This is the third and final part of a series of exchanges between Jacob Heilbrunn, an LA Times editorial writer and author of a forthcoming book on neoconservatism, and David Horowitz to discuss the themes of Horowitz’s book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left and DiscoverTheNetworks.org. -- The Editors. (To see Part I Click here, for Part II Click here.)
Imagine this scenario: U.S. universities declare that they will no longer host exchanges with Israeli professors. It’s actually happening, but not here. As you might have seen, the Brits, who have refined social anti-Semitism to a high art over the centuries, are refusing to accept Israeli professors as guests. Now that, it seems to me, is evidence of a hardened, despicable Left. If something like that were to happen in the U.S., there would be an uproar. To me, it seems unthinkable, but in Britain, it apparently isn't.
Another example: Gunter Grass, in an op-ed that ran Sunday in the New York Times, declares that it's imperative to struggle against the last form of totalitarianism. What does he instance? No, not Islamic fascism, but, rather, those old leftist bugaboos, globalism, and capitalism. The closest type of writer that the U.S. has to Grass might be Norman Mailer, but he isn't seen as the moral conscience of the nation, as Grass is in Germany. I mention these two cases simply because I am firmly convinced that they highlight the differences, not the similarities, between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to the left. The American left consists of pipsqueaks compared to the bruisers of the European left. I bet one reason for this is that the U.S. has never had a real socialist party on the lines of Germany, France, or England. Sure, you can argue that those elite European leftist influences have seeped into American academia, but not to the extent you maintain. The fact that Dissent would publish the piece by Markovits shows that at least one slice of the Left is not as wacky as you complain. I'm sure that Markovits' analysis is on the mark, but I'd be amazed if he believed that there is a significant left movement in the U.S., let alone one steeped in nihilism.
Perhaps the reason I'm skeptical of your thesis is because I got a good whiff of the left, student and academic, when attending Oberlin College. As far as I could tell, they were wallowing in nostalgia, but, ultimately, their own worst enemies. They were completely ineffectual once off the college campus, where they did dominate. But it is your generation that keeps this nonsense alive, particularly at elite colleges, and I'm not convinced that there will be a horde of younger professors gobbling up the ancient delusions propagated by their elders. (Agreed: many Middle Eastern departments appear, at least on the face of it, to adhere to myths and delusions about the Middle East, but that may be romanticism about the Middle East than plain leftism, though I'm sure there is a nasty admixture of the two.)
What I cannot understand is why you are so exercised about the left. If there were an economic crash and Iraq really went sour, then, and only then, would the left have a chance, however slim, at power (remember that during Vietnam, the left was never even popular in most of the country. But so far, conservatives are dominant: George W. Bush is totally upending U.S. foreign policy, even denouncing the Yalta agreement, going Ronald Reagan one better. This is astonishing stuff.
Indeed, the real story since the 1960s is of how the right marched through the institutions of government and influenced policy, while the left wasted its time in the universities. There has been a real backlash, as you know, against the excesses of the 1960s, but you seem to view the left as being as vibrant today as it was then.
I know that remnants of a leftist culture exist in California, but they've gone by the wayside in the rest of the country. Ohio's 120,000 votes? Give me a break. That sounds like those Democrats parsing the numbers to show how Kerry really came close to winning. No, he didn't. Bush crushed him.
Sure, there's will always be a struggle in the Democrats between the purists who want to go left, and the mainstream ones who want more palatable candidates. But moving hard left would be a disaster for the Democrats. The left is a historical curiosity, a quaint artifact, a relic, a dinosaur.
Who's the mad political scientist who's going to take over this Jurassic Park and revive it?
After two rounds of this conversation, with constant references to the massive data assembled at www.discoverthenetworks.org, which shows the left to be the spearhead of the anti-Iraq war movement outside and inside the Democratic Party; the Open Borders Lobby; the coalition against the Patriot Act (and other anti-terror defenses); the leader of the principal academic professional organizations and the controller of an academic curriculum which now (predominantly) reflects its anti-military, anti-capitalist, anti-globalist animus and even its sympathies for Islamic radicalism (particularly in the West Bank and Gaza); the vanguard of the redistributionist, rewrite-the-constitution-lobby in the areas of civil liberties and civil rights; the recipient of the massive funding available through university programs and the philanthropic institutions of the American establishment (Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Tides, MacArthur, Pew, etc.); and the moving force in the Shadow Party – a coalition of Soros-funded entities, grassroots political organizations with a foothold in local communities across the nation and the support of giant government unions controlled by Sixties radicals – which selected and almost elected the Democratic Party candidate for president in 2004, you write, “The left is a historical curiosity, a quaint artifact, a relic, a dinosaur.”
