Come Back, Arthur Schlesinger

Cold War Liberals Schlesinger and JFK

Tributes to the very long lived come with special difficulty. They live so long that they are not remembered properly. Obituary writers recite the person’s resume but fail to grasp the context of what made their achievements significant. This is exactly what happened with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. in one very important respect.

The stories after Schlesinger’s death mentioned his status as a “Cold War liberal”, membership in Americans for Democratic Action, and authorship of “The Vital Center”. Yet these same stories failed to provide a sense of how wrenching the struggles on the Left were back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. There were sharp fights back then between those, like Schlesinger, who opted to support Harry Truman in the Cold War, and those who backed “Doughface” Henry Wallace in apologizing for and attempting to concilliate with the Soviet Union. And this was the time that the USSR was controlled by Joseph Stalin!

One reason, I believe, this aspect of Schlesinger’s life received short shrift is that it’s difficult in today’s DailyKos-driven environment to envision prominent liberals who make fighting an external enemy a top priority. I write about this dynamic in my New York Sun column this week.

Peter Beinart of The Council on Foreign Relations is one liberal who does a great job of recapturing this history in his book, The Good Fight.

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