By Barry Rubin
It is remarkable how little serious research and analysis there has been about the political earthquake that has shaken American politics out of all recognition.
Earthquake? That’s a serious understatement. The situation is more akin to the scariest scenarios of global climate change analysts: large areas of land have disappeared under water, formerly productive farmland has been turned into desert, and so on.
One reason there hasn’t been more examination of this revolution is that a lot of people are saying other things. Many conservatives say, Well this is what liberalism is all about. Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is exactly like Bill Clinton.
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Academia and the media, two institutions that should be talking about such things, are too busy glorifying the new order or painting Obama as some kind of centrist. On the latter point, they use evidence of things he did against his will. (He kept the Bush tax cuts; let the Guantanamo Bay prison stay open, and is even talking about budget cuts!)
And a large proportion of the American people (40 percent? 50 percent?) say that nothing has changed at all.
Yet here is a very short analysis of what’s happened. A book-length narrative is required so the text below is going to over-simplify and obscure some points due to its necessary brevity.
The United States has long had a “Left” that has always been relatively weak, even at its previous peaks. Starting with the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, there were also many groups including Trotskyists, anarchists, and so on. These groups had a lot of problems due to different factors: America’s success, growing prosperity, and expanding democracy and rights–a set of things that are called “American exceptionalism” were among them.
In addition, the Left had specific internal problems. The Communists tied their fortunes to the USSR and put its interests first, which brought many conflicts. The Left had an ideology (including a strong dose of anti-Americanism; anti-religion, stands on certain social issues) that the masses didn’t like, as well as not like its stance on many issues. Perhaps it was just too far ahead of its time.
After the 1960s–that is by the mid-1970s–the New Left disintegrated. But many (most?) of its members held the same views. The new strategy was called “the long march through the institutions.” Leftists would hide their views; get jobs in such key institutions as universities, schools, the media, foundations, and other institutions, then use these positions to change America the way they wanted to do so.
That’s not a conspiracy theory. It is quite easy to document. The people involved knew precisely what they were doing and talked in those terms. Was it easy for them to do so? You bet.
One little anecdote. Some years ago a college friend asked me to recommend him for a job at the Environmental Protection Agency. I had no contacts there and also knew he was an unrepentant Stalinist (and I don’t say that lightly, he really did love Stalin!) So I couldn’t and wouldn’t help him. Besides, I thought, with his record he’d never get a job there anyway. He was hired and as far as I know is still there.
So the first element was the New Leftists who took powerful positions, especially dominating academia (and using it to indoctrinate people) and foundations (where money given often by conservatives were used to fund leftist causes. Bill Ayers is only one such person. There are many whose names you’ve never heard.
The second element was the left-wing of the Democratic Party. It was capable of nominating candidates for president–notably George McGovern–but they always lost because they were viewed by the general public as too extreme. Jimmy Carter, of course, won in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, but I think his character and views were not understood by the electorate.
Thus, the third element had to be a candidate capable of embodying the Leftist/left-liberal alliance and also overriding the American people’s dominant moderate liberal-centrist-conservative worldview. That was Barack Obama. His hidden past (kept so by the media and “experts”), lack of a track record (in some respects), and skin color distracted from the normal considerations of American politics. He thus defeated the more mainstream liberal Hillary Clinton and then defeated the lackluster, defeatist-minded Senator John McCain.
Once he was president, Obama didn’t have to worry about the non-left part of the Democratic Party or federal bureaucracy. He was giving the orders. About 75 percent of the Democrats in Congress are not on the left but few dare defy the leadership.
In addition, Obama–at least at first–seemed an amazing success, a great genius, a wildly popular and ever-victorious politician. Read Victor Davis Hanson’s article that embodies that atmosphere perfectly.
A foreign policy bureaucracy, which loathed George W. Bush, and armed forces command also have their problems with Obama, who rejects their most basic assumptions and dismantles what they view to be their greatest achievement. But they, too, have to follow orders.
And so the Leftist/left-wing liberal alliance triumphed. This is not a pragmatic liberalism in the pattern of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and even Bill Clinton. It is the most left-wing government in U.S. history and it is more interested in promoting its ideology than in doing a good job of governing the country. Even reelection doesn’t dominate its calculations, though it thinks that a 2012 victory is possible on its own terms.
Three more details should be added here. One is financing. Historically, a poor, David-like Left took on capitalist-backed adversaries. But today, the situation is largely reversed. Due to George Soros, Left-dominated foundations, and the heirs of the old conservative capitalists, the Left is the well-heeled side most ofthe time.
Second, control mechanisms. It is truly a remarkable system. Political Correctness means: I can make my arguments but you can’t challenge them because your arguments are racist, Islamophobic, etc. Mutliculturalism means: You cannot assert that the American system is better than any other in the world.
In short, you have created the perfect way to win every argument and without repression. The “innocent bystanders” in the public are persuaded of things that are often the precise opposite of what they believed ten years ago and they and their forebears believed for many decades.
Here’s are three examples:
–Stopping people from illegally entering the United States and then expelling those who did so is widely considered to be an evil, immoral idea.
–Believing that exploding deficits are a great danger makes one a right-wing nut in many circles; similarly, challenging the growing size of a government whose bureaucracy is doing lots of useless and even harmful things is portrayed as reactionary nonsense. Yet since when had liberalism declared a government far bigger than any in American history that continually increased in size to be a sacred value? When did the economic views of Keynes come to mean going into massive debt from spending money on non-productive purposes? How did the justification for regulation become unlimited and the space for individual freedom increasingly limited? Indeed, in Canada it was the Liberal Party that balanced the budget and made the kinds of changes now needed in the United States.
–The most basic realistic precepts of diplomacy have been abandoned. When did a realistic foreign policy become antagonistic to liberal principles? This is not the approach of the liberal Democrat Harry Truman but of the leftist-front Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party and the 1960s’ New Left.
Finally, there are the changes in the American (and European) societies themselves. These are the hardest things to assess. Demographic shifts; the ever-larger sector of the middle class cut off from economic productivity; a growing distance between elites and masses; the unlimited welfare state mentality; massive indoctrination in schools and media; along with a pessimism about Western civilization have all grown. Is this reversible?
Viewing this revolution as merely the result of “normal liberalism” doesn’t tell us very much or help us very much. To argue that nothing has changed is the enemy of solving the current problems facing the United States and the Western world.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of
International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at
PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are
The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom:
The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The
Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA
Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published
originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at