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Galbraith: We Must Build Liberal Strength

Liberal Task Is to Extend Past Gains, New ADA National Chairman Says


(The following excerpts are from last Tuesday's address by John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, on accepting the national chairmanship of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington, D.C.)

...The liberal tendency is to be more preoccupied with policy than with power. For the last three days there has been an intense discussion at this Convention of issues facing the United States and to conclusions which I warmly endorse. Let me accordingly say a word or two on the more pedestrian problem of the political position of liberals now and in the days ahead and let me say a special word on how it can be strengthened.

There is no doubt as to the preferences of a great many very contented people in this country. It would be to have two great conservative parties between which it might be possible to choose at random. And it would be to have liberalism as feckless, irrelevant and intellectually obsolete as Time in its more thoughtful moments regularly proclaims it to be. We shall continue to disappoint their words. And the Democratic Party will be either a liberal party or -- as Harry Truman rightly observed -- it will be a losing party. And while Democrats, from time to time, will unquestionably try the experiment of running without liberal support, they will, as invariably in the past, lose. Not only do liberals have votes, and this in an election is not an unimportant detail, but we have more votes each year. And more important than votes we have political energy. Nothing ever presents such a picture of collapse--as Averell Harriman observed many years ago--as a Democratic campaign in which the liberals are sitting on their hands.

Nonetheless we must be much stronger. And, as your new National Chairman, I see the building of liberal strength as our major task. This requires three things for all of which there is, at the moment, an unparalleled opportunity. They are:

* First to organize people who were never before so eager for the kind of public voice that ADA can give them.

* Second to correct some of the mistakes of liberalism which have damaged us in the past and of which we must now be aware. Let us not embrace that high canon of modern foreign policy which holds that it is better to continue the wrong policy than to admit error by rectifying it.

* Third we must continue and widen our initiative on these critical matters on which there is, at present, such deep dissatisfaction throughout the country.

"To the Rear of Gerald Ford"

Let me address myself for a moment to this trinity of matters. The ADA in the past has had its political base in a rough coalition between unattached liberals and liberal trade unionists. So I trust it will continue to be. We shall continue to find strength in our alliance with men like Walter Reuther, "Abe" Abel, Louis Stohlberg and others who believe in their old-fashioned way that liberalism is the cause of the worker. But we must also be aware that large sections of the labor movement are no pillar of liberal strength. On the contrary the leadership is aged, contented and deeply somnambulant. And on important issues of foreign policy its position is well to the rear of Gerald Ford. This is a tragedy and we can only hope that time and a will to reform rather than adversity will work the remedy.

But as the outlook here is dark, elsewhere it is bright. In recent years we have had an explosive growth in the academic and scientific community in the United States. In 1900 some 24,000 were teaching in colleges and universities in the United States. By the end of this decade there will be 480,000. The number of students has increased more than in proportion. Where the sources of capital were once decisive in the economy, now it is the sources of highly qualified manpower. This is a community with a natural desire to be heard in public affairs. It has a large capacity for leadership and influence. It is literate, has a good political memory and a special interest in foreign policy and it presently feels an intense sense of frustration over its difficulty in registering its views. Nor has this been lessened by the determination of the foreign policy establishment to dismiss these views with contempt....

War: The Tragedy of Democrats

Organization is equally urgent now, for 1968 will not be an easy year for liberals. If an excess of affection for privileged people and antique ideas has been the misfortune of the Republican Party, war has been the tragedy of the Democrats. The first World War brought us the long blight of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. The aftermath of World War II brought a Republican Congress including what responsible historians may well consider the most retarded statesmen since King John. The Korean war brought the defeat of Adlai Stevenson, the loss of both houses of Congress and the eight years of Eisenhower and Dulles. And now we have the conflict in Vietnam.

This conflict differs markedly from the earlier conflicts in being regarded by a great many Americans as an unnecessary one. I have always so regarded it myself. It will be even more disastrous for the Democratic Party. While it is the Republicans who are the most enthusiastic for this war, I do not suggest that the Republican leaders, not even Nixon, would wish to prolong the conflict for party advantage. When I hear generals, or high State Department officials, speak blithely of a five or ten year war I am willing to believe that they have not considered the political consequences. Perhaps they can afford to be indifferent. But for the rest of us there is no excuse for innocence. This disaster could, indeed, mean the death and burial of the Democratic Party.

It also specifices the principal purpose for which we must organize. For in this disaster we are likely to lose some or all of the liberal senators and congressmen who have contributed so much to civilized advance in these last years. This must not be allowed to happen. And it rests with ADA to supply to the limits of its ability the energy and education which ensures that our friends do not go down to defeat.

For every chapter and every member this must be a first order of business.

That we are concerned with the problem admirably illustrates the single greatest error of liberalism in these last twenty years. It has been the assumption that we could concentrate on domestic matters and leave foreign policy to the self-styled experts and the conservatives who quite frequently are one and the same. Or it could be left to those liberals who on becoming associated with foreign policy could convert to the official cliches and the doctrines of John Foster Dulles on a moment's notice. Liberalism has few more depressing phenomena than its instant apologists where foreign policy is concerned.

The men who will suffer most from the reaction to Vietnam will be those who had the greatest doubts about it. And generally speaking, those who have spoken most fluently and feelingly about the defense of liberty, freedom and Marshal Ky's version of democracy in Saigon have never shown the slightest passion for these principles in Birmingham or Harlem. Needless to say I do not include the President in this observation, but I do urge that he require all friends of Vietnam democracy to do their boot training in Birmingham.

Support of Nauseous Despots

If one were to isolate the most damaging single feature of American foreign policy in the last twenty years it has been our recurrent support of nauseous despots whom we wouldn't for a moment tolerate within our own frontiers. And much of this support has come from administrations in which, at a minimum, liberal influence has been strong. It has been another result of imagining we could be liberal at home and reactionary abroad. I hope it is a lesson we have finally learned.

Along with supposing that liberalism stopped at the water's edge--except as liberals might be more intelligent in fighting the Cold War--we have also been far too ready to believe that we could have one set of moral standards abroad and another at home. That is not true either.

In these last years on matters ranging from air attacks on Asian villages to the testimonial contributions of the CIA to the organizations it favors, we have heard the argument that in this world we must be brutal and immoral too. This argument has a great appeal to conservatives--provided, as Barry Goldwater urged, the money is spread around--but a great many liberals have seized upon it as an opportunity for escape from the unnatural constraints of virtue. In the liberal soul too there lurks a little of the late James Bond, coupled perhaps with a few of the more commonplace instincts of Senator Thomas J. Dodd.3 We have now learned that because the Communists do something it does not follow that we can do it. We are rightly judged by a different set of standards; illegal or immoral acts are not part of the American armory. In a gathering that is not unanimous in praise of President Johnson I would like to applaud him for his decision last week to bring to an end the messy business of secret subsidies to private organizations. I might add that I also think a better developed sense of liberal outrage on the part of all of us would have brought it to an end earlier.

Johnson Deserves Credit

Now let me conclude with a word on substantive matters. Again I make note of the fact that the President of the United States has not, in these proceedings, suffered from an excess of applause. Let me suggest that it is also a sound liberal tradition to give credit where credit is due.

I have had considerable differences with those experts who have presided over our. Far Eastern policy in increasing error for the last twenty years and who now ask a closing ranks on the mistakes that brought us this misery in Vietnam--presumably so that they will be free to make ever greater ones. Nor do I spare the President whose Administration and responsibility it is. But let us not ignore the accomplishments of the Johnson Administration of these last three years. And let us see that some of the reaction these measures are encountering--notably to civil rights legislation in the North--is the best proof that they have bite. Let there be no doubt about the proper liberal posture in these matters. It is to take pride in the accomplishments and in the great liberal thrust that carried them into effect.

Bizarre Economic Doctrine on 'Taxes

The liberal task now is to consolidate and extend these gains and to overcome the resistance they have engendered. If there is a shortage of hospital beds and of nurses and of medical services, let us be sure that people understand that it is because this sector of the economy has been starved for years. And let us do something about that. Let us fight the backlash not by watching and on occasion deploring the onslaught on Adam Clayton Powell but by pressing for the next steps against bigotry and misunderstanding and segregated communities and schools and restricted housing. Let us meet the problems of administration in the poverty program by training administrators--and especially by pressing for the money it requires. And let us, for God's sake, defeat that most bizarre of all economic doctrines, now having such an enormous vogue, which is that since Americans are now enjoying unprecedented incomes, and are getting them partly because of the war in Vietnam, we must, because of the war in Vietnam, avoid taxes on this more ample income and cut back on spending for the poor.

I would urge also that we need a somewhat stronger line on that most glittering of modern economic doctrines which is that all progress must be bought by increasing profits and allowing a larger return to the needy rich. In the last six years under the presumably stern egalitarian policies of two Democratic Presidents, corporate profits after taxes increased from $27 billion to $48 billion. Nothing comparable to this ever occurred before. It is even bad for the Republicans; what in the world will they have to offer if they ever return to the Treasury? Let me now say a word about foreign policy.

