Sean Wilentz, Ralph Nader and the early 1960s
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After reading Princeton professor's Sean Wilentz ideological fatwa (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/07/magazine/07ESSAY.html) against Ralph Nader in yesterday's NY Times Magazine section (appropriately enough, facing a full-page ad for Grand Marnier), it dawned on me that Dissent Magazine has filled a vacuum once occupied by SDUSA.
SDUSA was basically a repackaging of Max Shachtman's SP whose members served as ministers without portfolio for the Democratic Party rightwing. Many were gathered around the 1972 presidential campaign of Washington State Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who was dubbed the Senator from Boeing for obvious reasons.
In the 1980s many SDUSA figures lurched even further to the
right and became Reaganites. Joshua Muravchik is typical. He started political life as a leader
of YPSL, the SDUSA's "youth" group, but now
writes for the National Review. In between he was associated with the
"Coalition for a Democratic Majority" that was chaired by
Now that the Democratic Party has become recast in the
As a guest panelist on David Horowitz's FrontPage website, Wilentz had this exchange with the creepy redbaiter:
Horowitz: What exactly does it mean that a North Korean-adoring Communist sect is running the "peace" movement? Does this matter?
Wilentz: It means that, as ever, Communist sects are extremely diligent and clever at mobilizing large numbers people to march in demonstrations by exploiting those peoples' concerns and hiding their own politics.
Clever? Diligent? One wonders why Wilentz did not describe the Communists as "masters of deceit" since that term would have captured his true intentions. When you read this sort of thing, it makes you want to take a long, hot shower with disinfectant soap.
As tedious as Wilentz's attack on Nader is, it does raise some interesting questions about American history and electoral politics that are worth addressing. The purpose of his article is to review how new parties emerge. Except for the Republican Party, efforts such as the Bull Moose or Progressive Parties tend to disappear after their purpose is exhausted.
But Nader will never be a
Actually, the nation was not exactly "riven" over slavery. It was instead riven over whether it should be allowed in the western
Furthermore, even though there is not as much mass consciousness about "corporate power" as one would like, it is obvious that the American people are its victims just as much as black people were victims of the plantation system in the 1800s. Although abolitionists got even less of a hearing in the 1830s than the Greens get today, there is little doubt that the issues they raised were genuine. Wilentz seems to subscribe to a popularity contest understanding of politics. If less than 5 percent of the population thinks that corporations are exploiting workers mercilessly, polluting the planet and producing unsafe products, then why bother to run independent election campaigns against the two parties that are virtually defined by the word corporation?
Wilentz thinks that "liberal Democrats" are saying the same things about corporate greed and domination as Nader. One wonders which candidates he would be speaking about. I doubt that given his subservience to the centrist wing of the party, he could be talking about somebody like Dennis Kuchinich.
Since Wilentz has stated publicly
that President Clinton "led the way in salvaging American liberalism,
particularly the Democratic liberal spirit of the early 1960s", it is
entirely possible that we simply have different understandings of what
liberalism is and whether socialists have any business supporting it. The
Democratic liberal spirit of the 1960s is a reference obviously to JFK who
After CORE launched its famous "Freedom Rides" in 1961, JFK became furious at the nuisance they were creating. He told his civil rights adviser Harris Wofford "Can't you get your friends off those goddamned buses?"
As the rides continued, both JFK and RFK grew more and more upset by what they felt were the "giant-pain-in-the-asses" at CORE. Finally the "liberal" president and his brother, the attorney general, came to agree with J. Edgar Hoover that Martin Luther King Jr. needed to be wiretapped because of suspected Communist ties. Both JFK and RFK met with King urging him to purge the reds from his staff. To his credit, King refused. After reading Wilentz's disgusting cracks about the "clever" and "diligent" Commies in the peace movement, it should come as no surprise that he would idolize the Kennedys.