A Failure for the “Progresssive” Peace Movement: New Hampshire Primary

1968 vs. 2012

For the Left, the big news of the New Hampsire primary has been greeted with an embarrassed silence. For there the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, for example “Progressive” Democrats of America, failed completely to put forward a candidate for peace. This failure was not unexpected since the candidate of the progressives was and is Barack Obama who is out-Bushing Bush in the war and empire department. Nor did the wing of the progressive peace movement not formally associated with the Democratic Party raise its voice in any discernible way in New Hampshire. Here is a primary which is carefully watched in a state small enough so that a grassroots effort cam have a genuine effect and reverse the tide of war as happened in 1968 and 1952. Where were UFPJ, Veterans for Peace, Peace Action, Code Pink? Missing in action. What an abject failure, a profound indictment of what is called the “Peace and Justice” movement.

Lenin once remarked that each generation comes to socialism in its own way. It might also be said that each generation comes to oppose war and Empire in its own way. For the present generation of 20 and 30 somethings, libertarian philosophy is the vehicle to oppose war, as was evident in the New Hampshire primary. In part they chose Libertarianism, but in part Libertarianism chose them since the progressives have largely abandoned anti-interventionism, preferring instead Obama’s “humanitarian” imperialism. Many in fact are pro-war when you scratch the surface.

How different this was from 1968 when the young went “clean for Gene,” tromping around for Senator Eugene McCarthy in the snows of New Hampshire. Disgusted with inhumanity of the imperialist war on Vietnam and threatened with the draft, they took up the cause of McCarthy, the only one willing to challenge Johnson. (Not widely known is that George McGovern, somewhat to the left of McCarthy, refused, as did Bobby Kennedy, another saint for the Progressives, brother of and adviser to the president who ratcheted up that war in the early 60s.) With a close second in New Hampshire, McCarthy and his volunteers brought Johnson low and ended his war presidency. It was a reprise of the 1952 NH primary in which Estes Kefauver with his trademark coonskin cap bested Harry Truman, now lionized by the Democrats but widely reviled at the time for the war in Korea which claimed at least a million Asian and about 50,000 American souls. By 2012 the hold of the Democratic Party on the so-called Peace and Justice movement is so complete that no one dared challenge Obama.

Whose vote were the young libertarians able to deliver to their candidate, Ron Paul? That is another largely unreported story. The votes for Ron Paul came strongly not only from the under 40 set but among those earning under $50,000. In contrast Romney, a carbon copy of Obama on all major questions took the over $100,000 crowd and the older voters. “Proletariat Votes Libertarian” or “Proletariat Votes for Paul” are headlines which the progressives might find enlightening. At the least the Progressives might have joined Ron Paul’s antiwar, civil Libertarian effort, but they did not because, you see, Ron Paul unlike Obama is not a “progressive,” and the “struggle for peace and justice cannot be separated.” (I have noticed, however, that progressives these days from Occupy Wall Street to the Recall Walker effort find it quite easy to leave out questions of peace in the “struggle for justice.” MLK Jr. would be ashamed of them for that; but it is most convenient for Obama’s re-election campaign.)

As one who was on the ground in New Hampshire in the days leading up to the primary, I was intrigued by the characteristics of the volunteers themselves. It was not an elite crew; not a single Ivy Leaguer amongst them did I find – usually from state universities or colleges. Holding signs at one poll I visited was a 40 year old painter who had three or four employees, a young woman who ran a graphic designing business and another young woman, a divorced 37 year old lawyer with a 10 year old child. I would characterize this group as either working class or small businessmen and women. This is precisely the group that Progressives should be trying to organize and represent. In that regard the Progressive movement has been a dismal failure over the last three decades; and in fact has generally proved quite hostile to small businesspeople and their culture.

On a personal note going to NH this time was a dream deferred. In 1968 when others went “Clean for Gene,” I had a schedule that demanded I work every day, every other night and every other weekend. Never did I imagine that all these decades later the antiwar action would be on the Republican side. It appears that the “progressive” Left, not a genuine left or radical formation anyway, has lost a generation of activists with its subservience to Obama and its lack of spine. One begins to wonder about the entire Progressive movement. Perhaps when a genuine Left wing movement reemerges, it should give up on the very name “progressive”– or again to borrow a phrase from Lenin, “take off the soiled shirt.”

John V. Walsh can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com. Read other articles by John V..