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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Writing in The Nation magazine on May 2, 1966, sociologists Richard Cloward and his wife Frances Fox Piven published what was to become in later years one of the most famous and influential of leftist articles. Titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty,” the two socialist intellectuals developed a new so-called “crisis strategy” — that of trying to use the existing welfare system to create chaos that would weaken the corporate capitalist state and eventually foment revolution. “Discover the Networks” has a good summary of their thesis.

The two became the ideologists of a group formed to implement their strategy, called “The National Welfare Rights Organization,” or NWRO. As Stanley Kurtz explains in Radical-in-Chief: “the idea was to flood state and local welfare systems with more applicants than they could possibly afford to carry. Cloward and Piven believed that this ‘break the bank’ strategy would force President [Lyndon B.] Johnson and a liberal Democratic Congress to bail out overburdened state welfare systems with a federally guaranteed annual income.” This experience of activism by the poor would create a new anti-capitalist sentiment, and would stoke the poors’ “sense of entitlement and rage.” Later, the group’s mission would be carried on by ACORN, whose leaders endorsed and built upon Cloward and Piven’s strategy.

The idea was to consciously create a fiscal crisis of the state. ACORN’s chief strategist, Peter Dreier, explained this in an article, “The Case for Transitional Reform,” which appeared in the journal Social Policy in February 1979. Dreier called for injecting “unmanageable strains into the capitalist system, strains that precipitate an economic and/or political crisis,” producing a “revolution of rising entitlements” that “cannot be abandoned without undermining the legitimacy of the capitalist class.” Once a “fiscal crisis in the public sector” occurred, the movement could push for creation of “socialist norms” being advanced as the only possible solution.

A few decades have passed since this strategy was first announced. They had great hopes that when  Bill Clinton became president, they could implement their strategy. But the Clinton administration — once seen potentially by the Left as a vehicle for fulfillment of its dreams — worked with Republicans in Clinton’s second term to pass meaningful and successful welfare reform. This was precisely the opposite of what the Left wanted and hoped for.

Now, as President Barack Obama is beginning the mid-point of his first and possibly only term in office, the Left is again trying to advance a new form of the old strategy. And the author of the new program is none other than Frances Fox Piven, the co-author with her late husband of the original 1966 article.  Clearly, Piven looks back fondly with memories of what NWRO did in the 1970s. The New York Times reported on their tactics on September 22, 1970:

There have been sit-ins in legislative chambers, including a United States Senate committee hearing, mass demonstrations of several thousand welfare recipients, school boycotts, picket lines, mounted police, tear gas, arrests — and, on occasion, rock-throwing, smashed glass doors, overturned desks, scattered papers and ripped-out phones.

My friend Sol Stern, now with City Journal and the Manhattan Institute,  explained how successful they were:

The flooding succeeded beyond Wiley’s wildest dreams. From 1965 to 1974, the number of households on welfare soared from 4.3 million to 10.8 million, despite mostly flush economic times. By the early 1970s, one person was on the welfare rolls in New York City for every two working in the city’s private economy.

Under the liberal administration of Mayor John Lindsay, welfare spending more than doubled, from $400 million to $1 billion a year. Money for the poor was now 28 per cent of the city’s budget, and New York almost collapsed as a result — precisely the hope of Cloward, Piven and George Wiley.

Now, as our national economy and many state and city budgets again are at the breaking point, Frances Fox Piven has issued a new call to repeat and build upon the ruinous strategies that she and her late husband advanced decades ago. And as in 1966, her vehicle is The Nation, the flagship magazine of the Left which today has a huge circulation and much greater influence than it had in the 1960s.

Writing in the current issue, Piven  presents a clarion call for a new mass movement, one that the magazine publishes as an editorial statement representing its editors. (It is currently under the magazine’s firewall.)  She begins by noting that nothing is taking place to deal with ending what she claims is an unemployment rate of 15 million people. To regain the 5 percent rate of 2007, she estimates there would have to be 300,000 jobs created each month for several years, something that is next to impossible.

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There used to be a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when the term “New York intellectuals” was taken as a badge of honor, if one belonged to that small but influential group. The term referred to the small group of writers around journals like Partisan Review and later on the early Commentary, as well as Dwight Macdonald’s Politics. The group usually included the likes of Lionel Abel, Philip Rahv, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Mary McCarthy, William Phillips, Nathan Glazer and others. These were fiercely independent writers, many of them coming out of the Trotskyist movement. They had affection for “the old man,” as the exiled Bolshevik was called, but they soon left his orbit, viewing it as irrelevant to the American scene and highly sectarian to boot.

