Category Archives: U.S. Politics

Ron Radosh on Jennifer Delton: A Fresh View of Cold War America

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This article by Ron Radosh is from Minding the Campus:

Teaching in the universities about the so-called McCarthy era has become an area most susceptible to politically correct and one-sided views of what the period was all about. One historian who strenuously objects to the accepted left-wing interpretation that prevails in the academy is Jennifer Delton, Chairman of the Department of History at Skidmore College.

In the March issue of The Journal of the Historical Society Delton writes:

However fiercely historians disagree about the merits of American Communism, they almost universally agree that the post-World War II Red scare signified a rightward turn in American politics. The consensus is that an exaggerated, irrational fear of communism, bolstered by a few spectacular spy cases, created an atmosphere of persecution and hysteria that was exploited and fanned by conservative opportunists such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. This hysteria suppressed rival ideologies and curtailed the New Deal, leading to a resurgence of conservative ideas and corporate influence in government. We may add detail and nuance to this story, but this, basically, is what we tell our students and ourselves about post-World War II anti-Communism, also known as McCarthyism. It is fundamentally the same story that liberals have told since Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy in 1948.

This conventional narrative of the left has been told over and over for so many years that it has all but become the established truth to most Americans. It was exemplified in a best-selling book of the late 1970’s, David Caute’s The Great Fear, and from the most quoted one from the recent past, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. My favorite title is one written by the late Cedric Belfrage, The American Inquisition 1945-1960: A Profile of the “McCarthy Era.” In his book, Belfrage told the story of how he, an independent journalist who founded the fellow-traveling weekly The National Guardian, was hounded by the authorities and finally deported home to Britain. American concerns about Soviet espionage, he argued, were simply paranoia.

The problem with Belfrage’s account was that once the Venona files began to be released in 1995–the once top secret Soviet decrypts of communications between Moscow Center and its US agents—they revealed that Belfrage was a paid KGB operative, just as the anti-Communist liberal Sidney Hook had openly charged decades ago, and as turned KGB spy Elizabeth Bentley had privately informed the FBI in 1945. The Venona cables revealed that Belfrage had given the KGB an OSS report received by British intelligence concerning the anti-Communist Yugoslav resistance in the 1940’s as well as documents about the British government’s position during the war on opening a second front in Europe. It showed that Belfrage had offered the Soviets to establish secret contact with them if he was stationed in London.

Facts like these did not bother or budge the academic establishment. Most famously, Ellen Schrecker wrote in her book that although it is now clear many Communists in America had spied for the Soviets, they did not do any real harm to the country, and also most importantly, their motives were decent. She wrote, “As Communists, these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They thought they were ‘building…a better world for the masses,’ not betraying their country.”

Schrecker’s views were endorsed by former Nation publisher and editor Victor Navasky, who regularly in different articles argues that the Venona decrypts are either gossip or forgeries, irrelevant, or do not change his favored narrative that in the United States– only McCarthyism was a threat. As Navasky wrote, Venona was simply an attempt “to enlarge post-cold war intelligence gathering capability at the expense of civil liberty.” If spying indeed took place, it was “a lot of exchanges of information among people of good will, many of whom were Marxists, some of whom were Communists… and most of whom were patriots.” As for those who argue against his view, they were trying to “argue that, in effect, McCarthy and Co. were right all along.”

The lens through which McCarthyism has been seen, therefore, is one seen exclusively through the left-wing prism, which regards defense of one’s own democratic nation against a foreign foe as evil, and sees only testimony against America’s enemies as McCarthyite. What is therefore necessary is to look anew at the McCarthy era, not in the terms set by its Communist opponents, but from the perspective of examining dispassionately the nature of the entire epoch. Those who have chosen to do this, however, have been met with great opposition. A few years ago, the editors of The New York Times claimed that a new group of scholars “would like to rewrite the historical verdict on Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism.” Fearing such a development, the newspaper warned that it had to be acknowledged that it was McCarthyism more than Soviet espionage or Communist infiltration that was “a lethal threat to American democracy.”

