It didn’t start with Iraq. Or with George W. Bush.
The modern liberal paradigm of America’s role in the world is not new. Whispered by Jimmy Carter, bellowed by Al Gore or parroted by John Edwards, vocalized by a young John Kerry or an old John Murtha, the notion that America is an imperial war power run amok alienating the world has a longer lineage. It is a paradigm born exactly sixty years ago this September in Madison Square Garden.
On that September 12th of 1946, the world was in turmoil. Winston Churchill had months earlier delivered a blistering assessment of the post-World War reality. With Harry Truman at his side Churchill warned that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.” Stalin’s Soviet Union was on the march. Soon, the Russians would have the atomic bomb.
Stepping to the podium in the Garden that September night was Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President in FDR’s third term. Uneasy about Wallace’s left-wing pronouncements Democratic bosses convinced FDR to replace him with Truman in the 1944 election. With Roosevelt’s death Truman was now president. The result of the Garden speech was explosive.
Looking back sixty years later, the core ideas now the ideological heart of the Democratic Party are right there in Wallace’s speeches, the first of which was that night. Moral relativism? Wallace believed Soviet military control over Eastern Europe was no different than American influence in Latin America. The United Nations? Wallace wanted the UN to reign supreme in areas not under the control of Russia or the United States, giving the UN control over all nuclear weapons and all major military bases around the globe. Blame America First? Unless America listened to him Wallace predicted the United States would “sooner or later” become “the image of that which we have hated in the Nazis.”
Truman fired Wallace. In his diary, an incredulous Truman wrote that Wallace “is a pacifist 100 percent. He wants us to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin…. I do not understand a ‘dreamer’ like that.” Wallace and his followers, the intellectual ancestors of today’s Angry Left, were “becoming a national danger.”
The battle between the Truman and Wallace worldviews began. The Truman Doctrine of sending military aid to nations fighting Communism? Wallace opposed. The creation of NATO? In the words of his biographer, Wallace thought NATO “a harbinger of fascism.” The Marshall Plan? Wallace saw war with the Soviets. The Berlin Airlift? Wallace saw fascism. And Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech? “Warlike.”
Truman’s paradigm prevailed. The Wallace paradigm of the world seemingly disappeared. But a young delegate to the Progressive Party convention that nominated Wallace in his losing 1948 presidential bid against Truman had other ideas. His name was George McGovern. Decades later McGovern brought Wallace’s paradigm back to life as the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee. He wrote of his disdain for Truman. “Harry Truman is being elevated retroactively as a great President, whereas Henry Wallace is largely forgotten. But I believed in the late forties and I believe now that…the peace of the world would have been better served by the hopeful and compassionate views of Wallace than the ‘Get Tough’ policy of the Truman Administration.”
Today the results of the Wallace/McGovern paradigm are dramatic images of repeated failure. Desperate Vietnamese clinging to the last American helicopter leaving Vietnam. Piles of skulls from Cambodian genocide. Soviet troops rolling into Kabul. Charred Marine corpses littering the Iranian desert. In the 1990s (thanks to the Clinton administration’s adherence to the Wallace/McGovern paradigm it is becoming known as The Lost Decade) the images captured: the body of an American soldier being dragged through Mogadishu, terrified civilians fleeing a first attack on the World Trade Center, bombed U.S. embassies, slaughtered sailors on the USS Cole. Then, the most devastating images of the Wallace/McGovern paradigm: 9/11.
No, this liberal paradigm didn’t start with Iraq or President Bush. But I bet this is news to its latest — if predictable — champions: the Dixie Chicks.