Who Needs the Liberals?
One might have hoped that the two years since the defeats of 1968 would have have produced a mood of reappraisal among American liberals, and some major new programs and strategy for this year and the difficult road to 1972. Yet the most important book since the Nixon election has been that of the young conservative, Kevin Phillips. Phillips deals in hard realities, and talks rather shamelessly about some of the uglier trends in American politics. On the whole, his approach may be too lowbrow for those who have assumed the leadership of the Left.
There are however, two short books by liberal political commentators which have some importance: Who Needs the Democrats and What It Takes to be Needed by John Kenneth Galbraith,1 and The Hidden Crisis in American Politics by Samuel Lubell.2
Galbraith, of course, has been a mentor to the New Politics movement; Lubell has close associations with liberal Republicanism. Neither would regard his small volume as his most profound work. Yet each is important, if only as evidence of the thinking in two of the most articulate and influential strains of American liberalism.
One of the more striking novelties in the Galbraith book—it is really an article marketed at book price, for in price inflation as well as in other matters Galbraith strives to be ahead of his time—is his endorsement of socialism. “Socialism Now!” may not be the perfect slogan for the Democratic party at this moment, but Galbraith performs a public service by giving the socialist tradition a new legitimacy in American political discourse. It is becoming more and more apparent that the socialist framework encompasses the only plausible answers to our deepening social crises. And, ironically, the socialist tradition also offers the most telling criticisms of the program and strategy which Galbraith tenders to American liberalism.
Galbraith is well to the Left of most liberals in his economic program. He speaks plainly about the need to tax the rich—a phrase which for all its admirable simplicity has been avoided by most leading Democrats for at least two decades. He argues for planned and massive social investments. He proposes greater public regulation of giant corporations, again departing from the do-your-own thing, laissez-faire mood that has infected much of the Left. All this is a radical break not only with the conservative Keynesianism of recent Democratic administrations, but also with the more public-spirited Keynesianism advocated by most liberal critics of the Kennedy-Johnson New Economics.
But much of the value gained by Galbraith’s voicing of these objectives is diminished by his views of how they are to be achieved. This is true both of his immediate proposals for reforming the Democratic party and the underlying theories about social change on which these proposals are based. The latter are put forward in his earlier, more theoretical work, The New Industrial State, from which his current manifesto is derived.
In The New Industrial State, Galbraith argues that the modern corporation is governed less and less by the individual entrepreneur and stockholder, and more and more by the managers and technicians who make up what he calls the “technostructure.” Because of its role within the corporation and because of the increasingly complex character of the modern economy, this techno-structure is less piratical and socially irresponsible than the capitalist class of yesterday. It is open, at least, to adapting the industrial system to more humane and aesthetic uses. Moreover, the techno-structure is increasingly dependent on the intellectuals. By persuading, cajoling, flattering, even blackmailing, the intellectuals can force the technostructure to accept socially benevolent objectives:
The needed changes, including those in the images by which military and foreign policy are shaped, all involve the sensibilities and concerns of the mind. Their natural, although by no means exclusive, interest therefore is to those who are called intellectuals. The largest number of intellectuals with an occupational identification are those in the educational and scientific estate. It is to the educational and scientific estate, accordingly, that we must turn for the requisite political initiative. The initiative cannot come from the industrial system, although support can be recruited from individuals therein. Nor will it come from trade unions. Apart from their declining numbers and power, they are under no particular compulsion to question the goals of the industrial system or the tendency to make all social purpose identical with these goals.
The first duty Galbraith addresses to his political intellectual is to promote the dismantling of the Defense Establishment. His ultimate objection to the military-industrial complex is not to its incredible wastefulness, its indifference to public pressures, or the generally conservative influence it exerts on our foreign policy. (These points are all made, of course.) The basic fault with the Defense Establishment is quite simply that it is no longer necessary. It is not justified by any real external threat, but rather by “bureaucratic truth”—the self-justification of those whose interests require that a mammoth, lavishly-financed apparatus be perpetuated.
