A POX ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
David Moberg’s July 11 “Labor Splits Open” misses the political irony in the clash between AFL-CIO leaders hailed ten years ago as “reformers” and some of their ex-supporters, like Andy Stern and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union. Among the reforms now favored by the SEIU-backed Change to Win Coalition is scaling back what Teamster president James Hoffa recently called the “bloated bureaucracy” of the AFL-CIO.
Where did this pox on the labor movement come from? Well, in 1995 SEIUers–including Burger and Stern–helped their president, John Sweeney, become head of the AFL-CIO. At great cost to the federation’s treasury and pension plan, Sweeney then proceeded to “staff up” at headquarters and in the field–utilizing the organizational model he had previously employed at SEIU.
Sweeney brought with him a brain trust of top aides from SEIU–including PR adviser Denise Mitchell, lawyer Jon Hiatt and staffers like Bob Welch, Gerry Shea, Karen Nussbaum and Nancy Mills. Three of the four AFL-CIO organizing directors named by Sweeney have also come from SEIU (the fourth was an alumnus of UNITE HERE). Under Sweeney a new, centralized AFL-CIO organizing fund was created that returned millions of per capita dues dollars to affiliates for membership recruitment. The main recipients of these grants were SEIU, UNITE HERE and the Laborers (all part of the anti-Sweeney coalition today).
Now we are told that the process of “changing to organize” described above–widely hailed at the time (by Moberg and others) as innovative and exciting–has not succeeded. “Changing to win” today requires adopting a new program–developed by some of the same people who brought Sweeney’s New Voice slate to power and who, as a result, have wielded great influence in the federation over the past ten years.
Their current critique of New Voice failings might have more credibility if there was some acknowledgment of personal and organizational responsibility for creating the status quo at the AFL-CIO that is now so unacceptable as to require “a major breakup.”
Communications Workers of America
BEING HONEST ABOUT ABE
Since the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and ’60s, some historians have wistfully speculated that shortly before his assassination Abraham Lincoln adopted the ideal of a color-blind, multiracial America. In his review of my book What Lincoln Believed, James McPherson denounces me for not treating such speculation as established fact [“Twist and Shout,” June 13]. With equally intemperate rhetoric he has made the same criticism of recent books on Lincoln by William Harris (The Nation, June 14, 2004) and Lerone Bennett (New York Times Book Review, August 27, 2000).
Nothing would please me more than to be able honestly to argue that Lincoln would have “evolved” into a color-blind liberal in a few more years, if he had not done so by his death. But the burden of proof lies with proponents of this novel and dubious thesis, not with skeptics. Instead of being based on new evidence, this hypothesis is based entirely on strained reinterpretations of a few long-familiar facts, such as Lincoln’s praise of black soldiers and his support for the discretion of states (as opposed to a federal requirement) to grant limited (not universal) suffrage for black military veterans and “the very intelligent” blacks (a revealing remark–how were “very intelligent” blacks to be distinguished, if not by the segregationist “literacy test”?). Can McPherson, an able historian, really believe that President Lincoln, if he had lived, would have proposed federally enforced equal suffrage for blacks, North and South; supported integrated classrooms and not just public schools for blacks apart from whites; favored the repeal of laws against interracial marriage; and sought to overturn the whites-only immigration policy he had endorsed in the past?
If Lincoln really did adopt a belief in complete social and political equality for nonwhite Americans before his death, it is curious that his conversion to the radical wing of the Republican Party went unnoticed by John Hay and John Nicolay, his White House aides and official biographers, as well as by every major Lincoln scholar until the late twentieth century, when this interpretation was devised by historians who seek to minimize the embarrassing distance between Lincoln’s racial views and our own. As much as I admire Lincoln, I am unwilling to rewrite history in the service of hero worship.
Michael Lind’s letter focuses entirely on the last 300 words of my 2,000-word review. He offers no comment on the rest of the review, which took him to task for numerous errors and distortions. And the distortions continue in his letter. Nowhere did I speculate that Lincoln had “adopted the ideal of a color-blind, multiracial America” before his death or that he would have evolved into “a color-blind liberal” in a few more years. Nor did I suggest that Lincoln would have supported integrated classrooms or the repeal of laws against interracial marriage. I stated simply that in the last year of the war Lincoln expressed a preference that the right to vote be granted to literate freedmen and black Union Army veterans in the reconstructed South.
