From edition

The (Heterodox) Left at Peace: Or, Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I’ll be blue
‘Cause breaking up is hard to do
“Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” by Neil Sedaka

Michael Bérubé and Neil Sedaka share few commonalities. For one, unlike the aging crooner, the accomplished academician-cum-public intellectual is relevant. Forgoing the narrow confines of the academic publishing world, Bérubé has followed his 2006 What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? with another work aimed at a broad audience, The Left at War. Equal parts history of cultural studies, intellectual geography, and bare-knuckled smack down; Bérubé’s book exposes the Manichean left’s shoddy intellectual underpinnings. At its root, however, The Left at War is a really, really long breakup note.

Though The Left at War’s publication has catapulted Bérubé into the dreaded “public fight” phase, leftists have been sleeping single in a double bed for quite some time. This is no “you leave the toilet seat up” sort of conflict. To Bérubé, Manicheans are guilty of postcolonial fundamentalism, countercultural paranoia, and an anti-liberal orientation. Plagued by Western guilt, convinced popular politics is a corporate-sponsored shell game, and disdainful of the Enlightenment ideals, the leftists hold Bérubé, and reality, in disdain. In breakup terms, Manicheans not only sleep with your best friend and demean your Mom; they feel morally superior about it.

Understanding 9/11 and the consequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq comprise the left’s most recent relationship issues; Bérubé probes the roots of these disagreements. To him, uprooting al-Qaeda and arresting bin Laden largely legitimized NATO’s multilateral Afghanistan intervention. Fueled by a “countercultural logic” that sees the Western media “manufacture consent” and create a “false consciousness,” Manicheans, in contrast, term the entire enterprise “imperialism.” In The Left at War we are privy to Bérubé and the Manicheans final date. Unfortunately, our lovers never make it to the restaurant; they remain in the car, fighting. In this definitive argument we see the ultimate reasons for the relationship’s demise. While our author reasonably pleads his case, in a generous yet critical explication of Noam Chomsky, his beloved refuses rational entreaties. Instead, Manicheans envision themselves as Neo from The Matrix, gamely fighting an evil we just don’t understand.

If Afghanistan led to a screaming, head-shaking, and relationship-rocking scrum, then the American invasion of Iraq produced the fits, drunken rages and death rattles of a relationship gone kaput. No supporter of the war, Bérubé was, nevertheless, troubled by the left’s reaction to humanitarian intervention as a concept. Because Chomsky and Diana Johnstone, among others, regard “humanitarian intervention” as an imperialist farce, Bérubé offers an ultimatum. Accept an internationalism guided by the maxim “sovereign is he who protects the multitude” or divorce: your move, Manicheans.

The responsible leftist that he is, Bérubé, once and for all, rejects the Manicheans’ adolescent jeremiads for an adult’s sober and accountable internationalism. Offering a useful history of the left’s recent intellectual battles, the author believes cultural studies can help forge this new viable movement and attract leftists to his cause. Indeed, in his deconstruction, Bérubé hardly waged a scorched earth campaign. Generously acknowledging Chomsky’s past contributions and attacking liberal hawks, the author deftly carved an intellectually coherent middle way. In doing so, his vision for a “democratic-socialist internationalist left” surely includes “recovering Manicheans.”

I doubt the Neos and Chomskyites will flock to Bérubé’s banner. Few would trade The Matrix’s morality play and Tom Frank’s gratifying, “Middle-Americans-sure-are-dumb” meme for the unsettling world of alliance building and compromise. Indeed, the author has penned an impassioned, reasonable, and magnanimous plea to his brother and sister leftists. Try as Bérubé might to intellectualize it, there is just no polite way to say, “You’re fucked in the head.” Get a suitcase, rent an apartment, and don’t forget your toothbrush, it’s over.

