Righting a Wrong


Long ago, in what does seem like a galaxy far, far away, the Democratic Party was a varied, many faceted organism, with adherents who ranged across the political spectrum, from conservatives to middle-of-the-roaders to far-left types. In the mid-regions, there were people who leaned left and some right. And despite honest, strident debate, everyone got along, since they were all committed to the ideals of social justice and equality.

Then along came us vociferous New Left types in the 1960s, and we looked at anyone in the party who wasn't like us and worked to purge them from our midst. All those conservative types – the ones who called themselves "Cold War liberals," who were strong on social reforms and defense, who didn't mind protecting American interests abroad and had long been anti-Communist in their politics – they were really the enemy, we decided, even more harmful than Republicans, because they were not radical enough, and kept trying to move the party toward the middle and, heaven help us, sometimes to the right. These were the guys who, with their anti-Communism, had legitimized debacles like Korea and Vietnam, and had allowed witch-hunter Sen. Joseph McCarthy to come to power. They had to go.

And go they did. We did a marvelous job of routing them so that the only people left were just like us – people who took a dim view of applying American power anywhere; who rooted for whatever indigenous revolution was raging just then (those who were destabilizing countries in the name of the left were doing good); and oh, yes, they were people who took a dim view of Israel, which was considered "an outpost of American imperialism."

But for those of us who were Democrats for most of our adult lives and came of true political age in the 1970s and '80s – meaning we wised up and saw what the world was really about, and also began to understand ourselves as Jews and how important Israel was to the well-being of Jewish people everywhere – well, after all we'd done to the Democratic Party, we discovered there was no place left for us there. At first, we resisted leaving; then when we did, we struggled to steer clear of the Republicans. We eventually went right, but it never felt completely right; and we longed for when the Democrats would build a middle and right-wing again. But it's never happened.

These ruminations were stimulated by a piece in The New York Times Sunday Magazine on April 30 called "The Rehabilitation of the Cold War Liberal" by Peter Beinart. The second headline of the article read: "Maybe what the Democrats need post-9/11 is exactly what they rejected after Vietnam."

The piece is well worth reading. But I think it's a pipe dream. I doubt that Democrats – appalled by President Bush's arrogance, incensed over Iraq and feeling disenfranchised – would consider moving even slightly right.

Still, I wish Beinart and others well.

I'll be waiting on the sidelines with my heart in my hand, though I can't imagine anything will really come of it.



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