[read it all]

Professor Delton’s article, “Rethinking Post-World War II Anticommunism” is excellent. Here is a bit:

[T]the most famous and effective anticommunist measures were carried out not by conservatives, but by liberals seeking to uphold the New Deal. It was the liberal Truman administration that chased Communists out of government agencies and prosecuted Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act. It was liberal Hollywood executives who adopted the blacklist, effectively forcing Communists out of the movie business. The labor leaders who purged Communists from their unions were, similarly, liberals. Most anticommunism—the anticommunism that mattered—was not hysterical and conservative, but, rather, a methodical and, in the end, successful attempt on the part of New Deal liberals to remove Communists from specific areas of American life, namely, the government, unions, universities and schools, and civil rights organizations. It is true that the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) helped carry out these measures, but it is a mistake to assume that J. Edgar Hoover or HUAC could have had much power without the cooperation of liberals who wanted Communists identified and driven out of their organizations.

New evidence confirming the widespread existence of Soviet agents in
the U.S. government makes the Truman administration’s attempts to purge Communists from government agencies seem rational and appropriate—even too modest, given what we now know.3 But even in those cases where espionage was not a threat—such as in unions, political organizations, and Hollywood—there were still good reasons for liberals to expel Communists. Communists were divisive and disruptive. They had the ability to cripple liberal organizations, especially at the local and state levels. Removing Communists from labor and political organizations was necessary for liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey, Chester Bowles, and Paul Douglas to be elected to Congress, where they supported Truman’s Keynesian economic policies, raised the minimum wage, fought for health insurance,
defended unions, taxed the rich, and laid the political groundwork for
civil rights and desegregation.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Happy International Women’s Day!

U.S. events here.

March is Women’s History Month but you do not need a special month to find the sort of commentary below disturbing. I do not care whether you consider yourself conservative, liberal, centrist, or independent. This is just plain wrong. Who raised these people, pigs? I know, pigs are better than they.

The Culture & Media Insitute looked back at what the media had to say over the past year about some of today’s most prominent conservative women, including Michelle Malkin, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney, and compiled a list of the 10 worst attacks on these women who dare to speak out in favor of conservative values.

The worst venom was reserved for Michelle Malkin. Here are a few examples:

1. Playboy’s Hate List

Playboy magazine writer Guy Cimbalo released his list of top ten conservative women against whom he’d like to commit violent sexual acts last June. Calling these acts a “hate f—” in his “So Right It’s Wrong” article, Cimbalo explained that he “might despise everything” about women like Michelle Malkin, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, “The View’s” Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Mary Katherine Ham  and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, “but g–dammit, they’re hot!”…

2. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi Uses Graphic Sexual Language to Discredit Michelle Malkin and the Tea Party Movement

In a Tax Day 2009 blog post, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi claimed “he really enjoying this whole teabag thing” and that “it’s really inspiring some excellent daydreaming.”

Taibbi let his readers in on the nature of his daydreams that involve conservative pundit Michelle Malkin in incredibly vulgar ways…

4. Keith Olbermann Compares Michelle Malkin to a ‘Mashed-Up Bag of Meat With Lipstick on it”

MSNBC personalities reserve a special level of vitriol for conservative woman, and none more so than Keith Olbermann.

Olbermann compared Michelle Malkin to a “big, mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it” during his Oct. 13 “Countdown” show because he believed she encouraged death threats made to a woman who posted a video of singing their praises to President Barack Obama…

6. Toronto Star Columnist Tweets a Death Wish for Michelle Malkin

Unfortunately, as Erbe proved, it’s not only liberal men who have it out for conservative women. Antonia Zerbisias is another one.

The Toronto Star columnist expressed deep hatred for Michelle Malkin in an April 2009 Twitter message that read, “Forget the Marxists, I wish the marksmen would take @MichelleMalkin. I’m thinking Dick Cheney. He’s such a good shot.”