Speed Dating with Liberals: Or “You Go to War with the Army You Have”

Donald Rumsfeld, speed dating and American liberalism aren’t sexy. Breathtaking arrogance and mind-numbing incompetence tend to repel. While the latter simply lack romance and that certain za-za-zoom. But once friends, as they inevitably do, convince Bérubé “to put yourself out there,” he, and other like-minded leftists, should give American liberals the intellectual equivalent of a speed date. Indeed, since the twin crises of Suez and Hungary produced a British cultural studies predisposed to an anti-totalitarian left persuasion, and the field “take[s] lived experiences of ordinary people into account,” the two just might be compatible enough to, as they say, “make it.” [1]

Despite the Great Recession and “power moving East,” for better or for worse, America remains, in the words of Madeleine Albright, “the indispensible nation.” In this spirit, if we are to achieve Bérubé’s “democratic-socialist internationalist left,” then reviving a moribund American liberalism is a must. To do so, we must, with all apologies, paraphrase Rumsfeld and build a left upon “the liberalism we have, not the left we want.” That poverty exists in the midst plenty and income distribution remains unacceptably unequal is impossible to argue; indeed, American liberalism’s failure to fully redress social issues is abundantly and depressingly clear. Though apologists point to the two party system and play the ubiquitous race-class-&-gender card, the issue is more basic: America ain’t Europe.

For too long, American leftists have looked to Europe’s social democracies and autocratic communists, Asia’s peasant revolutionaries, and Latin America’s populists for inspiration. The reasons are understandable. In comparison to Britain’s rail system, France’s healthcare, and Emiliano Zapata’s fiery rhetoric; strip malls, HMOs, and George Washington hardly inspire a proper lefty. Manicheans, like Tom Frank, explain this reality by pointing to the corporate media, which convince dumb hayseeds, a.k.a. Middle Americans, to ignore their own interests. Though it may disappoint, and it does me, most Americans prefer their shopping bland, insurance privatized, and revolutionary’s stoic. They are, in sum, classically liberal.

If this were an ordinary time, I doubt Bérubé would tab America’s liberal political tradition for a second date. Burned by the Manicheans, and let’s be honest, jaded and a bit desperate, he just might opt for “boring-but-safe.” From republicanism to the multiculturalists, scholars have bludgeoned the Louis Hartz/Richard Hofstadter “liberal consensus” school. According to the latter, Americans so embrace property rights and economic individualism they regard “the virtues of capitalism as necessary qualities of man.” Republican and multicultural theorists reveal the multiple traditions coagulating alongside rights-based liberalism within the body politic. Nevertheless, Americans largely share an unconscious embrace of classic liberal values. In light of the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, and other prattling right wing wackadoodles, James Young reminder, that Americans see “human beings as essentially equal, rights bearing, interest oriented—who are entitled to have those rights defended, particularly against governmental intrusion,” carries significant explanatory weight. [2]

Liberalism’s predominance helps explain the American left’s underdevelopment. In stark contrast to Western Europe’s noblesse oblige-inspired welfare states, Americans were “born free,” or at least believe they were. Indeed, this consensus explains American Exceptionalism. Before Bérubé, and every other leftist, spit-up their collective fair trade coffee let me explain. Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and conservative blowhards aside, American Exceptionalism does not now, nor has it ever, connoted “superior.” Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term to describe the ways in which the mid-nineteenth century US differed from France and Western Europe. For anyone who has ever wanted the US to mirror Western Europe’s economic equality and city planning (like me), you already understand the American “difference,” as I call it, “cuts both ways.”

Emphasizing social and political (not economic) equality, Americans are contentiously rights-bearing and interest-oriented citizens. Historically, we have starved the state, left the public sphere to private associations, and allowed the popular classes (majoritarianism) define social values. Little wonder then, that American cities, in relation to our West European cousins, are a dirty, unregulated, sprawling hot mess; a dueling, murderous, slave-owning bigamist, Andrew Jackson, rose from the rabble to the White House; and Americans lead the developed world in teen pregnancy, murder, and Jerry Springer episodes.

