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How One Left-wing Professor, Peter Dreier, sees America's Heroes- and Reveals His Own Ignorance

Observation two: Many readers, including conservatives, will readily agree that many of Dreier’s choices were or are indeed great Americans. But let me show, by singling out what he says about one entry in particular, how he distorts the story of some of the people he lists to have them fit in with his own very left-wing politics.

First, let us look at his entry on the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, the chief advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the strategist and organizer of the 1963 march on Washington. As Dreier writes, Rustin “was black, gay, a pacifist, and a radical, and thus had four strikes against him in influencing mainstream America.” Dreier then continues to summarize his career. He writes that the black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and the pacifist A.J. Muste hired Rustin in 1941 to lead the youth division of Randolph’s March on Washington movement, in which the Pullman Porters' leader threatened a nationwide march during World War II to highlight racism at home and to push FDR to open up jobs in defense industries for black workers.

What he leaves out is that the American Communist Party, of which Rustin as well as Randolph had become vigorous opponents, argued against any effort to call attention to the sad plight of African-Americans at home, since it would have interfered with the war effort and harmed the ability of the United States to aid the Soviet Union in fighting Hitler. In organizing the effort for a march, Randolph and Rustin both were against the bulk of the CP-led “progressive” movements. When Randolph capitulated to FDR, and the president got him to call off the march by promising to create a Fair Employment Practices Board, Rustin condemned Randolph as a sell-out, something for which he apologized to his mentor years later.

On Rustin’s role advising King, Dreier writes that “as a former Communist and as a gay man, he was a political liability” and thus had to work “quietly and in the shadows” rather than as an open organizer and activist. This, of course, is highly inaccurate. Rustin began to appear regularly as a main challenger of radical black nationalism, and of Malcolm X in particular. He debated Malcolm X both on radio and on TV, as well as in person. Moreover, Rustin openly was a fierce anti-Communist, and rather than support pro-Communists Ella Baker and Stanley Levison -- who, Dreier fails to report to his readers, was the CPUSA’s top money man -- Rustin opposed both of them, especially for their sectarian tactics at the 1964 Democratic Party convention and their all-or-nothing stance regarding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Dreier writes that Rustin “continued organizing within the civil rights, peace, and labor movements.” Nowhere in his entire profile does he mention that Rustin was the chairman of the social-democratic organization Social Democrats U.S.A., the wing of the old Socialist Party that broke with Michael Harrington and Irving Howe. Nor does he mention that Rustin opposed the Sandinistas and the Soviet Union, and worked alongside Ronald Reagan on behalf of Solidarity in Poland and in conjunction with Lane Kirkland, head of the AFL-CIO, whom the Left attacked as a CIA agent.

He slyly says that Rustin “was one of the first public figures to call for the withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam.” This is nothing but a joke to anyone who knew him. Rustin publicly opposed the mass 1965 SDS organized March on Washington against the war, because he would not take part in any march that welcomed people who supported a Viet Cong victory in South Vietnam. Rustin favored only a negotiated settlement, and not any measures that would lead to a Communist victory, which he said would be worse than an independent pro-U.S. regime in the South, which at least had political parties and a free trade union movement.

Instead of letting readers know what he thought, Dreier writes that after LBJ’s escalation of the war, Rustin “muted his criticisms” because he wanted to avoid “alienating LBJ.” This is a slander against Rustin, who did not care whom he alienated if he thought he was correct. Rustin argued that the nation could afford a strong defense policy and liberal social programs, or both guns and butter. He was a classic Cold War liberal like his ally Hubert Humphrey.

His conclusion, that Rustin “lost credibility among many New Left student activists,” is certainly correct, but that is because on almost every essential issue, they did not welcome the support or help of an anti-Communist who knew that the United States was a free country worth defending.