Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama and the Left's Old Schism

By Robert Parry
October 14, 2009

My article mildly defending Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize drew a number of critical comments from readers who felt I was letting the President off too easily, essentially excusing his reluctance to fully reverse George W. Bush’s wars and crimes.

Read on.


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Jay said...

Before the 1980's the older generation of wealthy people dominated. They had been educated in the "School of Hard Knocks" and looked down on professors, writers and journalists. As Agnew said eloquently, they were "An effete corps of impudent snobs."

The next generation of inherited money were more sophisticated and realized that intellectuals and writers were like anyone else: if you paid them money they would say, write or teach whatever you wanted them to. So they bought magazines, networks and news agencies.

They set up think tanks to give unemployable academics jobs and set up appointments for their news agencies to interview them and publicize their work.

It was easy and economical, cost a little bit of money, but it made their ideas respectable and silenced a lot if intellectuals who would have in the past been radical critics of capitalism.

At this point I don't think that "the left" is going to find enough people with money to subsidize their ideas and compete. This would be against the self-interest of the rich.

They just outsmarted us on this one and we are going to have to find another way to get paid to undermine the establishment. Stalin started out robbing banks.

priscianus jr said...

Mr Parry,
When I pressed to see a preview of my comment, Google ate the comment! The following is a mental reconstruction:
I did read your post yesterday, and I had no problem with it. In fact I placed a link to it in a comment on Booman, who happened to be making similar point.
Your post today is of particular interest to me, because although I would now fall under your category of "pragmatists," in 1968 I was what you would call a "purist". Certainly I have changed a lot in the 40+ years since then, and yet I think there's more to it than that. There is a difference between a genetic relationship -- "a schism on the Left that can be traced back at least four decades" -- and genuine parallels.
As presidential candidate, Humphrey was in a straightjacket. He was Johnson's VP. It only came out later that he got the nomination by agreeing not to say anything against the war. But the public knew nothing about this at that time, and it is not clear that he would have spoken against the war in any case. He had never done so before, and he didn't "signal" in any way that he opposed or even questioned it. For one thing, his core support -- the labor movement -- at strongly supported the war.
You also do not mention the very significant fact that the candidate whom the antiwar people did support, and who had already publicly broken with Johnson on the war, was hardly a "fringe" figure -- he was Robert F. Kennedy. Three months into his campaign (June 6) he was brutally assassinated. The fact that the pro-war Humphrey was the man chosen to supposedly fill his shoes made him all the less attractive.
If there was any equivalent to Johnson in 2008, it was the Clintons. Unlike Humphrey's passive relation to Johnson, however, Obama had to beat them (a feat widely believed impossible) even to win the nomination. This brought the Democratic Party a little breathing room for the first time in years. Incidentally, many of today's Dem "purists" are former Hillary Clinton supporters.
Diametrically opposite to Humphrey, Obama ran on a platform that was a clear repudiation of the previous administration, and he hasn't gone back on any campaign promises, he just hasn't managed to implement them all in his first nine months. Unlike Humphrey, whose supposed reforms are purely imaginary, Obama has to actually govern, in a bitterly partisan atmosphere -- but one in which I believe he (and we) will prevail.
Still, there is a sense in which you are right. Today's "purists" may indeed be the heirs of the "purists" of 1968 -- but they are unworthy heirs, caricatures.
Yes I do blame Nixon's victory on Humphrey and Johnson.
As for what happened with the media, I don't begin to understand how that can be blamed on the antiwar people. The Left got very weird in the 1970s, but I attribute a lot of that to the destruction of its leadership and intensive counterintelligence efforts of the FBI.

V Cubed said...

priscianus jr, I agree to a certain point. There was serious subversion of the left, we were much more uninformed with the technology (print, radio, tv) of the day, and no 24/7 access to investigative journalism. I disagree that the Clinton supporters were the "purists", at least not to those of us who supported Obama to keep the welfare deform, first to sign contracts with Blackwater, DADT, Foundation-secret-foreign-deal-making Clintons away from the WH again.