As time passed and the group grew old, its ranks thinned. Many influenced by them moved  into the general orbit of anti-Communist liberalism, and over time, some of the group became the founding fathers of what came to be called neo-conservatism. Others remained anti-Communist liberals, while some still called themselves democratic socialists. Of the latter, the most fierce opponent of the Communists and fellow travelers, a thorough hawk on foreign policy and an ally of the new conservatives, was the philosopher and former Marxist, Sidney Hook. Hated by the entire left-wing, Hook generally regarded himself as one of the new conservatives. But to his dying day, he continued to call himself a socialist, although his allies — all of whom by now were thorough conservatives — ignored this and regarded it as a strange but unimportant eccentricity.

All of them were giants. Today, when one speaks of New York intellectuals, they are talking primarily about a group of high priced and fairly well to do writers, most of them associated not with a small struggling journal like the old Partisan Review, but rather, with two New York publications — The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. Both publications pay their writers well, and their editors and writers on the staff get high salaries, many perks, and have great influence on the culture at large. Both of them, although the NYRB is more similar in its leftism to The Nation, while The New Yorker makes a pretense of being more independent and gives off a pretentious air of would-be objectivity and nuance, runs pieces by people like the discredited Seymour Hersh with regularity, and is outspoken as the single most pro-Obama magazine in existence.

The New Yorker is in name only the descendant of the magazine once edited by Harold Ross and later William Shawn, a magazine noted for literary distinction, biting humor, and publishing fiction of the most important new writers — and of course, those wonderful cartoons, perhaps the only part of the tradition it successfully carries on today. The Wikipedia entry provides a comprehensive and accurate overview of its impact and history.

Its current editor is the prolific journalist and writer, David Remnick. For many years he was a top rated Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, and author of an excellent book, Lenin’s Tomb:The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. A very skilled writer who now writes on any subject of interest to him, including a highly regarded profile of boxer Mike Tyson, and of course, his recent biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge. Now, at the helm of The New Yorker, he receives a salary of a reported $1 million a year, as well as a daily limo service to take him to his office from his home and back.  That, of course, officially puts him in the state of being an actual “limousine liberal.”

In past blogs, I have written critically about what kind of material Remnick left out of his study of Obama’s life. I have criticized him for making spurious arguments by calling Obama’s critics racist, instead of dealing with what they have said. One of my most harsh columns on Remnick was this one, about a column in which he attempted to resurrect Bill Ayers’ reputation, and gave the former Weather Underground terrorist a credibility and attention he does not deserve. Remnick responded to me via e-mail at the time with a harsh and volatile blast, in which he ignored all the pertinent points I made about his pat on the back to Ayers and how I revealed what he left out and how he allowed Ayers to use Remnick for his own purposes.  And finally, last March, I chastised Remnick for joining in the MSM’s new round of attacks on Israel.

Having taken a J-Street type position and backing Obama in past disputes with Israel, we already know something about Remnick’s views about Israel, and how he thinks American Jews who are liberal should now regard the Jewish State. But nothing prepared me for what is perhaps Remnick’s most hostile and vicious attack on Israel, published in our country yesterday, in which he shows nothing but contempt for Israel, of course — in the guise of supposed real friendship. His comments were made to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot:

A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic. They see what has happened with the Rabbinical Letter [proscribing rental and sale of property to Arabs -- DR], for example. How long can you expect that they’ll love unconditionally the place called Israel [sic]? You’ve got a problem. You have the status of an occupier since 1967. It’s been happening for so long that even people like me, who understand  that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.

The US administration is trying out of good will to get a peace process moving and in return Israel lays out conditions like the release Jonathan Pollard. Sorry, it can’t go on this way. The  Jewish community is not just a nice breakfast at the Regency. You think it’s bad that a US President is trying to make an effort to promote peace? That’s what’s hurting your feelings? Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems. A shopping list in exchange for a two month moratorium on settlement.

Remnick’s arrogance and hostility to Israel has never been made more apparent. Jonathan Tobin accurately comments that since Remnick has acknowledged that the Palestinians have much of the blame for the failure to achieve peace and a two-state solution:

[If] Israel already knows that sacrifices of territory won’t bring peace, why should it make unilateral concessions simply to appease an American president who acts as if history began on the day he took office? Shouldn’t the fact that Israel is still faced with a Palestinian foe that is so committed to its destruction that it won’t make peace on even favorable terms influence the discussion?

