Day By Day

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Paranoid Style of American Liberalism (cont.) -- The History Lesson

A "History Lesson" from the Left:

Joan Walsh, editor of Salon magazine, writes about her recent appearance on MSNBC during which she endeavored to teach Chris Matthews what America is all about. She writes:

There is one main reason the U.S. doesn't have the social democratic traditions and programs enjoyed by most Western democracies -- we are the only such nation without some kind of universal healthcare -- and that reason is our history of ethnic, racial and class strife. (The bounty of the eternal frontier and American exceptionalism fit in there too, but I'd pick our fractious and well-manipulated heterogeneity as the top reason.)

The history of the 19th century and early 20th century is the history of labor and political coalitions splintered by divisions between Northern Europeans and Southern Europeans, between middle-class Germans and less well off German Jews, between the Irish and everyone else, and, increasingly after blacks won something akin to freedom, between all white ethnic groups and African-Americans. Latinos and Asians came with their own demands and baggage and relations got more complicated still. Barriers of language, culture, class and skin color thwarted many efforts to grow labor unions and build a social-democratic majority.

Meanwhile, the one constant for at least 150 years has been a savvy cadre of political operatives who used those racial and ethnic divisions to advance their pro-business agenda. Go back to Karl Rove's idol Mark Hanna, who made turn-of-the-19th-century Republican politics safe for whites-only organizing in the South, to Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, to Lee Atwater's Willie Horton strategy to Rove's own neo-Southern, pander-to-the-base strategy that has driven the GOP into its current ditch. Where in other Western nations, those years saw the fairly steady advance of basic conceptions of human rights, labor rights and an expanded social safety net, in the U.S. such social progress -- and especially such programs -- was more sporadic and limited.

Read it here.

To give him credit, Matthews was not buying this. He rightly branded it "Marxist", a term to which Walsh objected. Maybe she's right, but the artificial distinction Western "progressives" draw between themselves and Marxists is not important in this context. What I would like to point out is that she, like all leftists Marxist and otherwise, sees American history as a continuous and unending conspiracy on the part of the rich and powerful to exploit and oppress the common folk and to deny their legitimate aspirations.

This conspiracy theory is central to progressive thought and it explains why, once invested with power, leftists are so willing to engage in conspiratorial behavior. It also explains why they are so eager to brand any opponents as "racists" and "bigots". This explanatory model was widely taught in America's universities through much of the second half of the Twentieth Century and it is likely that Joan Walsh is simply spouting what she learned while sitting in classes at the University of Wisconsin. In recent years historians at America's elite universities have begun, however slowly, to move away from this simple exploitation/oppression model, but for Joan Walsh, and many other middle-aged media movers and shakers, it is simply the way things were and continue to be.