Monday, June 12, 2006


I like Mark Schmitt's discussion of the Scoop Jackson myth.

There are perhaps several bits of Beinart’s history that I’m tempted to challenge, but I’ll pick on just one of them here because it’s been bugging me for years. It’s a fairly small thing, just a few pages in the book, but it is an essential pivot point for the argument and, frankly, for the New Republic view of the world. And that is the counterfactual proposition that if only, if only Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972 or 1976, all would be right with the world.

This is an essential myth to many of the liberal hawks, to the neocons when they still considered themselves Democrats, and to some extent to the predecessors of the Democratic Leadership Council. (the Schachtmanite Committee for a Democratic Majority). And it’s central to Beinart’s argument. But it’s not just wrong, it’s ridiculous. If I went around arguing that if only Bill Bradley, who I worked for, had been the Democratic nominee in 2000, the world would be better, I might – in some unprovable sense – be correct, but people would still laugh at me. Because he didn’t get many votes. (And that was only six years ago, not 30.) Scoop Jackson wasn’t robbed of a nomination that was rightly his, or shot to death after winning the California primary. He just didn’t get many votes. He fell completely flat in 1972. And in 1976, he botched the tactics, unwisely skipping Iowa and New Hampshire and so by the time he won two primaries, Jimmy Carter had already consolidated the support of conservative Democrats while the liberals were split. Scoop Jackson’s not the great lost hope; he’s merely one of about two dozen capable, non-brilliant Senators since 1972 who saw a president in the mirror each morning, but couldn’t persuade anyone else to see the same thing. Would he have won those elections, if nominated? Who knows? Nor was Jackson some sort of foreign-policy visionary. He was a classic Western New Dealer (the really, really big spenders), who also happened to represent the biggest defense contractor of his era. The unsustainability of his pork-barrel “Guns AND Butter” policy would have tripped him up in the 1970s as surely as it did LBJ in the 1960s. If there is a deeper legacy that Jackson represents, it is uniformly a despicable one, in the form of people like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz who used him as a vehicle for their emerging theories, and if their later careers are an indication of what a Jacksonian America would have been like, then we should be thankful he was a dud as a candidate. His dud candidacy deserves no more attention than those of Lloyd Bentsen, John Glenn, Fritz Hollings, and many others.

More generally I think this is a part of a highly un-democratic and elitist tone coming from certain quarters which seems to believe that Democratic voters are naive and childish and can't be trusted to vote for the "right" person. There'a s set of people out there who seem to believe that their role is to save Democrats from themselves, and they don't do it by trying to persuade or lead, but simply by being dismissive and condescending. Strange people.