The reasoning behind this opinion is again explained in The New Industrial State. Just as modern economic requirements are creating and empowering a more benevolent technostructure in the United States, the same forces are at work in the Soviet Union: “This convergence between two ostensibly different industrial systems occurs at all fundamental points. This is an exceedingly fortunate thing. In time, and perhaps in less time than may be imagined, it will dispose of the notion of inevitable conflict based on irreconcilable difference.”
These three assumptions—that the contemporary intellectual is naturally endowed with a socially benign temperament; that modern technology is creating a new economic class of managers and technicians which will follow the intellectuals’ leadership in putting the commonweal above corporate and personal gain; and that the same trends are inevitably mellowing the Communist world—are the faith, hope, and charity which nurture Galbraith’s proposals for the Democratic party.
There is a great deal that could be said about this political perspective on a theoretical plane. It has much in common with a current in socialist thought which was strongest during the early vigor of industrial capitalism. The Comte de St. Simon, founder of a school of French social thought in the early 19th century which was one of the first to use the term socialism, envisioned a society guided by the masters of the new technology of his age, whom he called the industriels. These were not so much the capitalists themselves as the engineers, managers, scientists, and organizers of the nascent economic order of his day. Most of St. Simon’s industriels ended up either as cranks or the organizers of vast capitalistic projects, such as the Suez and Panama Canals. St. Simon’s industriels, despite their initial culture and idealism, ended up as servants of private wealth and their own narrow self-interest, and it is most likely that Galbraith’s technostructure, if no wider responsibilities are imposed on it by the larger public, will follow the same course. It may be that the new corporate officialdom will get religion, but it is far safer to look for a more democratic basis for the transformation of society. This, of course, is what led Marx and Engels to reject St. Simonism—after the less benign qualities in capitalism had become apparent—and to develop a strategy for socialism based on the working class and its popular allies.
It is also fair to question Galbraith’s optimism about the trends in Soviet society. The currents in Soviet life on which the convergence theory was so largely based have petered out in the past year or so. Liebermanism, the introduction of market mechanisms into the Soviet economy, is no longer very popular among the commisars—if anything, the present trend is toward a reintroduction of the centralism and labor discipline of the Stakhanov period. Ota Sik, the Czech economist whose economic reforms were regarded by convergence theorists as prime evidence for their predictions, now writes in exile, his accomplishments obliterated by Soviet tanks.
All this is quite relevant to Galbraith’s strategy for the Democratic party. His theories naturally led him to his role in the New Politics movement—that collection of liberals and radicals drawn largely from academic and professional backgrounds which is seeking to take the leadership of the Democratic party away from both the conservative Southerners and urban machines, and the “bread-and-butter” liberals—the trade unions, and the traditional ethnic blocs. To the extent that any force in American politics embodies the interests of the new intelligentsia, this does—or at least is attempting to. This is the movement which has declared total war on the Defense Establishment. Yet, in spite of Professor Galbraith’s eloquent suggestion, it has shown little interest in a radical, egalitarian economic program, or in whatever forces in our society might be rallied to promote such a program. The living political movement which Galbraith supports and in many ways speaks for shows no sign of adopting his domestic platform. And the groups which have endorsed programs reasonably close to his are very much at odds with the New Politics.
The only significant, organized force in American political life which has spoken out for an economic program like Galbraith’s is the trade-union movement. Yet while he is now willing to accept the unions in his reformed party, Galbraith expects them obediently to follow a more enlightened leadership. They are the hod carriers; the liberal intellectuals, the architects. Not much is said about the blacks, but apparently they are expected to accept a comparable status. Yet history and the coming election, about which something should be said, give compelling evidence that this will not succeed. The blacks want their own organization, their own spokesmen, and, as the phrase has it, their own role in making the decisions which affect their lives. And while it may not be commonly recognized, many workers want the same thing; there is a working-class consciousness which has many parallels with black consciousness, and the union leaders function as its spokesmen. The rank-and-file worker will not accept Galbraith as his spokesman any more than the average black would. Nor will he allow Galbraith to choose his spokesmen for him, least of all on the spurious criterion that those leaders who fail to honor the Professor’s views are “geriatric.” This is not just a matter of status jealousy on the workers’ part or a grasping for some trivial recognition. The affluent liberals do not fully understand the needs of the workers and the blacks, do not know how to mobilize them for political action, and cannot be wholly trusted to defend their interests. The evidence in this year’s election campaigns alone is sufficiently convincing.
