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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: April 2010

There is no better précis of how the Left thinks about the world, and acts on it, than the British journalist Nick Cohen’s article appearing in the new issue of Standpoint. Cohen writes a candid appraisal of what left-wing politics did to the mind and life of the late actor Corin Redgrave, brother  of the more famous Vanessa, who like her brother, is a lifetime member of a small fanatic Trotskyist sect, the Workers Revolutionary Party, led by a man named Gerry Healy. The group was so fanatic that it accused Trotsky’s American followers of having been responsible for his murder in Mexico, ignoring all the evidence that it was an NKVD operation orchestrated by Joseph Stalin.

As  Cohen notes, all the Redgraves are good actors. Vanessa could, while she denounced Israel and praised Palestinian terrorists, at the same time appear on American television as a Jewish concentration camp victim in a Holocaust drama. I used to say, when people asked for my position on the blacklist of the 1950s, that I despise Vanessa Redgrave’s politics, but would go at a minute’s notice to see her perform in a Broadway play.  I praised her acting ability, and her prowess as an actor did not make me pay an ounce of attention to her political harangues.

This, of course, is not how the British media (so similar to the American media in this regard) dealt with her brother’s politics after his recent death. All the usual sources praised Redgrave as a man who fought “injustice and oppression,” and who tried “to make a better world.” That is certainly the case, if by a better world one means the regimented police states so favored by Marxist-Leninist regimes, to which Redgrave devoted his life.

As Cohen reveals, the truth is that both Vanessa and Corin “spent their adult lives serving a repellent totalitarian party led by a rapist and a friend not of ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, as Radio 4 pretended, but of dictatorship and terror.” Cohen paints a picture of the paranoia that surrounded the Trotskyist party’s headquarters in Clapham, and the leader’s admonition that all members “had to cut off all ties with everyone except the chosen few.”

Cohen cites the reality told by Corin’s first wife, Deirdre, who had the presence of mind to divorce the actor and raise her children in a normal fashion, rather than submit to the entreaties of the party militants. As Cohen puts it, she said that her husband was “wasting his time and being taken for a fool.” But Corin Redgrave, like Vanessa, seemed incapable of leaving what in essence was a cult. As Cohen perceptively writes:

The marriage broke up because no cult can tolerate a member with a wife on the outside gently pointing out that he is wasting his time and being taken for a fool. Healy knew that the more you invest in a political or religious cause, the harder it is to break from it. He ensured that his members would find it hard to break with him by working them close to exhaustion. The BBC and many others wondered why Redgrave disappeared from the stage for much of his career. Self-censorship prevented them from explaining that he was in thrall to a despot who would not allow him the space to flourish. One WRP member, Kate Blakeney, described the process. She spent so much time and money supporting the party that she could not afford to feed her own children. “We were too busy, always busy, and could hope only to catch a few hours’ sleep.” One day Healy asked to meet her in his London flat. She went hoping to convince him to give her and her comrades in Oxford a respite from his demands: “[He] opened the door for me. He had been drinking. Something was all wrong. I pushed by his large body, sat down in the chair and started to make my report. Healy came towards me, was hovering over me. He was not listening to a word I was saying. He wanted only one thing from me, my sexual submission. For a moment, I just stared at him: fat, ugly, red-faced. Something inside of me snapped. I, my husband, my children, my comrades had sacrificed so much, had worked so hard for this…animal.”

This scene invokes the memory of the account offered in the searing memoir written by a young Iranian American, Said Sayrafiezadeh, When Skateboards Will Be Free. In his book, Sayrafiezadeh, a wonderful writer, tells a similar story of how her mother lived only for one thing, serving the Socialist Workers Party, as she was forced to move from home to home, without money or a job, devoting each minute of her day and many of her nights to handing out party newspapers and pamphlets, or putting up traveling comrades. When her little son was molested by one of them, the party leaders informed her that “this is what capitalism does to some people,” and she should merely forget the incident.

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From ACORN Grows a Big Nut

April 25th, 2010 - 3:55 pm

Bertha Lewis, the relatively new head of ACORN, took over the group in 2008, promising to clean up its finances, oust those responsible for corruption, and concentrate on enacting its goals of helping the poor. Her bio can be read here. When she took over the job as ACORN’s head,  she replaced the controversial group’s founder, Wade Rathke, whose brother compromised the organization by embezzling money, an act which Wade Rathke concealed from ACORN’s board. Crain’s magazine called Lewis one of the most influential women in New York City business.

