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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: September 2012

Eugene D. Genovese: 1930-2012. Rest in Peace

September 28th, 2012 - 6:52 pm

One of America’s best historians, Eugene D. Genovese, passed away two days ago. He was one of my long-time friends. I knew him when both he and I considered ourselves  Marxists, and his scholarship, integrity, forthrightness and outspoken and principled positions made him a figure that everyone had to contend with. Anyone who was lucky enough to have known Gene, even when at times they found themselves on opposite sides from him in a political battle, knows how much they learned from him, and how lucky they were to have had the chance to engage with him.

I will be writing a tribute to him for The Weekly Standard that appears one week from now. But those who want to know about his work and his passion for the truth, should consult the following sites for the first tributes. His family provided an obituary, which outlines the unique nature of his contributions to both scholarship and politics.

Perhaps the most moving tribute to his greatness is provided by Robert P. George, the Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence and Politics and Director of the James Madison Center. Dr. George speaks eloquently and beautifully about Gene’s vision and his life, and what in particular he delivered to our knowledge about the nature of the slave South in our country’s past, as well as his fierce dedication to the truth that allowed him to break with the Left which for many years provided the framework for his life.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, his friend and colleague, Mark Bauerlein, sums up Gene’s contribution this way:

Genovese will be remembered for two things that don’t often coexist in figures in our time. First, he was a scrupulous, diligent, and discerning scholar; his work on the antebellum South will stand as a monumental corpus for years to come. Second, outside the classroom and the archive, he was a vigorous partisan, sometimes confrontational, identifying political adversaries and hurling broadsides with Homeric force.

And in the libertarian magazine Reason, Jesse Walker writes that Gene was a “cultural conservative, a sympathetic interpreter of southern traditionalists, and a fierce critic of the academic left. By the P.C. wars of the early ’90s, he was routinely categorized as a man of the right, even though he still considered himself a socialist; by the end of his life, he had contributed to National Review and spoken at the American Enterprise Institute.” Walker is correct to note that at whatever stage Gene was in his political life, he always thought for himself, and never adhered to any party line.

There will be many more tributes as the news gets out of his passing. Gene Genovese was a major figure in American intellectual life, and a warm and decent human being. All of us who knew him will miss him dearly, and those who knew of him only from his writings, also understand what a great loss his passing is to the world of learning. He was, as Robert P. George so aptly says in the conclusion to his speech, a “truth-teller.”

A few weeks ago, I moved from West Virginia back to Montgomery County in Maryland, where I had previously lived from 1992 through 2006. Maryland is a solid Democratic state, and therefore Republicans have written it off and the president has no need to campaign in it. So what conservative would even bother to run for Senate in such a liberal state, one in which Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor in the state, lost to current Senator Ben Cardin by 54 percent to 44 percent?

The answer is Dan Bongino, whom I was privileged to hear speak before a packed meeting today in Silver Spring, Maryland. I predict Bongino will be another one of those rising stars in the Republican Party, a man who is able to produce in an audience the kind of passion and enthusiasm that we have seen for stars like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. Like both of these men, Bongino has the knack for explaining and defending conservative policies and programs in a way that people can understand without demonizing his opponents — he makes clear it is their policies, not them, that he opposes.

Go to his website and watch the video of him in action, and you’ll catch a glimpse of how he talks to people. In his speech today, Bongino stressed how different this election is than previous ones. He mentioned that while he voted for Bob Dole, he did not think it was a catastrophe that Bill Clinton won a second term. After all, he said, Clinton did some good things with Republican support, and some things he opposed. But the republic lasted, and the country continued to thrive. This election, he said, was something different: the choice is between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, who, he posited, is an “ideologue” who sees things differently than most people.

A former Secret Service officer in the elite Presidential Protection Division during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Bongino said he would have given his life for Obama if need be, and that he considers himself a decent person and a good family man. But he said he entered the race for one reason alone: he believes the policies of the Obama administration are wrong for the country he loves, and he felt compelled to not leave it to others to put America back on the right course. So this former Secret Service officer, who was the lead agent coordinating Obama’s trips to Prague, Jakarta, and the war zone in Afghanistan, has decided to enter the race against the president he served with distinction.

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Last week, I wrote a column challenging Professor Richard Landes of Boston University to respond to the critique I wrote of his own arguments against Judith Butler. In that article, I argued that well-meaning men of the Left like Prof. Landes should give up trying to tell people like Butler that the reasons for their hostility to Israel contradict the humanist values of the Left. I argued that it is a fool’s errand trying to save the Left from itself; that in today’s world, what defines being on the Left are precisely the kind of positions Landes and others disdain.