Galbraith’s case becomes even weaker as it moves from his opinions on who should lead the Democrats to the program on which they should run. His two chief proposals, aside from his economic aims—which he never presents in hard programmatic terms, but rather as the more long-range objectives toward which we must move—are the disestablishment of the military-industrial complex and the reform of Congress.
There is not too much to be said on his foreign-policy views, because they are remarkably simple. The Communist threat is a deception and “. . . there is little the United States can do and little that it needs to do to influence the political events in Asia, Africa, or Latin America . . . in consequence of our presence, any disaster we now know will most likely be made worse.” Coupled with his program for curtailing U.S. productivity, which would prevent us from giving substantial non-military assistance to foreign countries through economic-aid programs and technological assistance, this is about the most forthright statement of a neo-isolationist position that has yet been put forward in American politics.
The neo-isolationist position has some appeal. It spares one the difficulties—moral and intellectual—of proposing alternatives to the conservative and wasteful international policies of the cold-war era, alternatives which might offer the peoples of the world some hope of escaping both from totalitarian regimentation and the awful swamp of backwardness. It enables one to wash one’s hands of dangerous situations, such as that in the Middle East. Yet leaving aside such old-fashioned moral considerations, the stance also has doubtful political value.
Should the Democratic party acquiesce in such policies, it would soon lose the allegiance of important groups which have strong feelings about one or another area of world conflict where complete U.S. disengagement would bring on disaster—the Jews, for example. It would lose those working-class and middle-class voters who, lacking Galbraith’s cultivated detachment, are unhappy when powerful movements and governments spring up even in remote quarters of the world which defile and threaten their country and its more or less democratic way of life. It requires unusual effort to develop the conviction that Communist powers will stand by graciously while the U.S. retires to build socialism in one country, a la Galbraith. The Communist powers are indeed divided among themselves, and far from ignoring this, U.S. policymakers have been frantically and opportunistically trying to exploit the division almost since the moment it occurred. But the differences among the Communist powers are over which has the better strategy for extending the Communist domain. About the ultimate objective they are, so to speak, polylithic. A thorough U.S. disengagement would surely set off an international crisis that would have disastrous consequences for those, among others, whose policies produced it.
To describe Galbraith’s foreign-policy views as dangerously naive would be to employ a favorite cliché of the hawks. Consequently this description should be reserved for his proposals for Congressional reform. Here he argues that the seniority system of selecting Congressional committee chairmen has enthroned the reactionary Southern Democrats, and that their power must be broken. This has long been recognized by some liberal legislators, chief among them Congressman Richard Boiling, whose efforts have produced a reform bill for the House of Representatives over which a major fight is brewing. It is hoped that the bill will contain provisions which would undermine the strength of the Southern conservatives without, on the other hand, permitting the Nixon Republicans to gain a firm hold over the only branch of government which has so far remained beyond their grasp.
Galbraith’s solution has a stunning simplicity. Simple, in that he urges Democrats merely to vote to allow the Republicans to organize the House. Stunning, in that, if his proposal were adopted, it would not only replace conservative Democratic committee chairmen with conservative Republicans, but would displace a number of liberal and moderate Democratic chairmen as well; anyone who cares to look at a Congressional Directory can confirm this. More important, it would allow the Republicans to stack key committees with conservatives, creating conservative majorities. Should this happen liberal legislative proposals would never even get a hearing; there would be infinitely less opportunity to rally public opinion in fights for decent social legislation; and the Republican administration could completely take the lead in setting national policy—with a full-scale attack on the labor movement and other genuinely troublesome elements as the first item on its agenda.
