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Thompson's Team

For eighteen years Fred Thompson was a lobbyist in Washington, a part of his biography his jump-start presidential campaign is not likely to highlight.

So despite Thompson's "folksy" appeal, perhaps it's not surprising that his campaign team is a who's who of Washington insiders and corporate execs. Until recently his campaign manager-to-be, Tom Collamore, was a top tobacco industry exec at Altria (formerly Philip Morris). His division, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, has "been responsible for implementing countermeasures to combat public health efforts to control tobacco...and PM programs to enact tort reform, head off increased cigarette taxes and thwart legislated smoking restrictions."

Another rumored top Thompson staffer is Tim Griffin, the RNC operative who Karl Rove recently installed as US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas as part of Attorneygate.

His spokesman is Mark Corallo, the former press flack for Karl Rove during the Scooter Libby trial.

The man who organized a Thompson conference call this week, Ken Rietz, is a top exec at the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (which is ironically run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn). Rietz, as Rick Perlstein notes, once spied on Ed Muskie's presidential campaign on behalf of Richard Nixon in 1972 as part of "Operation Sedan Chair."

And though it's unrelated to his corporate past and present, it's worth mentioning (since we're talking about the GOP primary) that Thompson's second wife and key political counselor, Jeri, is 25 years his junior and younger than the kids from his first marriage.

John Edwards-- Abolitionist

Last week, John Edwards visited the Council on Foreign Relations--the citadel of the foreign policy establishment--to deliver a speech laying out his national security policy. There wasn't anything remarkable about the speech, "A Strong Military for a New Century." What was remarkable, however, was Edwards' answer to a question posed by Cora Weiss --President of the Hague Appeal for Peace and long-time human rights, anti-nuclear and peace activist (and Nation reader).

In the subsequent (on the record) Q&A session, Edwards joined those who have called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In doing so, he signed on to views expressed in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on January 4, signed by Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, whch called for a world free of nuclear weapons. (Their newfound wisdom came nearly a decade after The Nation published Jonathan Schell's The Gift of Time--a special issue calling for nuclear abolition.)

Here's the Q&A:

Cora Weiss: -- in keeping with your expression used today that there should be no excuse to abandon international law, and in keeping with the international court's unanimous opinion that all countries should eliminate their nuclear weapons, and in keeping with Mr. Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Schultz' op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, when you are president, what will you do about nuclear weapons given that Mr. Bush has just announced the complex 2030 plan to redesign and develop a new generation of nuclear weapons?

John Edwards: Well, let me say first, I think I would want to associate myself with the concepts that are conveyed by Kissinger, Sam Nunn and others in the op-ed piece. I thought it was very thoughtful. And I think essentially what they said if I remember -- I don't remember the precise language -- was that we should aspire to a nuclear-free world. I agree with that. Now, there are a lot of steps that have to go between here and there. Some of them are pretty obvious, which is America should not be building new nuclear weapons. And then I think America should be doing things like leading an international effort to close the holes in the NPT. There are clearly serious flaws in the NPT. And I think America, leading an international effort to reduce the supplies nuclear sense in the world -- all aimed at the general goal that's described in that piece that you just spoke about.

Now that Edwards has broken the resounding silence (among the leading Presidential candidates) on the nuclear threat which engulfs us all, and spoken openly of his support for a nuclear-free world, isn't it time to challenge the other candidates to answer the same question?

For those candidates (and citizens) seeking an up-to-the-minute analysis and a cogent blueprint for how to rid our planet of weapons of mass destruction, get a copy of the just-released book --Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security?: US Weapons of Terror, The Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace. (The authors are experts in law and policy relating to nuclear weapons, and bring a fresh, critical, perspective, informed by many years of experience.)

The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy presents the book on May 31st at a conference in Washington DC. To order a copy, click here.

Dick Cheney's Dead Wrongs

Two years ago, on May 30, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq: "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

The comment came in response to a question from CNN's Larry King.

That's the line everyone remembers from the interview.

What people don't remember is Cheney's response to King's inquiry about when US troops would come home from Iraq.

KING: You expect it in your administration?

CHENEY: I do.

Note that Cheney did not correct the reference to "your administration." As he has ever since selecting himself for a place on George W. Bush's ticket in 2000, Cheney was more than willing to assume the mantle of power.

Unfortunately, it does not wear well on the man whose record for getting wrong actually surpasses that of his supposed boss.