Despite stories to the contrary, Lewis recently told NPR that ACORN was not disbanding, only transforming itself into a “leaner and meaner” operation so that it could continue its work.  Lewis explained: “Some of our state chapters have chosen to go their own way. We haven’t been able to maintain the resources, state-by-state, that we had, so we have gotten a little bit smaller. We’ve had to change some of our programming.” The reason for this, Lewis claims, is the repercussions that took place after the now famous videos “showed ACORN employees giving legal advice to conservative activists posing as a prostitute and a pimp.”  Congress voted after this to cut off further funding of ACORN, and hence, state affiliates have acted to continue by changing their name and dropping their old membership lists.

Now, thanks to the website Verum Serum, a new video has emerged featuring portions of a speech Lewis gave in mid March to the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth arm of Democratic Socialists of America:

YouTube Preview Image

In her presentation, Lewis said:

Any of these groups that says, “I’m young, I’m Democratic, and I’m a socialist,” is okay with me. You know that’s no light thing to do — to actually say, I’m a socialist. You’ve got to know, actually, we are living in a time that’s going to dwarf the McCarthy era. It is going to dwarf the internment of World War II. We are right now in a time that is going to dwarf the era of Jim Crow and segregation.

They are coming. And they are coming after you. And they are going to be brutal and oppressive. They’ve already shown it. … This is not rhetoric or hyperbole — this is real. … This tea party so-called movement — a bowel-movement in my estimation — and this blatant uncovering and ripping off the mask of racism.

Her words deserve not only widespread attention, but serious comment since they emanate from a leader acclaimed by both New York magazine and Crain’s as someone who commands both respect and attention.  The first point to note is Lewis’ remarks that “it’s ok to with me” to call oneself a socialist.

This is particularly important since Saul Alinsky, the theorist of community organizing whose ideas inform ACORN’s leadership, made it clear, as David Horowitz has written in his study of Alinsky, that “the most basic principle of Alinsky’s advice to radicals is to lie to their opponents and disarm them by pretending to be moderates and liberals.”

The goal is then to activate the base by gaining power, which will be used to slowly but surely subvert the existing system and transform it.

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Today, I am reprinting my article on a new view of the McCarthy era, that appears on the website of the Manhattan Institute’s Higher Education site, Minding the Campus, edited by the journalist and writer John Leo. Following mine is an article on the state of history profession in the academy, written by historian K.C. Johnson, who with Stuart Taylor, wrote a first rate book on the Duke University scandal. Check his article out too.

April 22, 2010

A Fresh View of Cold-War America

By Ronald Radosh

Teaching in the universities about the so-called McCarthy era has become an area most susceptible to politically correct and one-sided views of what the period was all about. One historian who strenuously objects to the accepted left-wing interpretation that prevails in the academy is Jennifer Delton, Chairman of the Department of History at Skidmore College.

In the March issue of The Journal of the Historical Society Delton writes:

However fiercely historians disagree about the merits of American Communism, they almost universally agree that the post-World War II Red scare signified a rightward turn in American politics. The consensus is that an exaggerated, irrational fear of communism, bolstered by a few spectacular spy cases, created an atmosphere of persecution and hysteria that was exploited and fanned by conservative opportunists such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. This hysteria suppressed rival ideologies and curtailed the New Deal, leading to a resurgence of conservative ideas and corporate influence in government. We may add detail and nuance to this story, but this, basically, is what we tell our students and ourselves about post-World War II anti-Communism, also known as McCarthyism. It is fundamentally the same story that liberals have told since Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy in 1948.

This conventional narrative of the left has been told over and over for so many years that it has all but become the established truth to most Americans. It was exemplified in a best-selling book of the late 1970′s, David Caute’s The Great Fear, and from the most quoted one from the recent past, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. My favorite title is one written by the late Cedric Belfrage, The American Inquisition 1945-1960: A Profile of the “McCarthy Era.” In his book, Belfrage told the story of how he, an independent journalist who founded the fellow-traveling weekly The National Guardian, was hounded by the authorities and finally deported home to Britain. American concerns about Soviet espionage, he argued, were simply paranoia.

