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Liberalism and anticommunism

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GOSH, those Democrats are doing it again: another hopelessly liberal ticket. Or is it? Hopeless, that is. Polls show Michael Dukakis beating George Bush despite the governor's liberal background and the inevitable leftward input Jesse Jackson will have in directing the party platform and appointments. But those of us on the left who consider ourselves more progressive with a small ``p'' than upper-case Democratic may wish to keep the White House Republican.

Without claiming an airtight analogy, consider what happened after Ike. A young, ``liberal'' President squeaked into office seemingly intent on proving just one thing: that he was not soft on communism abroad (or socialism at home, for that matter). Lacking sufficient courage to sign off on a right-wing plan to overthrow Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy gave us the Bay of Pigs, followed by the much scarier Cuban missile crisis. Proved soft on communism despite himself, Kennedy sought other venues to prove his hardness and stuck our nose so far into Vietnam that we eventually had to leave without it.

Likewise, leftward domestic legislation on civil rights and poverty were just too explosive for Kennedy to touch and had to wait for LBJ; he duly compensated for socialism at home by stepping up the slaughter of socialists abroad. Lyndon Johnson made certain that, whatever else historians had to say about him, it would not be that he was soft on communism. Just count the bodies.

Soft-on-communism is a specter that has haunted American liberalism with a particular vengeance since World War II. It is the nominal left's special manifestation of the national pathology about communism which has driven American postwar foreign policy. This phobia brought us the restoration of the Shah of Iran, the coup against the Arbenz reform government in Guatemala, attempts to spike Castro's cigars with LSD, the rogue Central Intelligence Agency of the '70s, the rogue CIA of the '80s, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, and other sorrows too numerous to list, much less describe, in a single article.

The first to take Republicans to task for this compulsive behavior, Democrats have proved crazily vulnerable to it whenever returned to office. It should not surprise us to learn that only the Reagan administration has come close to launching the number of covert operations that Kennedy undertook.


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