Of course Remnick has no answer to Tobin’s question, because despite what an obvious answer is, Remnick’s purpose in making this comment for an Israeli audience is to let them know how he, David Remnick, and the New York intelligentsia for whom he thinks he speaks, is totally fed up with Israel, and particularly its current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. That is why although he condemns the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who called for Israelis to never rent property to Arabs, he neglects to say that they do not speak for modern Israel, and that the current Israeli P.M. publicly condemned them as did many other mainstream Israeli rabbis. By picking such an example, Remnick reveals that he is consciously singling out an unrepresentative statement made by extremists as typical of Israelis as a whole, and as reason for him to be angry with the Israel that has disappointed him.

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As readers of my blog know, I usually watch MSNBC’s Morning Joe program most days, because it’s the only early morning show that sometimes has serious and meaningful discussions about American politics.

Today, however, was one of the program’s most low points. The show had one of its regular line-up of guests, Columbia University’s prominent professor, the internationally known Jeffrey Sachs, head of its Earth Institute and well known as the man who gave the Yeltsin government advice on privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

During a daily feature, the reading of what Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski consider the previous day’s most important op-eds, Scarborough read aloud from an article by Victor Davis Hanson that appeared on National Review Online. This brilliant piece, one of Hanson’s best — and that is saying a lot, since he is one of the most astute commentators around — dealt with how Obama has essentially reversed all of his own most favored policies, and yet still manages to command support from his loyal followers, those  whose “most vehement leftism now accepts nonchalantly what it not long ago so ardently demonized.” Heading in the other direction than that he first fought for, Hanson writes, “he can still be praised as if he had dematerialized and gone ahead right on through the wall.”

Sachs was not a guest who was there to comment on Hanson’s op-ed, but almost before Scarborough finished reading from it, the following exchange took place. You can watch it here:

The text follows:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: I’m trying to figure out though, and Dr. Sachs asked this of you Charles [Blow], who is Barack Obama at this point? What does he stand for? And Victor Davis Hanson, at the National Review, writes this about The Obamaites About-Face:

“For his political survival, Obama now accepts that his faith-based ideas about the environment, radical Islam, taxes, stimulus, the economy, national security, and foreign policy are not supported by any evidence in the real world . . . The wonder is not that politicians change as politics dictate, but that the most vehement leftism now accepts nonchalantly what it not long ago so ardently demonized.”

And Hanson goes through all of the things: the Bush tax cuts, the estate tax cuts, the stimulative wonders of tax cuts in general, Gitmo, NSA, tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan.  We talked about [Obama saying] “we celebrate wealth,” Eric Holder quoted in ABC saying “some religions produce more terrorists than others.” These people are sounding an awful lot like George W. Bush these days . . . [Obama] has shifted dramatically on issues of terror, on Gitmo, on taxes, on celebrating wealth: I think that’s undeniable.

JEFFREY SACHS: Anything that Hanson says I’m likely to disagree with, cause no commentator has done more harm to the American people actually than that guy who led us into all these disastrous wars.  But aside from that –

SCARBOROUGH: My God! That is serious.


SACHS: No, that is real. Because this is an extremist. So quoting him doesn’t really make the point.
. . .

SCARBOROUGH: And I will put Victor Hanson –

SACHS: Sorry, that’s a side point, but that man – that guy’s done a lot of damage.



 SCARBOROUGH: I will put Victor Davis Hanson to the side, you obviously, you guys aren’t on each other’s mailing lists, Christmas card lists.

SACHS: That guy got us into more wars, and more militarism, than anybody
(my emphasis.)

And what did Joe “Mr. No Labels” movement Scarborough, who talks every day about the need for civility, camaraderie and dialogue between folks of different opinions, have to say to Jeffrey Sachs after this most vile outburst?

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In one fell swoop — his interview for Andrew Ferguson’s profile of him in The Weekly Standard — Haley Barbour effectively eliminated himself from being a serious contender for the Republican nomination as the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012. As most everyone knows by now, Barbour said to Ferguson that in his hometown of Yazoo City, the schools were integrated peacefully, and violence was avoided, unlike the case in other Mississippi localities. Barbour then continued:

“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

By portraying the notorious White Citizens Councils as a solid and decent alternative to the racist Klan, Barbour — a skilled politician if there ever was  one — opened himself up for a tirade of attacks as a Southern-born man who had a good life in his segregated boyhood home, and who so many decades later still doesn’t get it and is apologizing for the old racism of his home state.

Within one day, Barbour issued a forthright apology:

When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the “Citizens Council,” is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.