The problem with Belfrage’s account was that once the Venona files began to be released in 1995–the once top secret Soviet decrypts of communications between Moscow Center and its US agents—they revealed that Belfrage was a paid KGB operative, just as the anti-Communist liberal Sidney Hook had openly charged decades ago, and as turned KGB spy Elizabeth Bentley had privately informed the FBI in 1945. The Venona cables revealed that Belfrage had given the KGB an OSS report received by British intelligence concerning the anti-Communist Yugoslav resistance in the 1940′s as well as documents about the British government’s position during the war on opening a second front in Europe. It showed that Belfrage had offered the Soviets to establish secret contact with them if he was stationed in London.

Facts like these did not bother or budge the academic establishment. Most famously, Ellen Schrecker wrote in her book that although it is now clear many Communists in America had spied for the Soviets, they did not do any real harm to the country, and also most importantly, their motives were decent. She wrote, “As Communists, these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They thought they were ‘building…a better world for the masses,’ not betraying their country.”

Schrecker’s views were endorsed by former Nation publisher and editor Victor Navasky, who regularly in different articles argues that the Venona decrypts are either gossip or forgeries, irrelevant, or do not change his favored narrative that in the United States– only McCarthyism was a threat. As Navasky wrote, Venona was simply an attempt “to enlarge post-cold war intelligence gathering capability at the expense of civil liberty.” If spying indeed took place, it was “a lot of exchanges of information among people of good will, many of whom were Marxists, some of whom were Communists… and most of whom were patriots.” As for those who argue against his view, they were trying to “argue that, in effect, McCarthy and Co. were right all along.”

The lens through which McCarthyism has been seen, therefore, is one seen exclusively through the left-wing prism, which regards defense of one’s own democratic nation against a foreign foe as evil, and sees only testimony against America’s enemies as McCarthyite. What is therefore necessary is to look anew at the McCarthy era, not in the terms set by its Communist opponents, but from the perspective of examining dispassionately the nature of the entire epoch. Those who have chosen to do this, however, have been met with great opposition. A few years ago, the editors of The New York Times claimed that a new group of scholars “would like to rewrite the historical verdict on Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism.” Fearing such a development, the newspaper warned that it had to be acknowledged that it was McCarthyism more than Soviet espionage or Communist infiltration that was “a lethal threat to American democracy.”

If one disagreed with that assessment, the Times‘ editors implied that such scholars were themselves closet McCarthyites. This became a common tactic. Most recently, John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev published their definitive volume on the KGB in America, Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB In America. They made it quite clear in their book that McCarthy’s “charges were… wildly off the mark. Very few of the people he accused appeared in KGB documents (or the Venona decryptions), and by the time he made his charges, almost all Soviet agents had been forced out of the government and Soviet intelligence networks were largely defunct.” That disavowal did not help them. In the major review of their book that appeared in TLS, Amy Knight refers in passing to “the McCarthyite style of Haynes and Klehr.” Evidently, any argument that American Communists who spied for the Soviets did some real damage and were not victims of repression, is enough to brand the authors as “McCarthyite.”

If they accepted the failure of their old narrative that Delton summarizes so well, it would interfere with their cherished and still held view that all anti-Communism, as Schrecker wrote, “was misguided or worse,” that the anti-Communist or Cold War liberals were just as bad as the McCarthyites of the Right, and in fact served them intelligence agents who identified Reds, and who “tapped into something dark and nasty in the human soul.” If any harm took place “from Soviet-sponsored spies,” she wrote, it was “dwarfed by McCarthy’s wave of terror.”

That is precisely why the new article by Jennifer Delton is of such importance. For the first time, a young historian at a major liberal arts institution has dared to challenge the consensus view, and to declare that it is time for mainstream historians to acknowledge that their old framework of studying the “McCarthy era” was both misleading and incorrect. As she says near the beginning of her article, “New evidence confirming the widespread existence of Soviet agents in the U.S. government makes the Truman administration’s attempts to purge Communists from government agencies seem rational and appropriate—even too modest, given what we now know.” (my emphasis)

That remark alone is quite different from the conventional analysis offered by historians of the period: that it should not be called the McCarthy Era, but the Truman era of repression, since it was Truman who paved the way for McCarthy’s rise to power, by acting as if there was an actual Communist threat. Moreover, Delton continues to argue that even if the Communists were not among those who became actual KGB agents, whether in unions or political groups or in Hollywood, “there were still good reasons for liberals to expel Communists.” Rather than accept the framework of the Popular Front so beloved by the Left and by left-wing historians, who continue to think workers and Americans could not make real progress unless liberals and Communists cooperated in the post-war era, Delton notes that the Communists “were divisive and disruptive,” could cripple the groups they entered, and harm their very ability to attain their desired ends.