Writing a day after my column appeared — ironically on the anniversary of 9/11, on which most of the Western Left took the position that “the chickens had come home to roost” and that the attack on the United States by al-Qaeda was nothing but payback for American imperialism — Landes countered that I was only talking about “the revolutionary Left,” whereas when he talks about the Left he is referring to what he terms a “demotic” Left. Its principles, he wrote, are really basic “liberal” principles — those of “free people, entering with personal dignity into uncoerced relations with others,” including “the dignity of manual labor … equality before the law,” and “the value of human life (rather than the sacrifice of the well-being of the many for the pleasure of the few.)”

These principles, Landes argues, were “hijacked by revolutionaries on the Left in the 2oth Century,” from Hitler to George Bernard Shaw, Heidegger and Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Noam Chomsky, all of whom, he writes, defend “revolutionary state terrorists.” Landes praises the work of Bruce Bawer on the threat of Islamism in the West, and he accuses scholars like Judith Butler of adapting “aspects of the authoritarian personality” and of identifying with aggressors against the humanist values he supports.

Landes’ flawed argument falls apart when he writes — after showing how stupid people like Butler are when they argue that terrorist groups like Hamas are part of a “progressive social movement” — that “every decent person is on the demotic Left.” What he has done, literally, is to argue that all those who oppose evil are on the Left. Really? Is he now going to therefore continue to argue that Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and other conservative opponents of Hamas, who unlike so many of the Left, fully realize the evil of that movement, are all on the Left? I agree, as I said last week, with Landes’ own attacks on Butler. But I am a conservative. According to Landes, however, I too am a leftist. Or, are the Republicans I named and myself as well all leftists?

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Last week, our colleague Roger Kimball asked whether the New York Times health insurance included psychiatric coverage, because, he quipped, it seemed by her outrageous columns that Maureen Dowd probably needed it. Evidently Ms. Dowd did not take Roger’s suggestion to heart, because yesterday — the eve of Rosh Hashanah — she insulted her Jewish readers by writing a column that depended on one of the oldest of anti-Semitic tropes: that smart Jews manage to bamboozle their Christian friends by pulling the wool over their eyes and getting them to unwittingly do their bidding.

Politico’s Dylan Beers sorts out the reaction to her Sunday opinion piece, writing that her critics charged that it “peddled anti-Semitic imagery.” The column in question was titled “Neocons Slither Back.” In that piece, Dowd outdoes her usual vitriolic and nasty voice with a screed that makes one pause and take a deep breath, wondering how anyone with half an ounce of intelligence could take her seriously.

She began with an attack on Paul Ryan for his daring to argue that the country needs a foreign policy with “moral clarity and firmness of purpose.” Congressmen Ryan’s statement is hardly offensive; indeed, given the utter failure of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, it is understated. Ms. Dowd has the right to disagree and to argue with Ryan’s case. But rather than do that, she wrote the following:

Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and to graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.

A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.

You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq — a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How’s that going for us?

As in the Bush 43 years, Ms. Dowd continues, the neocons have managed to again capture a would-be future Republican president even before he’s elected. “Before he played ventriloquist to Ryan,” Dowd writes, “Senor did the same for Romney, ratcheting up the candidate’s irresponsible bellicosity on the Middle East.” So, she concludes, Romney is already “kowtowing to the right again.” And this, she adds for emphasis, is “shameful.” If Romney were commander-in-chief and agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to set a red line beyond which Iran should not be allowed to cross, the result would be a “global conflagration” that would be a worldwide disaster.

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Joe Klein of Time magazine can be a knowledgeable and talented commentator on the American political scene. But when it comes to discussing the crisis in the Middle East, the situation in Iran, and Obama’s foreign policy, he is like his journalist colleague Roger Cohen at the New York Times — nothing but the mullahs’ useful idiot. Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe today, Klein said the following (listen to his harsh tone of voice in the video, referring to Bibi Netanyahu’s statement yesterday that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel”):

I don’t think I’ve ever, in the 40 years I’ve been doing this, have heard of another example of an American ally trying to push us into war as blatantly and trying to influence an American election as blatantly as Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party in Israel is doing right now. I think it’s absolutely outrageous and disgusting. It’s not a way that friends treat each other. It’s cynical and brazen.