By now, Bérubé has figured out “we” are not totally simpatico. Instead of a “love connection” or even a one-night stand, this is more like Dallas’ Lucy Ewing & Ray Krebbs. In season one of the nighttime soap opera megahit, the hunky “Southfork” ranch foreman, Ray, enjoyed a torrid affair with Jock Ewing’s hottie of a granddaughter, Lucy. Fast forward to season three, we discover Ray is Jock’s illegitimate son; thus, two years prior Lucy had regularly, passionately, and (we now know) inappropriately smooched “Uncle Ray.” If Bérubé hopes to realize his democratic-socialist internationalist left, he would do well to follow Rays and Lucy’s annual Thanksgiving example: the Ewings are a fucked up bunch but they are, after all, family: shut up, sit down and pass the turkey.

For the American left (Lucy) to achieve its aims of greater equality and freedom, it must accept an uncomfortable truth: liberalism’s dominance (and that your uncle is “into” leather). Thus, our left will forever be distinct from its West European social democratic cousins. Consequentially, an electorally and programmatically successful American reform movement should emphasize reciprocal obligations and a multilateral foreign policy respectful of American sovereignty. In building this, we should look to a usable past—and we can find that in the most unlikely and reddest of states—Oklahoma.

At first glance, the Sooner state offers little in the way of building a liberal-left coalition. Politically, up truly might be down in Oklahoma. Democrats control the rural areas, while the GOP dominates the city. The college towns, Norman and Stillwater, are so conservative they could not help Obama win even one county in the entire state. Despite these ominous realities, Oklahoma, like much of rural “red” Middle America, is not as “conservative” or deluded as Tom Frank assumes. Though the Sooner state’s populist tradition might not be the Marxists-with-a-pitchfork many historians once breathlessly imagined, it does offer a usable past. Two Oklahomans, Carl Albert and Dave McCurdy, reveal the possibilities for building a domestic consensus on a multilateral foreign policy and a reformist agenda at home: the United Nations and national service.

Bug Tussle Liberal, World Federalism, & the United Nations

Though world federalism sounds like Ron Paul’s worst nightmare, the movement gained national and international credibility even as the Cold War dawned. Europe’s leading world federalist, Lord Boyd Orr, garnered the 1949 Nobel Peace Prize, while opinion polls in Japan, France, and Italy revealed a majority in all three nations favored world government. [3] To show grassroots American support for world federalism, activists sponsored local, state, and national resolutions advocating the transformation of the United Nations (UN) into a “world federation.” As the logical vehicle for global government, world federalists wanted to invest the UN with enough power and sovereignty to bring atomic weapons under its control and preserve the peace through “enforce[ing] world law.” Prodded by activists, the Senate and House passed non-binding resolutions favoring such an enterprise and twenty-one state legislatures endorsed the congressional decree. Eventually, six state legislatures went so far as to approve the “California Plan,” which called for a constitutional convention to “expedite” American participation in a world federation. [4]

World federalism might very well have been an elixir for all that ailed the Western world; unfortunately, most Americans, even at their most postwar shell-shocked, remained deeply attached to national sovereignty. Indeed, our liberal “rights bearing” tendencies and historic antipathy toward European alliances largely explains Americans’ obsession with “sovereignty” and skepticism of multilateral organizations. Though it is anyone’s guess why the tinfoil-hat-brigade fears the UN, Bérubé should borrow a page from a former director of the UN’s information center. After regularly fielding angry phone calls and conspiracy-tinged questions from Americans about the organization, the British official just accepted, “[we] need to understand the special American perspective on life a long way form Washington and New York.” [5]

Hailing from Bug Tussle, Oklahoma, Carl Albert implicitly understood this unique point of view. Navigating between the Scylla of unilateralism and Charbidis of world federalism, Albert helped forge a coherent, multilateral, and largely effective foreign policy consensus supporting American participation in NATO and the UN. Relegated to history’s dustbin, the very thought of world federalism surely warms the cockles of good and proper lefties. Before we get too excited and look for the movement’s revival, understand that Albert made the prudent choice in opting for the multilateral and internationalist (the good) rather than the world federalist (the perfect).

