Was Hiroshima Necessary? August 11, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: alperovitz, atomic bomb, churchill, eisenhower, fdr, hiroshima, history, japanese surrender, macarthur, nagasaki, nuclear, potsdam, roger hollander, stalin, togo, truman, world war II, yalta
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Roger’s note: The “official” justification for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it saved countless thousands of lives by avoiding a full-scale invasion of Japan to end the war. American soldiers heaved a sigh of relief when they saw the war was ended without further need for military action and the consequent loss of American lives. The following article debunks this view of history. From it one can only conclude that the bombing of these two civilian populated cities that had no strategic military value was an act of barbarism. From Hiroshima through to Vietnam through to today’s predator drone missiles, we see the logical extension of the American experiment, whose lofty an oft cited humanitarian and democratic goals are belied by its origins in the genocide of the First Nations’ peoples and the forced enslavement of Africans. And what do we see today? The astute leaders of both political parties of the first and only nation to use atomic weaponry, a nation with stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could blow up the entire planet several times over — we see this so-called leader ship leading us into the possible holocaust of nuclear war in the Middle East via the demonization of a country, Iran, which does not yet possess a single nuclear warhead. A deadly irony.
By Mark Weber
On August 6, 1945, the world dramatically entered the atomic age: without either warning or precedent, an American plane dropped a single nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion utterly destroyed more than four square miles of the city center. About 90,000 people were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians.
Between the two bombings, Soviet Russia joined the United States in war against Japan. Under strong US prodding, Stalin broke his regime’s 1941 non-aggression treaty with Tokyo. On the same day that Nagasaki was destroyed, Soviet troops began pouring into Manchuria, overwhelming Japanese forces there. Although Soviet participation did little or nothing to change the military outcome of the war, Moscow benefitted enormously from joining the conflict.
In a broadcast from Tokyo the next day, August 10, the Japanese government announced its readiness to accept the joint American-British “unconditional surrender” declaration of Potsdam, “with the understanding that the said declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.”
A day later came the American reply, which included these words: “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” Finally, on August 14, the Japanese formally accepted the provisions of the Potsdam declaration, and a “cease fire” was announced. On September 2, Japanese envoys signed the instrument of surrender aboard the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
A Beaten Country
Apart from the moral questions involved, were the atomic bombings militarily necessary? By any rational yardstick, they were not. Japan already had been defeated militarily by June 1945. Almost nothing was left of the once mighty Imperial Navy, and Japan’s air force had been all but totally destroyed. Against only token opposition, American war planes ranged at will over the country, and US bombers rained down devastation on her cities, steadily reducing them to rubble.
What was left of Japan’s factories and workshops struggled fitfully to turn out weapons and other goods from inadequate raw materials. (Oil supplies had not been available since April.) By July about a quarter of all the houses in Japan had been destroyed, and her transportation system was near collapse. Food had become so scarce that most Japanese were subsisting on a sub-starvation diet.
On the night of March 9-10, 1945, a wave of 300 American bombers struck Tokyo, killing 100,000 people. Dropping nearly 1,700 tons of bombs, the war planes ravaged much of the capital city, completely burning out 16 square miles and destroying a quarter of a million structures. A million residents were left homeless.
On May 23, eleven weeks later, came the greatest air raid of the Pacific War, when 520 giant B-29 “Superfortress” bombers unleashed 4,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the heart of the already battered Japanese capital. Generating gale-force winds, the exploding incendiaries obliterated Tokyo’s commercial center and railway yards, and consumed the Ginza entertainment district. Two days later, on May 25, a second strike of 502 “Superfortress” planes roared low over Tokyo, raining down some 4,000 tons of explosives. Together these two B-29 raids destroyed 56 square miles of the Japanese capital.
Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were “driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.” Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: “It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: “Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.”
Japan Seeks Peace
Months before the end of the war, Japan’s leaders recognized that defeat was inevitable. In April 1945 a new government headed by Kantaro Suzuki took office with the mission of ending the war. When Germany capitulated in early May, the Japanese understood that the British and Americans would now direct the full fury of their awesome military power exclusively against them.
American officials, having long since broken Japan’s secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country’s leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favorable as possible. Details of these efforts were known from decoded secret communications between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad.
In his 1965 study, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (pp. 107, 108), historian Gar Alperovitz writes:
Although Japanese peace feelers had been sent out as early as September 1944 (and [China's] Chiang Kai-shek had been approached regarding surrender possibilities in December 1944), the real effort to end the war began in the spring of 1945. This effort stressed the role of the Soviet Union …
In mid-April  the [US] Joint Intelligence Committee reported that Japanese leaders were looking for a way to modify the surrender terms to end the war. The State Department was convinced the Emperor was actively seeking a way to stop the fighting.
A Secret Memorandum
It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan’s efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.
In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan’s article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)
This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 — that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. Specifically, the terms of these peace overtures included:
- Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
- Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
- Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
- Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
- Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
- Surrender of designated war criminals.
Is this memorandum authentic? It was supposedly leaked to Trohan by Admiral William D. Leahy, presidential Chief of Staff. (See: M. Rothbard in A. Goddard, ed., Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader , pp. 327f.) Historian Harry Elmer Barnes has related (in “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National Review, May 10, 1958):
The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After General MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to General MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.
