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The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World

The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World

by George Packer (Editor)


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Americans aren't fighting just a war on terrorism ... they are fighting, and losing, a war of ideas.

This riveting collection of original essays by some of the best political minds in America argues that the post–September 11 era has put American democracy itself on trial. In short, defeating terrorism requires us to live up to our own ideals. In The Fight Is for Democracy, nine leading writers take a hard, and at times personal, look at American life and America's role in the world. These pieces share a belief in the need for liberal reform at home and abroad. Power alone is not enough to win hearts and minds around the world. The war against terrorism should be a war for democracy.

Edited and with an Introduction by George Packer, The Fight Is for Democracy pushes the national debate in provocative new directions with essays on:

  • Domestic politics and foreign policy -- Michael Tomasky, political columnist for New York magazine

  • Human rights and intervention -- Laura Secor, Boston Globe staff writer

  • Secularism -- Vijay Seshadri, author and professor at Sarah Lawrence College

  • Patriotism -- Todd Gitlin, author and professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University

  • Politics in the Arab World -- Kanan Makiya, author and professor at Brandeis University

  • Intellectuals and American culture -- Susie Linfield, associate director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University

  • Globalization -- William Finnegan, staff writer at The New Yorker

  • Economic inequality -- Jeff Madrick, editor of Challenge magazine

  • Liberalism and terror -- Paul Berman, contributing editor of The New Republic

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060532499
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/14/2003
Series: Harper Perennial
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

George Packer is the author of two novels and two works of non-fiction, most recently Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. A recent Guggenheim Fellow, he contributes to "The New York Times Magazine", "The New Yorker", "Dissent", and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.

Read an Excerpt

The Fight Is for Democracy

Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World
By George Packer

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 George Packer All right reserved. ISBN: 0060532491

Chapter One

Michael Tomasky

Between Cheney and Chomsky

Making a Domestic Case for a New Liberal Foreign Policy

Publicly, in the late spring of 1964, Lyndon Johnson was about as hawkish on the Vietnam War as it was possible to be. The Gulf of Tonkin "incident," which we now know to have been at best half an incident, was three months away yet, and the first large-scale commitment of American troops to the region nearly a year distant. Nevertheless, even at this early interval, the public Johnson spoke bullishly on the need to defend America's interests and to beat back the Red wedge.

The private Johnson that spring spoke quite differently, according to transcripts of Oval Office meetings and telephone conversations that were made public in 1997. Confiding to an old friend and mentor, Georgia Democratic senator Richard Russell, in May 1964, LBJ agonized over the impending conflict in Southeast Asia as "the damnedest worst mess I ever saw ... I do not see how we are ever going to get out of it without getting in a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles." That same month he spoke similarly to McGeorge Bundy, his nationalsecurity adviser: "I stayed awake at night worrying about this thing, and the more I think about it, I don't know what in the hell ... It looks to me like we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me ... I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out, and it's just the biggest damn mess."

Why the two Johnsons? Well, we understand the answer to that. Politicians often have to say one thing in public while believing another in private - it buys them time to try to work behind the scenes to move public opinion in their direction. But Johnson failed to do this, of course, so the more compelling, and tragic, question is: Why did the public Johnson never act on the private Johnson's intuitions and beliefs? Why, in more blunt words, were fifty-eight thousand Americans sent to their deaths even though their commander in chief knew as he was signing their deployment orders that the United States' first-ever military defeat would be the almost inevitable result? Johnson's biographers have chiefly sought to explain the ghastly contradiction in terms of a great Shakespearean personal flaw. No doubt that was the case. It has proven an especially alluring analysis in light of Johnson's unprecedented courage on social policy: How could a man so willing, even determined, to take political risks on domestic questions have been such a coward on foreign affairs? But ultimately, the fatal-flaw theory is more a literary explanation - conducive as it is to the dramatic narrative arc that is a necessity of great biography - or, alternatively, a characterological one. It is not a political explanation. And when we're talking about politics, it is political explanations first and foremost that we should seek.

The main reason, then, that Johnson pursued the war? Without question, it was the domestic political pressure he felt to do so. Consider another snippet of that conversation with Senator Russell, as described by Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times in 1997:

But [Johnson] did agree that the status quo in Vietnam was untenable; the choice was withdrawal or escalation. And he chose the latter because to do otherwise would endanger his chances for victory in the election that fall. "The Republi-cans are going to make a political issue out of it," warned Russell. "It's the only issue that they've got."

Johnson concurred. He was particularly concerned about the prospect that Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., then the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, might return to America to take a place on the GOP ticket that fall. Though a moderate, Lodge was a Vietnam hawk who was urging the administration to act with force and even, to Johnson's eyes, turning the embassy in Saigon into his own little freelancing fief. Johnson disdained Lodge's ambassadorship, but he knew, too, that Lodge would have made an attractive running mate for either fellow moderate Nelson Rockefeller or perhaps especially for conservative Barry Goldwater - and indeed, Lodge's political strength had been made clear on March 10, 1964, when, in the New Hampshire GOP presidential primary, he defeated both front-runners by collecting 33,007 votes as a write-in. One can easily imagine how that showing must have impressed, not to say scared, Johnson. And so, much as the president might have liked to recall Lodge, he dared not, because "he'd be back home campaigning against us every day."

But the political cost that Johnson calculated of withdrawal was not limited to having to endure the surly arraignments of a bothersome vice presidential nominee from the other side. This former senator, who had lived through the loyalty oaths and the McCarthy era and the tumultuous debates over the loss of China and the Korean War and so much else domestic turmoil around foreign-policy questions, felt that his experience had led him to conclude that there was only one way Congress would deal in an election year with a president who withdrew from Vietnam: "Well," he asked Russell, "they would impeach a president that would run out, wouldn't they?"

Would they? In retrospect, it sounds extreme; Democrats did control both houses of Congress at the time, and the America of 1964 was a nation where civic faith in the leaders and institutions was still strong enough that the idea of impeaching a president was something most Americans couldn't comprehend. On the other hand, Johnson's acumen in such matters is not to be shrugged off. He was nothing, after all, if not one of the great vote-counters in American political history ...


Excerpted from The Fight Is for Democracy by George Packer
Copyright © 2003 by George Packer
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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