For many leftists, especially the Manicheans, the early post-1945 world spawned an ever more powerful and insidious American empire. To them, the emergent Cold War was little more than an imperial ruse supported by bumpkin nabobs who wouldn’t know a Bolshevik from bupkis. [6] It is true, presidents, the CIA, and the State Department, at times, used “communism” to advance a most noxious form of big power behavior. Recently opened Soviet and Chinese archives, however, definitely reveal Joseph Stalin’s and Mao Zedong’s revolutionary zeal and global aims. This hardly redeems every boneheaded Cold War policy; it does suggest that America’s early postwar moves were not only founded upon realistic threats but offer useful lessons.

At its root, America’s early postwar foreign policy and its primary institutions, containment, NATO, and the UN, have endured because they were built upon sound ideas and popular support. Though some lefties may scoff at NATO and the UN as products of weak-kneed liberals, American participation in those bodies was never foreordained. Rejected by many conservatives who deem multilateralism a violation of sovereignty, they were (and remain) significant multilateral institutions the left should utilize in buttressing Bérubé’s maxim, “sovereign is he who protects the multitude” and in restraining big power unilateralism.

Americans, we are told time and again, were an isolationist people, until Woodrow Wilson or thereabouts. Cleaving the history of US foreign relations into an Old Testament, isolationism, and New Testament, crusading internationalism, seemingly offers two stark policy choices. In the course of this tired narrative George Washington’s “Farewell Address” is invariably invoked as the genesis of American isolationism. Though “isolationism” generally remains what Washington Post editor Felix Morley once called, “something highly reprehensible that nobody attempts to define,” historians, nonetheless, draw a specious and poorly buttressed connection between it and the Midwest. Adding to the “Midwestern isolationism” meme is the tendency of observers to freely ascribe onto the region both the best and worst attributes of national life. From politicians extolling the Heartland’s “family values” to cultural critics terming the region a “the nesting place [for] the benign and the banal,” the Midwest regularly serves as national Rorschach test. [7]

Washington, however, and by extension Midwesterners (like Carl Albert), was no isolationist. Conditioned by economic dependence and relative military and diplomatic weakness, US foreign policy was, by necessity, global from the start. Thus, Woodrow Wilson hardly concocted internationalism, American-style. Instead, by promising to “reconstruct the world on the pattern of God’s covenant,” he wedded the American mission to redeem the world to the nation’s ascendance as a world power. [8]

Further revealing the nation’s overweening liberal consensus, Americans harbor the faith of the converted: liberal capitalist democracy as global cure-all. Imbued with a missionary zeal to redeem the world, American foreign policy still bears a decidedly seventeenth century Christian imprint. Though Catholic Spain also invested “messianic hope” into its New World ventures, New England’s Puritans believed they played a starring role in God’s plan to destroy the Antichrist and save the world.  While their Millennium never came, the Puritans’ original conceit and proselytizing ardor remained. By the late eighteenth century, the Founders had secularized the “Puritan errand” into a revolutionary quest to “begin the world over again.”[9]

Plain-and-simple, the American mission to redeem the world is downright arrogant. Moreover, it helps account for a myriad of foreign policy blunders: Vietnam and the Iraq War come to mind. More than half a century ago, Reinhold Niebuhr understood this. Realizing that self-interest blinds and power corrupts, Niebuhr emphasized multilateral organizations as a necessary rein on America’s redemptive ardor. [10] Thus, in building an American liberal-left coalition suitable and capable of joining Bérubé ’s “democratic-socialist internationalist” movement, we must not only acknowledge our messianic tendencies we have to channel and constrain this rights-based sovereignty-obsessed and redemptive zeal.

