The fall and rise of American liberalism


Eric A. has some apposite comments in his new Think Again, "Torturous Reporting on Waterboarding," here, and, while we're at it, a new Nation column, "Lies, Catfights, and 'Rock 'n Roll'."

Greetings from sunny Davis, the Athens of California's Central Valley! Eric Rauchway here, pinch-hitting for Eric A. while he's in ... sunny Davis, the Athens of California's Central Valley. While he's recovering from his trip (there are apparently no non-stops from Manhattan to Davis) let me remind you that he's here to talk about "The Fall and Rise of American Liberalism." It's 75 years since the New Deal, and American liberalism is in tatters -- or is it?

Judging by Eric's title alone, I think he's at least cautiously optimistic. I can be, some days. Others, I see prominent Democrats aiding and abetting the enshrining of torture in American jurisprudence and I despair.

Do Democrats fear the President's 25 percent approval ratings? He stands revealed to hawk and dove alike, grossly incompetent at home and abroad. He fumbles wars both needful and needless. Why knuckle under? Unless you actually think waterboarding is good policy and not torture, in which case God have mercy on your soul.

"The presidency of George W. Bush has devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush." That's Keith Olbermann (video, text) on the sacking of Daniel Levin, who unlike some prominent Democrats appears to have discovered in his conscience and experience that waterboarding is torture.

Olbermann's optimistic too, saying that in our hearts we are "better" than this. We are, in the sense that we have better angels in our natures. But it has been a long time since our leaders appealed to us to consult those guides, counseling instead that we keep company with our fear.

Speaking of the rule of law, these are some highly impressive lawyers. Maybe, what with the coup and all, they'd like to come help us defend juridical integrity over here? They say your work gets outsourced to immigrant labor when you stop doing it well.

This weekend we mark Armistice Day, Veterans' Day, Remembrance Day, the commemoration of the Great Truce. When I was in Cambridge, England, a few weeks ago, I took a side trip to the American cemetery. The men interred there fought, as I am humble and honored to say my grandfather did, to liberate Europe. My grandfather came as an immigrant here and brought with him the wherewithal and conviction to defend the republic he adopted and in which he believed. Here's Lt. Col. Bob on matters similar:

Remember Us

By LTC Bob Bateman

Sunday matters. Or, more particularly, this coming Sunday matters.

It does not matter to me because of the football games that will be played or the tailgating that will occur. Nor do I care overmuch about the regularly scheduled worship services that some religions will hold on this day. The weather will not affect the importance of this coming Sunday for me. Nor should it for you. What matters is that this coming Sunday is Veterans Day.

It is difficult to make the connection, perhaps, for most people. Almost all of our First World War veterans are gone now, and the news reports tell me that the men who fought World War II are dying at the rate of 1,000 a day. More modern veterans are fading as well, while the current military is made up of less than one half of one percent of the American public. But on this day, perhaps, we might appeal and ask that those who have given the last full measure of their devotion, be faithfully recalled by their nation.

They are honored so elsewhere.

A close friend of mine holds dual French and American passports. This is not surprising, as his parents were both college professors teaching the French language to Americans at an elite college. This college was known for their language programs, and for "immersion" study overseas. He passed to me one of the most appropriate reminders for this day of remembrance. I would ask that you make one quiet moment this coming Sunday to contemplate this tale:

One of my more vivid childhood memories involves a visit to the Normandy beaches and U.S. military cemeteries there when I was 8 or 9 years old.

Every year, my father would organize bus trips for the students from his college then studying in France. One was almost always the Chateaux de la Loire (my favorite), and the other was the Mont St. Michel and the Normandy beaches (which I loved and considered akin to a boring and somber museum visit, respectively). My dad and his administrative assistant -- a very, very dour and formidable 60-something who was very old-school and addressed me as "vous" when she was pleased with me and "jeune homme" when she was not -- would pack about 30-60 college juniors into one or two buses and head off to these destinations, often unable to arrange formal organized tours in advance. She was not a big fan of the United States, and disapproved of the typical college student antics.

On one visit to the D-Day beaches -- it must have been 1979 or 1980, based on my memory of the sartorial, uh, insouciance on display -- one of the students decided to bring his giant boom box into a U.S. military cemetery and groove amongst the crosses and Stars of David. While the group walked staidly on the path, with a guide explaining the whos, wheres, and how manys, the student turned on the boom box.

My dad's assistant's face turned ashen and then a shade of red I have never seen since. She marched over, shaking with fury, gripped his ear firmly and dragged him face-to-cross with one of the gravestones, and demanded that he read the name and the age of the Soldier buried there. He dropped his boom box but could not get free, as she loudly declared, in her thick French accent, " 'Ee was nine-tee-neuh. He sack-reefized eez life for France and for yeuh. Yeuh weel chaud eem zeuh respeck ee daysayrves, ohr yeuh weel deel wiz me agan!"

We were there for two days. We did not see the boom box again. On day two, the students switched their shorts for pants and were especially attentive to the guided tours.

11/11, Please remember us. Thank you.

You can write to LTC Bob at

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: down the street from Chuck's place

I'm going to have to revisit my opinions about lawyers, in light of what those brave souls in Pakistan are doing. Yet I wonder: will Bush have to completely trash our own constitution and empty the courts for our own spineless lawyers on Capitol Hill to get the idea and become activists themselves? My own lawyer-Senator from about a mile down the street here in Brooklyn, Chuck Schumer, thinks that a judge who supports the Bush program of undermining the Constitution is just fine; that the silly waterboarding stuff is just an asterisk to be properly handled by the lawyers on the Hill. That empty rationalization, that vapid promise, along with two bucks, gets me on the subway this morning.

So while I'm not entirely turned round on lawyers yet, I would remind Pres. Musharraf that Dick the Butcher's famous recommendation (Henry VI, Part 2) was meant to be taken sort of metaphorically.

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