Echoes of the past

Posted: Feb 15, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- They never really change. The post-World War II political Left around the globe -- and particularly in this country -- have always hated to play offense. During the long twilight struggle against Soviet expansion, the American Left proudly opposed anything more proactive than "containment." Now, President George W. Bush is enduring the same criticism from the same quarter as he seeks support for a global offensive against terrorism. In May 1981, Ronald Reagan, who turned 91 this week, prognosticated, "The West will not contain communism, it will transcend communism," and we will "dismiss it as a sad bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written." For suggesting that we could bring down what he accurately called an "Evil Empire," Reagan was denounced as a "warmonger" and worse. The Hollywood elite went nuts. The Eastern liberal intelligentsia ridiculed him. Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson sneered, "It is a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable." Harvard's John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed Reagan's assessment with the derisive -- and dead wrong -- evaluation that "the Soviet economy has made great national progress in recent years." And of course, there were those who arose in both the House and Senate to stymie any rebuilding of U.S. armed forces that could be perceived as "threatening" to Moscow. President George W. Bush is now enduring that same sniper fire from a new crop of "closet compromisers" who fear an offensive U.S. posture against terrorism. On Jan. 29, President Bush had the temerity to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" -- and announced to the world: "I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand idly by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." This isn't defense. It's offense. And it was enough to drive the American Left into paroxysms of angst. Hollywood's Robert Altman was the first to sound the alarm. The director of the critically acclaimed financial flop, "Gosford Park," proudly proclaimed from London that, "When I see an American flag flying, it's a joke," and that, "This present government in America, I just find disgusting." Truly, an Oscar-winning performance. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had trouble remembering his lines. The Senate majority leader initially gave the commander in chief high marks for his State of the Union Address. But on Feb. 11 -- the 5-month anniversary of the terror attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans -- he decided that it really wasn't nice to use labels like "evil." He told dozens of PBS viewers not watching the Olympics, "We've got to be very careful with rhetoric of that kind." Right on, Tom. It's like a loaded gun. That same night at Brown University, AOL-Time Warner's Ted Turner took center stage in the "Blame America First" passion play. The "Mouth from the South" told 500 students attending the school that expelled him in 1960 that the 19 terrorists who hijacked four airliners on 9-11 "were brave at the very least." He went on to deride President Bush for his "axis of evil" comment and baldly opined that, "The reason the World Trade Center got hit is because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don't have any hope for a better life." The little Ivy Leaguers lapped it up. On Feb. 12, it was former Vice President Al Gore's turn to join the chorus of critics. Professor Gore's grouse: President Bush is showing "impatience and disdain" toward our "allies" in the campaign against terrorism. In remarks that could have been co-authored by Ted Turner and Ted Kaczynski, the artist formerly known as "Alpha Male" sonorously intoned to the left-leaning Council on Foreign Relations that terrorism is "today's manifestation of an anger welling up from deep layers of grievance shared by many millions of people." And what causes this anger? "Poverty, ignorance, disease and environmental disorder, corruption and political oppression." The solution? Increased spending on foreign aid. Honest. I'm not making this up. If Messrs. Altman, Turner, Daschle and Gore sound like they are reading from a script written by Neville Chamberlain, Jane Fonda and Kofi Annan, it's because they are. We've heard it all before. It's the same defeatist rhetoric that the "Globalist-Left" used against Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. If he and Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa and Adolfo Calero had listened to the Left back then, the Berlin Wall would still stand, Central America would be in flames and our schoolchildren would still be practicing air raid drills. In the days ahead, the Left's critique of an offensive posture against terrorism will grow in volume. It should not come as a surprise, for as the French journalist Alphonse Karr put it in 1849, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."