MLF: Stereotyped Planning

In these last years, far more again than liberals have conceded, the Administration has moved to break with the stereotypes of an outworn foreign policy. President Johnson and the more liberal of his advisers have moved courageously to eliminate the notion of a permanent division in Europe. They have ditched the kind of stereotyped military planning that produced the MLF--not all products of Harvard evoke liberal applause or even make sense. The President has improved the language of our discussion with the Soviet Union--a matter on which he has gone far beyond his predecessors. He seems now to be moving the hard-nosed men out of Latin American affairs--where in the name of tough-mindedness and resistance to any form of idealism they accomplish such an infinity of mischief. We have yet to recapture momentum in our aid to underdeveloped countries. But in the last two years, and not, I trust without some knowledge of the problem, I have watched the policy toward the South Asian subcontinent with nearly complete approval.

The President has shown a sure touch in the way he has balanced emphasis on agricultural self-help (mainly production and use of fertilizer) with birth control and emergency supply of food by ourselves and other countries. And, over more opposition one imagines than has been seen on the surface, he has taken the giant step of eliminating arms shipments to both India and Pakistan. When I was in India as Ambassador all of those steps were ones I very much hoped, on liberal grounds, to see. And some of them, like the cessation of arms shipments, I despaired of ever seeing.

The Deep Pall on Vietnam

But over this progress lies the deep pall created by Vietnam. And this war is the last manifestation of the old stereotypes and the old policy. It is the direct outgrowth of ideas that captured our foreign policy leadership in the time of Stalin. This leadership initiated the present policy in Viet- nam as a reaction to the notion of a unified, all-embracing, world-wide conspiracy of Communism. It probes as the Secretary of State told us for years as did Hitler at Munich, or in a more recent view, as did Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. Its operations were described by Secretary of State Dean Rusk before a Congressional committee not very long ago: he said the "Sino-Soviet bloc is not satisfied with a mere triumph of ideological principles but demands direct subservience to the policies of the block as conceived (sic) in Moscow." In this doctrine Communism has no indigenous roots of any importance. It is not a reaction to local injustice or incompetence. It can never be an expression of national ardor. It is always imposed from without. It demands a military response. Our plunge into Vietnam, let me repeat, as originally conceived was to arrest a probe of this Moscow-directed conspiracy.

Such were the doctrines that launched the original policy. Since then Moscow and Peking have fallen out to the point where there is possible need for concern that their polemics might degenerate into unplanned violence. And China is torn bitterly as between itself. And no one knows whether North Vietnam has its primary association with Moscow or China much less with what factions in China. And there is agreement by all except the custodians of the official truth in Washington that the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam has strong indigenous roots that tap both national ardor and ancient injustice. Never in modern times has history played such a disastrous trick on doctrine.

Two Wars

So the sad truth is that we are now engaged in fighting two wars.

One is against some very determined and very disagreeable people who, we must assume, believe also that they have national identity as well as redress of social grievances on their side. The other struggle is here at home. It is to rescue a policy the foundations of which have visibly and radically eroded before the eyes of the world. It is to prove that those who have staked their reputation on a military solution are right. That was the reason for the unnatural joy in Washington last week--and relayed to the whole world--when Hanoi rejected, or seemed to reject, U Thant's proposals. It was the reason for the Secretary's specially convened press conference to tell delightedly of the intransigance of the enemy. It was a victory in the second conflict.

This is not the way peace is sought and made. Peace requires people that really believe in it--and who have not staked their reputations on conflicting premises. So far as one can tell from the papers if we stop the air attacks we can have negotiations. The air attacks were always the greatest blunder of this war; no one with an understanding of our people would ever have supposed that they would be accepted by thoughtful citizens in the immediate aftermath of an election devoted to proving their recklessness and danger. And the evidence is now in on their lack of military effectiveness. So let us give a bombing suspension a really serious try.

Peacemaking will unquestionably be difficult; it is the nature of our brand of liberalism that it does not invest in illusion. We are adequately aware that it takes two to negotiate. But this door has been opened--let us try it. And let us be glad, not sorry, that the doctrine--the theory of centrally directed and unified conspiracy--that lay behind the misadventure has dissolved. Let us take advantage of this new fact. Above all let us see negotiation and peace not as propaganda ploys but as something we want and must have

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