In 1946, when Carl Albert entered Congress, the rapidly changing international environment dominated the political scene. With little time for acclimation, Albert breathlessly looked on while an unpopular and unelected president proposed a revolutionary foreign policy paradigm: NATO and the UN. At first, Albert opposed Truman’s nascent foreign policy. [11] An early backer of world federalism, Albert had also embraced the “global alphabet.” Created upon the premise that international crises were born from “ignorance and illiteracy,” Oklahoman and inventor Robert Owen, gave up his U.S. Senate seat in 1924 to develop a world alphabet representing the vocal sounds of all known languages. In Owen’s mind, the global alphabet not only enabled any person “to read, write, speak, and print all languages,” it promised to foster international cooperation and eventually end war. [12]

Albert did not merely endorse the global alphabet; he served on the Advisory Council for the United World Federalists (UWF) of Oklahoma and co-sponsored the House resolution endorsing American participation in a world federation. Albert, however, was not forced to finally and completely choose between these two competing worldviews, until early 1950. At that time, the UWF had convinced the Oklahoma legislature to hold a statewide referendum on world federalism. Intended to gauge Oklahomans’ support for “the formation of a World Federal Government,” the issue sparked wide controversy. [13]

As a board member of Oklahoma’s UWF state chapter, Albert was soon under fire. Predictably, his hometown newspaper accused him of backing a world federalist plan benefiting “Russia and her satellites.” [14] With Oklahoma’s newspapers railing against the referendum, Joseph McCarthy launching his anticommunist crusade, the Korean War raging, and an election looming, Albert made his choice. While he remained keen on strengthening the UN and “building it [into] a more effective international organization,” he told local newspapers and his constituents, somewhat disingenuously, “I am not in favor of this referendum. I have never been in favor of it. I have never told anyone I was in favor of it. I intend to vote against it.” [15]

Though political heat prompted the timing of Albert’s outright rejection of world federalism, in truth, his declaration was a mere formality. Albert’s direct experience with European fascism and the Second World War had changed him. The furor over Oklahoma’s world federalist resolution simply forced him to finally acknowledge it. Like Albert, the Sooner state’s other political elites followed the popular groundswell against the issue, and Joint Resolution No. 3 fell by a 4-1 margin. [16]

Though NATO and the UN hardly yielded global peace, American participation in multilateral and international organizations was, until George W. Bush and the Iraq War, the new normal. Among the war’s many lessons is Niebuhr’s prescience. Great powers need allies and multilateral organizations to not only buttress its interests but to restrain it from ill-conceived policies. Now, more than ever, Bérubé’s “democratic left” should embrace NATO and the UN as tools to further enmesh America into the European and world fabric. By further entangling America into a more cosmopolitan and multilateral milieu, the world just might move a bit closer toward Bérubé’s internationalist vision.

Red State Liberalism & Achieving Our Country

That some redneck provincial helped sink world federalism would hardly surprise our Manicheans. To them, tornadoes, the heat, or all that church must somehow cause Oklahomans (in a paraphrase of Abba Eban’s dictum) to, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” With Senators Tom Coburn leading the anti-climate change crowd and James Inhofe defending the torture at Abu Ghraib, a bicoastal secession movement aimed at the Sooner state might seem logical. Reality, as usual, musses up the Manicheans’ dichotomous world. Educated in a one-room schoolhouse, in 1931, Carl Albert left Oklahoma on a Rhode’s Scholarship. In Europe, he dined with Russian émigrés, including Alexander Kerensky, and was literally thrown out of a Hamburg bierhaus by Brownshirts. A cosmopolitan New Dealer and liberal internationalist, if there ever was one, Albert reveals Middle America’s heartland liberal tradition.

From Tom Steed and David Boren to “Alfalfa” Bill Murray, Oklahoma used to send populist liberal giants to Washington. The state still sends them to Congress. Unfortunately, instead of economic themes, cultural populism fuels Coburn and Inhofe. To Tom Frank, Oklahoma further proves his What’s the Matter With Kansas thesis. Putatively a work about class, or how working-class Middle Americans misconstrue their interests, ironically, it is the smarty-pants, Frank, who misunderstands. Soaked in the cultural pessimism of what Richard Rorty called “detached spectatorship,” What’s the Matter With Kansas is all of a piece. [17] Lacking faith in America’s democratic promise, Frank and his leftist kin are Rorty’s alienated bystanders. Little wonder Manicheans remain estranged and irrelevant to domestic political life, they are quite literally strangers in their own country.

