Inequality of Opportunity
Michael Barone Takes the Side of that Third-Rate Burglar, Richard Nixon

Mark Schmitt Is Displeased with the "Spectacularly Wrong" Peter Beinart

Mark Schmitt writes:

The Decembrist: The Completely Incorrect History of the Democratic Party: I know we're done with the Peter Beinart book club, and the poor guy is getting picked on a lot this week. But I can't resist, and as President Bush said after teasing a legally blind reporter for wearing sunglasses, "I needle you guys out of affection." (The bully's excuse, doubly vicious because so plainly untrue, and forces the victim to be courteous.) I wouldn't say that I needle Beinart out of affection -- I don't know him well, but I admire him for trying to produce something of substance out of the admission that he was wrong about Iraq -- but out of frustration with the fact that he so often seems to start off o.k. and then gets things so spectacularly wrong.

So here's his latest. In a defense of the Clinton Administration (which I'm totally comfortable with, by the way, having seen myself recently described as a "Clinton Democrat" and not flinching) Beinart gives the following thumbnail history of the Democratic Party in the 1970s:

In reality, the Democratic Party didn't lose the confidence of its convictions when Clinton became president; it lost them when he was in graduate school. From Harry Truman through Lyndon Johnson, Democrats stood for three basic things: enlightened anti-communism, an expanding welfare state, and racial integration.

Between 1968 and 1972, under pressure from Vietnam and racial conflict, two of those three collapsed. By 1972, George McGovern was urging the virtual abandonment of anticommunism and advocating racial quotas. Then, in 1976, Democrats nominated a relative economic conservative, Jimmy Carter, who showed little interest in extending Johnson's Great Society largesse. And, poof--there went principle number three.

In The Good Fight, it's not quite so clear that this is how he would sum up the history, but Wow! Let's take that second paragraph one point at a time:

By 1972, George McGovern was urging the virtual abandonment of anticommunism,

Um, don't know what you're talking about here. McGovern was opposed to the Vietnam War, which was a war against communism. But the "enlightened" anti-communist liberals also opposed that war. To say that opposing the Vietnam is tantamount to "virtual abandonment of anticommunism" is the same as arguing that opposing the Iraq war is a virtual abandonment of opposition to terrorism. Since Beinart is not now willing to make either argument, he cannot keep baiting McGovern as insufficiently anti-communist, in the same way that he cannot continue to bait Iraq war opponents (among whom he now counts himself) for being insufficiently anti-terrorist. Although he makes a good rhetorical effort to do so.

and advocating racial quotas

o.k., the point here seems to be that the Truman-through-Johnson Democrats stood for "racial integration," whereas McGovern abandoned that principle by "advocating racial quotas." That assumes that affirmative action is somehow antithetical to integration, rather than a means to achieve it....

I have no gripe with Beinart's rehabiliation of Clinton. I was never very critical of Clinton, and now that we really understand just how vicious the right-wing machine is, we have to appreciate that he did not have the freedom of movement that LBJ had, and that he made almost as much as could be made of his severely constrained political circumstances. It should be possible to make that case without trashing a couple decades of well-meaning, serious liberals -- as committed to anti-communism, racial fairness and broadly shared economic security as their elders -- who just happened to lack the policial skills of an LBJ or Clinton.