Barely a year after the death of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1957, the voters of his home state sent Robert Kastenmeier to the US House of Representatives. A passionate foe of McCarthy and McCarthyism, the young Democrat sought to break the spell of Cold War fear and reaction that the late senator had exploited to such destructive ends.
To do this, Kastenmeier began working with a handful of progressive members of the House—including California Congressman James Roosevelt (FDR’s eldest son)—to establish what came to be known as the Liberal Project. Kastenmeier suggested that a young congressional aide from Wisconsin, Marcus Raskin, draw up a plan for advancing this transformative “new politics” in Congress and in what they hoped would become a dramatically more progressive Democratic Party.
Raskin’s Liberal Project memo argued for a “much broader [agenda] than the kind of economic liberalism promulgated in the 1930s,” suggesting that what was needed was “a complete…restatement of all areas of public policy, foreign policy, defense policy, industrial policy, agricultural policy, legal and judicial policy. Finally, what is needed is a formulation of the philosophic condition of Man in the Twentieth Century.”
Working with Kastenmeier, Raskin drew leading intellectuals into the process of establishing a “rational program” for postwar liberalism that might “serve as a basis for writing a suggested Democratic Party platform for 1960 and as a campaign text for liberal candidates.” They produced “The Liberal Papers,” an ambitious agenda that Commentary magazine described as an “indication of a resurgent citizenry in America.”
For the next six decades, until his death Sunday at age 83, Raskin advanced a resurgent and expansive citizenship as a preeminent advocate for peace and for economic and social justice. He argued, on Capitol Hill and university campuses, from union halls to the parks where mass rallies were held, that voters should have a far greater say with regard to foreign and domestic policy. His was a clear-eyed vision that recognized how an “endless war” footing cost Americans physically, economically, and morally, and it helped to shape the understanding of generations of activists, academics, and elected officials from city halls to the White House.