Euston in America – Part 2

So what does an Internet manifesto spreading from UK politics to US politics mean at this point? I think the main impact is the mobilization of an under organized sector of left and liberal opinion in the US. I believe the critical mistake on the left since 9/11 has been a failure to clearly recognize that the challenge raised by radical Islamism is a challenge to the core values of the left. Those on the left who notice this contradiction have tended to be less vocal and divided because they include a mixture of people who support and oppose the war in Iraq. I have been aware of this group because I am by upbringing and education a member of it. In my last post, I included a lot of material from Peter Beinart’s account of the history of the anti-totalitarian left in American politics because, even though I had lived through most of it, his account filled in gaps in my understanding of my own experience.

Since 9/11 I have been increasingly aware of my difference from the dominant voices on the American left and been on the lookout for the emergence of a neoleft. Norah Vincent in an op-ed for the LA Times in April 2003 foreshadowed the political position of the Euston Manifesto – which was two years in the future – just about right.

American neoleftism, as one might call this renaissance, is not solely the purview of hawks. Such writers and thinkers as Michael Tomasky and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. have been quite strident in their opposition to war in Iraq. But unlike the “no blood for oil” drones, they have made compelling arguments and have lent nuance and integrity to the pacifist position. They are part of the left’s rebirth just as much as the liberal voices backing American involvement in Iraq, and that is exactly what makes the neoleft so exciting.

(Yes, that is the Norah Vincent who went undercover disguised as a man to write the book “Selfmade Man” which explored ‘male culture’ through the eyes of a conservative lesbian. Her article is behind a pay wall at the LA Times but I kept a copy on my hard disk because I hoped very strongly at the time that she was onto something.)

Here is her conclusion:

Thus the principled liberal position against the war, if it is to remain true to its expressed concern for human life, should embrace a quick, precise victory, not macabre entanglement as comeuppance. But it also must express its opposition to this war not out of sophomoric distaste for American power, which is not inherently malignant, but in prophetic dread of its misuse and the resulting geopolitical consequences, a legitimate concern.

That is some of the best of the antiwar left and a classic instance of inconspicuous neoleftist insight at work. The neoleft isn’t suddenly inspiring because it supports war and American hegemony. It opposes both just as strongly. It is inspiring because it is thoughtfully challenging its own orthodoxy and because, at last, it is asking, as Schlesinger did: “Why let the opposition movement fall into the hands of infantile leftists?”

(And yes, that is the same Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that helped found the ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Hubert Humphery way back in 1947. Schlesinger is about to turn 89.)

I promised that I would say where I think this movement is going and the truth is that I don’t really have a strong sense of the future. It is worth remembering that some of the American center left deserted the Democratic party and became what are referred to as neoconservatives – thus weakening the party as a whole. It is also the case that the left of the party – the old Henry Wallace wing – gained greater control over the party and the nominating process after the 1968 convention in Chicago shortly followed by the defeat of the last ADA Democratic candidate Hubert Humphery. It is good to see the long list of signatories of the US Euston Manifesto but I also notice that they are not generally as well known as the founders of the ADA were in 1947. If the US Euston Manifesto is just a political gesture, it will not amount to much. However, it is part of a larger awakening and the beginning of a more serious debate between those of us on the anti- totalitarian left that support the war and those that oppose it while recognizing radical Islamism as a serious treat to liberal values then it will be a significant event. In this view, America has experienced a clear challenge from radical Islam and so far we have had the response of a combination of conservative and neo-conservative policy makers. What we need now is a debate aimed at constructing a clearly articulated policy response to Islamic radicalism that gives us an alternative to the conservative and neoconservative policies of the Bush administration.

While I don’t think Hillary Clinton is an ideal representative of the Eustonian movement in American politics she is the most prominent Democratic potential candidate that at all represents that general stance in the party. The Clinton’s influence at the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) that published the Beinart article I quoted liberally in my previous post has her picture displayed on rotation with several lesser known party worthies at the top of the DLC home page. If I were a gambling man I would put my money on Hillary to be the next president because I suspect that in the end Bush fatigue will overcome Clinton fatigue. The left of the Democratic party will, I predict, put away their concerns about a centrist Hillary in exchange for having a candidate with winning potential and the best opportunity we are likely to see for some time to elect the first woman president. I have watched Hillary fairly closely and I would say that when Bill was in the Whitehouse she was clearly to the left of her husband, but since she has become a senator in her own right I think she has moved quietly to the right. As first lady we associate her with health care and many traditional leftist causes. As a senator she voted for the war in Iraq and although critical of it does not stand with its most vocal opponents such as Ted Kennedy. She manages to credibly straddle the pro choice, pro life divide using her status as woman to insert herself into the discussion adeptly. Republican critics say she has done these things just to appeal to the center, which probably is partly true, but I think it is also real and part of her political development. I don’t know yet if I will vote for her, but I would need to be convinced that she would handle national security resolutely and in touch with post 9/11 realities.

So I think if Hillary emerges as the Democratic candidate and wins, the American Eustonians will come to the fore in Washington. Her early appointment will tell us fairly quickly whether she favors the center of the left of her party. If she loses then we are in for a period of strong debate within the Democratic party that may lead to a renewed strength or increasing marginalization. I think the left of the Democratic party bases itself on a view of a world that has been profoundly changed, not just by 9/11, but by the fall of communism and the success of globalization. I believe this faction will have to come up with a new analysis or face being shoved to the side as serious contenders for power in America. The effectiveness of the Eustonians as a lasting political force will depend on their becoming much more conscious of themselves as a movement – the Euston Manifesto is a great beginning – and then systematically organizing, as their fathers and grandfathers did, to put their point of view forward to the public. At home growing up, we had subscriptions to a long list of magazines and newspapers that supported the ADA position. The New Republic is probably the most conspicuous holdover from that earlier era. Today, a strong and conspicuous organization like the ADA would go far in getting out the message through old friends of the anti-totalitarian left in the legacy media. But we live in a new media environment. It is no accident that the Euston Manifesto spread to America via the Internet and the Internet will be critical to quickly develop the Eustonian impulse into a viable political force.

One Response to “Euston in America – Part 2”  

  1. 1 Raphael Shimon

    Well done

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