In April and May 1945, Japan made three attempts through neutral Sweden and Portugal to bring the war to a peaceful end. On April 7, acting Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu met with Swedish ambassador Widon Bagge in Tokyo, asking him “to ascertain what peace terms the United States and Britain had in mind.” But he emphasized that unconditional surrender was unacceptable, and that “the Emperor must not be touched.” Bagge relayed the message to the United States, but Secretary of State Stettinius told the US Ambassador in Sweden to “show no interest or take any initiative in pursuit of the matter.” Similar Japanese peace signals through Portugal, on May 7, and again through Sweden, on the 10th, proved similarly fruitless.
By mid-June, six members of Japan’s Supreme War Council had secretly charged Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo with the task of approaching Soviet Russia’s leaders “with a view to terminating the war if possible by September.” On June 22 the Emperor called a meeting of the Supreme War Council, which included the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the leading military figures. “We have heard enough of this determination of yours to fight to the last soldiers,” said Emperor Hirohito. “We wish that you, leaders of Japan, will strive now to study the ways and the means to conclude the war. In doing so, try not to be bound by the decisions you have made in the past.”
By early July the US had intercepted messages from Togo to the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato, showing that the Emperor himself was taking a personal hand in the peace effort, and had directed that the Soviet Union be asked to help end the war. US officials also knew that the key obstacle to ending the war was American insistence on “unconditional surrender,” a demand that precluded any negotiations. The Japanese were willing to accept nearly everything, except turning over their semi-divine Emperor. Heir of a 2,600-year-old dynasty, Hirohito was regarded by his people as a “living god” who personified the nation. (Until the August 15 radio broadcast of his surrender announcement, the Japanese people had never heard his voice.) Japanese particularly feared that the Americans would humiliate the Emperor, and even execute him as a war criminal.
On July 12, Hirohito summoned Fumimaro Konoye, who had served as prime minister in 1940-41. Explaining that “it will be necessary to terminate the war without delay,” the Emperor said that he wished Konoye to secure peace with the Americans and British through the Soviets. As Prince Konoye later recalled, the Emperor instructed him “to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity.”
The next day, July 13, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow: “See [Soviet foreign minister] Molotov before his departure for Potsdam … Convey His Majesty’s strong desire to secure a termination of the war … Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace …”
On July 17, another intercepted Japanese message revealed that although Japan’s leaders felt that the unconditional surrender formula involved an unacceptable dishonor, they were convinced that “the demands of the times” made Soviet mediation to terminate the war absolutely essential. Further diplomatic messages indicated that the only condition asked by the Japanese was preservation of “our form of government.” The only “difficult point,” a July 25 message disclosed, “is the … formality of unconditional surrender.”
Summarizing the messages between Togo and Sato, US naval intelligence said that Japan’s leaders, “though still balking at the term unconditional surrender,” recognized that the war was lost, and had reached the point where they have “no objection to the restoration of peace on the basis of the  Atlantic Charter.” These messages, said Assistant Secretary of the Navy Lewis Strauss, “indeed stipulated only that the integrity of the Japanese Royal Family be preserved.”
Navy Secretary James Forrestal termed the intercepted messages “real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war.” “With the interception of these messages,” notes historian Alperovitz (p. 177), “there could no longer be any real doubt as to the Japanese intentions; the maneuvers were overt and explicit and, most of all, official acts. Koichi Kido, Japan’s Lord Privy Seal and a close advisor to the Emperor, later affirmed: “Our decision to seek a way out of this war, was made in early June before any atomic bomb had been dropped and Russia had not entered the war. It was already our decision.”
In spite of this, on July 26 the leaders of the United States and Britain issued the Potsdam declaration, which included this grim ultimatum: “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces and to provide proper and adequate assurance of good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”
Commenting on this draconian either-or proclamation, British historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote: “Not a word was said about the Emperor, because it would be unacceptable to the propaganda-fed American masses.” (A Military History of the Western World , p. 675.)
America’s leaders understood Japan’s desperate position: the Japanese were willing to end the war on any terms, as long as the Emperor was not molested. If the US leadership had not insisted on unconditional surrender — that is, if they had made clear a willingness to permit the Emperor to remain in place — the Japanese very likely would have surrendered immediately, thus saving many thousands of lives.
The sad irony is that, as it actually turned out, the American leaders decided anyway to retain the Emperor as a symbol of authority and continuity. They realized, correctly, that Hirohito was useful as a figurehead prop for their own occupation authority in postwar Japan.
President Truman steadfastly defended his use of the atomic bomb, claiming that it “saved millions of lives” by bringing the war to a quick end. Justifying his decision, he went so far as to declare: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”
This was a preposterous statement. In fact, almost all of the victims were civilians, and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (issued in 1946) stated in its official report: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population.”
If the atomic bomb was dropped to impress the Japanese leaders with the immense destructive power of a new weapon, this could have been accomplished by deploying it on an isolated military base. It was not necessary to destroy a large city. And whatever the justification for the Hiroshima blast, it is much more difficult to defend the second bombing of Nagasaki.