Galbraith is pressing to widen the wrong kind of division in American politics—a division within the Democratic party between middle-class liberals and the black and trade-union movements. Samuel Lubell, on the other hand, is pleading for an impossible unity. Lubell’s standpoint seems remarkably close to that of the liberal Republicans—John Lindsay, John Gardner, Charles Percy, and, of course, Nelson Rockefeller—with whom he has had some association. While Galbraith’s New Politics movement is trying to wrangle the leadership of the Democratic party away from labor and the minorities, the liberal Republicans are groping for some outlet for their own energies. Their prospects in the Republican party are dim, but not entirely hopeless. They see a possibility that some of the corporate stockholders in the Republican party will become disillusioned with the divisive consequences of Nixon’s Southern strategy, and will either dump him or leave the party. (Perhaps they could join the New Politics forces in the Democratic party, with whom they have so much in common?) They appeal to the underprivileged to moderate their protests and to the affluent to “give a damn,” hoping that race, class, and ethnic identity can be set aside, in (to use the name Gardner has given to his new movement) a “Common Cause.”
Lubell’s earlier book, The Future of American Politics, was an insightful analysis of the conservative-liberal, Republican-Democratic polarization that had been building up in American politics since the urban immigrants began to dominate the Democratic party in the 1920’s. The book, published just before the 1952 election, was, in effect if not intention, a suggestion to liberal Republicanism, which had before it the carte blanche of the Eisenhower administration, to work toward fashioning a lasting political majority on the order of the Roosevelt coalition. But in the decades since Eisenhower took office, the Republican party, contrary to Lubell’s inclination, has settled more thickly and uniformly into the mold of conservatism.
The crucial reason for this has been that the well-to-do backers of the party are unwilling to accept the social programs, the levels of taxation, and the kind of regulation of the economy that they would have to tolerate to gain a broad and stable base among middle- and working-class voters. This is not ideological rigidity on their part—it makes fairly good political sense. The economic powers in this country are not desperate to control government—they simply need to frustrate it. In one sense, their participation in politics is only half-serious. They are less concerned about conservatives winning elections than they are about preventing the liberal forces from winning the kinds of victories that might enable them to carry through a rational and egalitarian program for regulating the economy. Because of this, the economic powers do not feel under much obligation to make serious concessions even to Richard Nixon. They will not, for example, accept a program of price and profit constraint which would enable Nixon to control inflation. On the other hand, they are not enthusiastic about drastic race policies which, though they might allow Nixon to tighten his hold on the Southern and backlash vote, would contribute to social turmoil and the financial burdens on Northern cities.
The big-business forces were sobered by the Goldwater debacle in 1964. The Johnson landslide produced a liberal majority which in due course might have trespassed on the sanctums of the private economy. This gave great impetus to the Nixon campaign, which neither conceded too much to the kooky, populistic reactionaries, nor made any serious commitments to the spending needed to satisfy the ever more militant demands of the blacks, the organized workers, or the disaffected intellectuals. Yet despite the cleverness of the Nixon strategy, only the positively Sicilian feuds among the liberal groups themselves made his victory possible.
Since the inclinations of Nixon’s corporate backers made it difficult for him to propose major social programs of any kind, he won the election largely on the basis of an “anti” vote. He naturally enough is trying to consolidate this vote into a durable majority. He has, in the main, followed Kevin Phillips’s strategy of wooing the South, the Middle States, and the suburbs with anti-black, anti-radical, anti-crime, and related appeals. He has had to rely on rhetoric to do this, because in order to keep his anti-spending constituents happy he is prevented from undertaking major new social programs, even of an essentially conservative kind, such as a large-scale anti-crime program. (His Family Assistance Program, which incorporates some new and attractive ideas for replacing welfare with a guaranteed minimum income, is the one exception.)
This is not a terribly comfortable situation for the Nixon administration. For one thing, its successes are largely dependent on the failures of liberalism, especially those which stir active resentment among normally Democratic voters. For another, every gesture made toward one or another form of backlash creates difficulties for those Republican officeholders with essentially liberal constituencies. This accounts for the repeated Republican defections over such matters as the Supreme Court nominations and the Presidential vetoes of essential appropriations bills. Republican liberals are in an awkward predicament. Charles Goodell, who is running for reelection, is frantically appealing to the Democratic antiwar vote while at the same time defending the administration’s domestic policies. Mark Hatfield has propounded the curious theory that unless Nixon is supported Ronald Reagan will take the Presidency away from him—as though that were a likely alternative. Javits, Percy, Finch, Rockefeller, Brooke—all are struggling to get a steady footing on that thin margin of liberalism that has been permitted in Nixon’s Republican party.