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 As readers of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal know,  last week Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and World Jewish Congress head Ronald S. Lauder purchased full page ads challenging President Obama’s policies on the Middle East and Israel.

Lauder’s ad appeared on April 15th. “We are concerned,” Lauder began, “about the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that brags about its genocidal intentions against Israel. We are concerned that the Jewish state is being isolated and delegitimized.” He continued:

Our concern grows to alarm as we consider some disturbing questions.  Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate.

Israel has made unprecedented concessions.  It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history. 

Israel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution.  Conversely, many Palestinians continue their refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. 

The conflict’s root cause has always been the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.  Every American President who has tried to broker a peace agreement has collided with that Palestinian intransigence, sooner or later.  Recall President Clinton’s anguish when his peace proposals were bluntly rejected by the Palestinians in 2000.  Settlements were not the key issue then. 

They are not the key issue now.

“Appeasement,” Lauder wrote the President, “does not work.” The real threat was not Israeli settlements, but “a nuclear armed Iran.”

One day later, Wiesel issued a statement to the press assuring them that his ad was not coordinated with Lauder’s WJC statement.  Wiesel said that Jerusalem must remain the spiritual capital of the world’s Jews, and should serve as a symbol of faith and hope – not as a symbol of sorrow and bitterness. He wrote: “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart and the soul of our soul.” Jerusalem, Wiesel said, “is above politics…It is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Quran… Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming.”

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These days, there is nothing old civil rights activists like to do better than hold reunions, where like World War II veterans, they trade war stories, recall the “good fight,” and praise themselves for leading the struggle which eventually led to the election of America’s first African-America President.

It should be no surprise then to find SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) activists “now averaging 65 years of age” engaging at such nostalgia at their recent reunion in Raleigh, North Carolina. According to the lengthy report filed in The Nation by the 1960s radical leader and SDS founder Tom Hayden, they sought to pass “the torch to a new generation fighting for a constitutional right to quality education.”

The keynote speech was given by Attorney General Eric Holder, who spoke at the same site where SNCC began as a coordinating group for the growing sit-in movement exemplified by the famous Woolworth counter sit-in, where a few black students demanded to be served. Their  calm demeanor and steadfastness exposed the nation to the reality of segregation. Holder, as Hayden could not refrain from noting, is now “under fire from the right” for trying to rebuild “the Justice Department’s civil rights division.” As for Obama, Holder told the SNCC veterans, “There is a straight line from those lunch counter sit-ins to the Oval Office today.”

The purpose of the event was not simply to reminisce, but to “rekindle the spirit of 1960 and build on SNCC’s achievements,” Holder added. “There is still marching to be done.” (On this issue, I will soon write on Abigail Thernstrom’s new book, Voting Rights — and Wrongs, in which she shows how far removed we are from the issues of that era.)

Undoubtedly, SNCC at the start played a major and courageous role in registering black voters in the South,  as well as participating in sit-ins and the Freedom Rides, at which now Congressmen John Lewis was savagely beaten in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1961.  The problem with glorifying SNCC’s entire history, however, is that the organization departed from its early position of working to establish what they called a “beloved community” based on non-violence and interracial harmony, a goal they shared with Martin Luther King, Jr., and adopted the Nation of Islam’s brand of black nationalism, separatism, and the advocacy of violence to achieve its stated ends — or as Malcolm X famously argued, “by any means necessary.”

Hayden acknowledges the problem, quoting a historian named Peniel Joseph, who spoke at the conference. Hayden writes:

SNCC became “a blip in the dominant [civil rights] narrative,” according to 37-year-old Tufts historian Peniel Joseph, who attended the conference. Historicizing SNCC is extremely important, he said, though there is a danger that “glorifying” the early SNCC implies that a “bad SNCC” developed after 1966 with the rise of Black Power, calls for self-defense and revolutionary internationalism. Those apparent extremes should not be discredited, Joseph said, but contextualized in the failed social response of the US government; the escalation of the Vietnam War at the same time as the Selma, Alabama, march; and the employment of counterintelligence programs by the FBI. (Emphasis in bold, mine.)

