democratic Party is having conniptions about why Obama is selling them out.

During the holidays, one of my few remaining left-wing friends went to several holiday parties. Everyone there, he told me, was complaining about how Obama had betrayed them by discarding the public option and increasing troop levels in Afghanistan (from which they favor unilateral withdrawal). My friend answered that he was not surprised, since Obama campaigned on Afghanistan being “the necessary war” that he his administration would win. That’s why he voted for a miniscule third party.

Ironically, while the hard Left sees Obama as a traitor to their cause (“We elected him,” they continually argue, “yet he has betrayed us.”), the hard Right sees the President as a Manchurian candidate, dedicated to creating a socialist or communist America by stealth means. Aaron Klein of World.Net Daily is co-author of a book to be published in a few months, called The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists. I am fairly sure that Klein will be able to show that in his past, Obama indeed did have such ties, particularly in his student and Chicago days.

But I remain skeptical that as President today- whatever milieu he grew up in and whatever movements he sympathized with or belonged to- he is now consciously acting as a secret radical trying to enact the agenda of those he hung out with in years past. David Horowitz makes a similar argument about Obama’s ties to the late guru of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. He has written a short essay titled Barack Obama’s Rules For Revolution:The Alinsky Model, available for purchase here.

Horowitz argues in his article that as President, he learned the “strategy of deception” that Alinsky openly advocated and is using that strategy as Chief Executive to achieve his radical agenda through the back door. I agree that Barack Obama is undoubtedly the most left-wing President our nation has had, and that his policies are likely to push America in the direction of  European social-democracies, most of which are struggling under the burden of unsustainable  entitlements.

But I am not completely convinced by Horowitz’s argument, that Obama is the embodiment of   of Alinskyism. Certainly the President at one time was a protégé of Alinsky’s, and worked as a committed member of a group that adhered to his principles. But as President, even if he once  hoped that he could use his office to enact such an agenda, he has come up against the realities of  our political system and its economic framework, and finds himself constrained by these realities. If Obama’s goal is still socialism or the “revolution,” as Horowitz thinks, he is not making much headway.  At any rate, I urge PJM readers to buy a copy of Horowitz’s booklet, and decide for yourself whether or not you find it convincing.

When Obama hoped to save the economy from crashing; he turned to Wall Street. Military realities had him increasing levels in Afghanistan and continuing many of President Bush’s policies. If anything, his kowtowing to despots and his appeasement of the Iranian mullahs has only worked to reveal his inexperience, and has hurt his popularity and his appeal.  On the domestic front, he campaigned for the public option and told audiences he favored the single-payer system, the program favored by the Left as the road to socialized medicine a la England and Canada. But as President, he found that this was unobtainable, readily scuttled it and is now trying to put over an unpopular and deeply flawed alternative behind closed doors that both Left and Right oppose, and of which the political center is skeptical.

That is why, in the Washington Post, left-wing columnist Harold Meyerson, an avowed democratic socialist, bemoans the failure of today’s Left to create a social and political movement that will succeed in pushing the President towards the leftist future they fear he has abandoned. Why are they failing, Meyerson asks? His answer: “The absence of a vibrant left movement.”

As Myerson sees it, thinking obviously of FDR’s “second New Deal” which saw the passage of the Wagner Labor Relations Act, the growth of unionism, and the passage of Social Security, a new surge forward necessitates precisely what took place in the 1930’s, such as “mass organizations of the unemployed; farmers’ groups that blocked foreclosures, sometimes at gunpoint; general strikes that shut down entire cities, and militant new unions that seized factories.” And, he notes, “both communists and democratic socialists were enough of a presence in America to help shape these movements, generating so much street heat in so many congressional districts that Democrats were compelled to look leftward as they crafted their response to the Depression.”

Actually, as Meyerson knows, it was only the Communists who became the left-wing of the New Deal; his own beloved Socialist Party of Norman Thomas was a small and ineffective organization, most of whose members deserted its ranks and became liberal New Dealers. And what Meyerson ignores, and what the late socialist historian James Weinstein showed in an important book, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, most of the major social reforms like social security had the support and guidance of large corporations, who favored stability and regulation to prevent a real radical upheaval.  I argued much the same about the kind of labor and other social reforms Meyerson thinks were the result of popular struggles, in an essay I wrote decades ago about the conservatism of the actual New Deal, which can be downloaded here, or as a PDF here.  (Pay special attention to the data I provide about the major large corporations who supported and lobbied for the Social Security Act.)

Meyerson also argues that it was the civil rights movement, which he notes was led by avowed socialists like Martin Luther King and James Farmer, that pushed Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy to pressure a reluctant Congress to “enact fundamental reforms.”

I would make two points in response to that argument. There was a mass civil rights movement, but it was one predicated on using the tactic of non-violence to challenge America to realize the promise of our democracy. Moreover, as recent scholars have shown, the Establishment saw the necessity for civil rights, if the Cold War propaganda of the Soviet bloc that portrayed the entire nation as a racist enclave was to be defeated. And King and Farmer who were undoubtedly privately socialists of one sort of another, never made their economic views public or argued on the behalf of a socialist program.  

So Harold Meyerson calls for “autonomous, vibrant mass movements.” Unfortunately for him, one does exist today, and as you guess, he is anything but happy about it. This is because it is the Tea Party movement, that so irritates the Left, whose spokesmen condemn it as “right-wing populism” gone mad. But without a counterpart on the left, Meyerson worries that “Congress isn’t feeling much pressure from the left to move Obama’s agenda.”

As for the Right, he says that its movement has had “great success,” but “isn’t really for anything but that has channeled anew the fears and loathings of millions of Americans.”  Meyerson claims to speak for the real people; who want what he earlier says is Obama’s true desires: “health care for all, financial re-regulation, climate-change legislation and a Keynesian stimulus to revive a wounded economy.” But instead of a new “progressive era,” we have “right-wing pseudo populism.”

Mr. Meyerson does not understand, evidently, that common people do not want cap and trade that will decrease jobs and take money from their pay checks for high priced utilities; nor do they want a stimulus that helps the banks and corporations and does little for Main Street.

So how does Meyerson hope to gain his desired mass movement? Not by community organizing as practiced by the ACORN types. No, he asks instead that it be created by Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann! I kid you not. After all, he thinks the tea parties were created by Glenn Beck, who actually moved to support them after local groups started them on their own. His own group on the democratic Left are too busy working in the higher echelons of journalism and the academy, I think, to be bothered with actual organizing efforts of those they purport to lead. So it seems he prefers to write a column and ask his favored media figures to do the work for him.

In past years, Harold Meyerson was a member of the democratic socialist group led by Michael Harrington and whose intellectual star was Irving Howe. Were these men still alive, they would have been horrified to read Meyerson’s column. Harrington and Howe may have had wrongheaded ideas, but they were serious people who eschewed all forms of populism. I knew Harrington and Howe well, and to them and Meyerson I say, “you are no Harrington and Howe.”
So if today’s Left has to depend upon Maddow and Olbermann to do its work for them, I think conservatives have little to worry about.