It is not cynical or brazen for the president of the United States to use a flimsy excuse (that he won’t be in New York City at the time) to not meet with Netanyahu, but to Klein it is an outrage and provocation for Netanyahu to show concern about how close Iran is coming to becoming a nuclear power, despite the ineffective boycotts and pressure.  Klein went on to call those who favor any form of war with Iran people on a “fool’s errand,” and argued that to fight or bomb Iran would be “a ridiculous war.”

As Klein sees things, the Revolutionary Guards who control 30 to 40 percent of the economy are desperately hurting because of the sanctions and will soon not be able to buy weapons. As he continued to speak in a 12-minute segment of the program, Klein continued to make a fool of himself.  If Iran goes nuclear, he argued, containment would work. Why? Klein’s answer: “They don’t want to have their country destroyed by nuclear weapons.” Iran, after all, is a “real country.” As we all know, real countries are all rational, despite an irrational leadership. Klein has been to Iran twice, and that of course makes him an expert.  Iranians, he said, are proud of their ancient civilization, and its people are “natural allies” of the United States. Moreover, personal experience has taught him that the Iranian people “love us.”

So what about the mullahs? Klein has another easy answer. There is a “mismatch” between the people and the nation’s leadership. There is, however, a real danger. That, if you haven’t already guessed, is the election of Mitt Romney, who backs Bibi’s desire to have the U.S. “do his dirty work.” Klein sees only dangers if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear plants. Iran would soon reconstitute its nuclear program, and bombing would serve only to “empower them to unleash Hezbollah,” producing total chaos in the Middle East.

Romney is a danger because, according to Klein, he would farm out policy to Netanyahu and would be his “puppet.” Acknowledging that the Iranian president is a “fascist,” he proceeded to say that, nevertheless, Iran was run by “extremists, not crazy people.” Hence he knows — possibly because they told him so — that if Iran goes nuclear, “they’ll have a deterrent” against any attack by either the U.S. or Israel, and he is convinced that they would never use the bomb “unless they are provoked.” Get that? Iran can provoke the U.S. and Israel all it wants, but the danger is only from those evil neocons like Romney, who would be responsible if Iran used its weapons because the West forced them to do so!

Hence, Klein assured us that there is no crisis in the area, only one “blown up” or manufactured “by a small group of people in this country.” Klein’s view is reminiscent, one must say, of Charles Lindbergh’s famous speech to America First before the Second World War, in which he said that the threat of war came not from Nazi Germany, but from the Roosevelt administration, the British, and the Jews.

Klein might find it profitable to read the recent blog post by The Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a man who knows a great deal more than Klein about Israel and the Middle East. Goldberg is no conservative, and hardly a supporter of Bibi Netanyahu. Goldberg writes:

It is understandable, though, why Netanyahu feels anxiety about Obama; their relationship got off on the wrong foot over the Administration’s public demand for a settlement freeze, and the lack of a follow-up plan when the demand went more or less unmet (the current mayor of Chicago, who was Obama’s first chief of staff and the White House expert on Israel, didn’t help by nursing a grudge against Netanyahu that dated back to the Clinton presidency).

And Netanyahu’s specific anxiety is not unreasonable: The White House position is that the U.S. will keep Iran from possessing a nuclear bomb. It is fair to ask, as Bibi is asking: Does that mean you will let them have a warhead design, sufficient enriched uranium, and a missile system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, so long as they don’t actually finish building the device and then mating it to a delivery system? In other words, what if Iran is only technically non-nuclear? What if it would only take Iran a month to put together a nuclear bomb from the moment the decision is made? What will you do then? And how will you know, for sure, that they are doing it? American officials have promised Israel and the Arab states that their intelligence is good enough that they will know when Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold. But obviously the record of the American intelligence community is not without its flaws (the same holds true, of course, for Israel, and the Europeans.)  (my emphasis)

Klein might also take a look at the informative article in the new issue of The New Yorker by David Makovsky about the decision-making process in Israel that led its leaders  to bomb Syria’s nuclear installation in 2007. Of course, Syria in 2007 is not Iran in 2012. But even during the Bush administration, Makovsky pointed out, the Israeli leadership (and Ehud Olmert, not Bibi, was PM) and the U.S. “agreed on the fundamental facts and risks,” but had “reached opposing policy conclusions.” Olmert hoped the U.S. would lead the attack, but George W. Bush refused.  Bush, however, unlike Obama, never “did suggest that the U.S. would block Israeli action.” There was no red light given to Israel by Bush.

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Tomorrow, September 11, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, is going to give American academic Judith Butler its Adorno Award of 50,000 euros, or roughly 63,000 U.S. dollars. The award is given in honor of the late Theodor Adorno, a founder of the Frankfurt School in Weimar Germany.