As America’s “dominant social philosophy,” liberal individualism’s emphasis upon self-help and equality of opportunity hardly allows for life’s bad luck and ill fate. Indeed, throughout the first half of the twentieth century the reformist left built a welfare state dedicated to ameliorating liberal individualism’s excesses. The reformist left’s very success, however, was based upon their acceptance of American individualism. The socialist Eugene Debs, for one, “never abandoned his faith in individualism,” while the Progressive Movement sought to restrain the industrial order from strangling the “individual energy of development.” Performing social welfare jujitsu, Opportunity liberals, as Gareth Davies terms them, used popular regard for self-help to build a politically viable welfare state. [18]

Franklin Roosevelt, for one, understood “a program for the poor is a poor program.” Ignoring clamors for universal old-age pensions and long-term need-based assistance, he opted for Social Security’s contributory and regressive scheme. In the late 1960s, Entitlement liberals displaced their forbearers and pushed guaranteed income plans. Eschewing liberal individualism, they sought a social democratic equality of results rather than opportunity; a distinction which made the New Deal’s welfare state politically unassailable and the Great Society vulnerable. Arguments regarding Opportunity or Entitlement liberalism’s efficacy and morality are largely irrelevant to the larger usable-history-point. In building the democratic-socialist internationalist left’s American wing, Bérubé should heed America’s “dominant social philosophy”: liberal individualism. [19]

Opportunity Liberalism & National Service

Dave McCurdy did not suffer from “false consciousness.” The great-great grandson of Oklahoma homesteaders and son of a rancher-crop-duster-turned-electrician dad, McCurdy embodied Opportunity liberalism. After working his way through college and law school, in 1979, he quit private practice for 14 months of campaigning. Running for Congress in rural Oklahoma against the Reagan Revolution’s tide, McCurdy, somehow, prevailed. During the 1980s while conservatives shellacked Mondale, Dukakis, and Democrats generally, he took a leading role in rethinking and modernizing liberalism. [20]

Though the liberal-left claimed Reagan and conservatism triumphed because Democrats were too tepid, McCurdy, and a band of likeminded centrist liberals, knew otherwise. Launching an effort to reconstruct “liberalism…as a vibrant force for achieving broad national purposes,” the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) tried to reconnect liberalism to Americans’ core values. [21] For Manicheans who deem Dennis Kucinich as too far right, the DLC is probably synonymous with the SS, while democratic leftists remain deeply suspicious of the organization. One need not embrace the DLC in its entirety, however, to appreciate its central vision: liberals need Middle America.

Rural, small town, and mid-sized interior city dwellers are not the reflexive conservatives Sarah Palin imagines or the dumb rubes of Tom Frank’s ravings. Instead, as modern liberalism became dominated by educated and urban elites, the reformist left lost touch with Middle America. The DLC, comprised, almost wholly, of officeholders hailing from the South and Midwest, implicitly understood this reality. Hardly a warmed-over Reaganite, Dave McCurdy sought an active government committed to “providing opportunity, regardless of your background, or whether or not you were privileged.” Recognizing his rural constituents supported federal activism, so long as it remained true to America’s individualist traditions, McCurdy developed a national service plan. [22]

Derided by some as crass opportunism, the DLC’s national service plan was firmly grounded in the Communitarian critique of rights-based liberalism. As detractors of classical liberalism’s endless quest for “liberation,” Communitarians questioned the value-free nature of rights-based liberalism. To academicians, Michael Sandel, William Galston, and Charles Moskos, rights-based liberalism had as much to do with the “celebration of individual cunning in the single-minded pursuit of wealth and status” as did Ronald Reagan. Sounding a Reaganite tone, Michael Sandel claimed “big government,” or in his words the “procedural republic,” had severed crucial connections between citizen’s rights and obligations. [23]

