Monday, January 3, 2011

Love Me, I'm A Liberal

In the context of discussing Obama's not unmixed record, my friend Karin on the eschaton blog recalled Phil Ochs' great 1966 or so song 'Love Me, I'm a Liberal'. I remember every word of it. Nor did I vote for Humphrey in the 1968 election after the disgrace in Chicago.

The key lines of Ochs' song close it:

But now, I am older and wiser
And so, I am turning you in...

That gets complicated, like, wicked quick. A lot of old lefties casually embraced the Soviet Union, apologized for Stalin; later, others would embrace Mao, of the Great Leap Forward and the cultural Revolution. A good part of the 1950s was about forcing the left into a pusillanimous liberalism endorsing the military-industrial national security paradigm of the Cold War. The equation of a broader left version of societal change with outright treason was all too casually accepted. Getting older and wiser sometimes meant reconsideration of such things, at a time when the left was swept away with the romance of the defeat of colonialism by national liberation movements, viewed with utter lack of skepticism both in themselves and as models for domestic politics. Just as one could easily oppose the war in Vietnam without mistaking Gen. Giap for a Jeffersonian Democrat, one could, too, have supported the Johnson who passed Medicare, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act--all substantial gains to the country, on a scale equaled only by FD Roosevelt--without mistaking the Gulf of Tonkin incident as described for reality. One could have, perhaps even should have, gotten older and wiser, and still never have turned anyone in. Ochs, whom I love dearly, equated those two, just as serious old lefties casually viewed reformers, who subverted class hatred and delayed the Revolution by legitimizing the current system, as worse in some ways than outright fascists. He was wrong to do so.

Equating Humphrey-style liberalism with complicity with McCarthy, Vietnam and domestic racism can't be justified in retrospect. And I would vote for Humphrey in a heartbeat today, were he running against Nixon, who, to my astonishment, can no longer be considered the most despicable, stupid, incompetent, ruthless, evil human being ever to be president of this country.


S Brennan said...

"Nixon, who, to my astonishment, can no longer be considered the most despicable, stupid, incompetent, ruthless, evil human being ever to be president of this country."

I agree.

Reagan was probably a better person, but the definitely had worse policies.

Bush [the 1st], ran all sorts of illegal operations while VP that put Nixon to shame.

Bush [the 2nd] well...were to begin?

Bush [the...] oh sorry, I mean Obama, whose policies are Bush's 3rd term. At least Clinton only kept some of Bush [the 1st] policies, Obama seems to want to outdo Bush's asinine policies.

ProfWombat said...

Agreed in part. There are differences. Amongst the more concrete are a deeply flawed, but real, start on national health insurance, Kagan and Sotomayor on the Court, an end to the Bushist politicization/fundiefication of science, repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell', and an end to the gag order re abortion and contraception. Not enough, but nonetheless real.

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