Joseph’s logic  should be familiar. It is the same argument once used by Stalinists to justify the terror of the Soviet regime under Stalin. As they said, “American encirclement of the Soviet Union, meant to destroy socialism,  forced the Bolsheviks to take harsh actions in response to the West’s opposition and counter-revolutionary policies.”  It is the logic of Bill Ayers in his memoir on the Weather Underground, when he argues that their militancy and bombings were a response to the evil and bombings of the United States, whose policies drove them to take extreme action.  This form of putting things into context can be used to explain and justify almost anything.

The conference chose only to celebrate “SNCC’s overall role in defeating segregation and winning voting rights,” and made “no effort at dividing ‘good’ from ‘bad’ SNCC’s, to distance the organization from its more radical phases.” Despite Hayden, the fact is is that there were two SNCC’s, and the second one was indeed not only bad, but very bad. One can find out the entire story in reading the very sympathetic but thorough history of the organization written by Clayborne Carson in 1981, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. He describes the major shift the organization underwent when its leader John Lewis was forced out and replaced by the militant Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Toure). As Carson writes, despite assurances that SNCC’s goal was the same one of ridding America of racism, “the contrast between Lewis’ moderation and Carmichael’s outspoken militancy was obvious to observers.”

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A few weeks ago, when discussing the Obama administration’s policy towards Israel, I linked to this 2008 Los Angeles Times report on how Rashid Khalidi and other supporters of the Palestinian cause regarded Barack Obama as their friend. Obama’s warm words at a going away party for Khalidi in 2003, when he was about to leave Chicago for New York City and a position at Columbia University, had “left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.”

On Sunday’s Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, Khalidi was a guest along with Bret Stephens, the pro-Israel columnist from the Wall Street Journal and former editor of the Jerusalem Post. During the discussion, Zakaria asked whether or not it was “a shift for the — the United States to be suggesting that this stalled peace process [between Israel and the Palestinians] hurts America’s ability to pursue its interests.” What the administration is now saying, Khalidi responded, “is that Israel is a drag on the United States. It’s not a strategic asset, and this is a discursive shift of some significance.” (my emphasis)  To put it a bit differently, Rashid Khalidi, who in 2008 worried that because of American politics Obama had to appear to be a supporter of Israel, now believes that Obama’s promise to move U.S. policy towards the Palestinian perspective is coming true.

Khalidi again emphasized his main point: “that Israel is not the strategic asset it was touted as during the Cold War” and that the  U.S. had returned “…in effect, to the Eisenhower administration’s view of the Middle East as an area where the United States has problems, and Israel is, in some small way, one of those problems.” Clearly, all the boilerplate assurances coming from the Obama camp in the past few weeks — assuring Americans that the U.S. commitment to Israel as a major ally is as firm as ever — have not dissuaded Khalidi from reaching a quite different conclusion.

Khalidi’s perspective, of course, comes entirely from that of the Arab world and its perpetual narrative: that Israel alone is at fault for the failure to attain peace or a Palestinian state. He explained: “If Israel continues to act in a way that antagonizes opinion all over the Muslim world, all over the Arab world, and in other parts of the world, to tell you the truth. You go other places, people say, why is the United States supporting this crazy policy? Then it becomes a liability instead of an asset.”

The debate became sharp, as Stephens retorted that rather than moving a peace process forward, everything the Obama team has been doing is moving things in the opposite direction. As Stephens said, “It basically sends a signal to Israel that this administration is not reliable, there’s no longer a kind of a hug-me-close mentality, which has — which has, in fact, moved Israel to, for instance, remove its settlements, its settlers from Gaza.”

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I had decided to write today about the importance of the journal National Affairs, whose third issue has just arrived at subscriber’s doors. Having had the chance this week to read many of the articles, it became quite clear to me why it is worthy of attention. Edited by the brilliant Yuval Levin, its editors and authors go out of the way to make serious and thorough arguments proposing conservative solutions and approaches to the problems our nation faces. The articles are a breath of fresh air when compared to the platitudes and repetitions of so many of the conservative talk show hosts. Their articles are written clearly, without jargon, and are easily accessible to anyone who is willing to read them.

Just as I was about to start my blog, I discovered that the Democratic policy wonk William Galston had the same idea, and weighs in on the journal’s strengths at the website of The New Republic. Galston, for those who are not familiar with him, is a Democratic activist who advised the Clinton administration, and a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution. I would describe him as on the center/right, and a committed Democrat who has for many years argued about the necessity to curb growing entitlements.

