Good Fight: Why Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Againby Peter Beinart
About the Author:
Peter Beinart is a columnist at Time magazine and The Washington Post. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor-at-large of The New Republic. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C. See more details below
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Peter Beinart is a columnist at Time magazine and The Washington Post. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor-at-large of The New Republic. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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The Good FightWhy Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again
By Peter Beinart
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Peter Beinart
All right reserved.
A New Liberalism
The trip began badly. Within minutes of former vice president Henry Wallace's arrival at the Minneapolis airport, the crowd waiting to greet him had already begun to squabble. Wallace's aunt and uncle, who were Minnesota residents, wanted to drive their famous nephew to his hotel. But the leaders of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party insisted that he travel in their car instead, in a show of solidarity. Communists were like that. In the transportation sweepstakes, Hubert Humphrey, the 35-year-old mayor of Minneapolis, came in a distant third. Not only was he denied the honor of ferrying the country's leading liberal politician in his car, but the Communists didn't even give him a seat in theirs. So he had to wait to speak to his political idol until later that night.
Despite their differences, Humphrey revered Wallace. The younger man was jovial, corny, everybody's best pal; the older man was mystical and introverted, a lover of humanity but rarely of those around him. But they were both Midwesterners, and they both worshipped the New Deal, seeing it not merely as a template for America, but for theentire world. At the 1944 Democratic Convention, Humphrey had unsuccessfully fought to renominate Wallace as vice president, rather than the hackish Harry Truman. On the day Franklin Roosevelt died, Humphrey poured out his soul to the man he hoped would one day be president. "I simply can't conceal my emotions," he wrote to Wallace. "How I wish you were at the helm."
Now, more than a year later, Humphrey needed Wallace's help. Nineteen forty-six had been difficult for the young mayor. During the war, when the Minnesota left had united in a popular front, Humphrey had gotten along fine with the Communists. But now they were moving against him. In June, Communists and their allies had packed the state DFL convention in Saint Paul, choosing their own slate to run the party, and passing resolutions excoriating Truman's new hard line toward Moscow. When Humphrey rose to speak, the crowd greeted him with cries of "fascist" and "warmonger." He persevered, until a security guard growled, "Sit down, you son of a bitch, or I'll knock you down." And so, without finishing his remarks, Humphrey did.
If things were turning ugly in Minnesota, they weren't much better on the international stage. In February, Stalin warned that American capitalism and Soviet Communism were on a collision course. In March, Winston Churchill journeyed to Fulton, Missouri, and after an introduction by Truman, declared that "an iron curtain has descended across the Continent," dividing Western Europe from the "police governments" to the east. Humphrey wasn't eager for the cold war -- he had hoped World War II would leave a new era of international cooperation and development in its wake. But he couldn't ignore events in the world, and in his backyard. By the end of summer, he was condemning Soviet despotism and declaring Minnesota's popular front dead.
Wallace was headed the other way. In September, in a rally at Madison Square Garden, he attacked the "numerous reactionary elements" seeking to undermine "peace based on mutual trust" between the United States and the USSR. He was still in government, serving as Truman's secretary of commerce. Yet he was contradicting Truman's foreign policy. Eight days later, he was out of a job.
Despite all this, Humphrey -- the inveterate optimist -- still believed that when he sat down with Wallace, they would see eye to eye. When they finally did, at Wallace's hotel that night, he explained what was happening in Minnesota and pleaded for Wallace's help in taking the party back. Wallace seemed puzzled by the talk of Communist treachery. After all, he explained, he knew only one Communist himself. Humphrey was stunned: Several open Communists had driven Wallace from the airport. Liberalism was headed for civil war and the man he once idolized would be on the other side.
but in the fall of 1946, that civil war was still months away and Wallace was still a liberal icon. Shortly after his firing, the American left gathered in Chicago to defend their hero, denounce the growing cold war, and mobilize for November's midterm elections. All the biggest liberal groups were there -- the National Citizens Political Action Committee, the Independent Citizens Committee, the NAACP, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) -- for what historian Alonzo Hamby has called "one of the widest and most representative assemblies of liberals ever brought together." The conference demanded that Truman "exert every effort" to repair the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow. To Wallace, it sent a special message: "Carry on with confidence that you have the support of . . . millions upon millions of Americans."
Liberals left Chicago giddy at their show of strength and confident about the fall campaign. In mid-October, CIO president Philip Murray, the left's most influential labor leader, predicted that "we expect this movement to become in due course the most powerful liberal and progressive organization brought together in the history of the country." The liberal newspaper PM exulted that "the great wave of conservatism that was supposed to sweep the country after the war is a delusion."
Richard Nixon knew better. In September 1945, the 32-year-old Navy lieutenant commander received a letter from a prominent banker back home in Whittier, California. The letter asked if he would like to be a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1946. Nixon quickly agreed.
The district, California's twelfth, was represented by a five-term liberal Democrat named Jerry Voorhis. Voorhis was hardly a Soviet apologist. In fact, he had angered Los Angeles-area Communists by criticizing Russian repression in Eastern Europe. But he did have ties to the National Citizens Political Action Committee and the CIO, and for Nixon, that was enough. Fusing the two organizations under the sinister rubric "the PAC," he made their supposed support of Voorhis the centerpiece of his campaign. "I welcome the opposition of the PAC with its Communist principles and its huge slush fund," proclaimed Nixon in late August. . . .
Excerpted from The Good Fight by Peter Beinart Copyright © 2006 by Peter Beinart. Excerpted by permission.
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Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Good Fight. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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