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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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Robert Asher

There is a cruel irony to the phenomenon E.J. Dionne identifies: people on the"left" being afraid of being called socialists because they advocate some kind of government intervention to make economies more humane. Dictatorial socialism has fallen; the "communist" menace is gone. But those who advocate modest statist solutions to social problems are afraid of being red-baited, not as agents of a ruthless dictatorship, but simply as "socialists." While McCarthyism was proclaimed dead by the end of the 1960s, the spirit of McCartyism lives on. But I am uncomfortable with Dionne's terminology. To call the Democratiac Party part of the "left" is truly ahistorical. The Democratic party once (1932-65) had a vibrant liberal wing that secured important victories on social policy issues. But since 1965 the convergence between Democrats and Republicans has been signficant. Look at the 1981 and 1986 tax bills. Consider the superb analysis by Jerome L. Himmelstein in To The Right (1992) about the way corporate donors to elected officials, both Democratic and Republican, began in the 1980s to insist on ideological litmus tests as the price for receiving campaign funds. This is a phenomenon that many well-meaning liberal bloggers do not want to confront. It is a disturbing phenomenon. But since doing nothing is useless, real leftists ought to explain why statism--what was called "selective socialism" in the Progressive Era in the U.S. (1900-1917)--is a) not whole-hog socialism and b) is absolutely essential to stop corprate predataion and to rationalize inhuman social processes.
Robert Asher
Professor Emeritus of History
University of Connecticut
Willimantic, Ct.
USA

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