What attracted Galston in particular is the article in the journal by Donald Marron, whom he writes “makes an effective case that long-term fiscal imbalances matter—a lot.” I’ll let readers consult Galston and Marron on their own, to see what in particular Galston thinks Marron gets right. But what is important is that Galston thinks he “makes some strategic points that liberals should take seriously.” Liberals, in  other words, should not be so dismissive when conservatives make points that can be examined and turn out to be correct. Moreover, Galston is impressed that Marron realizes that not all conservative ideas have merit, and is willing to “question assumptions that guide much conservative fiscal dialogue.”  Nevertheless, writing in a liberal political journal for its audience, Galston praises Marron for “the kind of conservative thinking—empirically based and open to argument—with which liberals can and should engage.”  Galston realizes that in our nation, neither extreme of Left or Right will get everything they want. The nation has to reach what he calls a “grand bargain” if we are to move ahead. But that means, Galston warns, that liberals have to accept a diminishing of the kind of entitlements they have long desired.

The article he cites, as well as the ones I will single out, prove that conservative are able to reach those on the other side of the divide, if they cogently and seriously present their ideas, and are willing to entertain the thought that much of what they support may not be entirely valid.  I would single out what I consider one of the most important articles I have read on the health care crisis, that by Avik Roy, who is identified as an equity research analyst. Roy presents an assessment of the relationship between health care and the profit motive, and what is in effect a crisis not in health care, but in the form of health insurance that has existed for some time.

Roy’s argument is that those on the left and the right come at it from two different perspectives. “Simply put,” Roy writes, “liberals believe that health care is treated as a market commodity today but should not be, and conservatives think that health care is not treated as a market commodity but should be.” And never the twain shall meet. He continues to develop the case that in fact, health care is both a moral issue and an economic one, and that a system has to be created that develops a balance—providing health services to all including the poor, as well as a system that does not gain that end by bankrupting the country and proving impossible to work.

Roy manages to trace the development over the decades of the system that has fallen into disrepair, that of employer based fourth party insurance. At present, he notes, “conservatives say liberal programs are economically senseless, while liberals say conservative policies are morally ruthless.” To get around this impasse, Roy offers a cogent argument for the kind of health care market based policy that can work, and satisfy concerns of both liberals and conservatives. He agrees that health care must be available to the poorest of our citizens, but that it must be accepted that money is limited, and that a way must be found to rationally allocate care. His answer, which you can read, is what he calls “a free market in health care- with certain limitations.”

The second article addresses another major question, that of the housing crisis. Written by historian Vincent J. Cannato of The University of Massachusetts in Boston, he shows that today’s crisis did not develop out of thin air, but was a result of the very old ideology and belief that every American should own their own home. The result, he shows, is the growth of government policy designed to support home ownership, that has done both good but also great harm. And it also has been the policy of both Republican and Democratic administrations. It was part of Herbert Hoover’s “conservative progressivism” as well as F.D.R.’s New Deal liberalism. No one, liberal or conservative, was without blame.

Although eventually a home-owning middle class was created, Cannato shows us eventually hidden booby traps exploded, when home owners took loans readily available that they simply were not able to pay. It took decades more, but was the long-term result of policies that began decades earlier. And he is clear that not only liberals were responsible for the debacle. While he praises the late Jack Kemp for his sincere hope of building an opportunity society for the poor, the implementation of Kemp’s schemes “was largely a failure” and were not “a thoughtful response to social problems.”

Equally to blame were the policies of the Clinton administration, which partnered with lenders to make “more loans based on liberalized terms to lower-income home buyers, in exchange for better terms from Fannie and Freddie.” And he notes, Clinton’s policy, fraught with danger, was carried on and made worse by George W.  Bush. “Looking back,” Cannato writes, “it is easy to see how the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations contributed to the inflation and the bursting of the housing bubble. But these problems were much more than 15 years in the making. Clinton and Bush were simply following out the logical trajectory of the ideology of home ownership, advancing the policies of their predecessors. Like many others before them, they assumed with little evidence that home ownership would be a panacea. They believed that government backing of the mortgage market would reduce costs and increase liquidity. And they believed that the dangers of the riskiest mortgages could be adequately spread out across the market and measured by investors. They were wrong, of course — and now all of us are paying the price.”