There is no question that Cheney, who honed his skills as a military strategist by collecting a remarkable five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, was wrong about the insurgency entering its last throes.

And if we are to believe President Bush, who says the occupation will continue through the end of his second term, Cheney was also wrong when he said that the troops would exit in his administration.

Cheney can afford to be wrong. It costs him nothing. Congress is not about to hold the Vice President, or anyone else in the administration, to account for misstating, misreading and miscalculating everything about the Iraq imbroglio. Indeed, Congress is actually giving the administration more money than it requested to maintain the occupation.

As has been the case throughout his career, Cheney's errors only cost others. Since the vice president said the insurgency was in its last throes, tens of thousands of additional Iraqis have died. Major nation's have excited Bush's so-called "coalition of the willing." And the number of American deaths in the quagmire of Bush and Cheney's creation has more than doubled.

When Cheney talked with Larry King, fewer than 1,700 American soldiers had died in Iraq. Now, the figure stands at 3,468 -- pending the latest round of Department of Defense confirmations.

The Vice President fancies himself something of a amateur historian. Perhaps, then, he will be intrigued by some of the historic mileposts that have been passed since he spoke two years ago. Since Cheney was telling Americans that the war had taken a turn for the better and that the troops would return on his watch, total American losses in Iraq have surpassed the US death tolls in the Spanish-American War (2,446) and the War of 1812 (2,260). And they are fast approaching the death total for the Revolutionary War (4,435).

So it goes with Dick Cheney. No apologies. No accountability. Just a whole lot of wrong. And a whole lot of funerals.

John Nichols' biography of the vice president, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

Her Way, Her War

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign would like voters to forget that she supported the war in Iraq. "Senator Clinton believes things are not going well [In Iraq], wants to begin phased withdrawal, wants to end the war," her spokesman Howard Wolfson told MSNBC on Friday.

It wasn't always that way. A new book by two New York Times investigative reporters, excerpted in the NYT Magazine this coming Sunday, painstakingly details that not only did Hillary support the war, but did so in a way that echoed many of the Bush Administration's most dubious talking points and undercut antiwar opponents.

"On the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration," reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta write. "The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton's remarks about Hussein's supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut." In fact, on this point the reporters document that Clinton was to the right of Lieberman when she argued that Saddam gave "aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members."

For the better part of three years, Clinton stuck to her support for the war. As public opinion began to change, so did her position, albeit slowly. "I don't support a fixed date for getting out, and I don't support an open-ended commitment," she said in the summer of '06, trying to have it both ways. Yet after she was booed at the Campaign for America's Future, as Arianna Huffington notes, Hillary surprisingly signed on as a cosponsor of legislation to begin redeploying troops from Iraq.

Yet she resisted setting a timetable for withdrawal or using the Congressional power of the purse to bring the war to a close. "I face the base all the time," she told fellow Senators in '06. "I think we need wiggle room."

But once she entered the Democratic primary for president she shifted further left, supporting legislation to force an end to combat operations by March 2008 and voting against last week's funding bill for the war. She did both reluctantly, reflecting the cautious, calibrated style that has become her trademark. Indeed, two days before last week's Iraq vote she told reporters tersely, "When I have something to say, I'll say it."

Those words, like her tenure in the Senate, don't exactly illustrate a profile in political courage.

Killing Silent Spring

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and a seminal figure for the modern environmental movement, would have turned one hundred this past Sunday. "Carson's book altered the nature of environmentalism," is how the Washington Post described her legacy. "Previously, it had been mainly about preserving and appreciating parks and other beautiful places. But Carson's message was that all of nature should be protected, for its own sake and because people eventually would suffer if it was degraded."

"What she said was, the Earth itself needs an advocate," said Patricia M. DeMarco, Executive Director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association.

But when Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland – where Carson was a longtime resident – tried to honor her with a Senate resolution it was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "Rachel Carson has been an inspiration to a generation of environmentalists, scientists and biologists who made a difference and changed the irresponsible use of pesticides," Cardin said. "Honoring her 100th birthday should not be controversial. I wanted to share that with our country."

Indeed, Elizabeth Kolbert describes the magnitude of Carson's impact in The New Yorker, "As much as any book can, ‘Silent Spring' changed the world by describing it. An immediate best-seller, the book launched the modern environmental movement, which, in turn, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts, and the banning of a long list of pesticides, including dieldrin."

