Ron Radosh

A Sad Attempt to Build a New Left-Right Alliance: Why It Should Fail

In 2003, when the United States under the helm of President George W. Bush, when the United States went to war against the thugocracy of Saddam Hussein, I wrote a briefing paper for The Center for the Defense of Democracy. I warned therein about the attempt to create a new Left-Right coalition opposed to a centrist and mainstream American foreign policy. It was, I argued, reminiscent of  “the blending together of opposition to a forceful American foreign policy by remnants of both the Old and New Left and the Old Right” in the 1930s.

The original attempt to unite both Old Left and Old Right took place on the eve of World War II, when right-wing isolationists and classical liberals in The America First Party, and left-wing isolationists in the pacifist movement and in Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party, joined hands and argued that FDR’s Presidency was moving America to fascism at home and war abroad. During the years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact between August of 1939 and June of 1941, these forces were joined by the cadre of the American Communist Party.

The next reincarnation took place during the emerging Cold War with the Soviet Union that broke out in the early1950’s. One of Harry S. Truman’s advisors, Joseph P. Jones, warned  that “most of the outright opposition” to Truman’s new bi-partisan interventionist foreign policy came from “the extreme Left and the extreme Right…from a certain group of ‘liberals’ who had been long strongly critical of the administration’s stiffening policy toward the Soviet Union, and from the ‘isolationists,’ who had been consistent opponents of all foreign-policy measures that projected the United States  actively into World Affairs.”

During the Iraq War, a disparate group of similar contemporary types, from Alex Cockburn on the Left to Pat Buchanan on the Right, tried once again to forge such a new alliance in opposition to the Bush foreign policy, and even before that, to the Clinton administration’s humanitarian intervention in Bosnia against the monstrous regime in Belgrade of Slobodan Milosevic. One of the group’s stalwarts, a writer for The American Conservative, Justin Raimondo, even wrote that it was false to claim that “America is a civilized country,” and referring to World War II, wrote that “the wrong side won the war in the Pacific.”

I argued that as the United State moved to assert its world responsibility as a major power, that the new attempt to create a Red-Brown alliance (named after the alliance in Russia of old Soviet era communists with fascists and Russian nationalists) would not disappear, and would only gain new adherents.

Now, as the confused and dangerous foreign policy of the Obama administration continues on, yet another attempt is now being created to build anew such a Left-Right alliance. The cast of characters is more than familiar. I understand the temptation. During the Vietnam War era, I myself was part of a similar small attempt at just such a strange alliance. Working with my friend, the late libertarian economist Murray N. Rothbard, I wrote often for his small and largely unknown journal of opinion, aptly titled Left and Right.  Rothbard, whom William F. Buckley Jr. pushed out of the pages of National Review, saw Buckley’s successful project of creating a new conservative movement as the right-wing of Establishment liberalism. It was not surprising that before long, Rothbard himself was penning articles in the pages of the far left magazine, Ramparts.

Now, as the Obama administration and the President himself goes around the world apologizing for America’s past evils, the adherents of a Left-Right alliance have sensed that perhaps the moment is propitious for yet one more try at creating what they see as a new and effective movement, that will help push the President further towards adoption of a non-interventionist and self-proclaimed “anti-imperialist” direction.

Almost a  month ago, their supporters met at a largely unreported conference in Washington DC, at a meeting that included old Rightists, conservatives, libertarians and leftists. A report was posted at a site called Front Porch Republic by Jeff Taylor, under the McGovernite title of “Come, Home, America:Prospects for a Coalition Against Empire.”  The meeting, Taylor reports, was composed of supporters of George McGovern’s disastrous 1972 presidential campaign,  Pat Buchanan’s 1992 campaign, and one from Ralph Nader’s 2004 campaign. None of the participants, evidently, see the irony of how vast divergent viewpoints on domestic issues fall by the wayside as the group united around the overarching theme of anti-Americanism.

Thomas Woods, the paleoconservative writer whose distortions of history I, Max Boot and others have addressed in various places, broke bread with the likes of the extreme radical socialist Paul Buhle, whose equal distortions of history have been exposed by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. I wonder whether in between courses, the two historians came to some compromise on which farfetched interpretations of the past they could both comfortably espouse. The dilemma certainly did not bother Taylor, who writes “the group stayed focused on foreign policy and reached consensus more often than most.”  No wonder, because as he puts it, “the common enemy was…the bipartisan Center of wealth and power, of empire and war.”

Well have no fear. Taylor admits, without pausing to see how pathetic their meeting was, since rather than the best and the brightest it was only a meeting of forty, “that is not going to change U.S. foreign policy.” How he thinks the forty will someday grow to forty million is an issue he does not address. What cheers him, however, is that “there is an American First instinct that remains constant.”