Joseph Stack and the Pundit Class: The Teapartiers Made Him Do It!

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As soon as I found out a disgruntled man had flown his small airplane into an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office in Austin, Texas I knew what the response from the pundit class would be: let’s blame the Tea Party Movement! However, when we look what the perpetrator had to say, in his own words, a reasonable person cannot come to that conclusion.

In a rambling and not entirely coherent explanation for his actions, Joseph Stack blamed a variety of nefarious forces for what he was about to do. Everyone from the federal government (including President George W. Bush), to corporations, to trade unions, to the medical establishment and even the Catholic Church were fingered. But the greatest culprit was the tax man, the IRS.

Progressives and the liberal left have predictably latched onto his anti-taxation message and taken the next step to claim his rhetoric mirrors that of the Tea Party Movement, or he was motivated by the Tea Party Movement, or perhaps he was even a member of the movement.

For example, Clarence Page at the Chicago Tribune writes, “In his one-man, all-directional fury he sounds like a one-man walking tea party rally.”  Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine agrees, “a lot of his rhetoric could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally.” While Dan Turner at the L.A. Times opines, “his rhetoric resembles that of a very powerful political movement in the United States: the ‘tea party” crew'”.

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post is bit more nuanced, though not much:

There’s no information yet on whether he was involved in any anti-government groups or whether he was a lone wolf. But after reading his 34-paragraph screed, I am struck by how his alienation is similar to that we’re hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement.

But what Stack’s manifesto actually say? Yes, there is plenty of vitriol for the IRS but that isn’t all. A close reading–actually, even a superficial reading–reveals Stack’s willingness to borrow tropes from the paranoid right who regularly rail against the excesses of “big government” but there is also a strong element of the paranoid left who see corporations as a source of evil in the world at play as well. In fact, his last two lines would tell anyone who is interested that this man was definitely not affiliated with the Tea Party movement:

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

As is well known to anyone paying even the slightest attention to the rallies and rhetoic of the Tea Partiers, one thing immediately aparent about their brand of  right-wing populism is steadfast support for capitalism and their reluctance to crtique it. They would never write a sentence like the one above. But who cares? It’s much easier to blame the Tea Partiers than admit we live in a country with two lunatic fringes, on the extreme right and the extreme left.

Michael Knox Beran: Obama’s Schizophrenic Politics

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The semester has started and I have been too busy assisting students to write anything. So enjoy this brief piece by Michael Knox Beran in the City Journal (online edition). Here is an excerpt:

When, on Wednesday night, the president ascended the rostrum of the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union Address, some believed that he would, if only from desperation, renounce the utopist within. Certainly his tone and style suggested that the conciliatory pragmatist was back in the saddle. “Let’s try common sense,” he said. Health care was no longer the main thing: jobs were. The president even made light of his inner messiah: “Now, I’m not naive. I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony and some post-partisan era.”

But the fingerprints of the passionate prophet were all over the actual proposals. If America needed jobs, the social state would take the lead in creating them. Health care might no longer be the top priority, but Congress should pass the health-care bill anyway, and while it was at it, should get cap-and-trade done, too. Of course there would be a spending freeze—but not for another year. Until then, spend away. Much as Edward Hyde makes a mockery of Henry Jekyll’s pretensions to rectitude in Robert Louis Stevenson’s fable, so the hairy imp who struggles for supremacy in Obama’s soul makes a mockery of the president’s protestations of common sense and fiscal restraint.

