Sunday, October 29, 2006

Peace-niks must fight on

This article from the New York Times this morning, ''Antiwar' and Other Fighting Words,' repeats a theme common in media coverage these days: that Democrats are haunted by ghosts of their 1970s anti-war activism:
Democrats are torn between two visions of their history. Some potential candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary and many liberal activists argue that the Republican responsibility for the Iraq war has, in effect, freed the Democrats from Mr. McGovern’s legacy. They say the 2006 elections will provide a mandate for a new antiwar argument: that troops can be pulled from Iraq in order to shore up American security elsewhere in the world.

Other strategists and political scientists argue that the Iraq war has given the Democrats a different opportunity to lay to rest their McGovernite image, in part by rejecting calls for a quick withdrawal in Iraq.
There are two things wrong with this. The first is idea that the Democrats actually have a peace-nik hippie legacy. While it's true that modern-day peace-niks, if they choose to endorse one of the major parties, generally choose the Democrats over the Republicans, the major conflicts of the 20th century all began under Democratic administrations: Wilson in WWI, FDR in WWII, Truman in Korea, Kennedy and LBJ in Vietnam. Republicans for most of the twentieth century were the party of isolationism--leaving to the Old World to fight on its own the conflicts that were the product of its own moral turpitude. Indeed, as the article notes, peace-loving pre-Reagan Republicans tried to win votes by disparaging all those "Democrat wars." The McGovernite ghosts the party struggles with today are not the product of its actual history. Rather they were conjured up by years--a couple decades--worth of Republican rhetoric and media activism, at first carried on mostly under the radar of major media outlets, but eventually seeping into the national political consciousness to such an extent that their existence can be taken for granted by, for example, political writers from that paragon of the liberal media, the New York Times.

We might all be better off today if the Democratic party actually had a McGovernite policy legacy, as opposed to the faux-history created by the conservative backlash movement. American wars since WWII have all been fiascos on various scales: the failure to take seriously the threat of Chinese intervention in Korea; the quagmire of Vietnam; the various deployments against leftish governments in Central America that combined brief and poorly executed (yet ridiculously triumphed) uses of US troops with decades of 'low intensity' tragedy for citizens of the regimes we supported or sought to undermine; the invasion of Iraq in 1991 that left Saddam in power, the oil wells burning, and the shiites in the south, who we had urged to rebel, to die unaided.

The fiasco of the current Iraq war has been bad enough long enough that it has allowed Democrats an opportunity to get out from under the stereotype of effete hippiedom the conservative backlash has saddled them with. But the equation 'Democrat = Hollywood liberal, Taxachusetts, latte-drinking snob, flower child not serious about national security' is an irrational collection of cultural talismans, and it cannot be countered through rational argument and carefully calibrated policy positions. Only a movement similar in duration and sophistication to the one that created that equation, and plastered it all over the nation's public sphere, can do that. We may be seeing the beginning of such a movement recently, but it will probably take a long time--or a major national crisis--to reform the nation's political consciousness. If the Dem's win control of one or both houses of Congress in the upcoming election, even if they win the White House in 2008, their media campaign has to continue well beyond those points.


Rob said...

The disparagement of George McGovern has always rankled me. Newt Gingrich used to enjoy baiting liberals as "McGovern Democrats."

Well George McGovern was a bomber pilot in World War Two. The man flew over fifty missions and risked his life in combat against the evil Axis powers.

As for values he married and remained with the same woman for over half a century and raised his family. Not many neocons can compare with this man's life pedigree.

The whole peacnick argument that Democrats have to overcome is bunk. If the war is justified and there is no other alternative - liberals will rally behind it. Bush pursued war as the only option and he compounded that mistake with ill planning. The war in Iraq was about greed, imperialism and oil. Not national security. Consequently, more than peaceniks are oppossed to this war now. John Murtha is certainly not a peacenick.

The war that one conceivably could justify in Afghanistan is also on the verge of becoming an irreperable disaster because of Iraq.

Much of these failures are because Democrats didn't stand up for principle. One who did was the gallant Paul Wellstone who would've been re-elected in 2002. Sadly he died and that further eroded the spine of Democrats for far too long.

It seems Democrats, or at least more than previously have discovered their sense and courage. I hope so but we all need to keep a watchful eye. Advocates for peace need to remain vigilant and keep Democrats honest.

molly said...

My meager, but shocking, sign of hope:
our local, San Diego, country radio station, in between playing the national anthem and doubling the paycheck of a heart-wrenchingly deserving military family, interviewed a local veteran who's selling everything he owns to walk across the country in an attempt to gather more attention and support to his conviction that we need to end our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now.

The local paper printed hist story on Sunday, which, KSON reported, led to him selling his house that same day.

And all this in San Diego, and on country radio.