That may certainly be true, and that he and others cheer this is cause for concern. Do the participants in this meeting ever stop to think what the world might have been like had Hitler and the Nazis won the war, with their allies in Italy and Japan? Do they think  that Gandhi with his misguided call to oppose the Nazis by non-violence was ever a serious alternative to the vast military campaign? Or do they, like their colleagues Raimando and Pat Buchanan, see World War II as caused by the British and unnecessary, or that the wrong side won?

The conference was attended, it seems, by editors of Reason, The American Conservative and The Nation. Taylor swoons at the possibilities, and looks back fondly to the old America First Committee, which he calls a “bipartisan popular coalition” that stood opposed to the “bipartisan elite coalition.”  Unfortunately, when our countrymen of that time came to understand that America’s national security was indeed threatened, the group collapsed overnight, as hundreds of thousands of our young men rushed to enlist to defend America against its very real enemies.

He sees Katrina vanden Huevel as inheritor of what he calls the “distinguished legacy” of people like Charles Beard and Norman Thomas. Thomas, however, later on came to be a supporter of the necessary Cold War against the Soviets, even willingly enlisting the aid and monetary support of the CIA to help fight it. And as for Beard, anyone who believes the conspiracy theories that destroyed his academic reputation of course is willing to engage in the conspiracy theories prevailing today, such as those of the 9/11 truther movement that many of the participants at this conference adhere to.

I must say I am a bit embarrassed and angry that Taylor even cites me as evidence for his understanding of the past. He quotes material from an old book of mine, Prophets On The Right, without realizing that it came out a few years ago in a new paper edition, with a lengthy new introduction in which I explain why I believe the analysis I put forward in the original book was wrong-headed.  In that essay, I wrote the following:

So the bitter truth – for those who still share the world view I and others held in the 60s and 70s – is that I have moved on from the positions and views I took when writing this book. I no longer believe that the United States is an Empire, no better or worse than any other competing power,and that the job of the intellectual and the citizen is to stand in the way of that Empire’s growth. Indeed, I believe that the United States as a democracy is often hamstrung from acting in the world arena as it should,as its leaders and spokesman, including the military – perhaps especiallythe military – fear undertaking any action abroad that relies on the useof military power and force.

I share instead what is often called the neoconservativeview that the United States has a positive role to play in the spread of democracy and the creation of democratic regimes around the globe, and that success in the endeavor will lead to both a more peaceful and more just world. I am, therefore, proudly a supporter of American interventionism, even in a military way when necessary for attainment of our goals.

None of this will stop people like Taylor and Buhle. Their opposition to any action that would stop the power of Islamic extremists via use of our military stands above anything else. Thus they are willing to stand together with Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, and to look kindly upon past heroes like the founder of the John Birch Society Robert Welch, because he too was opposed to the war in Vietnam.              

Buhle too is hopeful, writing that he and the others “met to hash out the beginnings of a most unusual movement.”    Never in his “50 years political lifetime ,” Buhle writes, was there  “such a boundary-crossing event.” Evidently Buhle had not as yet read Taylor’s own report,  in which he itemizes how much they are attempting to build a new version of a very old alliance- one that never got anywhere. Sitting with people who cheered Ron Paul at CPAC a day earlier reminded Buhle of his “own SDS days and the historic moment when isolationists joined us against the Vietnam War.” Who is he referring to, I wonder—me and Rothbard? I don’t recall many others, and the supporters of he and Leonard Liggio’s left-right coalition could have fit in one living room- as in fact, we did when Rothbard threw a big party for all of us.

Buhle argues they must work together, although one conservative sitting next to him did not want the group to label itself anti-imperialist, since that reminded him of the kind of politics espoused by Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War. But Buhle goes on to call for unity, “if we didn’t want rightwingers gulled by Sarah Palin and leftwingers, waiting, waiting and waiting hopelessly for Obama to do the right thing globally.”

Doesn’t he realize too that the confused Palin has endorsed one of their favorites, Rand Paul,
Ron Paul’s son who espouses his father’s far out politics? Buhle admits he paused for a moment to reflect that Ron Paul might be “crazier than my evangelical relatives,” but then says that his call for abolishing the Fed is “not a bad idea” and he can put aside his anti-immigration views he does not agree with to stand with him against the supposed American Empire. Anyway, Buhle hopes, the “delayed crash of Cold War Liberalism may finally have happened.”

What has crashed, it is obvious, is the superfluous Left-Right alliance group, that managed to get a meager forty people in one room, so they could cheer each other on in their opposition to the long-standing bi-partisan foreign policy whose policy makers seek to protect our country and defeat its enemies.

Another participant, Sam Smith, saw the conference as a possible catalyst for a new movement, in the manner of the feminist Seneca Falls conference was for women’s rights a century ago. Smith, at least has some sense of reality left, acknowledging that it likely “will be nothing but another nice try that didn’t work out.”

So my advice to Taylor, Smith and Buhle is the following—don’t waste your time. Give it up now. Enjoy life in the great democracy in which you live. After all, the people who are fighting to keep it safe for you are doing so despite your opposition to all their sacrifices. Or, keep on trying. Next meeting perhaps you’ll get fifty to attend.

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