What is really a curiosity is this statement. Have you spent time actually reading the information available at www.discoverthenetworks.org? Here’s a corrective to your conservative complacency: Consider that forty-five years ago the President of the United States was a Democrat hailed by liberals, like Arthur Schlesinger, who was a hawk on defense, a militant anti-Communist, the promoter of a capital gains tax cut and a balanced budget, who appointed Republicans to his three top cabinet posts (State, Treasury, and Defense). Today Democratic Party “liberals” (Schlesinger included) are rabid opponents of a war that has freed thirty million Iraqis and that their leaders (Clinton and Berger) called for and their legislators authorized by a majority vote. Far from being a relic the political left acting in 2004 through the Dean campaign has been able to transform the Democratic Party into it a party of opposition to American “imperialism” that it can embrace. Domestically, the situation is parallel: Forty years ago a Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey stood on the floor of the Senate and swore he would eat the affirmative action bill if it led to racial preferences. Today Democrats equate opposition to racial preferences with racism itself.
Forty-five years ago the New York Times refused to print information it had acquired about the impending invasion of Castro’s Cuba, which Kennedy was planning with the intention of thwarting a Communist dictatorship on the island. The Times withheld the information about Kennedy’s planned attack on the grounds of its concern for national security. Just this week, by contrast, in the midst of a war on terror in which America itself has been attacked and of continuing war of liberation in Iraq (which the current Times editors refer to as “unjustified”) the New York Times printed the following above-the-fold news story: “The concentration of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan limits the Pentagon’s ability to deal with other potential armed conflicts, the military’s highest ranking officer reported to Congress on Monday.” (New York Times, Tuesday, May 3, 2005)
Why, you might ask, would the military’s highest ranking officer want to inform potential enemies or adversarial powers like North Korea, Russia, China, -- to take three obvious examples – that America’s military forces might have difficulty dealing with challenges in other parts of the world, say the straits of Taiwan, to pick an obvious case? In fact, the military’s highest-ranking official had no intention of informing other nations of our current predicament. The report he provided to select members Congress was classified.
Here is how the Times described on its front page the way in which this classified report came into the hands of its editors who then decided to report it to the world: “After a half dozen Pentagon civilian and military officials discussed the outlines of the report on Monday, as it was delivered officially to Congress, one government official provided a copy to the New York Times. The officials who discussed the assessment demanded anonymity because it is a classified document.”
In case you were wondering, it is a violation of the Espionage Act -- and tantamount to treason -- for a “government official” to provide newspaper reporters with copies of classified government documents. It is a betrayal of national security (and a violation of national security laws) for the New York Times to put this information on its front pages (or on any of its pages). Yet no one in the rest of the media (or nation) seems to have noticed, and no one seems to have cared. The government for its part, long ago learned the political costs of attempting to defend national security interests against the claims of institutions like the New York Times for “freedom of the press.” In a media culture dominated by the left, better to let the information go. That’s one reason why no one has been charged in the United States with treason since Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose. That is a raw measure of how profoundly the political left – which has assaulted the very notion of national security for decades – has transformed political culture of this nation. That is how a man who had falsely accused his comrades-in-arms and his own government of systematic war crimes “at the highest levels” and had spent twenty years in the Senate voting to cut military and intelligence budgets was able to be nominated by his party as a presidential candidate and go on to receive 59 million votes.
Yes British academics are more brazenly anti-Semitic than their American counterparts, but then Jews in America are far more numerous and influential than Jews in Britain and they are supported by an even more powerful ally in the Christian right, which doesn’t exist in England or the rest of Europe having been relegated to political insignificance along with religion as such. On the other hand the virus of anti-Semitism is more virulent on the faculties of elite American universities than it has ever been; the Protocols of the Elders of Zion can now be taught as fact at universities like UCLA and protected by the current tenets of “academic freedom.” Where Jewish students can be harassed at will (Columbia) and attacked as “McCarthyites” if they complain. Groups in solidarity with terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza can openly organize recruitment conferences with university support (as they have at Berkeley, Michigan, Ohio State and Duke and will next year at the University of Wisconsin).