It is true that he wanted the states themselves to enact this policy rather than for the federal government to mandate it. Likewise, in 1862 he had wanted the states to take the initiative in a program of partial and gradual abolition of slavery, but in 1863 he issued an Emancipation Proclamation and in 1864 he pushed for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery immediately and everywhere. It is scarcely unreasonable to speculate that he might have followed a similar trajectory on Reconstruction. Almost every Republican representative and senator–a good many of them with more conservative racial attitudes than Lincoln–voted for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution, which mandated equal civil and political rights for all men regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” I know of no serious scholar who thinks Lincoln would have broken with his party to oppose these amendments if he had lived through his second term.
JAMES M. McPHERSON
HILLARY: NO ONE IS NEUTRAL
Greg Sargent’s June 6 “Brand Hillary” cover story proved (if proof is needed) that Hillary Clinton is a lightning rod. Readers in droves wrote us to call her a “class act,” a “professional phony,” a “slick politician,” a “very interesting woman,” a “chameleon,” a “manipulator,” a “shameless opportunist” with “great potential” and “a winner!” Sargent’s article was called “thoughtful,” “a very large crock,” “well-rounded,” a “one-sided load of baloney” and “a sell-out.” A sampling follows. –The Editors
New York City
I want to commend Greg Sargent for his outstanding article on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was the best-written and most balanced article I have read about Hillary in years. Hillary is an outstanding senator, and we all know she will win re-election in New York by a landslide.
Yeah, Newt Gingrich is in sympathy with Hillary on anything, and “Republicans have decided they like the real Hillary.” Thank goodness! Now I’m positive I can lose ten pounds in time for my daughter’s wedding tomorrow. When will Democrats wake the freak up and realize these guys don’t change their minds, ever, don’t compromise, ever, and are promoting Hillary because they know she doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in a house fire. I’d write in Barbara Boxer, Christopher Dowd or Harry Reid (even my dog) before I’d vote for Hillary.
Bravo, Hillary! For those of us who believe that it’s high time for women to become real players in the political games that white men have gerrymandered for far too long, Senator Clinton’s intelligence, savvy and political experience (gained in part during her years as a lawyer and political wife) offer a modicum of hope. Now, if only The Nation will refrain from further savaging her prospects with unflattering caricatures like the one that appeared on your cover, which only right-wing crazies could love and that fail to reflect the nuanced reporting in the pages of your esteemed journal, perhaps Senator Clinton will have a chance to succeed where other (male) Democratic politicians continue to fail.
EDMOND B. FROCK III
Santa Monica, Calif.
Now I get it. By voting for the “war on terror” and the war on Iraq, as well as the Patriot Act and the most recent $80 billion-plus to continue violence against the Afghan and Iraqi people, Hillary Clinton is demonstrating that she is “a surprisingly agile and ideologically complex politician” who is “slowly crafting a politics that in some ways is new, and above all is uniquely her own.” Please stop excusing Hillary’s pro-war positions. It is sickening.
It seems Senator Clinton tailors her convictions to suit her audience. A perfect example are her May 24 and 25 Senate votes. Tuesday she voted to close off debate on the judicial filibuster, thus permitting a vote to confirm Judge Priscilla Owen’s nomination to the federal bench to go forward. But on Wednesday Clinton voted against Owen’s nomination, which her vote the previous day had facilitated. Depending on whom she is addressing, Clinton can either say she voted for Owen’s nomination or against it. In 2008 I hope to vote for Howard Dean or Russ Feingold or Barbara Boxer.
Hillary is almost a clone of Bill. She supported a messy approach to healthcare, the disastrous NAFTA, the immoral and illegal launching of wars against Serbia and Iraq and now she’s become almost antichoice. She never takes on tough issues, and she is great at giving away the store. On the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings, Hillary aims to score points against the Pentagon and State Department actions but never challenges their outrageous behavior, from the implicit approval of torture to silencing the media. In what great liberal tradition can an aspirant for high office stand by while her government wages imperial ventures and inflicts death and destruction? If she really wants to support the troops she should get visceral at their losses in the field, and if she is concerned about the taxpayers she should vote to cut off the hundreds of billions funding this calamity in Iraq. That would take principle and risk some unfriendly publicity from the chauvinists in the media. Hillary doesn’t have it.
LET THEM DRINK LATTE
New York City
In “Just My Imagination,” his June 13 review of Russell Jacoby’s defense of utopian thought, Terry Eagleton sneers at “the hard-nosed pragmatists who behave as though the World Bank and caffe latte will be with us for the next two millennia.”
Excuse me, but if I can’t drink good coffee, it’s not my utopia.