It would perhaps be more accurate to describe these men as moderates than as liberals, because they generally line up between the more aggressive, free-spending Democrats and the normally conservative Republicans. They naturally find themselves in a convenient situation for playing the role of conciliators. Because of their ultimate Republican bias, they are often led to couple the rhetoric of the liberals with voluntaristic, inexpensive, and gimmicky schemes that will be palatable to conservatives. This is the political strain which has given us the Urban Coalition’s “Give a Damn” campaign, Lindsay’s school decentralization program, black capitalism, and a variety of other generally inconsequential and sometimes dangerous diversions from the hard and invariably expensive solutions to major social problems.
It is somewhat surprising that The Hidden Crisis in American Politics ends in a plea for national unity and a homily on the need for the public to show patience in pressing its various demands. Lubell’s interviewing provides him with two valuable perceptions which should have led to other conclusions. They are:
- The backlash against the liberal approach to the race issue, which is often gratuitously ascribed to white racism, is actually quite different from that pathological fear and hatred of Negroes which typifies the white supremacy of the Deep South. Many of the lower-class whites whom Lubell interviewed—even those who voted for Wallace—did not oppose civil rights and expanded opportunities for blacks. Their opposition to the liberal approach to race was based largely on their indignation at rioting and the provocative rhetoric of black extremists, and their fears that Negro progress would be paid for at their expense—that is, that their neighborhoods, schools, and work places would be overwhelmed by large numbers of poor, uneducable, and hostile blacks.
- The philistine affluence of the 60’s, far from inducing self-satisfaction in those who partook of it, instead stimulated new and intense appetites. People now want more, and of a better quality; not just consumer items, but also government services. And they are jealous when they feel that one group (the blacks) are getting these services when they themselves are not.
The obvious implication of both these observations is that Lubell’s “crisis” has a lot to do with economic matters, and its solution will require a reallocation of resources. It is this not-too-subtle point which intrudes on reveries about national unity. It may be that a national consensus can be achieved on such matters as opposition to the use of violence, commitment to the democratic process, concern for legal equality for the Negro, or the need to protect our natural environment. But there is not likely to be any unity over the basic allocation of wealth in our society. The problems of the cities have grown too severe, and the expectations of the have-nots—black and white—have risen beyond anything the haves are willing to concede. Economic growth dividends and funds trimmed from the defense and Vietnam war budgets are not adequate to meet these needs. Some real concessions both in corporate power and in personal incomes must be made, and they will not be made willingly.
The truly hidden crisis in American politics about which Lubell might have spoken is this steadily mounting conflict over the uses and distribution of America’s wealth. No major spokesman of American liberalism has yet addressed himself in full candor to this issue, which is, in one form or another, likely to be central to the politics of the coming decade. The 1970 election campaigns have already demonstrated that liberalism must again give priority to economics if it hopes to recapture the ground lost in the last few years.
By almost any reasonable standard the Nixon administration and its allies should be vulnerable this year. Mid-term elections usually result in some losses for the party in power, even when it has a creditable record. This administration, however, has few accomplishments to run on, even in the eyes of its own constituents. Obviously, blacks have little reason to be pleased with the Nixon record. High unemployment, the credit squeeze, and unyielding inflation have assured that the Republicans can make no inroads into the labor vote on the basis of any accomplishment in the economic field. But there is not even much for the more conservative voter. The administration’s pledges to fight crime do not appear to have reduced one’s chances of being mugged or burglarized, nor have the more lucrative and business-like forms of crime shown signs of any recession. The Vietnam war still throbs—although perhaps not so intensely as before. Hartford and Asbury Park proved that ghetto violence is not just a by-product of a Democratic administration. And—a matter of some importance—Nixon has not been able to bring his supporters what many of them seem to have wanted most: a sense of stability, security, and the bland optimism of the Eisenhower years. Drugs, smut, and violence still abound. The problems of the cities, the environment, and education still seem inexplicably beyond control. Middle America is still haunted by confusion and, at times, by a twinge of panic.
