November 10, 2010
by Ronald Radosh
No one, I think, captured the illusions about Barack Obama better than Walter Russell Mead. Writing at the website of The American Interest, Mead proclaims that
A significant chunk of the American liberal intelligentsia completely lost its head over Barack Obama. They mistook hopes and fantasies for reality. Worse, the disease spread to at least members of the White House team. An administration elected with a mandate to stabilize the country misread the political situation and came to the belief that the country wanted the kinds of serious and deep changes that liberals have wanted for decades. It was 1933, and President Obama was the new FDR.
That illusion explains perfectly the great shock-wave felt by liberals and the media over the results of last week’s unprecedented election. As Mead puts it, “They were fundamentally misreading the mood of the country.” Their great arrogance, however, prevents them from comprehending this reality. As Mead writes:
They did not perceive just how wrong they were; nor did they understand how the error undermined the logical case they wanted to make in favor of a bigger role for government guided by smart, well-credentialed liberal wonks. Give us more power because we understand the world better than you do, was the message. We are so smart, so well-credentialed, so careful to read all the best papers by all the certified experts that the recommendations we make and the regulations we write, however outlandish and burdensome they look to all you non-experts out there, are certain to work. Trust us because we are always right, and only fools and charlatans would be so stupid as to disagree.
A good warning to them from a top-notch liberal intellectual, albeit one who gets it. How come there are so few of these rare liberal intellectuals like Mead and William Galston? These men stand alone as among the small number who so easily comprehend what the public at large knows from their own experience — that you cannot trust our future to those in power who believe they alone have the right and the duty to orchestrate the American economy because of what they think is their superior wisdom. Just yesterday I sat at dinner with a man in a big city government office who is likely to be the next mayor of this major American center. I listened as he told us how Paul Krugman is right, and that we need a major new government stimulus because the one that failed simply wasn’t large enough. I felt like thrusting Mead’s comments in his hand.
Perhaps the problem is that, as Stanley Kurtz suggests in his new book, Barack Obama is ideologically a socialist. One liberal who evidently thinks this might be the case is none other than the former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch. Writing on his blog the other day, Koch asks the following question:
Will the Democratic Party learn from the drubbing and loss of one house? Probably not, but hope springs eternal. Maybe Democrats will take a hint and begin moving to a moderate left position, pulling back from their heretofore more radical left position which they prefer to call “progressive.”
Koch has been around for a long time, and he remembers when that term was the euphemism used by Communist fellow-travelers to define themselves. Thus he explains that to him, it means “several degrees to the left of liberal.” He calls himself a “liberal with sanity,” a term he created to try and put himself apart from those other far leftists who pretended to be old fashioned liberals. Referring to the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a person who single-handedly defined what a fellow-traveler or a secret CP member was, Koch calls her a “person who came from a radical left background” and dubbed herself a “progressive” to try and make her politics both seem reasonable and to “convey that they were the cutting edge.”
Then, Koch writes a most striking paragraph, which I find most revealing. He writes the following, soon after the passage in which he brings up Abzug as a Democrat whom he believes personifies the worst elements in his own political home:
Above all else, the president should make clear to the public that he sees the Democratic Party not as a vehicle for socialism(my emphasis), but as a vehicle to implement fairness and justice in the mold of social democrats who believe in our capitalist economic system, with rigorous but not onerous regulations to protect the public in all spheres of public intercourse and commerce, allowing people to rise in our society according to their abilities and at the same time provide a safety net for those who need a helping hand.
To that I give a hearty amen, with one proviso: This is the position of a moderate centrist Republican, and not that of any Democrat who is active in today’s world. It is quite akin to that of the senator-elect from West Virginia, outgoing governor of that state, Joe Manchin. A man who ran opposing ObamaCare, cap and trade, and virtually the entire Obama agenda, he, like Koch, is actually closer to what most Republicans favor than most Democrats today. Manchin is thus reportedly being urged by his Republican colleagues in the Senate to consider switching parties after he is inaugurated as senator next week, a rumor that Manchin fervently denies. According to Roll Call, some Republicans “speculated that Manchin could be floating this rumor to send a message to the Senate Democratic leadership that he will not be able to vote with the Conference on key issues, as well as to attempt to scare off any potential top-tier Republican challengers.”
Whatever his reasons, everyone in his state knows that the only reason he won is that Manchin moved away from past Democratic positions he once held, such as support for Obama’s health care agenda, and echoed mainstream Republican criticisms of it. He and Ed Koch can persist in calling themselves the real Democrats, liberals with sanity, but even they must realize how isolated they are, and how far removed they remain from their brethren.