Adorno, who was Jewish and a defender of Israel, went into exile in the United States, where, along with his friend Herbert Marcuse, he created the neo-Marxist school of cultural critique. Adorno, unlike Marcuse, was a critic of the New Left. The award has been presented by the city every three years since 1977, on the date of Adorno’s birthday.

Butler may not be a well-known name to most readers of this column, but her position in academia reflects not only on the corruption of the academy and the decline of real liberal arts in the university (so well-critiqued in the current Weekly Standard by Joseph Epstein), but also the shocking growth of opposition to Israel as the main cause of today’s global Left.

At a 2006 teach-in at UC Berkeley (an event which in itself is a throwback to the Vietnam era and the birth of the New Left), she stated in response to a question (video herethat “understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive and that are on the left, that are part of the global left is extremely important.”

As the video went viral, Butler later tried to explain her statement. The explanation she offered only succeeded in further revealing her animus and hatred for Israel. As Butler explained, writing in the vitriolic anti-Israeli website Mondoweiss:

I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more naïve than dangerous, but it is my view. So it has always seemed absurd to me that my comments were taken to mean that I support or endorse Hamas and Hezbollah! I have never taken a stand on either organization, just as I have never supported every organization that is arguably part of the global left — I am not unconditionally supportive of all groups that currently constitute the global left. To say that those organizations belong to the left is not to say that they should belong, or that I endorse or support them in any way.

I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in a very specific way. I reject some versions and accept others. For me, BDS means that I oppose investments in companies that make military equipment whose sole purpose is to demolish homes. It means as well that I do not speak at Israeli institutions unless they take a strong stand against the occupation. I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship, and I maintain strong collaborative relationships with many Israeli scholars. One reason I can endorse BDS and not endorse Hamas and Hezbollah is that BDS is the largest non-violent civic political movement seeking to establish equality and the rights of self-determination for Palestinians. My own view is that the peoples of those lands, Jewish and Palestinian, must find a way to live together on the condition of equality.

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On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, one thing is clear: it’s not your father’s Democratic Party any longer. Readers of Jay Cost’s important new book, Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, already know this. Cost gives us the analysis that shows the slow but unmistakable transformation of the once broad-based political party to a machine operation controlled by the new elites and the public sector unions, beholden not to the American public but to the narrow interests that dominate its machinery. As the publisher’s description of the book says:

No longer able to govern for the vast majority of the country, the Democratic party simply taxes Middle America to pay off its clients while hiding its true nature behind a smoke screen of idealistic rhetoric. Thus, the Obama health care, stimulus, and auto bailout health care bill were created not to help all Americans but to secure contributions and votes. Average Americans need to see that whatever the Democratic party claims it is doing for the country, it is in fact governing simply for its base.

Use that description as the guide when you watch the convention the next three days. Cost making this argument is one thing — after all, he writes for the Weekly Standard, and some will thus write him off as a conservative and simply ignore what he has to say. But Newsweek making the same argument is another thing. Following Niall Ferguson’s much-discussed cover story of two weeks ago, Tina Brown has done it again. This week features an analysis of Bill Clinton’s apparent reconciliation with Barack Obama, and the meaning of his featured prime-time speech at the DNC.

Written by Peter J. Boyer, the article is not really about Clinton, but rather is a sharp analysis of how the Democrats have changed since the era of Clinton’s presidency. Clinton may have accepted the difficult task of trying to save the Obama presidency and speaking on the president’s behalf to satisfy his large ego, but everyone knows the truth. Obama and Clinton have had what Boyer calls an “uneasy” relationship since 2008, due to the bitter primary fight with his wife that “inflicted real wounds” that in fact have not healed.

More to the point is that the party and the politics Bill Clinton represents are far removed from our current president’s lurch to the left. After Republicans gained strength and Clinton saw the handwriting on the wall, he moved to the center, reflecting his own origins as head of the moderate and centrist so-called New Democrats. They were aligned with the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to reflect the concerns of blue-dog Democrats, centrists, and the business community. When Clinton won re-election, he worked with Republicans to institute real welfare reform, and he abandoned his ill-conceived experiment in universal health care. Earlier, he got NAFTA passed despite union opposition and with Republican votes.

So while Clinton will speak in Charlotte, as Boyer writes, “that brand of centrist New Democrat politics that helped make him the first president of his party to win reelection since FDR … will be mostly missing. Conservative and centrist Democrats, so critical to Clinton’s efforts to reform welfare, balance the budget, and erase the image of the party as being reflexively anti-business, have nearly vanished.”

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