It is remarkable that in the face of such opportunity the question in this election is not the likely extent of Republican losses, but rather whether the Democrats can hold on to what they have. That this should be so is a measure of the lingering divisions among liberal Democrats which brought about their defeat in 1968.
It would be foolish to try to predict the election results, especially with the great swing in public opinion in the closing days of the ’68 campaign as evidence of the change that could occur between this writing and November 3. But enough is clear about both the early events in this year’s campaigns and at least some aspects of the situation that candidates will face in the closing weeks of the election to permit some observations on the Congressional races.
The first such observation is that the new peace politics has not had auspicious success. The New Politics forces opened their election effort with a great gnashing of teeth shortly after President Nixon ordered the troops into Cambodia. Perhaps they can claim success in forcing limitations on that undertaking which otherwise would not have been observed. Even so, their exertions have not contributed much to the election of liberals. The troops are out of Cambodia now, further troop reductions in Vietnam are apparently in the works, and the bewildering variety of movements, committees, and projects which were created in response to the Cambodian invasion are now left without much of an issue. If anything, the President may have benefited by his prudent management of the Cambodian situation, and further agitation about it could create a measure of public resentment.
The Vietnam war, of course, remains an issue. Perhaps in some races it could, if carefully handled, be used effectively against conservatives. The evidence is, however, that it is not being handled well, and that those who are still making Vietnam their issue are producing as much confusion as anything else.
In contrast to the situation in 1968, the peace and domestic-change wings of liberalism are not inevitably pitted against one another this year. A large number of the Democratic legislators who hold one or another antiwar position are also staunch liberals on domestic issues. This is especially true in this year’s Senate races, where with few exceptions the candidates given highest priority by AFL-CIO COPE, the UAW, and the civil-rights organizations are also important doves. The Senate is also the more critical battleground of the two houses of Congress: a loss of seven Democratic seats will give the Republicans a majority. The Republicans are concentrating on Senate campaigns, as is the labor movement. One would think that the peace movement would share this priority—the Senate is the branch of Congress with the greatest influence in foreign affairs.
Ideally, from every standpoint the most effective strategy for all wings of the liberal movement would have been to join in an effort to elect a liberal Senate. (With one exception—Gale McGee—the Senatorial candidates getting the greatest help from the labor movement are doves.) Yet the strategy of the New Politics movement has been to concentrate on its own favorites, regardless of their importance to the larger political picture, and in a manner completely independent of—and occasionally in conflict with—the other major liberal blocs. This is difficult to explain, even from the point of view of those whose sole concern is an early end to the Vietnam war.
There are some races in which the anti-war movement has conducted spoiler campaigns. In Wyoming, a primary candidate was run against McGee who, though announced as an opponent of the war, had a markedly conservative record on domestic affairs. Since the anti-war candidate had no chance of winning, the net result of his candidacy could only have been to weaken McGee in his race against a strong Republican opponent, who is both a conservative and a hawk. A few thousand votes could make the difference in the election.
Hubert Humphrey is in a less difficult situation, since he will probably carry Minnesota by a comfortable margin. Only spitefulness can explain the support given by the anti-war movement to Earl Craig, his primary opponent: Humphrey has adopted a far more dovish position since the 1968 campaign.
Such examples are only one index of a narrow approach to the election in the anti-war movement. Another is its sense of priorities. The defeat of Ralph Yarborough in the Texas Democratic primary was one of the most painful losses liberalism could have suffered in this election. While most of the anti-war groups within the state worked hard for Yarborough, and he had considerable assistance from national labor sources, there is little evidence that he got the same kind of help from the national leadership of the peace movement.
