Opinion | Letters to the Editor

Letter to the editor: Deconstructing partisan labels

To the Editor:

Any attempt to capture centuries of political conflict under the neat contemporary opposition between “liberals” and “conservatives” will fall short as a guide to history. Margaret Mattes’ news article (“1968’s liberal legacy still strong, but diluted,” Nov. 1) is no exception.

In presenting the 1968 University occupation as a “liberal” phenomenon, she obscures the reality—the students and community members who took over buildings that year were self-identified radicals in revolt against liberalism.

I do not mean only that the local opponents and targets of the 1968 protests (from professors Daniel Bell and Richard Hofstadter to President Grayson Kirk) were liberals, though this is true.
More fundamentally, the issue that took on such existential importance for members and sympathizers of Students for a Democratic Society in 1968 was their opposition to our war in Vietnam—a war planned and executed by the liberals of the Kennedy-Johnson administration. The savage foreign policy conducted by Kennedy and Johnson was not an aberration from their political creed, but the fulfillment of an aggressive Cold War strategy inaugurated by Democrat Harry Truman, justified by court intellectuals like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. as constitutive of American liberalism.

It is important to avoid reducing conflicts to liberal versus conservative. In our time, a Democratic president and his liberal intellectual allies defend the same kind of destructive foreign policy as Johnson and Schlesinger did—this time in the form of the daily killings of Pakistani civilians in drone strikes, which violate the principle of sovereignty.

To break with these troubling policies would require that we imagine, as our predecessors in 1968 did, a radical activism that differs not only in degree but in kind from liberalism.

Tim Barker, CC ’13


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