September 12, 2005


The Fear of the Liberals (COREY ROBIN, September 26, 2005, The Nation)

It's the fourth anniversary of September 11, and Americans are getting restless about the war in Iraq. Republicans are challenging the President, activists and bloggers are pressing the Democrats and liberal hawks are reconsidering their support for the war. Everyone, it seems, is asking questions.

Two questions, however, have not been asked, perhaps because they might actually help us move beyond where we are and where we've been. First, how is it that few liberals and no leftists in 1968 believed that Lyndon Johnson, arguably the most progressive President in American history, would or could airlift democracy to Vietnam, while many liberals and not a few leftists in 2003 believed that the most reactionary President since William McKinley could and would export democracy to Iraq?

Second, why did certain liberals who opposed the war in Iraq refuse to march against it? The reason they gave was that left-wing groups like ANSWER, which helped organize the antiwar rallies, failed to denounce Saddam's regime. Yet many of those who could not abide an alliance with ANSWER endorsed the war in Afghanistan--even though it was waged by a government that recently invaded three Caribbean countries, funded dirty wars in Latin America and backed the government of Guatemala, the only regime in the Western Hemisphere condemned by a UN-sponsored truth commission for committing acts of genocide. Politics, of course, often entails an unhappy choice of associations. But if the deeds of the US government need not stop liberals from supporting the war in Afghanistan, why should the words--words, mind you, not deeds--of leftists deprive the antiwar movement of these very same liberals' support?

Both questions register a fundamental shift among liberals, and on the left, since the 1960s: from skepticism of to faith in US power, and from faith in to skepticism of popular movements. During the Vietnam era, liberals and leftists believed not only in social justice but also in mass protest. Whether the cause was democracy at home or liberation abroad, men and women afflicted by oppression had to organize themselves for freedom. Yes, some of yesterday's activists were blind to coercion within these movements, and others joined elite cadres bombing their way to liberation. Still, the animating faith of the 1960s was in the democratic capacities of ordinary men and women, making it difficult for liberals and leftists to believe in conquering armies from abroad or shock troops from on high.

Many liberals, and some leftists, no longer hold these views. Their faith is guided not by the light of justice but by the darkness of evil: by the tyranny of dictators, the genocide of ethnic cleansers and the terrorism of Islamist radicals.

Do you suppose it's salient to this discussion that Iraq and Afghanistan are now democracies -- just as are those Latin American countries we defended against Communism in the 80s--while the Left's "success" in Vietnam unleashed nothing but genocide and tyranny in Southeast Asia?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2005 5:13 PM

The uber-zoons will crash the left. Hillary will exploit this rift fully.

Posted by: Luciferous at September 12, 2005 5:27 PM

Who knew that Perlstein had adopted a nom de plume?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 12, 2005 5:36 PM


This is exactly the kind of stuff he'd be sending me if Bush had sent troops. Instead, he sent a bit claiming that the SF Earthquake should have been Bush's model--where the military actually pressed gangs of local to do cleanup work and had shoot to kill orders--and says that the high point of LBJ's administration was sending the 82nd Airborne into Detroit.

If George W. Bush declared he was an atheist tomorrow the entire Left would go get baptized.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 5:42 PM

. . . the animating faith of the 1960s was in the democratic capacities of ordinary men and women, . . . Many liberals, and some leftists, no longer hold these views.

Like, duh! What do you think 'political correctness' and speech codes and CFR are for? It's to make sure the 'sheeple' are imbued with the correct way of thinking, as determined by the liberal elite.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 12, 2005 5:52 PM

I was in the 82nd when the riots were going on. My battalion didn't go anywhere, but we practiced riot drills. Now I want Pearlstein to understand something. The black troops were not involved with the riot training, they were on the sidelines watching. It was a very uncomfortable situation. Also, very few soldiers were to have ammo issued. Most were to only have fixed bayonets, and we were supposed to advance on line with those with the ammo right behind the formation. Pearlstein is a boy, and not a very intelligent boy at that.

Posted by: AllenS at September 12, 2005 6:02 PM

If George W. Bush declared he was an atheist tomorrow the entire Left would go get baptized.

Wouldn't that make it Bush's responsibility to declare his atheism immediately?

Posted by: Brandon at September 12, 2005 6:59 PM

Only if Michael Brown got to be the one holding them underwater....

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 7:22 PM


I posted this to the wrong article -- I meant to comment on the article directly below -- but post Perlstein's name next to any lefty screed and it all kinda fits, huh?

Unfortunately, this site has somewhat dampened the upstanding image I had of Perlstein after reading his Goldwater book. Like you, I couldn't believe that his antipathy towards Bush runs so deep that a man of his persuasion was reduced to recommending LBJ's actions during the Detroit riots as a model.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 13, 2005 1:26 AM

I read the whole sorry sack of trash, looking in vain for some glimmer of recognition of the truth as to why there is no "anti-war" movement as there was in the Vietnam era.

Of course, I found none: it's from The Nation, and truth means less than nothing to those people. Truth is a bourgious affectation: real leftists follow higher truth.

The reason we have no "anti-war" movement now is simply that we have no draft. There never was an "anti-war" movement, only a movement of shirkers and cowards to evade military service.

Successful societies are adaptive societies and the battle is the test of adaptation. We learned much from Vietnam. We learned not to try to fight wars of policy with draftees--not to allow cowardice to be put in service of treason.

We learned also to structure the total force so that the Guard and Reserve have missions as essential components, such as bulk fuel, airlift, civil affairs and military police, in support of active duty formations, so that the Guard and Reserve never again are used as refuges for evaders.

We learned to fight smart, and not get into attrition warfare with totalitarians. Knocking off a major regional power with fewer that 2000 KIA's is not attrition warfare.

Keep in mind that The Nation was itself never "Anti-war," merely anti-American. It was never hard to find on its pages, praise for its kind of war, say Stalingrad (the FORMER name for Volgagrad) or Dien Bien Phu.

One good thing came from the article, however. The Nation site was running an ad for, which showed a bumper sticker which read, "BE NICE TO AMERICA, OR WE'LL BRING DEMOCRACY TO YOUR COUNTRY." I've GOT to get one of those!

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 13, 2005 3:13 AM

Lou there's no draft nor Soviet Union to finance and organize them.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2005 8:56 AM

"many liberals and not a few leftists in 2003 believed that the most reactionary President since William McKinley could and would export democracy to Iraq?"

Many? Who is he kidding? Hitchens and about 3 other guys, and only Hitch is still on board.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2005 9:48 AM