Perhaps the reason the New Politics movement did comparatively little in the Yarborough campaign is that at the time more exciting things were going on elsewhere. In California Ron Dellums, a black whose main campaign energies were drawn from the Berkeley campus, was cutting down Jeffrey Cohelan, a liberal and a dove whose only apparent fault was his uncertainty about the New Politics. As for the East Coast, the other center of the New Politics, there were—in addition to the New York primary circus—three campaigns by New Politics insurgents against incumbent Democratic liberals: the Kaden-Pattan campaign in New Jersey, and the Eichenberry-Rooney and Abzug-Farbstein campaigns in New York. All these drew great national attention, volunteer help from outside the districts, and impressive financial assistance. (It was reported that Bella Abzug raised $75,000 at one well-attended soirée, in the home of Barbra Streisand.3)
On the other hand, the truly crucial races—those to which liberal strength in the Senate is pinned—have not received the attention they deserve. There has not been much tangible support for the Gore campaign in Tennessee. Like Yarborough, Gore is not a New Politics man, despite his liberal and dovish views, and his campaign is stressing tax reform, Social Security reform, and other economic issues. There has been a decided reluctance among Illinois liberals to provide enthusiastic help for the campaign of Adlai Stevenson III, despite Stevenson’s refusal two years back to yield to pressures from Mayor Daley to modify his anti-war position. Stevenson now has Daley’s support, without which his chances of being elected would be helped by prayer far more than by any campaigning. Liberal hatred of Daley has carried over into a perverse disdain for Stevenson. Even Senate candidate Philip Hoff in Vermont, an early supporter of the McCarthy campaign, has not gotten the undivided support of the peace movement. Some of its more adamant sectors have instead backed William Meyer, a pure and simple antiwar candidate who threatens to oppose Hoff on a third-party ticket. Three other Democratic doves, Harrison Williams, Frank Moss, and Quentin Burdick, have the nominal support of the peace movement, but so far not too much besides.
All of these candidates have received support from the AFL-CIO, despite what differences the unionists may have with their foreign-policy views. It is possible that, the primaries out of the way and the hard realities of the political situation somewhat clarified, greater cooperation among the liberal forces could be achieved. This would require, above all, that the peace liberals come to grips with two issues with which they have only fumbled so far: first, the economy; and second, crime and disorder.
The economic situation is not likely to improve much by November, despite all the frantic cheering by administration officials at every flutter of the economic indicators. There is widespread pubic dissatisfaction over high prices, unemployment, the high cost of credit, and even, in some sectors, the impact of the recession on business. And from a political standpoint there is as much to be harvested from the psychological effects of the economic decline on those who may not have yet been touched by its tangible damage—the poor, the working class, and middle-income groups whose expectations not just of stability but of some serious improvement in their way of life were lifted during the boom of the late 60’s. Reaching these people requires more than a program for minor reforms, which seldom have much emotional grab, and often only affect a narrow segment of the populations to which they must appeal. Liberalism needs to stand for a comprehensive and dramatic economic program, which is stated in terms that the average voter can readily grasp. It should be added, however, that such a program must begin with many of the modest needs that the population currently feels. It cannot be an economic master plan, issued de haute en bas, in which such things as workers’ demands for a fatter pay envelope are treated as impertinences. This is the Galbraithian stance.4
The importance of economic programs needs to be reemphasized in view of the growing interest some liberals are showing in the possibility of strengthening the liberal appeal to the lower-class white. This is generally taken to mean broadening social programs for helping blacks to include some direct benefits to whites as well, taking firmer positions on crime, demanding better services for white urban areas, and giving greater recognition to the white ethnic groups whose support for liberalism has been slipping. These are, of course, all valid strategic ideas. Yet it is curious that an economic program is often omitted from such discussion.
One senses in this a view of the lower-income white as a potentially new political clientele, whose support can be won through ethnic appeals, concessions on matters of style, clever handling of the race issue, displays of backbone toward criminals, etc.—none of which costs much, or will scare off wealthy campaign contributors, or will require that any serious role be granted to the more independent representatives of the low-income groups.