But in a released statement Coburn insisted, "[Silent Spring] was the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against insecticides, especially DDT" which is used to fight malaria. Spokesman John Hart claims that the treatment of malaria was hindered by Carson's work: "…millions of people in the developing world died because the environmental movement, inspired by Rachel Carson, created a climate of fear and hysteria about DDT."

But those who have studied Carson's work know that it is Coburn who is reacting with unfounded hysteria. In a 1964 tribute/obituary in The New Yorker, E.B. White wrote that Carson "was not a fanatic or a cultist. She was not against chemicals per se. She was against the indiscriminate use of strong, enduring poisons capable of subtle, long-term damage to plants, animals, and man...."

Linda Lear, a professor at George Washington University and a biographer of Carson, said Carson never called for a complete ban on DDT. "Carson was never against the use of DDT," Lear said. "She was against the misuse of DDT."

And Neal Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Maryland where Carson was a longtime board member, concurs with Lear. "Carson was not opposed to pesticide use – she was opposed to pesticide abuse," Fitzpatrick says. "And Coburn obviously never read Silent Spring. It's filled with examples of broad spraying of chemical poisons and the destructive impact on natural resources. Carson's focus on the wonder of nature is a value not shared by Coburn."

In these times, when the Bush administration muzzles scientists and caters its policies to the desires of corporate lobbyists, Rachel Carson's commitment to truth-telling and hard work in order to care for our planet needs to be fully appreciated – and revisited.

Dems Wimp Out on Bush & Prewar Intelligence

As part of its much belated inquiry into the prewar intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 229-page report on Friday on the intelligence produced by US intelligence agencies on what could be expected to occur in Iraq following a US invasion. No surprise: the intelligence community foresaw the likelihood of chaos and trouble inside and outside Iraq.

As the committee's report notes, before the war the top intelligence analysts of the United States government concluded that creating a stable democratic government in Iraq would be a difficult and "turbulent" challenge, that sectarian conflict could erupt in a post-invasion Iraq, that al Qaeda would view a US invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to increase and enhance its terrorist attacks, that a heightened terrorist threat would exist for several years, that the US occupation of Iraq would probably cause a rise of Islamic fundamentalism and a boost in funding for terrorist groups, and that Iran's role in the region would enlarge.

That is, prior to the war, the experts predicted the tough times to come. In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, we reported that the intelligence community and the Pentagon had produced several estimates in early 2003 that warned about what could happen following a U.S. invasion. In his memoirs, former CIA director George Tenet quoted from some of these intelligence assessments. And the Senate Intelligence Committee report reprints two such studies. The intelligence establishment blew the WMD call--partly because it failed to accept its own skeptical intelligence evaluations--but it was largely correct about what would transpire after the United States entered Iraq.

But the Senate Intelligence Committee--now chaired by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller--blinked.

That assessment comes from one of the committee's own members: Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. In comments attached to the report, she justifiably gripes that the report ignores a critical matter--what the Bush administration did (or did not do) with all this strong intelligence. She writes:

I believe that the report could have, and should have, been much stronger and more direct on the quality and use of prewar intelligence.

In particular, the report should have included a conclusion that the quality of prewar assessments was generally high and that many of the predictions made by the Intelligence Community (IC) about postwar Iraq proved to be correct. There should also have been a conclusion that although policymakers had access to these assessments...they failed to take steps to prevent or lessen postwar challenges.

Feinstein is essentially charging that Rockefeller wimped out. He let the Bush White House off the hook. As Feinstein writes,

A more troubling aspect of prewar assessments on postwar Iraq was the extent to which they were ignored by policymakers....In the rare occasion that Administration officials addressed the postwar environment, their statements tended to ignore or directly contradict the IC's views.

Moreover, major policy decisions, including the number of troops needed after the initial combat phase and the extent of de-Baathification in the government and security forces, flatly ignored the assessments and recommendations of intelligence officials. Similarly, intelligence recommendations to actively engage Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran, in the postwar period were dismissed.

There is a bottom-line here: Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other top administration officials shirked their duties by not planning for the troubles predicted by the intelligence community. Moreover, they misled the public, by presenting images of a post-invasion Iraq not supported by the assessments produced by the government's analysts. Feinstein notes:

The Committee has seen no evidence that government officials and decisionmakers appropriately considered and prepared for the difficulties in the postwar environment that were predicted by the Intelligence Community. The failure to act on this intelligence is a key contributing factor to the current situation in Iraq.