No politician can hope to get away with so wild an incoherency, right? Wrong. The president knows that he has gotten away with it. His double personality has been evident since he published his campaign manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, in 2006. The tone of the book is as mild and unthreatening as the most soothing of Obama’s orations. But its call to revive a politics of “social solidarity” ought to have put the reader on notice of the deeper tensions in the candidate’s soul.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Every year around this time I read articles and op-eds about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) that generally fall into two categories. On the one hand, you have leftists and revolutionaries who generally argue MLK was moving in an anti-capitalist direction before he was assassinated. The more extreme leftists claim this is precisely why he was assassinated. They also note if he was alive today, he would be siding with them in their various struggles whether environmental, economic or political. On the other hand, you have conservatives who contend that they are the rightful heirs to MLK’s legacy. They contend if King was alive today, he would take their side, especially in regards to “right to life” and other social issues.

I find most of these discussions to be less than useful. Who knows what MLK’s politics would be like if he were alive today? Yes, he was outspoken in support of the poor and labor issues but I doubt he would share the contemporary Left’s position on abortion. And what would he have thought of the increasing radicalization and fetishism of violence of the New Left? In any event, these sorts of discussions involve extreme speculation on both sides of the political spectrum.

Instead, I think it is illustrative to examine the social and political legacy of MLK. Have the changes he wanted to see in American society become reality? In many cases, they have. De jure discrimination based on race is illegal. Federal legislation was passed providing legal protection and access in the areas of transportation (thanks Irene Morgan and Rosa Parks!), voting rights, public facilities, and education. A good friend reminded me of MLK’s influence in the case of Loving v. Virginia which ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. And of course we have a black president. These are incredibly positive developments for a country as riven by race as the U.S.

But are there any negative elements of his legacy? I realize to even suggest this runs the risk of being labeled an apostate by liberals and conservatives alike. Yet when I examine some of the individuals and groups who claim to extend the progressive vision of MLK to the present I am incredibly disappointed.

To be absolutely clear I do not place any blame for the buffoonery of these clowns on MLK. I suspect and hope he would be disappointed by their antics as well. And I recognize there are plenty of folks who continue King’s legacy in a positive and uplifting fashion.

Enjoy this brief clip of MLK responding to the criticisms leveled against him by Malcolm X:

Grading Obama’s Afghanistan Speech: Surge or Exit Strategy?

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[Backup is on the way...]

I listened to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan at West Point and it was not entirely encouraging. His reluctant admission that more troops are needed was welcome but I am concerned he is not supportive of an effective counterinsurgency program as was approved by President George W. Bush during the “surge” in Iraq.

Perhaps a better way of putting it is I am puzzled whether his speech argued in favor of letting facts on the ground determine the length of American involvement or whether he is committed to removing American troops in eighteen months. I was left thinking he was trying to say too many different things to too many different audiences at the same time.

As I tell my students before they give their oral presentations, “always be aware of your audience.” In their case determining the audience is easy. They are doing the presentation for me, in order to receive a grade, as well as their colleagues, in order to edify–but not confuse–them.

President Obama finds himself in a far more difficult situation. He has multiple audiences he needs to appeal to. Making matters worse, what one group wants to hear is often in opposition to another group.

The most obvious audience is that of the West Point cadets and experienced officer corps. If I were grading Obama regarding his appeal to this audience it would be a D. The primary reason is he never once mentioned victory as an outcome of his strategy. Why does this matter? Put yourself in the mindset of an officer who has (or will soon have) enlisted soldiers under his command. One question that would likely spring to mind is, “if my commander in chief is not convinced victory is possible, what do I tell my troops?” That is not a situation an officer wants to find himself in, to say the least.

Another audience are the legislators, activists and partisans of the president’s political party. As the health care debate has shown, Democrats are not united on much of anything. Regarding military action, one the one hand, most Blue Dog Democrats support a strong military and the use of force. But the wing of the Democratic Party that was largely responsible for the president’s victory are the progressives. Most of them want the troops home yesterday. The president’s speech contained some tough talk regarding Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the Blue Dogs and a clear timetable for the progressives. Or, was that a clear timetable? What was that mention of “facts on the ground” all about? Isn’t that what President Bush said time and time again when asked when we would withdrawal from Iraq? Obama did better with Democrats but not great, C-range territory.