All the same, most Americans accepted, and continue to accept, the official justifications for the bombings. Accustomed to crude propagandistic portrayals of the “Japs” as virtually subhuman beasts, most Americans in 1945 heartily welcomed any new weapon that would wipe out more of the detested Asians, and help avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the young Americans who were fighting the Japanese in bitter combat, the attitude was “Thank God for the atom bomb.” Almost to a man, they were grateful for a weapon whose deployment seemed to end the war and thus allow them to return home.
After the July 1943 firestorm destruction of Hamburg, the mid-February 1945 holocaust of Dresden, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, America’s leaders — as US Army General Leslie Groves later commented — “were generally inured to the mass killing of civilians.” For President Harry Truman, the killing of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians was simply not a consideration in his decision to use the atom bomb.
Amid the general clamor of enthusiasm, there were some who had grave misgivings. “We are the inheritors to the mantle of Genghis Khan,” wrote New York Times editorial writer Hanson Baldwin, “and of all those in history who have justified the use of utter ruthlessness in war.” Norman Thomas called Nagasaki “the greatest single atrocity of a very cruel war.” Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the President, was similarly appalled.
A leading voice of American Protestantism, Christian Century, strongly condemned the bombings. An editorial entitled “America’s Atomic Atrocity” in the issue of August 29, 1945, told readers:
The atomic bomb was used at a time when Japan’s navy was sunk, her air force virtually destroyed, her homeland surrounded, her supplies cut off, and our forces poised for the final stroke … Our leaders seem not to have weighed the moral considerations involved. No sooner was the bomb ready than it was rushed to the front and dropped on two helpless cities … The atomic bomb can fairly be said to have struck Christianity itself … The churches of America must dissociate themselves and their faith from this inhuman and reckless act of the American Government.
A leading American Catholic voice, Commonweal, took a similar view. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the magazine editorialized, “are names for American guilt and shame.”
Pope Pius XII likewise condemned the bombings, expressing a view in keeping with the traditional Roman Catholic position that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man.” The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano commented in its August 7, 1945, issue: “This war provides a catastrophic conclusion. Incredibly this destructive weapon remains as a temptation for posterity, which, we know by bitter experience, learns so little from history.”
Authoritative Voices of Dissent
American leaders who were in a position to know the facts did not believe, either at the time or later, that the atomic bombings were needed to end the war.
When he was informed in mid-July 1945 by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson of the decision to use the atomic bomb, General Dwight Eisenhower was deeply troubled. He disclosed his strong reservations about using the new weapon in his 1963 memoir, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (pp. 312-313):
During his [Stimson's] recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”
“The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing … I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon,” Eisenhower said in 1963.
Shortly after “V-J Day,” the end of the Pacific war, Brig. General Bonnie Fellers summed up in a memo for General MacArthur: “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either these events took place.”
Similarly, Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, later commented:
It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan … The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
If the United States had been willing to wait, said Admiral Ernest King, US Chief of Naval Operations, “the effective naval blockade would, in the course of time, have starved the Japanese into submission through lack of oil, rice, medicines, and other essential materials.”
Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born scientist who played a major role in the development of the atomic bomb, argued against its use. “Japan was essentially defeated,” he said, and “it would be wrong to attack its cities with atomic bombs as if atomic bombs were simply another military weapon.” In a 1960 magazine article, Szilard wrote: “If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.”
US Strategic Bombing Survey Verdict
After studying this matter in great detail, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey rejected the notion that Japan gave up because of the atomic bombings. In its authoritative 1946 report, the Survey concluded:
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms …
The mission of the Suzuki government, appointed 7 April 1945, was to make peace. An appearance of negotiating for terms less onerous than unconditional surrender was maintained in order to contain the military and bureaucratic elements still determined on a final Bushido defense, and perhaps even more importantly to obtain freedom to create peace with a minimum of personal danger and internal obstruction. It seems clear, however, that in extremis the peacemakers would have peace, and peace on any terms. This was the gist of advice given to Hirohito by the Jushin in February, the declared conclusion of Kido in April, the underlying reason for Koiso’s fall in April, the specific injunction of the Emperor to Suzuki on becoming premier which was known to all members of his cabinet …
Negotiations for Russia to intercede began the forepart of May 1945 in both Tokyo and Moscow. Konoye, the intended emissary to the Soviets, stated to the Survey that while ostensibly he was to negotiate, he received direct and secret instructions from the Emperor to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity …
It seems clear … that air supremacy and its later exploitation over Japan proper was the major factor which determined the timing of Japan’s surrender and obviated any need for invasion.
Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 [the date of the planned American invasion], Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
In a 1986 study, historian and journalist Edwin P. Hoyt nailed the “great myth, perpetuated by well-meaning people throughout the world,” that “the atomic bomb caused the surrender of Japan.” In Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict (p. 420), he explained:
The fact is that as far as the Japanese militarists were concerned, the atomic bomb was just another weapon. The two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were icing on the cake, and did not do as much damage as the firebombings of Japanese cities. The B-29 firebombing campaign had brought the destruction of 3,100,000 homes, leaving 15 million people homeless, and killing about a million of them. It was the ruthless firebombing, and Hirohito’s realization that if necessary the Allies would completely destroy Japan and kill every Japanese to achieve “unconditional surrender” that persuaded him to the decision to end the war. The atomic bomb is indeed a fearsome weapon, but it was not the cause of Japan’s surrender, even though the myth persists even to this day.