Robert Kennedy was experimenting with this strategy in his 1968 campaign. The McCarthy version of the New Politics, which appealed to more conservative, suburban voters, became dominant after Kennedy’s assassination, and interest in appealing to urban ethnic groups declined. Now that Nixon has staked out a good part of the affluent middle class as his own territory, the new liberals are being forced to reconsider the possible uses of the lower-income white.
Yet it is very unlikely that a liberal recovery can be bought simply by mining a new vein of sociology. The crime issue offers an example of the difficulties of this approach. There has recently been an outbreak of hard-line posturing by liberals on the crime issue: John Lindsay has made a militant speech on the subject, as has Hubert Humphrey. An article by Richard Scammon and Benjamin Wattenberg in the New Republic which advises liberal Democrats to try to turn anti-crime feeling against the Republicans has had wide circulation. This is in many respects to the good. It is disastrous when liberals take too literally the sentiments expressed in Eugene Debs’s poetic phrase: “. . . so long as there is a criminal class, I am of it. . . .” Today the poor and working class are clearly the chief victims of crime, especially in its uglier forms. No one who hopes to help or represent them can take lightly their needs for adequate protection.
But it is also true that conservatives are in some respects better able to exploit the crime issues than liberals. Liberal principles prevent them from espousing anti-crime measures which infringe on civil liberties, are too harshly punitive, and so forth. Liberals also have a special difficulty now because the “crime” issue really encompasses some forms of disrespect for law which are essentially political, such as the conflict between the Black Panthers and the police, campus violence, and the Weatherman bombings. (It is entirely possible that some more affluent liberals will accept vigorous anti-crime measures against the blacks without recognizing the politically more damaging crimes of “the kids.”) Such factors make it difficult for liberals fully to capture the crime issue; about all they can hope is to try to neutralize the conservatives’ abilities to exploit it. This is true of most of the other issues which liberals can hope to use in appealing to lower-income whites. The exception, of course, is the economy. Only economic issues can give a cutting edge to a liberal strategy for recouping losses among lower-income whites.
The Democratic liberals may be able to put some new strategy into effect before the election. This will be difficult but it deserves to be tried. The political climate, partly because of the great emphasis on the peace issue, and partly because of the intellectual currents exemplified in Galbraith and Lubell, is not suited to such a shift. There are few staff people available for political campaigns who have sensitivity to the issues and the electorate toward which attention must be turned. The media, partly because of an ultimately conservative bias on class issues, are not likely to be much help. And it takes more than a short burst of political campaigning to reverse trends that have grown up over several years. Still, some important gains could be made—the swing to Humphrey late in the 1968 campaign shows that. Whatever is attempted could at least prepare the way for a more effective liberal campaign in the critical elections of 1972.
1 Doubleday, 86 pp., $4.95.
2 Norton, 306 pp., $5.95. (A third book, The Real Majority by Richard Scammon and Benjamin Wattenberg [Coward-McCann, 347 pp., $7.95], was not available at this writing. From advance indications, it looks as though this book might answer the need for a liberal reappraisal.)
3 Much to its credit, the Universities National Anti-War Fund, one of the most significant of the peace politics groups, did not support Bella Abzug's primary campaign. While at times she may appear to be the New Politics answer to Abbie Hoffman, Mrs. Abzug deserves to be taken far more seriously. Her roots lie in the Old Left, rather than the new liberalism. Her commitment to ending the killing in Vietnam is so strong that she once argued with Paul O'Dwyer at a convention of the New Democratic Coalition over whether or not non-Communist South Vietnamese should be offered sanctuary in the U.S. in the event of a Communist victory. She held that such people deserve the “punishment” that awaits them.
4 Galbraith tends to regard most industrial workers as overpaid, at the expense of those sectors of the population which are outside the industrial system—the poor, the old, the blacks, etc. One can infer that this explains his refusal to endorse last winter's strike by General Electric workers, whose average yearly earnings were well below the government figures for a “modest but adequate” income. Perhaps it did not occur to the Professor that whatever can be extracted from management in such circumstances is taken more from stockholders' dividends and managements' salaries than out of the mouths of the poor. Joe Duffy, whose active support of the GE strike may have helped him win the Connecticut Democratic primary, has an approach which is at once more humane and politically astute.