Obama & the $ubprimers

Cambridge, Mass.

Thanks to Max Fraser for his fact-based “Subprime Obama” [Feb. 11]. Most progressives have been seduced by Barack Obama’s charisma. But his voting record, his proposals on bread-and-butter issues and his list of economic advisers demonstrate that he is a centrist. As recession looms and Americans lose their jobs, their healthcare, their homes, it is time for real change in our economic priorities. Obama almost certainly cannot deliver real change–particularly if he challenges the centrist Clinton from the right. I hope I am wrong. Obama is an inspirational orator and an intelligent, likable man. But I make my decisions based on his public record.


Kennebunkport, Me.

With a record 2.2 million foreclosures in 2007 and a staggering 5 million estimated for 2008, a serious social and economic crisis threatens millions of Americans. As a candidate for the US Senate (www.DobsonforSenate.com), I have been calling for a five-year nationwide freeze on all foreclosures (homes, farms, factories, hospitals, utilities and infrastructure) since last October. The interests of greedy Wall Street speculators have been put above those of families who face losing their homes. Sadly, Senator Obama does not confront the crisis.


Stormy Weather


As someone who scripted a few pages of Pekar and Buhle’s Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, I found it interesting that Maurice Isserman [“Weather Reports,” Feb. 11] tossed SDS, PLP and the Weatherman faction into the category of Protestant militants: they “mistook revolution…for a moral choice.” Yes indeed, we wanted to turn the moral world upside down, to decriminalize sexuality and criminalize war. We weren’t simply hoping to change the personnel of the state but to create a new moral world. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Dave Dellinger, Barbara Deming and Herbert Marcuse, revolution is a moral choice or it is nothing. Our vision was one of a world without war, a world of equality. Our faults were many, but our one virtue may have been our “moral choice,” the choice to stand up against war.

Foundation for a Democratic Society

Buffalo, N.Y.

Maurice Isserman aptly but dismissively situates John Brown and the 1960s revolutionary New Left together in the American tradition of radical individualism. What is missing from Isserman’s lifeless analysis is an appreciation of the extent to which these individualistic yet concerted skirmishes galvanized others’ perceptions, changing the course of events. Just as the courage of John Brown and his company terrified slaveholders and inspired more mild-mannered abolitionists, so Bernardine Dohrn, Eric Mann and the Weathermen and their heirs caused Nixon and Kissinger, fearing chaos, to limit their criminal enterprise while moving many of us, a little less reckless, toward a greater commitment to stop the genocide in Vietnam.



Maurice Isserman has hit the nail on the head with his comparison of some in the New Left to Protestant individualist moralists. I was part of an obscure (and definitely not “sexy”) part of SDS (Steve Max, Doug Ireland) that regarded much of this foofaraw as narcissistic posturing. Isserman’s notion is more correct and more to the point. There is such a disconnect between the early SDS and its later iterations that it is unfair to speak of it as one organization. We wimpy pacifists of the Port Huron generation had little in common with the window-smashing, bomb-making folks who came later. But we were not nearly as photogenic.


Isserman Replies

Clinton, N.Y.

Penelope Rosemont blurs the distinction between the nonviolent strategy advocated by such pacifists as Dr. King, Dave Dellinger and Barbara Deming and the terrorism of the Weather Underground, the subject of my review. In examining the complexities of Cathy Wilkerson’s political evolution, I suggested that both pacifism and Weatherman, in a sense, could be traced to the same tradition of a conscience-driven moral politics. But the results were quite different, weren’t they? As Wilkerson writes, she and her comrades in the Weather Underground “accepted the same desanctification of human life practiced by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and William Westmoreland.” The same cannot be said of King, Dellinger or Deming.

William Berry asserts that the Weather Underground’s bombing campaign “caused Nixon and Kissinger…to limit their criminal enterprise.” I think Nixon and Kissinger welcomed the Underground’s activities for the opportunity it provided them to paint war opponents as mindless, dangerous, anti-American terrorists. If the Weathermen had been better bomb makers and had set off their nail-studded dynamite bomb at Fort Dix as they planned, they would have destroyed the mass democratic, nonviolent antiwar movement. I do not understand the rancid nostalgia for Weatherman one finds in odd musty corners of the left, among “radical elders” and some of the young activists they unfortunately seem to influence.

Jim Williams, like Carl Oglesby, represents another “road not taken” by SDS in its latter days, when I was involved. I wish I had paid more attention to such voices of sanity at the time.



Englewood, N.J.

Thanks to Nona Willis Aronowitz for “Bella’s Way,” her review of the oral history of Bella Abzug [Feb. 4]. I would like to add that in the early years of the antiwar movement Bella rejected suggestions that she run for office, instead putting her energy, and that of Women Strike for Peace, into promoting our program through peace candidates like Ted Weiss and Ed Koch. I suspect that Bella was wary of having her left-wing background exposed during a campaign, as well as producing a sexist backlash. When she did enter politics these issues surfaced, and they taxed her and her supporters greatly.


Deer Isle, Me.

My introduction to women in politics and a lifetime of feminism began when, with only four phrases of Spanish, I worked the Lower East Side of New York to build crowds for Bella’s first Congressional race. She was a dazzling force of nature in the early decades of women’s activism, inspiring strong women’s leadership in reproductive rights, economic equity, violence prevention, human rights and, eventually, international development.

Tough, passionate, driven, strategic and funny, Bella pushed us all to be independent and work harder than we ever imagined possible. Indeed, she personified leadership, freedom and choice for women. My commitment to electing Barack Obama as the next President comes out of that legacy. Thank you, Bella.