The final audience to consider are Republicans, the political opposition. They do not seem very pleased with the president’s speech either. Some dismissed his strategy out of hand before he even gave his speech while others have been railing against him for taking so long to get his act together. Many wanted–but did not expect–Obama to commit to the 60,000 troops that General McChrystal asked for. They were also perturbed by his references to torture and shutting down Gitmo. So he gets another D.

Final Grade: D+

Setting aside how he did with these audiences, just a few words about my own perspective. First, I am not as critical as some that Obama took a while to put his Afghanistan plan together. Yet I agree that it is was too long, especially for someone who made a more effective Afghanistan strategy a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Progressives seem to have forgotten about that. Second, I concur it is important to let President Karzai know we are not going to be there forever. But did President Obama have to announce the timetable to the entire world? Couldn’t he have done this more diplomatically? Third, the political cheap shots were a disappointment. So how did he do for this audience of one? I give him a C-.

Read More:

Full transcript of the president’s speech here.

Clive Crook at the Atlantic found the speech contradictory:

Obama tried to have it both ways: he gave the generals another 30,000 soldiers, almost as many as they had asked for, but told the country (and anybody else who might have been listening) that disengagement would begin in just 18 months.

At its center, in other words, the speech contradicted itself. You cannot argue, as he tried to, that (a) this is a war America must win to safeguard its own security, and (b) whether the US is winning or not, the troops will start to come home in 2011. If they can start to come home in 18 months regardless, why not start to bring them home now?

That was not the only contradiction. We are against “nation building” (again). But as well as creating the country’s own security forces out of next to nothing, we want a civilian surge to build capacity and foster development. Run that by me once more.

Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard found it disapopinting:

I had hoped Obama would declare that nothing will deter him, as commander-in-chief, from prevailing in Afghanistan. But it turns out a lot of things might deter him. He listed a few of them: the cost of the war, its length (if more than 18 months from January 2010), the failure of Afghans to step up to the task sufficiently. He hedged.

Americans and our allies were looking for more, I believe. To have rallied the country and the world, Obama needed to indicate he would lead a fight to win in Afghanistan, with the help of allies if possible, but with the armed forces of the U.S. alone if necessary. He didn’t say anything like that. He didn’t come close.

While Joan Walsh over at Slate has this to say:

At the moment he needed all of his persuasive powers, Obama gave the worst major speech of his presidency. I admit: I expected to be, even wanted to be, carried away a bit by Obama’s trademark rhetorical magic. But I wasn’t, not even a little. I found the speech rushed, sing-songy and perfunctory, delivered by rote. I despise the right-wing Obama-Teleprompter taunts, but even I wanted to say, Look at your audience, not the damn Teleprompter, Mr. President. Obama looked haggard, his eyes deeper set, and I believe this decision pained him. But I’m not sure even he believes it’s the right decision.

Upcoming Events in NYC: The United States and The Cold War September Seminars

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[Maybe I'll see you at John Earl Haynes' presentation?]

***The United States and The Cold War September Seminars***

To RSVP or to receive a copy of the paper please email, zk3@nyu.edu

Thursday, September 17, 2009*
Dana Frank, University of California, Santa Cruz
“The AFL-CIO’s Cold War in Honduras: The First Years of Intervention, 1954-59″
5:30 – 7:00pm (with reception to follow)
*
Thursday, September 25, 2009*
John Earl Haynes, Library of Congress,
“Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks and the Documentation of Soviet Intelligence
Activities in the United States during the Stalin Era”
Special Start Time: 5:00 – 6:300pm (with reception to follow)

*
Tamiment Library Book Talk*

To RSVP please email zk3@nyu.edu
*
Wednesday, September 23, 2009*
Nelson N. Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara
“The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business”
6:00pm- 7:30pm (with reception to follow)

Tamiment Library
70 Washington Square South , 10th Floor
(between LaGuardia and Greene Streets)