The question is a simple one: Is his mea culpa enough, or does it still not do the job? Jennifer Rubin, for one, is certain that Barbour fell far short. On her blog at the Washington Post, she writes: “Those who believe, with a fair amount of justification, that he simply doesn’t get it on matters of race are hardly going to be mollified by a written statement after more than 24 hours of horrid press coverage.”  Moreover, she notes that whenever Barbour speaks about anything else, this one statement will be continually brought up — again and again — and he will never be able to get beyond it. Barbour’s fans might be disappointed and angry, but Rubin’s point is well-taken. In today’s United States, a candidate who has made a “racially insensitive” comment simply will not be allowed to put it in his past.

Media critic Howard Kurtz is one of the few who is not so sure. At the Daily Beast, Kurtz argues that while Barbour should clearly have “known better” to make such a foolish statement, he believes that “the press [is] getting itself worked into a lather over what Barbour did and thought when he was a teenager.” After all, Barbour also said that he went to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Yazoo, but as a 15 year old, was more interested in checking out the girls who attended the event.

The problem, however, is that every politician’s views of his youth have become fair game. Kurtz notes:

Southerners of a certain age are especially vulnerable on questions of race. When Virginia’s George Allen was unsuccessfully seeking reelection to the Senate in 2006, Salon reported that three of his former college football teammates recalled him using the N-word and demonstrating racist attitudes toward blacks. Allen called the allegations “ludicrously false.”

Kurtz, however, thinks the time has come to let people like Barbour have a pass for their youthful views, even if they were tinged with the racism which prevailed in the Mississippi white community at the time. He writes:

Barbour should certainly be held accountable for the insensitive way he talked about the bad old days of officially sanctioned racial prejudice. His statement today is an acknowledgement of how badly he bobbled the question. But at some point you have to ask: Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on this stuff?

To that question, I answer no, and here’s why I think Kurtz is wrong. Barbour should have known that the views he once had — and to which he still seems to subscribe — are both inaccurate and historically incorrect. The White Citizens Council was not a decent alternative to the Klan that sought to help Yazoo move to accept integration without fierce resistance.

Writing at the site of the History News Network, historian James C. Cobb, who has written a new book about the South after World War II, shows that Barbour today is dead wrong when he writes that he remembers the situation for blacks in Yazoo City as “not being that bad.”  Cobb points out that that Council was “arch segregationist,” as much as was the Klan. He explains its purpose in the following paragraph:

Pledged to maintain white supremacy, the councils foreswore violence but did their best to intimidate blacks who might think about challenging the status quo and to make painful examples of those who did.  Perched atop the local economic pyramid, the councils’ white elites could seriously reduce, if not cut off entirely, the flow of commerce and credit, not to mention employment, to blacks who got out of line.  Council leaders typically made it a point to see that the names of any black persons who had attempted to register to vote or signed petitions for school desegregation made their way to the local newspapers so that whites in the community would know which blacks to fire, turn off their tenant farms, or deny credit.  An Alabama council member summed up his group’s aims quite candidly when he explained, “We intend to make it difficult, if not impossible, for a Negro who advocates desegregation to find and hold a job, get credit, or renew a mortgage.”

The Council was strongest in Mississippi, where, he writes, “the Council propagandized about the horrors of racial amalgamation and publicized the NAACP’s ‘well-known’ ties to communism.  The group also worked closely with the publicly funded State Sovereignty Commission to spy on, harass, and undermine not only those thought to favor integration but those whose attitudes toward it were simply unclear.”

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Hugo Chavez: CommuNazi

December 20th, 2010 - 12:01 pm

Five days ago, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez got his cherry-picked lame-duck legislature to pass a new law allowing him to “rule by emergency decree” for the next 18 months, thereby allowing him to bypass the newly elected legislature, in which the opposition won scores of seats. Chavez calls it an “Enabling” act that will allow him to successfully deepen and extend his “socialist Bolivarian revolution.” You can read about it in various press reports, such as this one from the AP and a report from Reuters, or you can read a first rate analysis from the conservative website The New American.

Teodoro Petkoff is a former Marxist guerrilla leader and now a major opponent of Chavez’s goons. He correctly called Chavez’s announcement  a “Christmas ambush,” writing in his daily Tal Cual that Chavez is preparing totalitarian measures that amount to “a brutal attack … against democratic life.”  These measures include a new vat tax, restricting access to the internet, regulating posts on the internet, and, of course, closing down more of opposition newspapers, and television and radio stations. All this, of course, in the name of real “democracy.”  Joel D. Hirst at the Council on Foreign Relations presents a full account of what Chavez intends to do with his new powers.

