24 June 2005

Lind on Regional Divisions in the Cold War

The pattern of northern isolationism and southern interventionism continued into the Cold War. Ohio's [Republican] senator Robert A. Taft voted against both the Marshall Plan and NATO. The legacy of Greater New England isolationism explains the curious fact that William Langer, a progressive Republican senator from North Dakota, opposed the censure of Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy--and the fact that McCarthy was admired by Robert La Follette's son Philip. Although McCarthy's demagogy is usually attributed to his Irish Catholic background, his hatred and suspicion of U.S. national security agencies resonated with many left-of-center progressive isolationists in Wisconsin and surrounding states. Indeed, it is no accident that the same region produced both Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, determined to expose alleged communist subversion of American national security agencies in the 1950s, and Idaho senator Frank Church, determined to expose the immorality of the CIA in the 1970s. Both McCarthy and Church must be placed in the context of two centuries of Greater New England opposition to standing armies and the national security state. Nor is it an accident that it was the Wisconsinian McCarthy's attack on the Virginia-bred General George Marshall and the largely southern U.S. Army that finally led to his downfall at the hands of the southern-dominated U.S. Congress.

The regional continuities in American foreign policy during the Cold War are clear in spite of the political realignment of 1964-94, in which the two parties exchanged their constituencies. As the right-wing Goldwater movement, based in the South and the West, became more powerful in the GOP, growing numbers of progressive and liberal Republicans from New England and Yankee states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Oregon joined the Democratic party. At the same time, blacks deserted the party of Lincoln and joined their traditional northern Protestant and Jewish white allies in the Democratic coalition....

In taking over the Democratic party, left-liberals and radical activists--many of whom came from progressive Republican or Marxist backgrounds--delegitimated the older elements in the party by demonizing them. America's soldiers, far more likely to be southerners than northerners, were "baby-killers" and "Nazis"; northeastern police, far more likely to be Irish-American, Polish-American, or Italian-American Catholics than Yankee or German- or Scandinavian-American Protestants, Jews, or blacks, were denounced as "pigs" and "fascists." Pro-Cold War labor leaders, disproproportionately Irish Catholic, were "labor fascists." In the 1960s and 1970s the institutions in which the northern Protestant/Jewish left-liberal alliance was overrepresented--the press, universities, and the federal courts--were identified by the media and Hollywood with liberty and justice, while the institutions that the southern white/northern Catholic New Deal Democrats dominated--the urban political machines, the U.S. military, the police, the U.S. Congress, and the state legislatures--were vilified as tyrannical and corrupt. The battles within the Democratic party during the Vietnam era were only superficially about ideology. They were really about regional subculture, ethnicity, and race.
SOURCE: Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict, by Michael Lind (Simon & Schuster, 1999), pp. 116-118

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