Liberals Need to Stop Making Excuses

As the question is framed it answers itself.  Would Democrats be outraged if it were John McCain rather than Obama who was continuing and expanding Bush’s war in Afghanistan, his gulag at Guantanamo, his assault on civil liberties in order to “fight terrorism,”  not to mention “business-friendly” policies to free the private economy from the “burdens” of taxation and regulation.  Of course they would, and they would denounce them bitterly, whereas the same policies emanating from the Obama White House are either ignored or actively defended by the president’s liberal supporters.

But I certainly do not say this to sustain the right-wing argument that Obama has seen the light and realizes how necessary and reasonable were the crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney regime.  Rather, it’s one more bit of evidence of the crashing failure of liberal America to stand up for its forgotten principles of some sixty years ago, and its decision to chain itself to a Democratic Party now under the leadership of “centrists” or “moderates” who in fact occupy the terrain once held by the vanished race of liberal Republicans.  Right now, Obama’s non-confrontational reach for “compromise” with the Tea Party Republican attack dogs not only suits his personality but represents the true face of his party—a determination never to be labeled soft on defense, socialistic, or spendthrift, leaving nothing very exciting to fight about.

The party’s liberals began their retreat in the 1940s when they fully supported the Cold War, consenting to purge the unions and the civil service of communist influence at home and to empower presidents and a secret government-within-a government, the CIA, to war on or to destabilize communist (or suspected communist) regimes abroad.

They retained influence throughout the Johnson administration before it sank into the Vietnam quagmire, but when Democrats were routed in 1972’s election and fell into the hands of the “competence but not ideology” crowd, the liberals lost their nerve and stayed aboard.  Why?  Because on social issues there was and is some perceptible difference between the parties (though not much on imperial adventures abroad or the glories of  “free enterprise.”)  When   labor or civil rights, or pro-choice organizations helped Democrats to win campaigns, they flattered themselves that they had gained a seat at the table.  Perhaps they had, in the basement dining room of the White House, but not in the presidential inner circles.

Who can recall any vigorous, high-profile campaigns for strengthening unions, dealing with the economic crisis within the African-American community, or simply defending women’s right to abortion without homilies on how it should be rare under any of our three Democratic chief executives since Johnson?  But liberals remained true believers.  They gave Jimmy Carter a pass on empowering the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan; they gave Bill Clinton a pass on presiding over deregulation, the sellout of American labor that was NAFTA, and the completion of dismantling the U.S. industrial base.  It’s no surprise that they will automatically vote next year for Obama even if in some areas he sounds suspiciously like his immediate White House predecessor.

This consistent empowerment of the present  “pragmatic” and spiritless Democratic Party is defended by the argument this is realistically a two-party system, and that one less for the Republicans to fight for; QED, a vote in their favor—and of disasters to follow, well exemplified by the piranhas now governing some Republican states. But that so-called “reality” is not as unalterable as gravity; neither is it in the Constitution or the Bible.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, an excuse for not making an effort to change voters’ minds.  In my opinion, it’s time to do exactly that if we want to be true to our best selves and our progressive past.

Bernard A. Weisberger

Bernard A. Weisberger has taught Wayne State University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Rochester. He is a contributing editor to American Heritage.

Republished with permission from History News Network.


  1. Hollis Stewart says

    Incidentally, I was trained in the early 60s in non-violence by the Quakers in the person of a Dr. Asirvatham who was, in his words, a right hand man and assistant to Ghandi. The Dr. came to the US and taught both at the University level and conducted non-violence training for different organizations. At the time I was a member of CORE and when he came to the area I lived in I was honored to be so trained. The values I was taught by this fine teacher still stay with me and I have allowed me to stand up to violence by racists and the right without resorting to violent attacks and this is as it should be — our strategies and tactics should always show an adoration for human life and be conducted with the hope of no one involved being harmed in any way. If carried out this allows our opponents the opportunity to change to non-violence and to be open to change in their central beliefs and overcome their racism, classism, homophobia, etc. Others who have had training like this and have ideas to add should jump into this discussion of liberals quit making excuses and suggest strategies.

  2. Hollis Stewart says

    In being proud of my parents I forgot to mention that my father had to stand up to and fight anti-union goons in Utah where he was organizing workers in supermarkets in the early/mid 1930s. Where are we now that we are afraid to fight back against the goons of the GOP and the Teabaggers? I am a bit old to be out in the street but by damn if we have to do it to save social security, medicaid, medicare and the rights of our fellow citizens to organize and unionize them I am willing to put a body on the line. Back in a day a street fighting man was a good man, and a street fighting woman a good woman. We fought back in the 60s and 70s and again in the 80s during the wars in Central America but now it seems as though most ‘mericans are just too mesmerized by individualism and narcisisim to fight for the commonweal.

    My father taught me that “If you won’t fight for your beliefs then you don’t have any beliefs and you deserve what you get.” He believed that non-violence is the high road but those who are being oppressed and kept down have to take the road that will lead to victory and sometimes victory can’t be reached all kissy kissy. The life of working people is hard and it can only be made easier when working people organize, strategize and fight for the things that they need and deserve. We can’t forget that we are the vast majority of the population and our adversaries are a distinct minority who use their money to keep us down.


  3. Michael says

    Okay, so where is your alternative for 2012? Cynthia McKinney? The Greens? The other Left parties are in complete disarray. The Tea Party successfully changed the political landscape of our country by taking over a wing of the Republican Party from inside and out. Sure, they are now diluted with the fascist corporate wing of the party, but they have a seat at the table. Progressives should learn from the Tea Party.

  4. Hollis Stewart says

    All of the points in the article are fine but something left out: the capitulation of the Democrats in 2000 in Florida and across the nation when nine supreme court justices were allowed to determine that GWBush was elected President of the US — even though several of the justices were put on the court by GHBush. The liberals in the Democratic Party should have called out massive demonstrations and civil disobedience but instead they handed over the government to the far right.

    Another point that could/should be made: Up until we let elections become beauty contests the Democratic party had the involvement of real people and elections were not just TV events with out substance. I can remember as an 8 year old sitting with my father and mother by the radio in 1948 listening to the radio broadcast of the Democratic Convention. The convention developed an Agenda for the Party and the candidates supported that agenda — they didn’t assume they could just go off and do whatever they wanted. The Agenda informed the citizenry what the party stood for and what it would do and politicians ran on the Agenda. I sat there in 1952, too, and listened and so forth. This politics involved the grass roots people by devising agendas to foster their well being.

    Incidentially, though my father voted for FDR and Truman he was very angry in 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act and the attacks on labor. He said that if you went after the socialists, progressives and communists in the Unions then you would destroy the effectiveness of labor as these were the doers who had built the unions, not the liberals. My father was a progressive and helped build postal workers unions in the 30’s and 40’s but he was fired in 1952 for being a leftist and had no way to defend himself though he was a progressive democrat. The unions had been cowed by the McCarthyism of the time. I am a proud progressive and proud of my progressive mother and father and the values they taught me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *