By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I find it intriguing to talk to those who are eager to give “the inside scoop” about their line of work. I am talking about the people who will pull you close and give you a “wink-wink” about the “way things really are” in their world: waiters and waitresses who inform you about how “daily specials” are used to con diners into buying certain dishes, stockbrokers who will key you in on how shady brokerage houses can make big money selling over-hyped stocks to gullible investors, political insiders who scoff at the clueless folks who know nothing about how influence-peddlers and lobbyists shape legislation.
I submit there is another group of “insiders” that has an insight to offer: I have in mind anyone who majored in history or the social sciences at an American university in the last 40 years. If they were willing to speak out, they could confirm that Col. Ralph Peters was on the mark when he appeared on Sean Hannity’s program on the night of March 4 — and that the people in the media and the academy who were “aghast” at Peter’s charge were blowing smoke at us precisely because they know Peters was right.
Here’s what Peters said: “Obama is a man who’s incapable of making a hard decision. And by the way, one other key point, Vladimir Putin believes in Russia. He believes in Russia’s destiny, its mission. Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. He does not believe in this country.” At which point came the groans. Peters was called everything from “simplistic” to “McCarthyite,” from “irresponsible” to “shamelessly partisan.”
But the critics know Peters was correct. They know what has been taught about America and its role in the world in our universities since the 1970s, when the new left activists took control of the curriculum. The people at The New York Times and on MSNBC know what historians, books, and movies filled the air on those campuses. They know it was not just a few outliers who called the United States “Amerika.” They know what Obama learned at those schools. They attended those classes and learned the same thing. In large measure, it explains why they are secular leftists today.
I was there, too. I took courses in about a half-dozen universities during the 1970s and 1980s. It was always the same. And everyone who took the courses I took during those years knows it was always the same. The professor would enter the class, often making a little ashtray from a piece of writing paper for the droppings from his Camel cigarettes. (I don’t know why so many of these new left characters were determined to let everyone know they smoked unfiltered Camels; I suspect they thought it some sign of working-class authenticity.) And then the drumbeat of new left agitprop would begin.
(Before we go further: Might it be that I am exaggerating the percentage of new left Marxists in the universities during those years, or perhaps offering only anecdotal evidence? I don’t think so. I am confident that I am correct. One of my professors at the time stated flatly that “90 percent of the history professors in the country accept the new left view of American history.” I saw nothing during my time in graduate school to disagree with his estimate. Come on: The liberals jumping all over Col. Peters know the number is correct. I repeat: They were there.)
The classes would be assigned books by Charles Beard, who championed an “economic interpretation of American history,” which held that the true motive of the Founding Fathers was to protect their private wealth, in contrast to the idealized version held by most Americans; or by William Appleman Williams, who made the case that the United States has been imperialist since its earliest days, up to and including the Cold War era, in an attempt to secure new markets and natural resources for its growing economy. Williams maintained that the Cold War was caused when the United States attempted to encircle the Soviet Union with capitalist economies hostile to the Russian socialist experiment.
Staughton Lynd was likely to have been on the reading list as well. He presented American history as one incident after another of working-class rebellion against capitalist overlords, from Shays’ Rebellion to the Whiskey Rebellion, to the Civil War Draft Riots, to the struggles of the Wobblies and the Bonus Marchers, to the anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s. These views would be underscored with assigned readings by I.F. Stone, Noam Chomsky, Gabriel Kolko, and D.F. Fleming.
Their message was front and center, no ambiguities: Capitalism was to blame for our “ethnocentrism,” “militarism,” and opposition to Third World peoples struggling to achieve independence in places such as Cuba, China, and Vietnam. To support this understanding of the world, students were encouraged to see films such as Costa-Gavras’ Z, a depiction of the violence unleashed by right-wing Greek militarists to crush socialist idealists in their country; also Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers, a dramatic portrayal of the brutality used by France in its attempt to crush the struggle for Algerian national independence. The good guys and the villains never varied. Capitalism equaled inequality and oppression; socialism is modern man’s struggle for national liberation and social justice.
I submit that this is Barack Obama’s view of the world. He tells us in his autobiographies that he associated with “hipsters and Third World radicals” during his college days. It is why he became a community organizer; why he adopted Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation theology rather than that of a more mainstream black Protestant denomination. It is why Col. Peters is correct in insisting that he “does not believe in American exceptionalism. He does not believe in this country.” It is why Obama (as reported by Jonah Goldberg in the March 7 online edition of National Review), while studying at Columbia University, wrote a lengthy article for the school’s magazine in which he blamed the Cold War on America’s “war mentality,” “twisted logic,” and “distorted national priorities.”
Then again, maybe it is unfair to say Obama “does not believe in this country.” Obama has his American heroes: the radicals and protesters lionized by Staughton Lynd, all those who worked to “fundamentally transform the country” before he was given his chance to do that work after his election in 2008.