Robert Parry: Timely and factual, thank you. I was just reevaluating my dedication to the Obama admin in light of this article at In These Times:

Further digging revealed the usual telecom and military industrial influences behind our pathetic sadistic foreign policies, yet again, still.

Yes, we have to critique, and yes we have to use media to push to get better policies, and absolutely yes, Repubs have been/are/will be worse. The eternal choice between bad and worse gets extraordinarily depressing tho, and that is another very real "yes". That's the very real diff between purists on left and right: the right for the most part likes its party's behavior, with a few exceptions. We on the left get weary of endless half-measures no matter how hard we work/write/lobby/demonstrate, and of the constant capitulation to the powers that be.

They get inspired, we get tired. Fine for those who get paid to raise hell to keep on keepin' on; for the rest of the unwashed -lol - masses, this crap is sickening. The fact that some of the biggest resistance to both parties is coming from the poorest and hardest working to just survive is no mystery. Elite intellectuals and pundits on both sides seem to be the only ones (besides the usual suspects) to reap profit from the pseudo-controversies. The rest of us work, without pay and to no avail usually, just for some real solutions, not media floodlights/site hits/fans.

John L. OPPERMAN said...

I get so effing tired of listening to all the excuses from-and for the "left". I was born in 1933 and all my life have seen the abuses against workers, and the public (who is NOTa worker?), by all administrations, predominately big Ds, most wars by big Ds...
Face it, we've all been sold a bill of goods by big Ds and still "we" largely, generally, support them.
I was born and breed a life long democrat, until I finally got fed up-KNOWING there had to be a better way and started looking for it.
In my time have experienced more than half the world, and verified that all peoples east-west-north-south, have identical needs and desires. The total lies of Them and Us, Enemies and Born Terrorists is the shit we've been fed forever. Our govs have been rampaging around the world creating havoc and misery all MY life.
That's OUR system and until we can get off our miserable overloaded asses and throw it aside to create a system of decency, it will only continue until nothing is left.

Bill from Saginaw said...

I think the really enduring old schism of the American left dates to 1972 rather than to '68, or to Carter/Reagan, or to Bush versus Gore.

George McGovern won the Democratic nomination in 1972 openly vowing to end the Vietnam war. Nixon got re-elected by an overwhelming margin, chiefly by engaging in divisive demagoguery against the peace movement, the long hairs, civil rights activists, abortion, drugs, cultural decay, fear of crime in the streets, and all those wimpy politicians (like McGovern) who were hell bent upon peace at any price rather than a peace with honor (which - trust us on this, wink wink, nod nod - Henry K was right on the verge of delivering in those oh so sensitive, secret Paris negotiations).

Nixon's substantive political message (with a few dirty tricks thrown in, plus some major gaffes by the McGovern campaign) worked like a charm on election day. The '72 debacle was seized upon by the GOP and the serious "centrist" Democratic Party establishment as proof positive that openly progressive, unabashedly proud liberal politics would never, ever, succeed in a country as complex, diverse, and fundamentally red-white-and-blue jingoistic as the United States.

Thus, it became a bipartisan article of faith that talk about peace got the speaker labeled soft and naive on national defense.

Barack Obama's problem today (like John Kerry's failure in 2004) is that both candidates bought into the conventional wisdom about the "lessons of what happened with McGovern." Obama rejected, and pledged to end, the dumb war in Iraq by adroitly changing the subject to focus upon waging a supposedly much smarter war over in Afghanistan instead, where America's "real" terrorist enemies ostensibly lurked.

Oops! Now, as President, Obama is trapped in the dilemma created by his own campaign rhetoric.

I don't see the schism so much as purists versus pragmatists, but rather as militarists versus those who would candidly restrain militarism, in order to stand up for peace.

Bill from Saginaw