Caliban upon Setebos
So every two weeks, a copy of the mag falls with a soft, pulpy, grayish thump through my mail slot. I seldom open it, unless Alex Cockburn is mentioned on the cover. But in an idle hour tonight, I flipped through the latest issue, and what should I find but Eric Alterman eulogizing Arthur Schlesinger.
Now there, if you please, is a perfect pairing of writer and subject. The late (and not a minute too soon) Schlesinger was the subject of a characteristically mean-spirited kakology from brother Paine here, as soon as the last breath of hot air had left Schlesinger's body, but with all respect to my comrade, I think Alterman's piece unintentionally damns the Kennedys' Procopius a lot deeper than Owen could do. A few vomitous excerpts:
Schlesinger issued warning after warning to the American left about the dangers posed by the US Communist Party. Three years before publishing The Vital Center (1949), writing in Life magazine, he compared Communists to Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, who carry "their infection of intrigue and deceit wherever they go." With their systematic mendacity and duplicity, "Communists are engaged in a massive attack on the moral fabric of the American left.... The Communist party is no menace to the right in the U.S. It is a great help to the right because of its success in dividing and neutralizing the left. It is to the American left that Communism presents the most serious danger."This almost makes me feel a certain sympathy for Schlesinger. After all the dirt that man handled, to sit and listen to a punk like Alterman moralizing about Joe McCarthy -- Barkeep! Line 'em up and keep 'em coming.
...The last time I had lunch with Arthur... I asked him if he felt anti-Communist liberals had allowed their hatred of Stalin and Soviet totalitarianism to overshadow their commitment to civil liberties at home. But like Edith Piaf, Arthur regretted rien. "We had a Two Joe policy of opposition back then," he insisted. "We were against Stalin and against McCarthy." True, I tried to argue, but.... After all, while Stalin was one of history's worst mass murderers, he turns out to have presented no genuine military threat to the United States or even, as it turns out, Western Europe. Joe McCarthy untrammeled, on the other hand, did more damage than anyone to America's democratic institutions until George W. Bush. Arthur shrugged and ordered another martini.
Schlesinger's more recent intraleft controversy arose when he made another prescient argument about a danger on the left: this was his short 1991 book on Afrocentrism and multiculturalism, The Disuniting of America....
I hope Alterman at least picked up the check.