Pollsters buttressed what observers sensed. Peter Hart’s 1988 survey of 1,000 Americans, between the ages 15 and 24, revealed that three times as many valued “success in job or career” over “being involved in making the community to be a better place.” [24] More troubling, only 12 percent of respondents defined “good citizenship” as “voting or other forms of political involvement,” while 43 percent chose “generous and caring.” As a result, Communitarians worried America’s civic glue had come undone. To them, young Americans had embraced an individualist rather than civic sense of citizenship and forgotten the reciprocal duties and responsibilities of democratic societies. For Communitarians, tying responsibility (service) to entitlements (Pell Grants & loan subsidies), promised to, as Charles Moskos put it “move us beyond the sort of something-for-nothing, every-man-for-himself, me-first philosophy that has been prevalent in the American ruling groups.” [25]

Armed with a Communitarian philosophy, McCurdy championed national service to revive civic life and republican values, buttress social mobility and address vexing social issues. Exempting adults while mandating service in exchange for financial aid, McCurdy’s “Citizenship and National Service Act of 1989” offered a $10,000 tuition credit or mortgage down payment for every year served in the “Citizen Corps.” [26] Aimed at solving the nation’s “social deficit,” poor neighborhoods and the needy who were hit hardest by Reagan’s domestic cuts, national service advocates wanted volunteers to work as tutors, hospital orderlies, street cleaners, and in homeless shelters. In making education assistance an “earned benefit” rather than an entitlement, McCurdy reconfigured the liberal calculus of citizen-state relations while promoting opportunity. [27]

In the 1980s, college tuition rates soared by 40 percent while median family incomes rose by a meager 6 percent clip. As a result, low and middle-income students were either pushed out of elite institutions, saddled with student loan debt, or driven from higher education altogether. [28] Consequently, fewer poor and minority students attended college and those who did were burdened with so much student loan debt McCurdy called them a “new class of indentured servants.” For the “forgotten half” who never pursue post-secondary education, the voucher could be used as a down payment for a home. From aiding needy student to promoting the “American Dream” with the non-college bound, McCurdy’s legislation undoubtedly served social democratic ends. [29]

Carl Albert and Dave McCurdy hardly have all the answers. They do, however, remind us of liberalism at its experimental and non-ideological best. In contrast, The Left at War exposes the Manicheans for what they are, fundamentalists. From Pat Robertson, Sheik Youssef al-Ahmed to Noam Chomsky, dogmatic devotion to secular or spiritual theologies lead to intellectual cul-de-sacs and worse. In publicly breaking with them, Bérubé has offered himself up as a leader of a heterodox left. Disinterested in shibboleths, this left can best pursue domestic reform and a foreign policy committed to humanitarian ends.


[1] Bérubé, Michael. The Left at War. New York: New York UP, 2009, p. 213.

[2] Young, James P. Reconsidering American Liberalism: the Troubled Odyssey of the Liberal Idea. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996, p. 6.

[3] World Federation: The Idea Worked for Our Forefathers, The Southern Banker, March 1950, Series General, Folder 55, Box 3, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; Memo: Information from the Files of the Committee on Un-American Activities—United World Federalists, Inc., September 11, 1959, Series General, Folder 55, Box 3, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[4] Newsletter, World Government News: Grave Responsibility, Series Campaign, Folder 98, Box 3, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; Newsletter, The Truth about the Oklahoma Referendum to Strengthen the United Nations, Series General, Folder  56, Box 3, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[5] Crossette, Barbara. “Sinister? U.N.’s Simply in the Dark.” New York Times 9 July 1995: 1E+. Print.

[6] Bupkis: Yiddish for “something totally worthless.”

