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Weissman writes: "Hillary Clinton can do what neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives and theological conservatives never could. She can sell imperialism as a liberal, humanitarian imperative."

Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Debate. (photo: Travis Dove/NYT)
Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Debate. (photo: Travis Dove/NYT)

Hillary’s No Neo-Con. She’s Far More Dangerous

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

18 January 16


ack in September 2013, well before Bernie Sanders decided to run for president, the liberal journalist Peter Beinart called attention to the leftward swing among Democratic Party voters, marked by Elizabeth Warren’s popularity and Bill de Blasio’s victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. More to the point, Beinart explicitly challenged Hillary Clinton to move left and ride the new wave to power – or risk getting overwhelmed by what he called “The Rise of the New, New Left.” The following month, I responded with “Don’t Let Hillary Housebreak the New New Left.”

Beinart’s choice of labels was wildly misleading. For those who missed his reference, the original New Left of the 1960s – best embodied by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) – initially looked toward the kind of Democratic Socialism that Bernie Sanders now proclaims. We gave radical, mostly white support to the civil rights movement, usually leaning toward the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). We opposed both sides in the Cold War, seeing both as promoting nuclear disaster. We broke with the mainstream refusal to cooperate with Communists, an ideological prohibition that encouraged witch hunts, red-baiting, and the stifling of thoroughgoing social and economic reform.

And perhaps best known, we played a leading role in organizing the campus-based opposition to the War in Vietnam, which Beinart’s liberal heroes – former vice president Hubert Humphrey, labor leaders Walter Reuther and David Dubinsky, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr – condemned us for doing.

Though Hillary and Bill opposed the war at the time, Beinart correctly places her in the same political tradition as his liberal heroes, who forged “the dominant ideology in American public life” long before the neo-cons emerged. These liberals believed with FDR “that government should intervene in society to solve problems that individuals cannot solve alone.” And they zealously insisted that the US should have, as I put it, “a muscular, hyper-activist foreign policy, one with all the multilateral trappings of UN resolutions and NATO-led coalitions, but still decidedly neo-colonial and inescapably in the service of Big Oil and the merchants of death.”

Hillary embodies this liberal imperialism and will do her best to groom the new political generation that sees itself as liberal to follow her into endless war, especially in the Middle East. That is why she is so dangerous. She can do what neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives and theological conservatives never could. She can sell imperialism as a liberal, humanitarian imperative.

Domestically, before Obamacare, Hillary fought for something approaching universal health care, no matter how corporate and inadequate it was. By contrast, America’s number one neo-con, William Kristol, made his bones as a hard-ass Republican right-winger by leading the fight to destroy what she was trying to create. Which of them do you think will do better selling self-identified liberals on war?

No doubt, many neo-cons will support Hillary. Some will serve as her advisers, and one of their top leaders, Robert Kagan, has already started calling himself a liberal interventionist. He sees the future if Hillary becomes president, and he realizes she will build that future by drawing on what the Democrats did in the past, not on what the neo-cons said and did under George W. Bush.

Support for Israel? Woodrow Wilson, who preached “the self-determination of nations,” went along with Britain’s Balfour Declaration, offering Palestine as a homeland for the Jewish people. Harry Truman quickly recognized the new Jewish State, and whenever it counted, the Democratic Party has sided with Israel against the Palestinians.

Support for the Saudis? FDR forged Washington’s initial alliance with the Saudi monarchy to secure a supply of oil for the coming world war. Jimmy Carter funded the mujahideen, the holy warriors, months before Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, and pledged to defend the Saudis in case the Soviets extended their activism. His “Carter Doctrine” also committed the US to use military force if needed to ensure the flow of oil and natural gas from the entire region.

The Cold War? Harry Truman certainly pumped it up in Greece in 1947, though historians have traced the conflict’s origins back through decisions made during FDR’s alliance with the Soviets in World War II and Woodrow Wilson’s decision to join allied troops to fight against the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918.

And Vietnam? The American Friends of Vietnam, the loudest cheerleader for interfering in the former French colony, was headed by a New Deal Democrat, Leo Cherne, who also ran the International Rescue Committee and served as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Freedom House. Two of his strongest backers were Democratic senators John F. Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, who joined with New York’s right-wing Cardinal Spellman to help impose the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem to rule over the largely Buddhist South Vietnam.

These are just snapshots of the Democratic Party’s past, which we all need to understand in much greater breadth and depth. But trying to make the neo-cons our number-one bogeyman is to make them far more important than they were. It absolves the mainstream Democratic Party from the blame it so richly deserves. And it makes it so much easier for Hillary Clinton to shape a new generation of Democratic voters in her own imperialist image.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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