The conservative commentators think all this reason to be pleased; that the Democrats are moving out of the mainstream and less likely to regain power at the ballot box. Rush contends that the “Democrats are destroying themselves.”
They may be right, at least in the short-term political sense. But it would be a mistake to shrug off the hothouse pronouncements of Cindy Sheehan and Barbra Streisand as if they are nothing more than irrational grandstanding. Sheehan and Streisand may be intellectual lightweights posing for the cameras, but the slogans they favor have deep intellectual roots. There are others who say the same things as Sheehan and Streisand; there are people who have thought through why they blame America first. And they are in positions of influence in the media and the academy. They can’t be easily dismissed. They are serious players in the culture war.
What we are witnessing in the Democratic Party’s lurch to the Left is the mainstreaming of the New Left theories in circulation in academic circles since the late 1960s. There is a reason why rock musicians and movie stars who are strangers to books and serious journalism are convinced that the invasion in Iraq was motivated by Republicans in the pocket of Halliburton and the oil industry. They did not come to this conclusion after long and serious study of the geo-political scene. They were taught to view the world in this way.
There is a reason why Hollywood routinely makes movies portraying the US Cavalry and white settlers as 19th century agents of genocide against native Americans; a reason why television comedians mock traditional Christianity as repressive and ignorant; and why the cultural heritage of the West is dismissed by grotesquely tattooed undergraduates as the unfortunate legacy of benighted dead, white European males. The starlets and the college kids did not come up on their own with the idea that America, capitalism and Christianity are the villains in history. That is what the New Left revisionists have been saying since the days of the Vietnam War. Conspiracy theories that once flourished only in left-wing academic hothouses now circulate in the public square.
What is “new” about the New Left? Writers such as William Appleman Williams, Noam Chomsky, Gabriel Kolko and Staughton Lynd were called new leftists in the late 1960s and 1970s because they were more willing than the older establishment liberals to openly label the United States a force for evil in the world. The New Left argued that American capitalism was the driving force behind American foreign policy; that the United States opposed Hitler, the Soviet Union, Mao Tse-tung and Fidel Castro, not because they were expansionist tyrants, but because their socialist governments denied American corporations the opportunity to expand their global markets.
The New Left bought into William Appleman Williams's thesis that American capitalists and the politicians they controlled were driven by the belief that “democracy and prosperity pointed toward the necessity of finding a new frontier.” By that Williams meant that the growing population of the United States in the 19th century forced American corporate leaders to confront a choice: accept socialism or turn imperialist. The waves of immigrants were not going to starve to death in contentment. They would turn revolutionary and expropriate and redistribute the wealth of the American upper classes if the opportunity for economic advancement was not made available to them.
But where would that economic opportunity come from? Williams argues that American power brokers made the conscious decision to expand, first into the Western frontier, and later into places such as the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba and Panama to avoid the threat of socialism; that we turned imperialist rather than redistribute our wealth. New markets became a “safety valve,” says Williams, a way to avoid a radicalization of the America lower classes. The American poor were given the chance to take the lands of the Comanche and the Sioux, to keep them away from the fortunes of the Rockefellers and the Astors. Instead of looking for fair and just ways to allocate the economic pie among our people, the choice was made to find new pie.
That is why Williams extolled Eugene V. Debs as “a man who understood that expansion was a running away, the kind of escape that was destructive of the dignity of man.” Williams viewed Debs as a visionary who “believed and committed his life to the proposition that Americans would one day prove mature and courageous enough to give it [expansion] up as a child’s game, that they would one day ‘put away childish things’ and undertake the creation of a socialist commonwealth.”
It is this view of the world that generates the left-wing conviction that the invasion of Iraq is rooted in a conspiracy by oil company and Halliburton executives. Those who have bought into the notion that American foreign policy is designed to advance American corporate interests are unwilling to accept that our government acts honorably or with high-minded intentions, in the Middle East or anywhere else. Those in this frame of mind react with scorn to the proposition that the Bush administration was alarmed about Saddam’s development of weapons of mass destruction and his sponsorship of global terrorism. They see these claims as propaganda designed to fool the masses into backing a war that would be waged to further the interests of the money men who control our government from behind the scenes.
Those who think this way come to see Saddam Hussein more as a victim than as a tyrant and a threat to world peace. They buy into the notion that his unwillingness to bend to the demands of American oil interests was what earned him the enmity of the American government, rather than his drive to acquire nuclear and biological weapons. They start to sound like Michael Moore, George Soros and Cindy Sheehan. And lately, like the Democratic Party leaders who are obliged to placate this significant segment of the party’s base.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)