Koch acknowledges that the majority of our country today is “moderate conservative,” with “moderate liberal” a close second — both categories highly different than the stance of most Democrats and the current administration. Koch even proposes amendments to the health care bill he urges Obama to adopt — but if one reads them, it is apparent that these are Republican proposals that Koch must know Obama will never support. Or does he really think that the president will back “letting all insurance carriers offer their policies in all 50 states to increase competition, regulate premium increases, and allow Medicare to seek volume prescription drug discounts — barred under current law — which could save hundreds of billions of dollars over a 10-year period.”
The first part of Koch’s proposal was supported during the campaign by many Republicans. And the second part calling for volume drug discounts never had a chance since the administration cut a deal with the drug companies in exchange for their not opposing the ObamaCare proposals.
As for foreign policy, Koch argues that Obama
…should announce that we are prepared to wage a 50-year war against the Islamist terrorists now seeking to destroy Western civilization and that we will not compromise with the jihadists under any circumstances, and will call them by their rightful name — Islamic terrorists — not simply militants and will ask the media to do the same.
Again, I give that proposal a hearty amen! But Koch’s words come just as Obama is in Indonesia where he is continuing his ill-advised outreach to the Muslim world and downplaying any talk about there being any real threat of terrorism coming from radical Islam. And while in Indonesia, the president sought to use his bully pulpit not to condemn radical Islam, but instead to join the chorus of the anti-Israel clique by condemning Israel for proposing so-called “settlements” in east Jerusalem, when, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained so curtly, “Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.”
Koch tries to explain why he is not a Republican with what I consider a somewhat unfair swipe, in which he argues that
[T]he major difference between the Democratic and Republican parties which has made me a proud Democrat is that the Democratic Party’s policy is to provide a helping hand to those in need, whilst the Republican Party has taken the position, if others have made it on their own, the poor, unskilled, and those simply having bad luck or dealt a bad hand will have to make it on their own.
Yes, some total free-marketeers and libertarians do take that position, but most conservatives I know understand fully the need for a realistic safety net for the working poor, and do not want to return America to the era before such a safety net existed. What they oppose, and what Koch opposes also, is precisely what the Democratic Party stands for today — the espousal of a stealth socialist strategy meant to advance our nation towards a statist socialism that the public opposes.
Last week, as everyone knows, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell let it slip in a debate with Glenn Greenwald that he considered himself a socialist. As he put it,
I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to progressive. Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist. I live to the extreme left, the extreme left of you mere liberals, okay?
Give the man credit for honesty — the kind of honesty Barack Obama shies away from. In his book, Stanley Kurtz says he would have no problem if Obama had said he was a socialist and tried to explain what that means in terms of the policies he advocates. What Kurtz objects to is Obama’s avoidance of the word socialism and his adoption of a strategy he learned from his colleagues in the Midwest Academy and other groups: that of hiding his true views and instead trying to advance policies that would result in socialism without ever having to publicly advocate what he truly believes.
O’Donnell himself went on to say the next day, in response to Glenn Beck, that
…he was a socialist because he supported programs such as Medicare and Social Security — which are, he said, explicitly socialistic at heart. He described Medicare as “a socialist idea whose time had come in a capitalist society.” Moreover, he said, everyone who supports such programs is supporting socialism.
The problem is that most people who support Medicare do not think of themselves as socialists, nor do they believe in the kind of super statist programs that the administration is proposing, which is what exemplifies the kind of “socialism” they support.
I happen to agree with the analysis of the historian Martin J. Sklar, who, as I previously wrote a year ago, has developed the theory of “the mix”; that all modern societies contain within themselves both elements of capitalism and socialism. But Sklar today firmly stands in opposition to the Obama program, considering the real issue not to be, as he writes, whether we move to socialism but whether we can maintain a liberal democracy based on the mix that nurtures “Liberty and Equality and Progressive Development.” This, he writes, is
…something the Bush/Cheney administrations championed, and the reason I, a person of the left, strongly supported them, including the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the (world) war against Islamist imperialism.
Finally, in a personal letter to me, Sklar calls for a unified liberty movement of people who see themselves on the left or liberal side and those who see themselves as conservatives to defeat “the state-command sectarians,” and bring together those on the democratic left and right in an effort to rejuvenate “the prospects of liberal democracy.”As he explains Obama, the president is a Leninist statist who stands athwart the main traditions of liberal democracy, and hence is incapable of changing course midstream as Clinton did after 1995.
For such a movement for liberty to emerge, it will take some moderate centrist Democrats, like Ed Koch, Senator-elect Manchin, and others to switch parties and become Republicans. To create a big tent majority party, the Republicans need people like them — not just the Tea Party conservatives. Will they have the courage to make the switch?
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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