In a trenchant new book, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (Praeger, 1996), historian Dennis D. Wainstock concludes that the bombings were not only unnecessary, but were based on a vengeful policy that actually harmed American interests. He writes (pp. 124, 132):
… By April 1945, Japan’s leaders realized that the war was lost. Their main stumbling block to surrender was the United States’ insistence on unconditional surrender. They specifically needed to know whether the United States would allow Hirohito to remain on the throne. They feared that the United States would depose him, try him as a war criminal, or even execute him …
Unconditional surrender was a policy of revenge, and it hurt America’s national self-interest. It prolonged the war in both Europe and East Asia, and it helped to expand Soviet power in those areas.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of US Army forces in the Pacific, stated on numerous occasions before his death that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary from a military point of view: “My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”
General Curtis LeMay, who had pioneered precision bombing of Germany and Japan (and who later headed the Strategic Air Command and served as Air Force chief of staff), put it most succinctly: “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.”
From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 3), pages 4-11.]
The deep roots of the war on contraception February 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, History, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, Barry Goldwater, Bill Clinton, birth control, catholic bishops, catholic church, conservatism, contraception, ellen chesler, fdr, George W. Bush, history, lbj, margaret sanger, planned parenthood, pro choice, reagan, religion, reproductive freedom, roger hollander, women's health
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The uproar over Obama’s decision stems from tensions between Democrats and Catholics that date back to FDR and LBJ
(Credit: Library of Congress/The White House)
Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.
It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.
Recent public opinion polling on the subject is worth reconsidering. For years, it has been perfectly clear that a substantial majority of Americans see the value of expanding access to contraception and reliable sex education as essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion and to help women balance the competing demands of work and family. But unlike a zealous minority on the other side, these moderates have not necessarily privileged these social concerns over important questions of economics or national security that mattered more to them at election time.
That’s what seems to be changing. With his now-famous “nope, zero” response last spring, President Obama simply shut down Republicans in Congress who wanted to defund family planning as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. The action elicited a sudden surge in his popularity, especially in the highly contested demographic of women voters between the ages of 30 and 49 who voted for him in 2008 but wound up frustrated by failed promises and disappointing economic policies. Campaign polling has since uncovered a big opening for Obama with this group because they are furious over Republican social extremism. An astonishing 80 percent of them disapproved of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last spring. Polling among Catholics in response to last week’s controversy shows identical patterns, with 57 percent overall supporting the Obama “compromise” to ensure full coverage of contraception, according to reporting by Joe Conason in The National Memo, and cross-tabs demonstrating much higher margins of support from Catholic women, Latinos, and independent Catholic voters — all prime Obama election targets.
If the numbers are so persuasive, why then have Republican conservatives strayed so far from the greater tolerance of the Goldwater age? Why have they allowed the family planning issue to tie their candidates up in knots in 2012? The answer is in just how outsized the influence of a minority viewpoint can be on a political party, so long as it represents the base of that party’s support.
A bit of history going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is instructive. Back then, birth control was still illegal in this country, still defined as obscene under federal statutes that remained as a legacy of the Victorian era, even though many states had reformed local laws and were allowing physicians to prescribe contraception to married women with broadly defined “medical” reasons to plan and space their childbearing.
The movement’s pioneer, Margaret Sanger, went to Washington during the Great Depression, anticipating that Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was her friend and neighbor in New York, would address the problem and incorporate a public subsidy of contraception for poor women into the safety net the New Deal was constructing. What Sanger failed to anticipate, however, was the force of the opposition this idea would continue to generate from the coalition of religious conservatives, including urban Catholics and rural fundamentalist Protestants who held Roosevelt Democrats captive, much as they have today captured the GOP. It was Catholic priests, and not the still slightly scandalous friend of the First Lady, who wound up having tea at the Roosevelt White House.
The U.S. government would not overcome moral and religious objections until the Supreme Court protected contraceptive use under the privacy doctrine created in 1965 under Griswold v. Connecticut. That freed President Lyndon Johnson to incorporate family planning programs into the country’s international development programs and into anti-poverty efforts at home. As a Democrat still especially dependent on Catholic votes, however, Johnson only agreed to act once he had the strong bipartisan support of his arch rival Barry Goldwater’s endorsement and also the intense loyalty and deft maneuvering of Republican moderates like Robert Packwood of Oregon in the Senate. Packwood, in turn, worked alongside Ohio’s Robert Taft, Jr. in the House and a newcomer from Texas by the name of George H. W. Bush. Bush would remain a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom for women until political considerations during the 1980 presidential elections, when he was on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, accounted for one of the most dramatic and cynical public policy reversals in modern American politics.
Reagan had supported California’s liberal policies on contraception and abortion as governor, and Bush as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to the United Nations had helped shape the UN’s population programs. But Republican operatives in 1980 saw a potential fissure in the traditional New Deal coalition among Catholics uncomfortable with the new legitimacy given to abortion after Roe v. Wade and white southern Christians being lured away from the Democrats around the issue of affirmative action and other racial preferences. Opposition to abortion instantly became a GOP litmus test, and both presidential hopefuls officially changed stripes.
