"The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" featured a panel discussion about Sen. Jesse Helms's career the other night. It offered PBS balance -- on a three-man panel, two disliked or despised Helms, and one supported him. Defending Helms was Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist made the point that many liberals would never acknowledge that Helms, who was chairman of the Foreign Relations committee for many years, was consistently right about communism, while they were disastrously wrong.
The moderator permitted Robert Kuttner, editor of the American Prospect magazine, to respond. He huffed, "Well that is a slander on American liberals. It was American liberals who started the policy of containing communism, and there may be leftists alive in the world who are naive about communism, but it doesn't describe anybody in the United States Senate, Democrat or Republican."
Doesn't it? The mind fairly reels with examples of "naivete" and worse on the part of members of the Senate. Here is Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) recommending in an interview with Georgie Anne Geyer in 1983 that we negotiate with the Salvadoran communists.
Geyer: "Since these kinds of Marxists have never negotiated throughout history ... do you actually believe they would negotiate in good faith now? ...
Dodd: "I don't know the good faith -- no one knows that. You can only find that out by trying, sitting down and seeing if they're sincere, and testing it out. ... I don't know them. I know they're not all Marxists, any more than all the Sandinistas were Marxists. ... I don't believe that every person who opposes the government in El Salvador is a Marxist either. ... I don't believe Marxism is necessarily monolithic either ... We can have intelligent, thoughtful relations with these countries, and we shouldn't assume that if someone happens to be a Marxist, that immediately they're going to be antagonistic to our interests or going to threaten our security."
Uh, huh. Note the use of the word "happens." In Dodd's formulation, people just happen to be Marxists the way others happen to be black. It transforms anti-communism into a form of blind prejudice.
Then congressman now Senator Robert Torricelli joined with then Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D., Texas) and others in a fawning letter to Sandinista strong man Daniel Ortega. "We have been, and remain," the 1984 letter read, "opposed to U.S. support for military action directed against the people or government of Nicaragua." They then praised the man who was importing Soviet tanks, missiles, and anti-aircraft guns in record numbers for "reducing" press censorship -- though they acknowledged how difficult this must be "in the midst of ongoing military hostilities on the borders of Nicaragua."
Meanwhile, if Kuttner needs more evidence of softness toward communism, he need look no further than his morning New York Times. The day after his TV appearance, he would have found this front page headline: "Workers' Rights Suffering as China Goes Capitalist." It seems that "with the collapse of the state industries that once dominated China, tens of millions of the workers who were long portrayed as official masters of the Communist nation have been virtually cast aside." The word "portrayed" saves that sentence from complete farce, but only just. Under communism, workers have no rights at all. Reporter Erik Eckholm notes that workers he questioned about labor unions had never heard of them. Yes, but that's because this is communist China, not because they are now permitting some market reforms!
Last week, the Times ran a story about the Berlin Wall 10 years after its fall. "For those from the east who once believed in communism," wrote Edmund Andrews, "it is a reminder of dashed hopes." Would the Times ever refer to a Nazi symbol, say the site of Hitler's suicide, as a reminder of dashed hopes for those who believed in Nazism? Never, because Nazism was evil, and those who believed in it may have had their "hopes," but decent folks have no sympathy with such sentiments. The Berlin Wall, as the Times story acknowledges, was the scene of dozens of heartbreaking murders, as brave young East Germans risked -- and usually lost -- everything for freedom. East Germany was in the dashing hopes business. The New York Times still doesn't fully grasp that.