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Why Liberalism Lost Me


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The Democratic Party’s preoccupation with the question of when America will leave Iraq rather than with how America will win in Iraq reminds me of how and why this nearly lifelong liberal and Democrat became identified as a conservative and Republican activist.

I have identified as liberal all my life. How could I not? I was raised a Jew in New York City, where I did graduate work in the social sciences at Columbia University. It is almost redundant to call a New York Jewish intellectual a liberal. In fact, I never voted for a Republican candidate for president until Ronald Reagan in 1980. But I have not voted for a Democrat since 1980.

What happened? Did I suddenly change my values in 1980? Or did liberalism?

Obviously, one (or both) of us changed.

As I know my values, the answer is as clear as it could be – it is liberalism that has changed, not I. In a word, liberalism became leftism. Or, to put it another way – since my frame of reference is moral values – liberalism’s moral compass broke. It did so during the Vietnam War, though I could not bring myself to vote Republican until 1980.

The emotional and psychological hold that the Democratic Party and the word “liberal” have on those who consider themselves liberal is stronger than the ability of most of these individuals to acknowledge just how far from liberal values contemporary liberalism and the Democratic Party have strayed.

Here are key examples that should prompt any consistent liberal to vote Republican and oppose “progressives” and others on the left.

The issue that began the emotionally difficult task of getting this liberal to identify with conservatives and become an active Republican was Communism. I had always identified the Democratic Party and liberalism with anti-Communism. Indeed, the labor movement and the Democratic Party actually led American opposition to Communism. It was the Democrat Harry Truman, not Republicans, who made the difficult and unpopular decision to fight another war just a few years after World War II – the war against Chinese and Korean Communists. It was Democrats – John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson – who also led the war against Chinese and Vietnamese Communists.

Then Vietnam occurred, and Democrats and liberals (in academia, labor and the media) abandoned that war and abandoned millions of Asians to totalitarianism and death, defamed America’s military, became antiwar instead of anti-evil, became anti-anti-Communist instead of anti-Communist, and embraced isolationism, a doctrine I and others previously had always associated with conservatives and the Republican Party.

This change was perfectly exemplified in 1972, when the Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern ran on the platform “Come home, America.”

This in turn led to the liberal embrace of the immoral doctrine of moral equivalence. As I was taught at Columbia, where I studied international relations, America was equally responsible for the Cold War, and there was little moral difference between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. They were essentially two superpowers, each looking out for its imperialist self-interest.

I will never forget when the professor of my graduate seminar in advanced Communist Studies, Zbigniew Brzezinski, chided me for using the word “totalitarian” to describe the Soviet Union.

I recall, too, asking the late eminent liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in a public forum in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s, if he would say that America was, all things considered, a better, i.e., more moral, society than Soviet society. He said he would not.

It was therefore not surprising, only depressingly reinforcing of my view of what had happened to liberals, when liberals and Democrats condemned President Ronald Reagan for describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”

Identifying and confronting evil remains the Achilles’ heel of liberals, progressives and the rest of the left.

It was not only Communism that post-Vietnam liberals refused to identify as evil and forcefully confront. Every major liberal newspaper in America condemned Israel’s 1981 destruction of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor (in which one person – a French agent there to aid the Israeli bombers, and who therefore knowingly risked his life – was killed). As The New York Times editorialized: “Israel’s sneak attack … was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression.”

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