Fast forward to 1992 and the election of Bill Clinton as America’s first pro-choice president, coupled with the Supreme Court’s crafting of a compromise decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that put some limits on access to abortion but essentially preserved the core privacy doctrine of Roe v. Wade. The perceived double threat of these political and judicial developments unleashed a new and even more powerful conservative backlash that took aim not only at abortion, but at contraception and sex education as well.
Exploiting inevitable tensions in the wake of profound social and economic changes occurring across the country as the result of altered gender roles and expectations — changes symbolized and made all the more palpable by Hillary Clinton’s activist role as First Lady — conservatives, with the support of powerful right-wing foundations and think tanks, poured millions of dollars into research and propaganda promoting family values and demonizing reproductive freedom, including emotional television ads that ran for years on major media outlets. A relentless stigmatizing of abortion, along with campaigns of intimidation and outright violence against Planned Parenthood and other providers, had a chilling effect on politicians generally shy of social controversy. And Bill Clinton’s vulnerability to charges of sexual misconduct left his administration and his party all the more defensive.
Since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, aptly labeled a “Personal Responsibility Act,” not only has access to abortion been curtailed, but funds for family planning programs at home and abroad have been capped. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to the teaching of sexual abstinence, rather than more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Just as tragically, U.S. programs addressing the crisis of HIV/AIDS — admirably expanded during the presidency of George W. Bush — were nonetheless made to counsel abstinence and oppose the use of condoms and other safe sex strategies, leaving women and young people all the more vulnerable to the ravages of the epidemic.
Empirically grounded studies over and over again undermined the efficacy of these approaches, which also flew in the face of mainstream American viewpoints and basic common sense. With Barack Obama’s election they have largely been revoked, enflaming the conservative base that put them in place and has lived off the salaries supported by government funding for faith-based social policy.
Even more disheartening to conservative true believers is the promise that the Affordable Care Act will vastly expand access to contraception by providing insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. This guarantee, endorsed by all mainstream health advocates, also includes emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, that holds the promise of further reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion and was meant to offer common ground in an abortion debate long defined by a clash of absolutes. The strong dose of ordinary hormones in emergency contraception act primarily by preventing fertilization, just like daily contraceptive pills, but in rare instances may also disable a fertilized egg from implanting by weakening the uterine lining that it needs for sustenance, causing opponents to vilify it as an abortifacient.
Supporting the Obama policy changes, on the other hand, is a new generation of progressive activists in reproductive health and rights organizations, energized by the intensity of the assaults against them, and now well-armed to educate and activate their own supporters by using traditional grassroots strategies and more sophisticated social networking. No institution has been more important in this effort than Planned Parenthood, with its vast networks of affiliates and supporters in every state, millions more supporters online, and a powerful national political and advocacy operation based in Washington D.C. that has been put to use to great effect in recent months.
The strength of the Planned Parenthood brand, coupled with the organization’s demonstrated ability to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters when it is attacked, has helped overcome traditional political reticence on reproductive justice issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is already out with a strong new appeal warning politicians that women are watching. “Enough is enough. Back off on birth control,” is the new advocacy mantra.
Mindful of the numbers — and with the added ballast of what now amounts to a daily drumbeat of progressive television talk and comedy that delights in pillorying Republican prudery — Democrats are intensifying their resolve to take on this fight. Two things we can be sure of: Whoever emerges from the bloodbath of the GOP contest will try and backtrack from the birth control extremism of the primary. And Obama supporters, backed up by the advocacy community, will in turn stand ready to pounce on this inevitable flip-flopping.
Both sides may well summon the spirit and words of Barry Goldwater, who cautioned against allowing faith-based extremism to gain control of the Republican Party. “Politics and governing demand compromise,” he told John Dean, who reports on the conversation in his 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” “But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”
- Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of “Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.” More Ellen Chesler
Mortgaging the White House May 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: bailout, bank bailout, banking barons, banksters, bill moyers, citigroup, congressional oversight, cop, economic advisor, Economic Crisis, fdr, Federal Reserve, finance industry, foreclosure, franklin delano roosevelt, geithner, great deression, gretchen morgenson, jo becker, laissez-faire, Larry Summers, michael winship, new york federal reserve, president obama, richard durbin, robert rubin, roger hollander, tarp, tarp bailout, taxpayer, treasury, Wall Street, white house
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Published on Saturday, May 2, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
In his first hundred days, FDR came out swinging. He shut down the banks, threw the money lenders from the temple, cranked out so much legislation so fast he would shout to his secretary, Grace Tully, “Grace, take a law!” Will Rogers said Congress didn’t pass bills anymore; it just waved as they went by.
President Obama’s been busy, but contrary to many of the pundits, he’s no FDR. Our new president got his political education in the world of Chicago ward politics, and seems to have adopted a strategy from the machine of that city’s longtime boss, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current mayor there. “Don’t make no waves,” one of Daley’s henchmen used to advise, “don’t back no losers.”
Your opinion of Obama’s first 100 days depends of course on your own vantage point. But we’d argue that as part of his bending over backwards to support the banks and avoid the losers, he has blundered mightily in his choice of economic advisers.