Here, from Hirst and the Council, are Chavez’s main goals:

  • Media and Telecommunications. The modification of the Media Responsibility Law and the Telecommunications Law place severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They re-categorize the airwaves as a “public good” and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law. The laws require TV stations to re-apply for their licenses and for the owners to be in the country (a clear reference to Globovision, whose owner, Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga, is in political exile in the United States).
  • Electoral Reform. The reform of the Political Party Law establishes the crime of electoral fraud. Fraud would be committed if a politician changed parties, voted against legislation that was “ideologically represented” by their “electoral offer” (on file when they registered their candidacy with the National Electoral Council), or if they make common cause with ideas or people who are not ideologically akin to their electoral offer. Sanctions are the expulsion from parliament and inability to run for public office for up to eight years. This law is meant to protect against individuals or political parties turning against Chavez, as happened with the opposition parties of PODEMOS (We Can) and PPT (Fatherland for All).
  • Economy and Governance. Chavez is pushing through a block of five laws: Popular Power, Planning and Popular Power, Communes, Social Control, and the law of Development and Support of the Communal Economy. These laws establish the commune as the lowest level of Venezuelan economy and government. They set in place the Popular Power, which is responsible to the Revolutionary leadership (Chavez) for all governing (eliminating the municipalities and regional government’s constitutional mandate). To facilitate the creation of this new governance model, the Assembly is approving the Law of the System for Transferring the Responsibilities of the States and Municipalities to the Popular Power.

Clearly, the above is a full recipe for totalitarian power and the creation of another full-fledged Cuban-style regime in our hemisphere. The American far left, or what remains of it, will be quite happy. Bill Ayers, who is on record as extolling Chavez’s educational system as the one he wants imposed in the United States, must be elated today after learning that university autonomy will be abolished, and that the university will now  require “teaching courses on Popular Power and communes, and [that it] focuses the pedagogy around revolutionary principles.” Perhaps Chavez will import Ayers’ instructional manuals on how to achieve this end for the mandatory new programs.

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In the 1980s and 90s, Washington Post columnist E.J.Dionne, Jr. was a sensible centrist; a man who took conservatives seriously and often tried to comprehend what they were saying without animosity. In 1991, he wrote a book titled Why Americans Hate Politics.  In 1996, just about the time Bill Clinton was set to run for his second term,  Dionne was author of a book defending the “progressive” agenda, titled They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era. I reviewed the book for Commentary, and you can find an abstract of what I said here. (Unless you pay for it, the review is behind their firewall.)

Dionne had been, I argued, trying to find a “new middle ground” between contemporary liberalism and conservatism. To renew liberalism, he understood in the 1980s, liberalism had to rescue itself from irrelevance by learning “the many lessons that conservatism has to teach about the value of tradition, value, and community.” Of course he defended big government and a large public sector, but he had a great aversion to the political correctness of that era: multiculturalism, radical feminism and other “anti-democratic impulses,” as he called them. That is why, in an earlier book, he sought to save liberalism from itself.

By the eve of the Clinton second term, he and other former liberals ditched the term and began to call themselves  “progressives,” a term they hoped would separate themselves from the fringe elements that used it. He hoped that Gingrich era Republicans would collapse, and that his Clinton third-way progressives would use government to “temper markets and enhance individual opportunities.” He did not envision the disaster Clinton experienced when his attempt to redesign health-care totally led to a great political setback and to a major defeat in the 1994 mid-term congressional elections.

And now here we are in 2010, when our most recent mid-term elections have led the Obama White House to suffer its major political defeat, one created by its social-democratic big government agenda and its insistence on ramming through a health-care bill that is one of the most unpopular and loathed programs by the majority of the American populace. Now, as in the1990s, the Democratic Party and its think-tanks are still, as I wrote in 1996, “locked into positions very far from what Dionne’s Anxious Middle could plausibly be said to want.”

So what does Dionne call for today? Writing in the WP, Dionne argues that he supports the fight of the so-called New Label “movement,” (1000 people in a university auditorium a movement hardly makes) in its effort “to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling.” Dionne is upset that Barack Obama “is attacked simultaneously as an ‘extreme liberal liar’ and a ‘Nazi,” which he says reveals “a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.”

As Peter Wehner points out today at “Contentions,”  when George W. Bush was called during his presidency a “liar,” a man who “betrayed his country,” a president who “lied us into war,” a leader who “told lie after lie after lie,” all comments said by the likes of Al Gore, Harry Reid and Sen. Edward Kennedy, “Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance.” For some strange reason Dionne does not address, either those remarks were among the many he never heard, or he did not find them objectionable once he had heard them.

