A week ago I posted a short piece discussing Peter Beinart’s controversial article in the New Republic, which argued that liberals today should emulate the Americans for Democratic Action liberals of the late 1940s and purge those, whom Beinart calls “the softs,” who are soft on terrorism and believe the only threats facing the U.S. come from domestic rightwingers (or in today’s parlance, the christianright).
I concluded my post by stating:
An interesting and noteworthy (though unnoted by Beinart) example of how far liberalism has come since the founding of the ADA is that the ADA itself is today firmly lined up on the wrong side of both the foreign policy issue that Beinart emphasizes as well as the domestic one that is my concern here.
The ADA, in short, was born by fighting and displacing the left wing of the Democratic Party. Now, having become the opponent it defeated, it is firmly ensconsed in the left wing of the Democratic Party, an observation that the ADA itself has just confirmed. Amy Isaacs, the National Director of the Americans for Democratic Action, has just posted a comment on my post, which I reproduce in full here so that it will not remain buried under a post that will have scrolled off into archives:
Peter Beinart uses Americans for Democratic Action’s opposition to communism almost 60 years ago to bash MoveOn.org and the Democratic Party for what Beinart paints as weakness in “the fight against America’s totalitarian enemy” in the war on terrorism. While we acknowledge his accurate depiction of ADA’s history, we also must point out his inaccurate contextual use of that history in this piece.
ADA was founded by friends and supporters of Franklin Roosevelt, (Eleanor Roosevelt attended the 1947 founding convention), after the defeat of Hitler. Former Ambassador Jim Loeb wrote in our founding statement: “We believe that where men are faced with hunger, with homelessness, with all the cruel whims of an impersonal business cycle, and above all, with fear of atomic war, political freedom may all too easily be compromised and deformed. Demagogues will step in and offer security in exchange for a liberty that has lost its meaning.”
The Bush Administration’s sloppy and dangerous response to 9/11, its fecklessness in tracking down Osama Bin Laden, its total disregard for the civil liberties of people at home and overseas and its slavish devotion to making the rich richer illustrate our founders’ worst fears.
Our founders were and we are resolute in our opposition to totalitarianism and in support of true democratic principles. We believe, however, that concerned citizens in a democracy have a responsibility to make considered, well thought-out judgments based on the facts – not blind support of leaders who offer security in exchange for a liberty which could well lose its meaning.
It is worth noting that ADA was the first national organization to oppose the war in Vietnam, as we opposed the invasion of Iraq and its disastrous consequences: 1,300 Americans dead, many thousands maimed and no productive end in sight. ADA did not, however, oppose actions in Afghanistan and does have a “liberal passion for winning the war on terrorism,” as Mr. Beinart says, but we wish that President Bush had kept his eye on the prize: finding and bringing the 9/11 terrorists to justice.
Beinart’s point was that in order to revive itself American liberalism should emulate the ADA of the 1940s by turning its energies, or at least a substantial portion of them, to placing the struggle against a serious foreign threat at the forefront of its agenda, and rejecting those on its left who would not go along. This comment from the ADA confirms that it refuses to do so — in fact, that it has become the current version of the “softs” that it defeated nearly sixty years ago.
As long as I’m revisiting this discussion, it would be remiss of me not to mention that my point, unmentioned by Beinart or Isaacs, was that today’s liberals would also do well to emulate the principled stand the ADA liberals took on civil rights. They were willing to disrupt the Democratic Party if necessary to promote the principle that all individuals should be treated without regard to race or ethnicity. Sen. Hubert Humprhey, a founding father and even the embodiment of the ADA, famously said (in Senate debate, April 9, 1964) that he would eat the 800 some pages of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “page by page” if it led to “preferential treatment” by race.
It used to be said that American conservatives stand on the shoulders of dead liberals. Today it would be more accurate to say that they uphold the banners that liberals have dropped.
In one of his recent discussions of the controversy over the Beinart article, Mickey Kaus asks:
When exactly did support for gay marriage become an essential Democratic party principle akin to racial equality?
But is it really akin? Most Democrats today believe that racial equality requires racial preferences. Do they really similarly believe that non-discrimination against gays requires preferences to gays?