Last week, at a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to correct AFL-CIO General Counsel Damon Silvers. “I’ve practiced law and you’ve been a banker,” Silvers said. Never, Geithner replied, “I’ve only been in public service.”
We beg to differ. Read Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson’s front-page profile of Secretary Geithner in Monday’s New York Times, and you’ll see how Robert Rubin protégé Geithner, during the five years he was running the New York Federal Reserve, fell under the spell of the big barons of banking to whom he would one day help shovel overly generous sums of money at taxpayer expense.
During “an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry,” the Times reported, “… He forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions.
“His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.”
Wined and dined at the Four Seasons, and in corporate dining rooms and fine homes by the very men whose greed and judgment helped bring on the Great Collapse, Geithner became so much a favorite of the Club that former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill talked with him about becoming the bank’s CEO.
According to Becker and Morgenson, “Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics — lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues — say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.”
The two reporters write that Geithner “repeatedly missed or overlooked signs” that the financial system was self-destructing. “When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.”
In choosing a man to manage the bailout of the banks who’s so cozy with its players, and then installing as his White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who in the Clinton administration took a laissez-faire attitude toward the financial industry which would later enrich him, the president bought into the old fantasy that what’s best for Wall Street is best for America.
With these two as his financial gatekeepers, President Obama’s now in the position of Louis XVI being advised by Marie Antoinette to have another piece of cake until that rumble in the streets has passed on by.
In fact, other Wall Street insiders — many of them big contributors to the Obama presidential campaign, and progressive in their concern for the public interest — privately are expressing serious concerns that Geithner, Summers and their associates are leading the president and America’s taxpayers down a path toward further economic disaster.
This week, as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois unsuccessfully fought for a congressional amendment he said would have helped 1.7 million Americans save their homes from foreclosure, the senator told a radio station back home that, “The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
He could say the same of the White House.
President Obama Wants You to Join the Union February 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: bailouts, chamber of commerce, change to win, democrats, Economic Crisis, efca, fdr, franklin delano roosevelt, free choice act, hilda solis, Jimmy Carter, joe biden, john l. lewis, labor, labour, middle class, president obama, recovery package, republicans, responsible contractor, right to organize, robert kuttner, roger hollander, unions, united mine workers, wagner act, Wall Street, workers, workers rights
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01 February 2009
by: Robert Kuttner, The Huffington Post
I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it’s part of the solution.
- President Barack Obama, January 30, 2009
The great union leader John L. Lewis, who headed the United Mine Workers from the ’30s through the ’50s and helped organize millions of workers into the CIO, used to declare in organizing drives: “President Roosevelt wants you to join the union.” Roosevelt never said that in so many words, but FDR did strongly back the Wagner Act, giving workers the clear right to organize.
During World War II, Roosevelt’s War Labor Board made clear that corporations seeking war contracts needed to have good labor relations. In practice, that meant unions; and it meant “pattern bargaining” in which workers for different companies in the same industry got the same wages, so that companies could not play workers off against each other.
Roosevelt’s wartime contracting policies, the Wagner Act, and the militancy of the labor movement laid the groundwork for the golden age of American unions during the postwar boom. Not coincidentally, this was also the one period in the past century when the economy became more equal, and more secure for working people.
So, while Roosevelt’s words never quite urged workers to join unions, his deeds spoke volumes. John L. Lewis was well within the bounds of poetic license.
On Friday, President Obama, a onetime organizer, had more words to say about unions, and they were the kind of explicit endorsement that we literally haven’t heard from a president since FDR’s day.
“We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement,” the President said. “When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.”
And Obama offered deeds to match. This stunning declaration of support came at the White House announcement of a Task Force on Middle Class Working Families headed by Vice President Biden, with Jared Bernstein as its executive director. The idea was proposed last summer by Change to Win unions, who endorsed candidate Obama early in the primary season. He embraced the concept, and it was a commitment he kept. His remarks and actions were a dazzling example of the transformative power of a president to shift public opinion and the political center of gravity.
The task force, and the effusive and genuine embrace of the labor movement, came as a huge relief to union leaders, who have watched anxiously as nearly all the key economic posts went to centrist veterans of the Clinton administration, and the job of secretary of labor was not announced with the other senior economic officials. As it turned out, the appointment of Hilda Solis, a very pro-union member of Congress, was delayed because others had turned down the job first, but the delay sent an unfortunate signal.
Labor activists have also been worried about whether Obama will keep his pledge not just to sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) guaranteeing the right to join a union, but to work hard on its behalf with legislators, especially in the Senate. Since the election, the US Chamber of Commerce and allied anti-union business organizations have mounted a furious publicity and lobbying offensive with one message: Mr. President, you don’t need this bruising fight right now.
But the Chamber’s allies in the Republican House Caucus have beautifully undercut that logic. The Chamber’s premise was that EFCA would be highly divisive, at a time then the new president was seeking unity. With the wall-to-wall Republican stonewalling on the Obama recovery package, that premise is up in smoke. And the Chamber’s other allies, on Wall Street, have also done a service by inviting some salutary class warfare. Obama responded last week, calling Wall Street bonuses in the face of government bailouts “shameful,” and seems to genuinely view the growth of unions as a necessary counterweight.