Of course, Dionne writes that he is still “devoted to moderation.” But the reason the kind of moderation he purports to like does not exist is exclusively because of the conservatives, since he claims that “the American right is much farther from anything that can fairly be described as ‘the center’ than is the left.”

Where does this man live? Of course we know that already. The answer is in the heart of the Beltway- among his “progressive” friends and allies, all of whom see only enemies on the right, and only friends on the left. Sure, Dionne claims- falsely and without evidence- that “there is no far left to speak of anymore.” One can only make such a claim, however, by pretending not to know anything about the far left milieu in which our President grew up to maturity and political activity. Perhaps that is why Stanley Kurtz’s important book Radical-in-Chief has all but completely been ignored virtually everywhere—in every mainstream publication and even by most conservative publications. If Dionne bothered to read and learn from it, I would argue that he would find the documented material in its pages evidence he could not ignore.

He must also ignore the effect of leftist groups  and think tanks like International Answer, Code Pink, J-Street, MoveOn.Org; The Center for American Progress (oh yes, I’m sure E.J. would argue they are center moderate, and not leftist — I disagree), Institute for Policy Studies, Democratic Socialists of America, ACORN, SEIU, etc. etc. All of these and many more are active, organized, and at times quite effective. It’s simply easier for him to assert that there is no left.

Next he argues that even the groups that are left now reject state ownership of the means of production, accept markets, and even do not challenge inequalities of wealth and income. I don’t know who he is referring to, but I could pull out of a hat the many leftist groups that in fact, do exactly challenge inequalities of wealth and income as unacceptable, and favor redistribution of wealth through stealth means and via programs they advance through the Democratic Party’s allied institutions. No wonder the Left hates Glenn Beck so much; he manages to often accurately pinpoint just those groups and shows videos of their spokesmen — like Van Jones — arguing for precisely that.

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We all know that Henry Kissinger is one of the so-called “realists,” a misleading term that should be discarded, since the concept as they define it has been used most often as the reason to keep failed policies alive by advancing the illusion that they start by accepting the status quo as given.

Under that rubric, Richard M. Nixon and Henry Kissinger opposed the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate freely from their homeland prison. After all, they were trying to gain continued support for “détente,” and anything that stood in the way of accepting the USSR as a given power which the U.S. had to respect, had to be opposed. Thus they opposed the Jackson-Vanik amendment passed by Congress, that asserted American support for the right of Soviet Jews to leave their own country for sanctuary abroad, especially in Israel. The growing movement to save Soviet Jews, chronicled so well by Gal Beckerman in his new book, tells the story of the nascent protest movement that impacted the Soviet Union.

In one of his own books, Natan Sharansky wrote the following:

“…Kissinger saw Jackson’s amendment as an attempt to undermine plans to smoothly carve up the geopolitical pie between the superpowers. It was. Jackson believed that the Soviets had to be confronted, not appeased. Andrei Sakharov was another vociferous opponent of détente. He thought it swept the Soviet’s human rights record under the rug in the name of improved superpower relations…. One message he would consistently convey to these foreigners (the press) was that human rights must never be considered a humanitarian issue alone. For him, it was also a matter of international security. As he succinctly put it: “A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors.”

So we already knew for many years that as a man who favored realpolitik over upsetting the apple-cart, Henry Kissinger did not approve of moralistic movements that advocate achieving change by waging vigorous protest against oppressors.

Nevertheless, yesterday’s news story about Kissinger’s remarks, revealed in the latest Nixon tapes release, was a shocker:

The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Of course, Kissinger had no idea that his chief and the American President was taping all the conversations held in the Oval Office. He would, if asked, ably defend the first sentence. But why did Kissinger, who with his own parents were émigrés from Nazism who had they stayed in Germany would have ended up in the gas chambers, even say anything like this to the Commander-in-Chief?

Did he really believe this, or was he just trying ineptly to assure Nixon that he was not subject to “dual loyalty,” the old bromide of anti-Semites about American Jews, so that the President would know he was fully on board with the policy of détente? Was he just capitulating to Nixon’s virulent personal anti-Semitism, so that his chief would see him as different than those other bad Jews he always railed about? Did he want to show him, that he, Henry Kissinger, was not really among those whom Nixon said shared a character trait with all other Jews, that they had to compensate for an “inferiority complex” since, as Nixon put it, they all have “latent insecurity?”