Like other writers in the issue, Cannato points out that both some liberals and some conservatives both have blinders on, and serve as rather thoughtless cheerleaders for inflating the  housing market. Coming from very different places, both want to oppose efforts to tighten lending policies.  Cannato offers solutions that some will argue with, ending with his argument that we should reconsider the worthiness of renting, and dispense with the old American Dream that we all deserve to be homeowners. That dream, he says, “should be tethered to reality.”

These articles, as well as the others in the issue, reveal that conservatives have a major role to play in the national  dialogue over where we must go as a nation. Kudos are therefore due to National Affairs for helping us along the way.

New Jersey’s Crisis and the Liberals

April 14th, 2010 - 4:07 pm

When one speaks to liberals, it becomes apparent that they live in a world in which reality does not exist. Take, for a good example, the serious fiscal crisis in New Jersey. Jacob Laskin writes about it in  City Journal and explains its severity. One of the things that most irks liberal residents of the state is that Governor Chris Christie has dared to stand up to the teachers’ union and, given their recalcitrance to make any serious effort at compromise, has decided to cut some teacher’s jobs as well as those who work in the schools, such as lunchroom personnel and others.

The editors of The Wall Street Journal explained the tough decision in an editorial statement written by Bill McGurn. The liberals and the teachers’ union do not buy it. They cry out that “the children will be hurt”; Christie is clearly seen by liberals as the equivalent of a child murderer, who will deprive the poor of a necessary education. They refuse to even consider his modest solution — acceptance of a one year wage freeze and an agreement to contribute a modest 1 per cent of their salary — about $730 a year — to their inclusive health insurance which presently costs them nothing.

On “Morning Joe” yesterday, Christie appeared live, and respectfully and without rancor recounted how the state teachers’ union simply refuses to budge or even acknowledge the crisis in their midst. Instead, as was widely reported, one of its members posted a blog that ended with a wish that the governor be killed. Joe Coppola, the head of the Bergen County union chapter, wrote the following to his members:

“Dear Lord, this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays… . I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”

Christie informed his viewers that when the state union president came to his office to apologize, he told her that if she was serious, the union should fire Coppola. She turned and walked out of his office.  What a nice bunch of people. At the Daily Beast, John Avlon reported that Coppola’s message was just the first of many.  Avlon writes:

“Here’s an instant classic from Camden County Vocational and Technical High School biology teacher Marlene Brubaker, as uncovered by PolitickerNJ’s Wally Edge: “‘KingKrisKristy is copying from another famous dictator: Pol Pot, who got rid of teachers and intellectuals and turned the population against them. NJ has its own Khmer Rouge, it’s your Legislature.’ The KKK formulation of ‘KingKrisKristy’ was no accident, as a subsequent post by Brubaker made clear: ‘Your legislature is full of KKK’s yes-men. They bow to his will. They all need to be kicked out of office. I always called NJ the ‘Nazi state’ I used to be joking.’”

Trolling around the pages, I found the Nazi comparisons continued. Here’s one from Shirlane Kirschbaum Yannuzzi: ‘Just as Hitler blamed the Jews for the economic situation, Christie is blaming us.’

And because dehumanizing your opponents is a time-honored tradition of mobocracy, here is Tom Guarisco’s considered opinion: ‘If Christe shit was a bug…. I would step on him 100 times… He’s too fat to be stepped… So i guess i would torture him with RAID……’”

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In the current issue of National Review, Jay Nordlinger has a noteworthy article about critics who charged him with being a racist after he wrote that he thought President Obama appeared to be arrogant in his State of the Union address. The word arrogant, he quickly found out, was now held to be “a racist codeword.”

Strangely, when liberals make comments about Obama that actually could be construed as racist code words, no one utters a peep and those guilty of offense are quickly let off the hook. Take Dan Rather, for example. As Nordlinger points out, Rather “described Obama as ‘very articulate’ — there they go again — but said ‘he couldn’t sell watermelons if you gave him the state troopers to flag down the traffic.’  Watermelons?  Rather later said, ‘Anyone who knows me personally or knows my professional career would know that race was not on my mind.’ I’m sure that’s true. But would he give such a break to a conservative who committed a similar faux pas?”