[7] Jefferson, Margo. “The American Way of Class, A Game of Self-Delusion.” New York Times, 31 March 1999: 2E

[8] Magee, Malcolm D. What the World Should Be: Woodrow Wilson and the Crafting of a Faith-based Foreign Policy. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2008. Print; “Sun Bursting Through Clouds Brings Bright Omen to Nation’s New Leader.” New York Times, 5 March 1913: p. 1A.

[9] Tami Davis & Sean Lynn-Jones, “Citty Upon a Hill,” Foreign Policy, spring, 1987, p.20; Gamble, Richard M. The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2003. Print. p. 8, 9, & 16-17; Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print, p. 2.

[10] Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001. Print, p. 110-111.

[11] Proposed Legislation—Foreign Loans, April 24, 1947, Legislative Series, Folder 29, Box 2, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; Platform Campaign ’46, P.1, Series Campaign, Folder 120, Box 1, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[12] Global Alphabet Guidebook, p. 3 & 4, Series General, Folder 15, Box 1, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; P.W. Wilson, “Ex-Senator Owen Absolves Germany of All War Guilt,” New York Times, July 17, 1927, p.BR3.

[13] Altus Scottish Rite Club: Resolution, Series General, Folder 56, Box 3, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[14] Letter from Albert to R.L. Crutcher, October 28, 1947, Series General, Folder 14, Box 1, Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma, Letter from Albert to Howard Conan, September 14, 1950, Series General, Folder 56, Box 3, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[15] “Sideswipes,” The MacAlester News-Capitol, Sept. 7, 1950, Series General, Folder 56, Box 3 Carl Albert Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; “Oklahoma Only,” The Daily Oklahoman, October 24, 1950, 14.

[16]“State Question 344,” The Daily Oklahoman, 8 November 1950: p.41; “How Some People Think in a Vacuum,” The Daily Oklahoman 13 March 1955: p. 34.

[17] Rorty, Richard. Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Print, p. 9.

[18] Davies, Gareth. From Opportunity to Entitlement the Transformation and Decline of Great Society Liberalism. Lawrence (Kan.): University of Kansas, 1996. Print, p. 12

[19] Davies, Gareth. From Opportunity to Entitlement the Transformation and Decline of Great Society Liberalism. Lawrence (Kan.): University of Kansas, 1996, p. 1 & 13-16.

[20] Hardin, Greg. “McCurdy’s in Washington: Congressman Finds Life’s Hard in the Capital City,” The (Sunday) Constitution (Lawton, Oklahoma), 26 April 1981: 1B.

[21] Will Marshall & Al From, “Ideas, Not Litmus Tests, Can Lift the Democrats,” Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1988, PPI Archives

[22] Article, “The Non-Candidate.” Series General, Folder 2, Box 48, p. 2, Dave McCurdy Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma.

[23] Walzer, Michael, “The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism.” Political Theory, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Feb., 1990), pp. 23; Wilson, James. “The Rediscovery of Character.” The Public Interest, Issue 81, Fall 1985, p. 3-16; Broder, David. “Citizen Corps.” Washington Post, 11 May 1988, p. 25A.

[24] Broder, David. “Young America’s Civic Failings.” Washington Post. 29 November 1989, p 27A.

[25] Baer, Ken. Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton. Lawrence (Kan.): University of Kansas, 2000,p 112.

[26] McCurdy, Dave. “A Quid Pro Quo for Youth,” New York Times, 26 June 1989, p 19A.

[27] McCurdy, Dave. “A Quid Pro Quo for Youth,” New York Times, 26 June 1989, p 19A; Baer, p. 112-113.

[28] Citizenship and National Service: a Blueprint for Civic Enterprise. Washington, D.C.: Democratic Leadership Council, 1988.

[29] Washington Student Aid Dilemma, Box 12, Folder 17, Dave McCurdy Papers, Carl Albert Center’s Congressional Archives, Norman, Oklahoma; Vobejda, Barbara. “Competition for College Feeds Elitism.” Washington Post, 4 May 1989. 14A; Citizenship and National Service: a Blueprint for Civic Enterprise. Washington, D.C.: Democratic Leadership Council, 1988.

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