The task force itself will be a welcome counterweight to the outsized influence of Wall Street inside the Obama administration. Several weeks ago, Jared Bernstein, then a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote a joint op-ed piece for the New York Timeswith Robert Rubin pointing out where they agreed. One issue where they pointedly disagreed was on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Rubin explicitly refused to endorse. The Biden operation now looks to be the go-to place for progressives seeing access to Obama’s priorities. The Task Force will serve as the White House center to review all proposals, legislative and administrative, for their impact on the effort to raise wages and rebuild a middle class.
Without Obama’s strong personal engagement, EFCA will be anything but a legislative cakewalk. Democrats may have a working majority. But at least five business-oriented Democrats are not considered certain votes for EFCA, and Obama will need to let them know that the White House considers this bill a top priority.
Our last two Democrats went out of their way not to get close to organized labor. Jimmy Carter did not lift a finger when the last big push to put some teeth back in the Wagner Act’s right to unionize went down to defeat by just two votes in the Senate in 1978.
On Friday, announcing the Task Force, Obama signed three executive orders. One will prevent federal contractors from discouraging their employees to join unions. Another will assure that workers keep their jobs when a contract changes hands. Down the road is an executive order to promote project agreements on construction contracts.
If Obama is serious, he can take a leaf from FDR’s book, and use government’s extensive contracting power to actively promote unions. Late in the Clinton administration, then Vice President Al Gore led an effort called the Responsible Contractor Initiative. The idea was to reward federal contractors who took the high road by providing good jobs and not standing in the way of unions.
It remains to be seen just how much real power Obama will give Vice President Biden. But the task force is a superb beginning. If government can just use its influence to make sure employers stay neutral, it will be a new day for the labor movement – and for American progressivism.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His new book is “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency.”
Nothing to Fear But No Health Care January 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
Tags: ama, amy goodman, Clinton, daschle, democrats, denis moynihan, fdr, francis perkins, general motors, health, health care, healthcare, insurance industry, iococca, medicare, michael moore, New Deal, nixon, Obama, roger hollander, sicko, single payer, truman, uninsured, universal health care, universal healthcare
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Posted on Jan 13, 2009 By Amy Goodman
Fifty million Americans are without health insurance, and 25 million are “underinsured.” Millions being laid off will soon be added to those rolls. Medical bills cause more than half of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. Desperate for care, the under- and uninsured flock to emergency rooms, often dealing with problems that could have been prevented. The U.S. auto giants are collapsing in part due to extraordinary health-care expenses, while they are competing with companies in countries that provide universal health care. Economist Dean Baker calculated how General Motors would fare if its health-care costs were the same as costs in Canada: “GM would have had higher profits, making no other changes … that would equal $22 billion over the course of the last decade. They wouldn’t have to be running to the government for help.” GM is sometimes referred to as a health-care company that makes cars. Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca said in 2005, “It is a well-known fact that the U.S. automobile industry spends more per car on health care than on steel.” He supports national health care. Barack Obama said in 2007 that “affordable, universal health care for every single American must not be a question of whether, it must be a question of how. … Every four years, health-care plans are offered up in campaigns with great fanfare and promise. But once those campaigns end, the plans collapse under the weight of Washington politics.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his March 1933 inaugural address, famously declared: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself. … This nation asks for action, and action now.” Deep in the Great Depression, a flurry of ambitious policies followed, detailed by New York Times editorial writer Adam Cohen in his new book, “Nothing to Fear.” He writes that FDR developed the New Deal with key, visionary advisers and Cabinet members who enacted bold policies, among them Frances Perkins, the United States’ first woman Cabinet member. Perkins, FDR’s secretary of labor, pushed for a rapid, national relief program that formed the basis of the welfare system, and for regulations on minimum wage, maximum hours and a ban on child labor. But she failed to achieve universal health care. Cohen told me: “She really was the conscience of the New Deal in many ways … she chaired the Social Security committee. And she wanted it to go further … to include national health insurance, but the AMA (American Medical Association), even back then, was very strong and opposed it. And she and a couple other progressives on the committee said, you know, ‘We better just settle for what we can get.’ They didn’t want to lose the whole Social Security program.” Obama appointed former Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human services, and director of the new White House Office of Health Reform. Daschle’s health-care book, “Critical,” recalls historical failures to achieve universal care: “Like Clinton, Truman had reason to be confident. His fellow Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and polls showed that Americans were anxious about the high cost of health care and eager for change. But both presidents underestimated the strength of the forces arrayed against them … [s]pecial-interest lobbyists—led by doctors in Truman’s time, and insurance companies in Clinton’s.” Obama knows well the issue—while his mother lay dying of cancer, she still had to battle the insurance industry. He said in that 2007 speech, “Plans that tinker and halfway measures now belong to yesterday … we can’t afford another disappointing charade … we need to look at … how much of our health-care spending is going toward the record-breaking profits earned by the drug and health-care industry.” Yet Daschle proposes not much more than tinkering—improving Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration, all examples of “single-payer health care”—in which the government is the single payer for the health care – while preserving the inefficient, multipayer, for-profit insurance model. In December 2007, the American College of Physicians compared U.S. health care with other countries’, writing, “Single-payer systems generally have the advantage of being more equitable, with lower administrative costs than systems using private health insurance, lower per capita health care expenditures, high levels of consumer and patient satisfaction.” Michael Moore, in his film “SiCKO,” includes a recording of John Ehrlichman speaking to Richard Nixon, discussing medical-insurance profits: “The less care they give ‘em, the more money they (the insurance companies) make.” Obama is in charge now. Who will he emulate—Nixon or FDR? People across the political and economic spectrum, from big business to the little guy, are dying to know.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December. © 2009 Amy Goodman Distributed by King Features Syndicate
The GOP’s McCarthy Gene December 2, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
Tags: Bill Ayers, conservatism, conservative Republican, dewey, electoral strategy, fdr, George Bush, george h.w. bush, goldwater, hannity, hofstadter, joe mccarthy, Karl Rove, limbaugh, neal gabler, nixon, o'reilly, Obama, Palin, reagan, red-baiting, republican, Republican McCarthyism, Republican Party, Republican Propaganda Tactics, robert taft, roger hollander, wilkie, willie horton
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30 November 2008
by: Neal Gabler, The Los Angeles Times
Barry Goldwater. (Photo: The Santa Barbara Independent)
Think Goldwater is the father of conservatism? Think again.