Nordlinger hopes a day will come when race fades from the scene. But judging how crying racist is now a favorite form of attacking critics of Obama, it will not be for quite a while. Take again one of the most recent egregious forms of its use — that by New Yorker editor David Remnick in his new biography of Obama, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Remnick, as I pointed out in my last blog post, goes on the attack against Obama’s critics during the campaign. His most extensive and nasty comments are reserved for Jack Cashill, the blogger who penned the now famous article raising questions about whether Obama wrote his memoir Dreams from My Father, or if it might have been ghostwritten by Bill Ayers.

Cashill has solid bona fide academic credentials. He has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University, and author of a respected book on American intellectuals, Hoodwinked. He also acknowledged from the start that “shy of a confession by those involved, I will not be able to prove conclusively that Obama did not write this book.” What he offered is an argument that readers were free to accept, reject or challenge.  It is certainly valid to do the latter.  I suspect he certainly expected that. At any rate, except for Rush Limbaugh and others on the political right, Cashill convinced very few that he was on to anything.

An exception was writer Christopher Andersen. As I reported earlier, the pop biography Andersen wrote, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, included a tantalizing tidbit.  After Obama got a new contract to write his book, Michelle Obama told Andersen that she suggested to her husband that he get advice “from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers” who had a reputation for being a good writer.  Andersen claimed that then Obama handed over his oral interviews with relatives, a draft of his manuscript and notes to Ayers.  Andersen  concluded, in much the same way as Cashill, that “in the end, Ayers’s contribution to Barack’s Dreams From My Father would be significant — so much so that the book’s language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’s own writing.”

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The connection between Bill Ayers, once a founder and leader of the Weather Underground, and President Barack Obama is old and to some irrelevant news. Or so, most have assumed. But now, thanks to the careful sleuthing of a maverick labor activist and attorney, Stephen Diamond, who writes a blog he calls King Harvest, the relationship between Ayers and Obama has come under new scrutiny.

When writing about this when I began my blog two years back, I somehow missed Diamond’s previous contributions to the effort. They are important for two reasons. The first is that Diamond is no supporter of the simplistic theory that Obama was a friend of the unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers and therefore a secret communist. Rather Diamond concentrated on their joint activity on behalf of a radical educational curriculum that often led to conflict with the traditional teachers’ unions.

When the Ayers/Obama connection became a major issue, The New York Times ran what became an influential investigative report on their relationship. Bloggers, including Diamond, had written that the appointment of Obama to the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge had been engineered for Obama by Bill  Ayers. The Times reporters concluded, however, that “Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment.” (my emphasis)

Stephen Diamond, who had been interviewed by different Times reporters more than once, responded with a long reply that the paper’s editors did not print. It is worth revisiting his answer now. Published on his blog on Oct. 8, 2009, Diamond notes that the real story is not “the narrow minded approach of the Republican party to attack Obama by attempting to link him to Ayers history as a terrorist.”  Rather, it was that “the fundamental political world view of Ayers, not his tactical foray into bombings for a few years, is influencing the Obama candidacy.” Diamond bases his case on Ayers and Obama’s shared belief in a so-called “ ‘social justice’ approach to education.”

Like Sol Stern, whose writings for City Journal emphasized these same points, Diamond itemized the program, and then concluded that “the purpose of these entities is to create a political base for Ayers and his band of fellow traveling authoritarians to push their wider political agenda.” The four basic ideas Ayers and Obama believed in, he wrote, are these:

  • the creation of “local school councils” (LSCs) like those that Ayers has promoted in Chicago for the last 20 years;
  • “small schools” which Ayers has also promoted since the early 1990s in Chicago and elsewhere;
  • the advocacy of what Ayers and others call “social justice” teaching; and
  • the payment of reparations through education spending to correct what he has seen for 40 years as the fundamentally racist nature of American society.

While Obama did not offer any support for “the foray into violence by Ayers from 1969-1980,” Diamond wrote, while he was a community organizer from 1985 to 1988 he led the Developing Communities Project, and was “was a leading player in the lobbying campaign for ‘local school councils’  in Chicago in the wake of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.” In that lobbying effort, Obama worked alongside Ayers. Obama faced opposition from both the union and mainstream black organizations. Yet he did not step aside from his lobbying, and as Diamond wrote, The New York Times “did not explain that among the most important projects of the [Annenberg] Challenge were the very same four policies so critical to Ayers political strategy.”

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