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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, August 29, 2006  

The Party of Liberty

It's been a while since we've had a Moynihan tribute.

A Time cover story from 1976 describes his "spirit of fight and daredeviltry" as ambassador to the UN:

[H]e makes his stand against the anti-American and anti-Western onslaughts he perceives everywhere—but he is not about to suggest that it is a last stand. Moynihan has enraged Third World delegates, discomfited his Western European colleagues, and brought cheer to the hearts of Americans, who have taken to his brand of dukes-up diplomacy and feel that someone is at last talking back at the world.

That vintage Moynihan spirit, bottled, would be refreshing today.

* * *

Martin Peretz hears in present opposition to John Bolton echoes of past opposition to Moynihan:

The last nominee for ambassador to the United Nations about whom The New York Times was frantic was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In fact, it was frantic about him twice. The first time was in November 1970, when Moynihan's name was, for a brief moment, floated as a likely candidate. The Times was quick to declare him the "wrong man for the U.N." The right man was Charles Yost, a foreign servant for nearly four decades so discreet as to be almost invisible…

After serving (quite magnificently) for two years as ambassador to India (in the tradition of John Kenneth Galbraith), Moynihan was named to the U.N. post by President Ford. Again, the Times found fault with the designee: "[T]he prospect of Mr. Moynihan at Turtle Bay has aroused among some friends of the United Nations genuine doubts about United States policy toward the world organization, and especially toward third world countries." The Times was carrying on what one could only call a vendetta against Moynihan for what were then surprising insights on race but are now--forgive the metaphor--white bread. But Moynihan was confirmed. I can still recall the bitter derision of the foreign affairs elite at Moynihan's insistence on putting the United States "in opposition" to the malevolent bargains the Soviets were then making with "the nonaligned," that label itself a lie.

Speaking of being "in opposition": Check out the barrage of sniping and insults in the comment boxes whenever New Republic owner Peretz – staunchly pro-Israel and described by Kos as a "Lieberman-worshipping neocon" -- makes a post at his own magazine's blog. Reminiscent of the Iron Sheik taking the ring at Madison Square Garden or the Blues Brothers playing, behind iron bars, at a country-and-western dive, Peretz posts on, in spite of – in some cases, seemingly inviting – the abuse.

* * *

More Moynihan:

* Recalling when the Irish ran New York

* Sticking it to the Clintons

* His Telegraph obit

* * *

In the New Republic archives, a letter from three years ago makes, I think, some very useful observations in re the foreign-policy debate.

Ellen F. Heyman of Springfield, Va., wrote in her letter published March 27, 2003:

I would suggest two influences as the sources for the liberal unwillingness to use power for American self-interest. One is the surprisingly long-lived influence in liberal circles of Stalinist ideas regarding American malevolence, beginning with the Communist front groups of the 1930s and their co-option of many liberal causes, continuing through the argument over the Vietnam War, which still colors the foreign policy debate today.

The other has been the predominance of the realist school of foreign policy, where national self-interest is defined in the narrowest terms. American liberals have been made suspicious by the use of American power to support dictatorships, the tragic unintended consequences of which have included the reluctance of many peoples around the world to trust our commitment to democracy abroad.

The idealist school, which is currently crafting foreign policy, is not really conservative. Indeed, many are only accidental Republicans, products of the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, having left to become Reagan staffers only when the McGovernite takeover proved discouragingly irreversible. They were originally ideological heirs of the anti-communist wing of the labor movement and the Democratic left.

Traditionally, it was not conservatives, the bulk of whom were either realists or isolationists, who espoused American interests. The idealists now framing foreign policy are anything but conservative. Hopefully, their policies will succeed in furthering both American ideals and self-interest and, in doing so, will help to banish the knee-jerk mistrust of American motives both at home and abroad.

Scoop Jackson's heirs are idealists. They aim to defend America by promoting freedom and democracy abroad, rather than by supporting bad-guys-who-happen-to-be-our-bad-guys. Critics have grounds – perhaps good grounds -- to fault the neocon enterprise for ill-advised adventurism and for overturning the international applecart in a flight of Wilsonian folly.

But it is a commentary on what has happened to American "liberalism" when liberal idealism is attacked by supposed "liberals" as capitalist imperialist militaristic oil-grabbing fascistic Bushitlerism (you fill in the rest). This is the language of the old Stalinists (or "progressives," as the No Longer So New Leftists style themselves). What Ms. Heyman calls the "Stalinist idea of American malevolence" has become widely accepted canon on the left side of the aisle in American political discourse, one of the sadder legacies of the Sixties. Hubert Humphrey was the liberal, not the Marxist radicals throwing rocks through his windows; but the latter now have been accorded the label, and they don't deserve it.

In short, foreign-policy idealists who are trying to promote the liberal tradition (even if they are making a cock-up of it) don't deserve to have their motives denigrated by "liberals" whose anti-American critique is rooted in Stalinism.


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