The Senate intelligence committee dropped the ball on the most important point: how Bush and his colleagues paid little heed to reality (or predictions of a reality to come) when they took the nation to war. It's good to know that the intelligence community--which screwed up the WMD question--did get something right. (The CIA also was correct when it produced reports saying there was no evidence of an operational link between Iraq and al Qaeda--a conclusion mocked by neocons in the Bush administration.) Yet the more significant issue is how Bush and his aides handled the decision to go to war. As the report shows--without stating so--the president and his team disregarded the experts and, thus, steered the country into one helluva ditch in Iraq.

The Senate intelligence committee has yet to finish its so-called "Phase II" report on the administration's use (or abuse) of the prewar intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. That inquiry has been the subject of contention between Republicans and Democrats on the committee for the past three years. (The Democrats even shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the Republicans' reluctance to wrap up that investigation.) But if the latest committee report is any indication, Bush critics, even fellow Democrats of Jay Rockefeller, may end up disappointed when the long-awaited Phase II report finally emerges.

*****

JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Colombia's Plan Clinton

The right-wing government of Colombia, which stands accused of collaborating with militias that kill union workers, is feting Bill Clinton at a "Colombia is Passion" awards ceremony in New York City next month.

They're shelling out $40,000 a month to the Glover Park Group, a PR and lobbying firm packed with Clintonites, to push for a US-Colombia free trade agreement that has been widely criticized by Democratic members of Congress. And President Alvaro Uribe has also brought on board the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, run by Hillary's chief strategist, Mark Penn, to "educate members of the US Congress" about the trade deal and the annual $5 billion in anti-drug aid bestowed on the Colombian government by the US under Clinton's Plan Colombia, according to Justice Department filings obtained by the AP (and wisely first flagged by David Sirota.)

I guess that's what one calls synergy. And for those that read my recent article Hillary Inc. it shouldn't be the least bit surprising.

Cindy Sheehan Calls It Quits

The decision of Congressional Democrats to hand George Bush a blank check to maintain a war they were elected to end has frustrated a lot of Americans -- even the until-now indefatigable Cindy Sheehan.

Sheehan, the mother of slain soldier Casey Sheehan whose 2005 decision to camp out in Crawford, Texas, until George Bush heard her complaints about the war made her a hero to activists around the world, is tired of the compromises that keep the war going. So tired that she is retiring as the "face" of the peace movement.

Here is what Sheehan, one of the most selfless campaigners this reporter has had the privilege of covering, wrote in her online diary upon the dawning of another Memorial Day with no end in sight to a war that should never have started:

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don't find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don't see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person's heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey's brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won't work with that group; he won't attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children's children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It's for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford , Texas ? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too...which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

It's up to you now.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Unshackling Our Imaginations

Imagination--the ability to dream-- is central to all successful political projects. But perhaps one of the worst legacies of these last years has been how TINA ("there is no alternative" ) and YOYO ("You're on your own jack") have shackled our imaginations.

In his spirited manifesto, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, (New Press, 2007} Stephen Duncombe makes an impassioned and spirited case for a politics "that connects with people's dreams and desires, that resonates with the symbols and myths they find meaningful." He wants, quite simply, to open up a new arena for radical politics--one infused with joyfulness and pleasure.

That doesn't mean he's calling on progressives to jettison reason, reality, empiricism and the Enlightment! Nor is he saying it's all spectacle and image. But he is calling on the left to listen a little more, to understand peoples' popular dreams, to speak to the heart as much as to the head and to be more playful. (One example he cites--the creative, playful, media savvy group, Billionaires for Bush.)

Duncombe's ruminations may be playful and provocative, but they're also strategic. He's interested in creating a winning progressive politics. And in his view, that means connecting with people "where they're at", listening to them, not lecturing or hectoring them (thereby leading them think politics is a bore). " Whether one approves of it or not," he argues, " fantasy and spectacle have become the lingua franca of our time."

Duncombe, who teaches the history and politics of media and culture at NYU, believes that "without dreams we will never be able to imagine the new world we want to build." The left's counterhistory, after all, is one that "has long embraced the dreamscape of the imaginary, using symbolism and narrative in an attempt to create new realities."

After a long hiatus, I feel those shackles on our imagination loosening....and loosening....what will come now depends on the renewal of progressive left politics of a new kind. Duncombe's Dream reminds us of the passion and creativity of a left political tradition worth reclaiming.