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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: October 2012

As it becomes clear that Mitt Romney might actually win the election, desperate Democrats are beginning to develop a new spin about why Obama might lose. That they are doing this two weeks before the election gives us a glimpse of just how scared they are. 

First, the New York Times’ top political reporter, Matt Bai, suggests that if Obama loses, blame could be put on none other than his most important campaign asset, Bill Clinton. Bai writes:

But there is one crucial way in which the 42nd president may not have served the 44th quite as well. In these final weeks before the election, Mr. Clinton’s expert advice about how to beat Mitt Romney is starting to look suspect.

At first, Bai says, the Obama campaign tried to depict Romney as “inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.” But after the public got to see what Romney was really like in the debates, that effort ground to a halt.  Instead, Clinton argued they had to portray Romney as an extremist conservative. That, after all, is what Clinton did when he ran, portraying himself as a centrist in between far left elements in his own party and right-wing Republicans opposed to him. 

Barack Obama, of course, is no Bill Clinton, and yet the campaign adopted Clinton’s advice, working hard to paint Romney as Bush-Cheney redux. Clinton, as Bai writes, was a “centrist deal maker,” while Obama is correctly not seen in this light by the American public. Bai adds that since the debates, Romney “has made a brazen and frantic dash to the center, and Mr. Obama has often seemed off-balance, as if stunned that Mr. Romney thinks he can get away with such an obvious change of course so late in the race. Which, apparently, he can.”

Romney thus cannot be painted as “a far-right ideologue,” no matter how many times Obama ads try to do just that. To put it bluntly, the tactic is not working, as the increasing numbers shifting to Romney in the polls continue to prove. Obama and his team will continue to make efforts to try to convince swing voters and independents of just that, and so far, it isn’t working.

So, Bai says, if Romney wins, Democrats will put the blame on Bill Clinton for having the campaign change its tactics as Clinton told them to do. Obama, he concludes, “now has only a couple weeks to convince a lot of independents in states like Ohio and Virginia that Mr. Romney really is some raging conservative, rather than the more malleable, somewhat awkward fellow he is impersonating on TV.”

What is significant is that Bai is writing this now — rather than after the election. When can you remember a pro-Democratic analyst writing an explanation for what they fear is a Romney victory when the campaign is still going on?

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George McGovern: R.I.P.

October 21st, 2012 - 6:57 pm

Look no further for what was wrong with the late George McGovern’s politics than this tribute to him by the liberal columnist Eleanor Clift. Clift concludes her tribute this way: 

Much of what McGovern stands for is summed up in the slogan of his ’72 campaign, “Come Home America.” Ridiculed by critics at the time, it enjoys renewed resonance today in a country weary of wars that in McGovern’s view are “just as silly as the war in Vietnam. We shouldn’t be in countries we don’t know anything about.”

In fact, the slogan posited a return to the old isolationism shared by both the Old and New Left and the Old Right and their present-day paleoconservative activists. Rather than have resonance today, a move towards right- or left-wing isolationism would all but guarantee a retreat on our nation’s part that would assure the eventual dominance of the West’s major enemies — whether it was the Soviet Union in the recent past or the mullahs of Iran and the Islamists today.

In the New York Times, the late David Rosenbaum’s obituary, prepared for the paper before its author himself passed away, made this point:

The Republicans portrayed Mr. McGovern as a cowardly left-winger, a threat to the military and the free-market economy and someone outside the mainstream of American thought. Whether those charges were fair or not, Mr. McGovern never lived down the image of a liberal loser, and many Democrats long accused him of leading the party astray.

McGovern may not have been the candidate of “abortion, amnesty, and acid” as Nixon proclaimed he was in the election that led to the senator’s devastating defeat, but in fact McGovern was not simply the Western prairie liberal described by Rosenbaum and other obituary writers. In fact, he was a left-wing labor historian with a Ph.D. about The Great Coalfield War , the story of the same Ludlow Massacre of 1913 which Woody Guthrie put to music.

He also was a war hero and patriot. He flew scores of major bombing raids over Italy, Austria, and Germany during World War II for which he received a Distinguished Flying Cross. McGovern often said he would fly over Auschwitz, and was horrified that he and his comrades never received an order to bomb the railroad tracks used to transport Jews being brought to the gas chambers. Later, McGovern would say his own experience of raining death and destruction on civilians hit by the bombs he dropped turned him into a fierce opponent of all military action.

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How sad that on the night of the final event of the year-long celebration of Woody Guthrie’s life and music, his son Arlo’s wife passed away two days after their 45th wedding anniversary, and the morning after the concert Arlo wrote the following about her passing:

The sun rose on my world this morning. Jackie stayed with us throughout the night, lingering in our hearts just out of sight but clearly present. She woke me before sunrise in a dream saying that the hour had come when she would need to leave us and be gone before the sun arose. As her words awakened me I walked outside and stood looking over the river talking with her in the predawn twilight we both loved so much. It was our time and for years she brought me coffee as I took photographs of morning on the river.

