Scoop Jackson’s Neoconservatism
To the Editor:
It was satisfying and even thrilling to read Joshua Muravchik’s accolade to Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson [“Scoop Jackson at One Hundred,” July/August]. In 1976, when I lived in San Jose, California, I walked through my district, speaking with voters and handing out campaign literature on behalf of Jackson for his upcoming primary election. I even purchased a small newspaper ad urging Democrats to vote for a true patriot and made a personal contribution to the campaign. I might add that I had never done these things in any presidential campaign before and have not done them since.
To my disappointment, the senator ended his campaign before the vote. Reviewing what Senator Jackson stood for and, more important, actually accomplished was a pleasure but also a sad reminder of how far we have fallen in our political landscape. I thank Commentary and Mr. Muravchik for rekindling my fond memories. As for Senator Lieberman, I’m afraid he is no Scoop Jackson.
To the Editor:
In describing Senator Henry Jackson’s consistently liberal politics during turbulent times, Joshua Muravchik falls into a common linguistic and conceptual error. Mr. Muravchik holds that the “old liberalism” of Jackson and his Democratic Party was transformed by the “New Left” into what is now known as “progressivism.” Jackson and his circle became “conservatives,” specifically “neoconservatives.” But the politics of Jackson and his protégés changed very little, and a person who conserves liberal values is a liberal, not a conservative, not even a neoconservative.
The early 20th-century progressive movement, moreover, was not a species of liberalism, but a challenge to liberalism from the left. Much of what is now called liberal or progressive is therefore more accurately regarded as the “illiberal left.” In short, the illiberal left has largely (but not entirely) hijacked the Democratic Party, while liberal values have largely migrated to the Republican Party (although the GOP still has enough xenophobes and anti-government extremists to make liberals squirm).
This is not frivolous semantic quibbling. Genuine liberalism, or liberal democracy, rooted in the Enlightenment, is humanity’s greatest political achievement. It deserves continued honor, not rhetorical abandonment.
Valley Village, California
Joshua Muravchik writes:
I thank Harold Heisman for his kind words, but I wish to respond to his demurral regarding Senator Lieberman. True, Lieberman has not cut the outsize image in the Senate that Scoop did. But in Scoop’s day, there were still some other pro-defense Democrats, such as Sam Nunn and Ernest Hollings, who led the fight to impose defense budget increases on an unwilling Carter administration, and there were also great patriots such as George Meany and Lane Kirkland at the helm of organized labor who carried weight in the Democratic Party. Lieberman, in contrast, found himself mostly alone among Democrats in his hawkishness. Not as effective as Scoop, to be sure, but all the more admirable for sticking to his principles.
Paul Kujawsky enters the linguistic fray too late to rescue me. I resisted the label “neoconservative” for a few years before throwing in the towel more than three decades ago. It is not, however, just a matter of linguistics. Most, if not all, of the Scoop Jacksonites I know would still call themselves liberals in the classical or philosophical sense of that term. We would still, for example, readily refer to the current we identify with in contemporary Arab events as the “liberals.” But the liberal camp in American politics to which we belonged, led by the likes of Scoop and Hubert Humphrey, adhered to economic and social-welfare policies in which we no longer believe. In the 1970s, we had an ironclad case that it was the McGovernites, not we, who had abandoned traditional liberalism. But subsequently, in different ways, we abandoned it, too.