Kind of Blue
After reading Rick Perlstein’s review of my book, Why the Democrats Are Blue ["The Myths of McGovern," Issue #7], I recalled an email message I received from him in July 2006. He contacted me about a profile of Fred Dutton that I had written for Commonweal, telling me he was "very excited" about my story about the former Kennedy advisor. He wanted to know "what my book looked like." He added that he was working on a book covering the years 1965 to 1972, and that he hoped to finish it by September. More than a year has passed, and while Perlstein has not yet published his book, he has attempted to mislead readers about mine.
Perlstein claims that my solution to the Democratic Party’s problems is to "revive the corpses of [Chicago Mayor Richard J.] Daley" and the other party bosses. My book examined the pros and cons of both the boss system–which Chapter 3 specifically criticized as undemocratic–and the activist-dominated system that followed; and calls for fully democratizing the party’s nominating system. Perlstein claims that the book "singles out Frank Hague," the corrupt Jersey City mayor, as a "Christian humanist." In fact, I wrote one 17-word sentence about Hague and never referred to him as a "Christian humanist." Further, Perlstein claims that my book "embraced Ramesh Ponnuru’s ‘Party of Death’ designation for supporters of abortion rights," and he states the book "never mentions the name of Robert P. Casey, Jr." His statements are wrong on both counts: I write about Casey’s campaign on page 25, but I never mention Ponnuru or the term "Party of Death." Finally, Perlstein says that my book "neatly elides the inconvenient fact that the 1972 convention resoundingly voted down a pro-choice plank." In fact, I devote pages 169 to 180 to the abortion plank and its defeat.
I was disappointed that Perlstein never addressed my thesis: Antiwar liberals used the McGovern-Fraser Commission to hijack the Democratic Party and impose their secular values on it, driving away millions of Catholics and blue-collar workers and helping cause six of the party’s last nine presidential nominees to lose. Rather, he chose to label me as a "shameless opportunist."
This last charge was especially puzzling. Perlstein asked me for information about my book; he wrote a review of it that misrepresented basic facts; and he plans to publish his own book on a similar subject. Who is the shameless opportunist?
In his review of Richard Kahlenberg’s recent biography of Albert Shanker ["Teaching Toughness," Issue #7], Jim Sleeper bizarrely puts me on a list of some of neo-conservatism’s founding fathers who reacted negatively to the new black power. As a result, he says, the group moved to the right and joined the ranks of those who have an "active hostility" to unions. I should note that as much as I would love to be among the ranks of such luminaries, at the time of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school fight and for years after I was active in scores of left-wing groups, none of whom stopped supporting civil rights or labor. All were opponents of the new neo-conservatives. Indeed, when the United Federation of Teachers went on strike, I was one of the parents who slept at my daughter’s elementary school to keep it open. Like others on the far left, I viewed the strike as an expression of the teachers’ union’s racism, and I backed the supporters of black nationalism.
Later, Sleeper has Shanker watching the Dole-Clinton 1996 debates, and guesses that he "had to watch as Bob Dole recommended a book by Shanker’s old friend Ronald Radosh." Old friend? I had met Shanker for a brief moment a few years earlier, at a cocktail party. Then, in 1992, he phoned me from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention and asked me to take the post he would create of assistant to the president of the AFT. While I did indeed join his staff for one year, I would not regard myself as ever being a friend of his, either old or new.
Jim Sleeper replies:
Ron Radosh is always so busy retelling, as high confessional drama, his own break with the left that he loses that balance every time.
I didn’t call him one of "neoconservatism’s founding fathers." I wrote (emphasis added): "Neoconservatism was born in reaction in the years following, as friends of Shanker who had usually backed unions and integration–Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Irving Kristol, Carl Gershman, Ronald Radosh, Linda Chavez, and Jeane Kirkpatrick–recoiled from ‘black power’ and joined people who had…an active hostility to unions and even public schooling."
Radosh, who did just that, admits he sometimes opposed unions, if only from the left, and that he "would love to be among the ranks of those luminaries" who joined forces with the Republicans. He wasn’t Shanker’s "old friend," he says, but a trusted assistant. Instead of trying to square this circle endlessly, let Radosh admit he moved further right than Shanker and regrets it.
New York, N.Y.
Editors’ Note: Due to a production error, Issue #7 did not feature some final edits to Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson’s "Viet Not."; The pdf, bookview, and web editions of the article, all available at www.democracyjournal.org, represent the intended final version.