Friday, October 24, 2008

The Past Into Tomorrow

A few posts ago, I said that there's a rabbit I wanted to chase another day. There's an important internal conversation that the Democratic Party simply must have with themselves. They have to own up to the fact that an important fringe wing of their party from the '60s was at least a little disloyal. That fringe may not have colored the way the party looked at things like full-throated patriotism and the dignity of military service, but it created a credible perception that seriously hurt Democratic presidential candidates from 1980 through at least the early '90s.

Let's look back some fifty-sixty years, and take a 50,000 foot look at the Cold War, circa 1960. One of the strategies both sides used was the political destabilization of unfriendly governments. Both sides tried to plant operations within the other side's homeland, without much real success. For example, we know that the KGB had virtually no illegal residents within the USA after the discovery and capture of Rudolf Abel in 1957. So, while there wasn't any direct support from Moscow for groups like the New Left or the SDS, there were at least well-wishes and non-monetary support.

Mind you, opposition to the Vietnam War in and of itself wasn't disloyal. It certainly wasn't disloyal to believe that we had no business fooling around with their internal affairs. And I'm not sure that the question "What are we doing here?" ever got a coherent answer. I have heard it described as a campaign of attrition against the Soviet Union, and it's certainly true that we blew up tons and tons of Soviet-built vehicles and equipment in the jungles. The point is, it's not disloyal to question the justification of our involvement. I think it does become disloyal when you openly side with the enemy, and want your own nation to lose. There are fringes of the anti-war movement that did exactly that, and undertook criminal campaigns of robbery and bombings in support of those goals.

Fortunately, this fringe does not include most of the young activists that entered the Democratic Party in the late 1960's and early 1970's. But unfortunately, many of their attitudes informed how these activists thought. They spent the next thirty hears running like scalded dogs from anything in a uniform. They almost never saw a defense spending cut they didn't like. And in 1975, they got their fondest wish: North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, and they had a sufficient congressional majority to ban any materiel or air support for the South Vietnamese government.

I have to wonder ... did they see the re-education camps as something of a triumph? Or did they honestly not see that coming? When they learned of Cambodia's killing fields, were they filled with pride or shame? They bear a measure of responsibility for both, as do we all. We had the power and ability to support the South against the invasion, but chose not to.

This, more than anything else, is why American voters were unable to trust another Democrat with the Sword of the State until 1992. This is why Ayers and his ilk are important, because hard-core fringe leftists of his generation are still knocking around in the party. With some Democrats of a certain age, it's always 1968. They're applying forty-year-old thinking to today's problems. They're mortally afraid of another Vietnam, so much so that they're totally incapable of rationally considering when the use of our military is not only possible, but the right thing to do.

Parts of that conversation have already happened. The Truman National Security Project was just getting off the ground when I started writing this weblog, and has attracted the attention of some of the Democratic Party's leading lights. And now, a new generation is coming of age, largely untainted by the bias of their elders. Barack Obama is a man of that new generation. While he's rubbed elbows from time to time with some people who are profoundly unserious about national security, to all appearances he's not one of them. He strikes me a someone who will fight when it's necessary, but only when it's necessary. I am guardedly optimistic that he will neither let the Sword of the State get rusty from neglect, nor dull the blade from over-use.

It's time to turn the page, guys. It's not 1968 anymore, nor is it 1975. It's 2008, and we've got a full plate of problems to deal with right now. Let's snap to it.

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