Forty years ago, in the third week of August 1968, something horrible happened to the American Left and to its host, the Democratic Party. We have been living with this horror ever since. Democrats once embraced patriotism. Scoop Jackson, a true liberal on domestic issues, was as passionate a supporter of America against our enemies as any other politician in America. JFK, in his 1960 campaigned against Nixon in 1960, argued that the Eisenhower Administration had neglected national defense and he promised to defend freedom anywhere. Harry Truman was wrong on many things, but he defended the Republic of Korea, he ordered the Berlin Airlift, and he pushed the Truman Plan and the Marshall Plan. Once Democrats, liberal Democrats, were genuine patriots who opposed our totalitarian enemies.
This anti-totalitarian Left insisted that communism would implode from within. Contain communism, liberal Democrats once said, and it would fall. Implicit in this interpretation of world events was the idea that this ghastly expression of Leftism totalitarianism was rotten to the core. Implicit in this also was the belief that modern war was too awful a nightmare even to be used to roll back communism. Both Left and Right agreed about the final goal -- the end of the Soviet empire -- but disagreed about tactics. This, at least, had been true since 1945.
In 1968, America, largely alone, was fighting communism in Southeast Asia. Good men still debate the wisdom of that war. Was trying to stop communism in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos worth the sacrifice of American blood? Should we have fought a war when our SEATO allies, Britain and France, ignored their treaty obligations and traded with the enemy? Should we have fought a war with ground troops that might have been fought with fewer losses by sea and air power? Should we have fought a war hamstrung by civilian bureaucrats in Washington? What few liberal Democrats once questioned was the morality of defending imperfect, partially free allies from totalitarian conquest.
That changed dramatically forty years ago. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the pent-up animus against America, simmering on college campuses for years, blossomed into an anti-war movement which was not anti-war at all, but which was rather anti-America and anti-freedom. Banners celebrated brutal thugs like Ho Chi Minh and defined America as "Amerika." The protesters who carried these banners called openly for violence, not peace. The object of this movement was, quite simply, the triumph of evil.
Serious debates about the prudence and effectiveness of policies -- Was Southeast Asia worth defending? Were the operations and tactics employed wise? -- were replaced by fundamental questions about the morality of our nation. Communist dictators like Castro were celebrated. Mega-murderers like Mao were lionized. This was something new and hideous in American political discussion.
Many Americans supported isolationism before the Second World War, but these Americans did not say that our nation was a pox; they did not champion the wicked regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan; they did not yearn that America become more like the world. Rather, these America Firsters thought that the world should become more like America.
No major political movement that despised America could have survived in America in 1940. Indeed, no major political movement can survive in a democracy which despises its homeland -- except in America. Forty years ago, the Democratic Party became an anomaly in the history of democracies: It assumed a posture of contempt towards the very nation which it sought to govern. Why? The principle reason was that a sated generation deprived of God thrashed about for purpose and, finding none, embraced the nihilism of Marxism and loathed the hopeful life that America had given to so many peoples from so many lands. My wife's parents, Holocaust survivors, loved America for the manifest goodness that it was. They understood totalitarianism and then they understood America. Life taught them the nature of good and of evil.
The anti-American students at the Chicago Democratic Convention, charter members of the most pampered generation in human history, assumed that goodness was imperfection and that evil was nirvana. Empty souls assumed that emptiness was the normal condition of the human soul. Marx, the father not only of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, but also the father of Mussolini and Hitler, was the adopted father of these angry, spoiled children.
Even when Marx was a circus clown, these orphans of conscience hailed Ho and Mao and Che. And the very week that students fought in the streets for Marx, events on the other side of the world showed how utterly futile trust in Marx would be. The communist incarnation of Marx always had an ugly face. The prettiness of Bolshevism was always over the horizon. In 1968, some communists demanded a happy life now, not in some misty Marxian future paradise. These communists in Czechoslovakia gave their materialist religion a human face. Dissent was allowed by these communist rulers. Czechs acted like free people. Dubcek, General Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, did not reject the tenets of Marx; he simply thought that a police state was not essential to Marx. Dubcek was wrong.
Days before students rioted at the Democratic Convention in Chicago (these students who saw no profit in trying to influence the Republican Convention in Miami), tanks from Warsaw Pact "allies" entered Czechoslovakia to re-impose rule, not Marxist rule -- Marxists were governing Czechoslovakia already -- but totalitarian rule. It was now clear, if it ever been unclear, that Marxism could never be anything but brutal oppression. The crushing of the Prague Spring, the brief and fragile flowering of human liberty under Marxism, proved that.
While Marxist armies patrolled the streets of newly occupied Prague, apologists and defenders of Marx in Chicago demanded that their vehicle of political expression, the Democratic Party, abandon resistance to Marxism throughout the world. These protesters won their war long after the convention. Although Hubert Humphrey won the party's nomination, he would be the last Democrat who truly defended America against totalitarian enemies to carry the banner of the party of JFK, Scoop Jackson, or Harry Truman.
Jackson, a hero to labor and a liberal in domestic politics, was crushed in the 1972 nomination run specifically because he was so staunch a defender of his country. McGovern won that 1972 nomination, guided by a medley of groups committed to the practical surrender of American power. Carter, who professed surprise at communist evil when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, was one of the two Democrats to win the White House since 1968. The other was Clinton, the draft dodger who traveled to Moscow during the Vietnam War. Obama, whose pastor openly damned America, will be the Democrats' nominee this year.
Incredibly, a political party largely reconstructed around the notion that its own nation is evil and its own citizens are dupes or worse, has survived and thrived in America. Its party leaders more or less openly root for the defeat of American soldiers in war. Its party bigwigs hobnob with America-haters like Michael Moore at national conventions. Its party faithful, according to public opinion polls, listen seriously to arguments that the American government planned war upon its own people.
The descent from a reasonable, serious political party into a gaggle of anti-patriots began forty years ago this month, just as the case for winning the Cold War was made most emphatically in the streets of Prague. It is not accidental that a former Democrat turned Republican, Ronald Reagan, won that Cold War over the constant squawking of Democrats.
The students of Chicago streets are now the old men of the Democrat Party. They blame America, somehow, for Russian tanks in Georgia, just as they blamed America, if they blamed anyone, for Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia. Frozen in time, immune to reality, they tear and claw at the nation which gave them everything. They lived as they lived in 1968 -- reveling in the bloodying of America, chanting praises of Marxist monsters, pummeling anyone within their party who did not toe the party line.
When people sense the sickness of American politics and government, what they sense is something missing for forty years from our national dialog: Sincere and patriotic partisan debate. There should be two political parties, both committed to the American Dream, both in love with their nation, both proud to defend her. Instead, one party has accepted the lies told about America on the streets of Chicago in 1968. Too rich, too powerful, too confident, too comfortable -- this is what the rioters in Chicago thought of America then; this is what the heart of the Democratic Party thinks now, forty years after their political party died.