Ever since the election, partisans within the Republican Party and observers outside it have been speculating wildly about what direction the GOP will take to revive itself from its disaster. Or, more specifically, which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course – whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the “evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy” branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch. To determine the answer, it helps to understand exactly how Republicans arrived at this spot in the first place.
The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan’s fallen standard and “conservatized” government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That’s how the story goes.
But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.
The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.
McCarthy, Wisconsin’s junior senator, was the man who first energized conservatism and made it a force to reckon with. When he burst on the national scene in 1950 waving his list of alleged communists who had supposedly infiltrated Harry Truman’s State Department, conservatism was as bland, temperate and feckless as its primary congressional proponent, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known fondly as “Mister Conservative.” Taft was no flamethrower. Though he was an isolationist and a vehement opponent of FDR, he supported America’s involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor and had even grudgingly come to accept the basic institutions of the New Deal. He was also no winner. He had contested and lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, three men who were regarded as much more moderate than he.
McCarthy was another thing entirely. What he lacked in ideology – and he was no ideologue at all – he made up for in aggression. Establishment Republicans, even conservatives, were disdainful of his tactics, but when those same conservatives saw the support he elicited from the grass-roots and the press attention he got, many of them were impressed. Taft, no slouch himself when it came to Red-baiting, decided to encourage McCarthy, secretly, sealing a Faustian bargain that would change conservatism and the Republican Party. Henceforth, conservatism would be as much about electoral slash-and-burn as it would be about a policy agenda.
For the polite conservatives, McCarthy was useful. That’s because he wasn’t only attacking alleged communists and the Democrats whom he accused of shielding them. He was also attacking the entire centrist American establishment, the Eastern intellectuals and the power class, many of whom were Republicans themselves, albeit moderate ones. When he began his investigation of the Army, he even set himself against his own Republican president, who had once commanded that service. In the end, he was censured in 1954, not for his recklessness about alleged communists but for his recklessness toward his fellow senators. Moderate Republicans, not Democrats, led the fight against him. His intemperance disgusted them as much as it emboldened his fans, Goldwater among them.
But if McCarthy had been vanquished – he died three years later of cirrhosis from drinking – McCarthyism was only just beginning. McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don’t exist.
McCarthy, a Catholic, was especially adept at nursing national resentments among the sorts of people that typically did not vote Republican. He stumbled onto the fact that many of these people in postwar America were frightened and looking for scapegoats. He provided them, and in doing so not only won millions of adherents but also bequeathed to his party a powerful electoral bludgeon that would eventually drive out the moderates from the GOP (posthumous payback) before it drove the Democrats from the White House.
In a way, Goldwater was less a fulfillment of McCarthy conservatism than a slight diversion from it. Goldwater was ideological – an economic individualist. He hated government more than he loved winning, and though he was certainly not above using the McCarthy appeal to resentment or accusing his opponents of socialism, he lacked McCarthy’s blood- lust. McCarthy’s real heir was Nixon, who mainstreamed McCarthyism in 1968 by substituting liberals, youth and minorities for communists and intellectuals, and fueling resentments as McCarthy had. In his 1972 reelection, playing relentlessly on those resentments, Nixon effectively disassembled the old Roosevelt coalition, peeling off Catholics, evangelicals and working-class Democrats, and changed American politics far more than Goldwater ever would.
Today, these former liberals are known as Reagan Democrats, but they were Nixon voters before they were Reagan voters, and they were McCarthy supporters before they were either. A good deal of McCarthy’s support came from Catholics and evangelical Protestants who, along with Southerners, would form the basis of the new conservative coalition. Nixon simply mastered what McCarthy had authored. You demonize the opposition and polarize the electorate to win.
Reagan’s sunny disposition and his willingness to compromise masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal, but Reaganism as an electoral device was unique to Reagan and essentially died with the end of his presidency. McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.
Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That’s why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama’s relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.
And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Palin. It’s in the genes.
Neal Gabler is the author of many books, including, most recently, “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.”