There are loves, and there are LOVES. Ours was and will continue to be what it has always been – A very great love. We didn’t always like each other. From time to time there were moments when we’d have our bags packed by the door. But, there was this great love that we shared from the moment we met – a recognition – It’s YOU! And we would always return to it year after year, decade after decade and I believe life after lifetime.

The audience at the concert- held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., all wondered about Arlo’s absence, since he was in the program. One artist said “we’re all singing Woody’s songs for Jackie today,” but she didn’t elaborate. Arlo writes that we all live for the moment we are in, and hence “we have no thought of past or future.” He will continue to tour and make up the gigs he missed. That is what he does, communicating through art and song, like his father and many of his own children.

My wife and I went to the concert last night, along with some friends. It was an all star cast, and there were many memorable moments. The young folks who make up the popular Old Crow Medicine Show brought vigor and a rousing old timey feeling to some of Woody’s best songs. Rosanne Cash and her husband and guitar accompanist John Leventhal sang beautifully. Jimmy LaFave, who sounds like a younger Bob Dylan, was superb, and the bluegrass group featuring Del McCoury and his family, playing with banjo master Tony Trischka, did “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You” bluegrass style, and Trischka and the band scored with a banjo rendition of “Woody’s Rag,” the only instrumental composition Guthrie ever wrote.

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At first glance, the question of whether a self-proclaimed Marxist historian, a member in good standing of the Communist Party, can be a good historian seems self-evident. After all, anyone who in this day and age still defends the Marxist-Leninist project and the reign of Lenin and Stalin in the the 20th century must be somewhat self-deluded.

The late Eric Hobsbawm, who died two weeks ago, was such a historian. A member of the Communist Party of Great Britain to the end and a founding member of the Communist Party Historians Group (and an editor of its journal Past and Present), Hobsbawm was heralded in obituaries and memorial statements as one of the best historians writing in our own time.

The mainstream media went out of its way to sing Hobsbawm’s praises. Last week’s Time, for example, ran a short piece by Ishaan Tharoor, who wrote that “though the Cambridge-educated Briton was an unrepentant Communist who refused to quit the party even after the horrors of Stalin became clear, his work showed little trace of dogma. As a historian, he was interested less in the actions of great men than in the lives of ordinary people.” Or, to put it in clearer terms, Tharoor is saying that Hobsbawm may have supported totalitarianism and the regime of the Gulag, but he cared about the real people and their “struggles.” And, moreover, his “taut, lucid prose” was written in “Marxism’s most ideal form: cosmopolitan, humanist and rooted in the study of societies from the bottom up.”

I bet you weren’t aware that to Time, Marxism was cosmopolitan and humanist. PJM’s own Roger Kimball sees Hobsbawm a bit more accurately. Roger said it best in these words:

Hobsbawm was adulated by an academic establishment inured to celebrating partisans of totalitarian regimes so long as they are identifiably left-wing totalitarian regimes. Although he claimed to have been victim of a “weaker McCarthyism” that retard advancement of leftists in the UK, Hobsbawm enjoyed a stellar career replete with official honors, preferments, and perquisites. He was showered with honors and academic appointments at home and abroad. His books won all manner of awards. In 1998 he was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honor. But the central fact about Hobsbawm, as about so many doctrinaire leftists, was his willingness to barter real people for imaginary social progress. If he “abandoned, nay rejected” the “dream” of the October Revolution, he never abandoned its animating core: an almost reflexive willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of a spurious ideal.

Hobsbawm himself made this quite clear in a now famous and much quoted interview with Michael Ignatieff that conducted in 1994. What you are saying, Ignatieff asked, is “that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Hobsbawm immediately gave a one-word answer that says it all: “Yes.” No wonder Roger Kimball refers to him as a “repellent figure.”

Naturally, writing in The Nation, the left-wing’s most prominent historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner lauded Hobsbawm in very different terms. Playing the old Popular Front game, Foner ignored Hobsbawm’s defense of the old Soviet Union and of Stalin’s terror. Foner simply called him a “life-long advocate of social justice.” Obviously, in Foner’s eyes, anyone supporting Stalin and the old Soviet cause was simply revealing his concern for the peoples of the world and their persistent struggles for equality. Hobsbawm never gave up his beliefs, Foner writes. Of course, Foner never tells readers what these were, saying only that Hobsbawm stayed firm “out of respect for the memory of comrades who had suffered persecution or death for their political beliefs.”

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