Back in the 1960s, I was, to my shame, a supporter of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. I saw U.S. intervention as an unfortunate but necessary move in the global duel between the United States and the Soviet Union. I continued to defend U.S. policy right up until the time President Lyndon Johnson was defeated in the New Hampshire presidential primary, and announced that he would not run for re-election. I saw that U.S. policy was unsustainable, although I continued for many years to think of the Vietnam intervention as no more than a bad mistake.
I don’t regret being anti-Communist. I still am. The Soviet Union really was an evil empire. Soviet Communism was an anti-human, totalitarian ideology. Where I went wrong was in thinking that opposition to Communism outweighed all other considerations, both practical and moral.
I respect the New Left protesters of the time. They had better moral priorities than I did. Lyndon Johnson was the greatest civil rights President of the 20th century, and the only President since Franklin Roosevelt who seriously attempted to help poor people in the United States. But people such as Martin Luther King Jr. this was outweighed by the death and suffering caused by the quagmire war in Vietnam.
I am taken aback when I meet former New Leftists who say they support President Obama for re-election—Obama, who has done virtually nothing for civil rights, virtually nothing for poor people and taken the abuses of power of the imperial Presidency to lengths that even Richard Nixon, let alone Lyndon Johnson, never dreamed of.
They accept endless war, a Wall Street oligarchy and the destruction of civil liberties as facts whose reality it is necessary to accept, but argue that within this framework, Obama is better than Romney or any of the other Republicans—more willing to extend unemployment compensation benefits, for example, or to appoint judges who favor abortion rights. This is a moral arithmetic that I don’t understand.