Yes it is true we have no Gunter Grass, but we have raving leftists like Barbara Kingsolver, E.L. Doctorow, Jane Smiley and others who also find George Bush and American democracy more threatening than Islamofascism and who reach a comparable audience of credulous intellects. We have leftists in Hollywood who can launch a summer epic on the Crusades in which the Christians are the bad guys and the Muslims, whose holy book instructs the faithful to kill unbelievers, in contrast to the holy book of any other religion. (Yes I know there are peaceful Muslims, but Saladin and his armies weren’t among them.)
Your reference to the European socialist tradition shows you haven’t understood the nature of the left in its post-Communist incarnation. You’re still worried about a crash, which would allow socialists to advance their economic agendas, as though this were the 1930s and Stalin was still alive. The left is not defined any longer by a socialist plan. Its agenda is negative and nihilistic: bring the Great Satan down. Its agendas are to cripple the economy with environmental regulations; hogtie the intelligence services with unrealistic constraints; undermine the military with constant lies; and tie the hands of the President in responding to threats. The left sees itself as an abettor of anti-American forces everywhere: in Europe, in the Muslim world, in the West Bank and Fallujah, and also among old style Marxists in Venezuela and Brazil. The left is an “anti” force, and what it is anti- is everything that makes this country strong and secure.
You misunderstand the power of the intellectual left as well. The fact that one writer in a magazine whose circulation is less than ten thousand regrets what the western left has become, pales into insignificance in comparison to the thousands of university faculty who share the views of Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill that America is the Nazi state revived and who impose them on their students; who show the films of Michael Moore to prove that America is the villain in the “non-existent” war on terror, and who recruit students to the agendas that follow from these myths.
Contrary to your assertions, the left is in fact more vibrant and more powerful than it has ever been. How else did it manage to put a million activists in the streets to prevent the United States from taking down a monstrous regime and liberating millions of Third World people, and did so (unlike Vietnam) in the absence of a draft?
One of the great triumphs of the left by the way is the ability to make people like yourself think that when it comes to attacking America in the middle of a war anything goes, and that any attempt to identify “critics” who actually hate us is an attempt to stifle dissent itself. Thus it’s okay in time of war when Americans are in harm’s way to lie by denouncing the President for deceiving the American people into fighting an unjust war of “occupation,” even though John Kerry and other leaders of the opposition had access to the same intelligence reports as did George Bush and voted to authorize the use of force. It’s okay to demoralize America’s troops in the field with such lies, and encourage America’s enemies on the field of battle. I don’t buy it Jacob. I don’t know of any nation in the history of nations that has.
One of the principal leaders of the civil liberties coalition against the Patriot Act and its predecessor, the 1996 Clinton Anti-Terrorism Act, was at the same time a leader of one of the world’s most lethal terrorist organizations and an American university professor as well. For eight years after his terrorist activities were exposed by the Miami Herald and others in 1995, and while he continued to conduct them, Sami al-Arian was supported and defended by what is erroneously called the “liberal” side of the political spectrum: The Nation, Salon.com, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Association of University Professors, the Middle Eastern Studies Association and similar groups all worked with Sami al-Arian in attacking the Patriot Act and denounced his critics for attempting to stifle legitimate dissent.
In fact Sami al-Arian was a bloodthirsty killer of innocent men, women and children (mainly Jews). He was eventually exposed on national TV on the O’Reilly Factor, when O’Reilly played an FBI tape of one of his bloodthirsty speeches for all Americans to hear: “Let us damn America. . . . Let us damn [her] allies until death.” Yet even after he was exposed by O’Reilly, al-Arian continued to be supported by and a respected colleague of politically sophisticated American “liberals” who of course didn’t believe his right wing detractors (who were the “real” threat). Instead they defended him as a Muslim who was being persecuted for his religious faith by forces who only wanted to repress criticism and dissent.
In other words, my friend, these distinctions are important. If you ignore them you will reap a whirlwind of harm.
The line you ask for (when is dissent legitimate?) is this: if you show that you wish your country well, and you observe the restraints that are obvious and decent -- like not publishing damaging information that has been classified by a government that is democratically elected and is operating under democratic constraints -- then your criticism is actually a form of patriotism. If not, not.