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Yesterday, The New Republic announced that its editor for the past five years, Frank Foer, is stepping down to return to the position of editor-at-large and regular writer for the journal of opinion. (Foer’s outgoing statement and new editor Richard Just’s outlining of his vision for the magazine may be found here.)

I wish Just, whom I do not know, well in his new job. Just writes:

I believe passionately in the higher magazine journalism: in the worth of long-form argument and narrative, the importance (intellectual but also social) of brilliant cultural criticism, and the value of highly informed, nuanced, and passionate crusading.

He is correct when he says that “no magazine has as rich a political and literary tradition as TNR.” I doubt, however — I say this in sadness — that he is right when he claims that “no magazine is in a better position to demonstrate, definitively, that all the things that we love about magazine journalism can not only survive in this new age of media, but prosper in it.”

Most TNR readers I have spoken with regularly comment to me about the journal’s decline in importance over the years. Their decision to go bi-weekly, while possibly necessary for financial reasons, made it less effective as an influence in the nation’s political debate. Sites like Real Clear Politics sometimes put up pieces from TNR, but more than often, one finds more entries from conservative journals like National Review and the Weekly Standard. Checking the magazine’s print circulation figures that by law are publicly printed once a year, we see a steep drop in subs, compared to a huge rise in left-wing magazines like The Nation, and a constant high circulation in National Review, still since Buckley’s days the standard-bearer for the conservative movement.

I have much affection and respect for TNR. I have myself published many of my major journalistic endeavors in its pages. In the mid-80s, the magazine gave me the opportunity to write often about the conflict in Central America in its pages, and way back in 1979, they printed an early version of my work on the Rosenberg case (co-authored with Sol Stern) as its cover story, making the issue an instant best-seller.

For many years, the magazine functioned as the more realistic and hard-edged liberal alternative to the stale liberalism of the wartime Popular Front, and later, the new anti-anti-Communism of the bulk of the liberal movement during the Vietnam War and after the war tore our country apart. Just writes that he intends to again have the journal stand:

… on behalf of the strain of liberalism that this magazine has championed for the past century — a liberalism that is obsessed not just with building a fairer, more decent society at home, but also with the spread of democracy and human rights abroad; a liberalism that is not afraid to question itself and to criticize its own.

A few years ago, Just participated in some of the meetings held to create an American version of the Euston Manifesto, which TNR publicized, and of which Just was a co-author and signer. (The full American manifesto can be found here.) As the American authors of what began as a British endeavor explain:

The statement was a defense of liberal democracy and human rights as well as a rejection of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism.

Regarding the British one as a “turning point in contemporary intellectual and political debates,” the American supporters came up with their own domestic version.

Unfortunately, the high hopes its framers had came to naught. Its influence was virtually nil. In Europe, rather than have a great effect, the climate of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, especially in London where Euston originated, has only become worse.

The problem that Just and TNR have, however, is one brilliantly addressed by Walter Russell Mead in his latest important blog post on “The Crisis of the American Intellectual.” Read argues that the reason today’s intellectuals are ill-equipped to play a major role in addressing what we must do about today’s issues goes way beyond Just’s hopes that liberalism questions itself and its own favored exponents of the doctrine.

As Mead explains, “the United States is stuck with a social model that doesn’t work anymore.” Mead writes that the problems go beyond the erosion of our cultural model, the problem of the deficit, and the problems of international competition, all of which he thinks can be dealt with. The problem is nothing less than the Weltanschauung of the American intellectual class. Mead explains:

The biggest roadblock today is that so many of America’s best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old social models and old visions of history to do their real job and help society transition to the next level.  Instead of opportunities they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of the possibility of progress they see the unraveling of everything beautiful and true.

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Why the ‘No Labels’ Movement Will Fail

December 8th, 2010 - 9:36 am

Writing on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, William Galston and David Frum announced the formation of what they hope will be a new bipartisan movement which they dub “No Labels.”  Their goal, commented Commentary editor John Podhoretz, is “to embrace the concept that American politics should move beyond ideological camps.”  I differ slightly with Podhoretz in his evaluation of their would-be goal.

As Galston and Frum write, they believe that “the center has collapsed, and ideological overlap between the parties has vanished.” The Republicans in their eyes are too far to the right, and the Democrats too far to the left. As they explain, “Although 30 percent of grass-roots Republicans consider themselves moderate or liberal, and 60 percent of Democrats consider themselves moderate or conservative, their voices are muted in the nation’s capital. As increasingly polarized media feed centrifugal forces, potential primary challengers stand ready to punish deviation from party orthodoxies. Only 22 percent of the Pew respondents thought that cooperation was likely to happen under these circumstances.”

What they clearly want, but shy away from saying, is a new centrist party to emerge from the heart of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. I should note that this was once my hope as well. In a book I wrote in 1996 about the left-wing takeover of the Democratic Party,  I concluded with these words:

“The Democratic Party as a whole has shifted to the Left, precisely at the moment when the Republican Party has shifted toward the Right. That means that the old political Center has eroded once and for all — a fact that has led many Americans to hope for the creation of a new political party of the Center, the kind that might be led by the likes of Bill Bradley, Colin Powell or Sam Nunn.”

At the time, I considered myself a center-right Democrat, much like Bill Galston is today. Therefore I hoped for the creation of a new “political realignment” that would create a force for “fiscal and personal responsibility, cultural conservatism, and a more limited and constrained social safety net.”

Now, I consider myself a moderate conservative, and, as I argued in a previous blog post, many of the moderate Democrats are in fact asserting the viability and correctness of conservative programs, which is why I argued that perhaps Democrats like Galston and Ed Koch might consider becoming Republicans. Then they might have more of a chance to gain support for the solutions they favor to today’s problems. Their arguments are really conservative solutions and far from those favored by most Democrats. By joining the Republican Party, they could help make it more of a big-tent party, not a party shifting too far to the right.

The problem with the Galston-Frum argument is that rather than try and move to what I think they really want — a  moderate conservative party — they have come up with something that is little more than a gimmick, creating a movement which they argue is based on attaining a single goal: “to expand the space within which citizens and elected officials can conduct that conversation without fear of social or political retribution.” A movement, in other words, that will avoid “partisanship.”

Let’s stop on the latter point. What is wrong with partisanship? Aren’t political parties and candidates supposed to stand for something, so that the electorate knows what they are voting for or against? At one point, FDR even said that he hoped America would create one national conservative party and one national liberal party, so that the choice between the two would be starkly presented and then Americans could choose which direction they wanted the country to move towards. In a way, we are about at that point now. If the silent majority of the public — the group Galston and Frum cite as their basis for a new movement — do not like the present set-up, then a new party would emerge from the remnant of one of the two existing major parties.

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“Rabbi” Michael Lerner, you might recall, was last in the national spotlight during the heady early days of the Clinton administration, when, for a brief time, First Lady Hillary Clinton evidently became a fan of Lerner’s cause of the moment, “the politics of meaning.” You can read about Lerner and his background on Wikipedia here. Or, if you want a really critical account of his past, you can read the posting at Discover the Networks. I have previously written about his fraudulent pose as a true friend of Israel.

It is, frankly, somewhat beyond me to understand why so many people take anything he says with other than a grain of salt. The man has lurched from cause to cause, theory to theory, and movement to movement, always with one common theme: follow Michael Lerner to the path of nirvana. Years ago, before the internet, he seemed to echo the late Kim Il Sung, in buying full-page ads in the pages of the New York Times (at $40,000 a pop) to plug his own articles and books, which were otherwise ignored. The man is a notorious egomaniac, who for some unknown reason has managed to still maintain a band of followers.

Now, the Washington Post saw fit to give him space for his latest effort: to encourage the left to run a candidate against Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. Of course, the man who used to argue that one had to be candid and proclaim oneself a socialist revolutionary now refers to himself by the usual euphemisms “liberal” or “progressive,” a tactic we have become all too familiar with as the new way of hiding one’s true beliefs in the effort to gain acceptance.

Knowing that Lerner is really a Marxist of the far left, it is rather obvious to see why he chastises Obama for making his once true believers “depressed and angry.” Lerner does not seem to comprehend that those who come from a mix of the Chicago brand of rough politics combined with a Leninist pedigree have always been tactically flexible. As Lenin once put it, it is necessary to take “two steps forward, one step back.” Obviously having no patience for real politics, Lerner sees Obama as giving in on tax cuts for billionaires, demonstrating “spinelessness” in escalating the war in Afghanistan, giving in on a public option, and refusing to prosecute the Bush administration people who sanctioned torture. Lerner is a no-holds barred radical, and nothing less than an immediate enactment of the most radical agenda will satisfy him.

So having accused Obama of betraying his base, Lerner pleads with Obama to become “the candidate whom most Americans believed they elected in 2008.” Aside from asking whether those who voted for Obama agree with what Michael Lerner holds as his agenda, he assumes that the views of the “base” are those of the electorate at large. One must pause to ask the obvious: Does Lerner have any explanation for why the center, the moderates and the working-class independents who voted for Obama in 2008 deserted him in droves in the recent midterm elections?

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