Sioux Center, Iowa.   In the Wisconsin debate last week between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the anti-establishment candidate criticized the establishmentarian for her praise of Henry Kissinger, one of her predecessors at the State Department.  Why would a self-proclaimed progressive Democrat pay honor to a Republican who exemplified both gunboat diplomacy and dollar diplomacy under Presidents Nixon and Ford—a man who easily moved from Harvard professor into the Standard Oil (Exxon Mobil)-Chase Manhattan Bank orbit of the Rockefeller family?

True to form, Clinton would not give a straight answer.  She offered an evasion that did not address any of Sanders’ specific criticisms of Kissinger.  While Clinton castigated Sanders for daring to question the strength and quality of Barack Obama, she refused to utter even the mildest objection to anything ever done by Kissinger.

With its long tradition of opposition to plutocracy and imperialism, and its politically-active center of progressivism in Madison, the state of Wisconsin will be fertile ground for the Sanders candidacy.  The audience reaction to Sanders’ point was muted because DNC officials had stacked the audience with pro-Clinton folks.  Given the low level of historical knowledge among average political activists, it’s doubtful that many supporters of either candidate, in the hall or watching on television or the web, were familiar with Henry Kissinger.  Sanders might as well have referenced Philander Knox.

But the Wisconsin context was fitting.  Wisconsin is the state of Fighting Bob La Follette, who took on the Wall Street bankers and war profiteers of his day—Republican and Democrat alike.  Of Senator Bill Proxmire and Senator Russ Feingold (genuine Democratic mavericks).  Of historians William Appleman Williams and Merrill Jensen.  Of common-sense German and Scandinavian farmers and radical Madison students.

Consider the candidates who have won or done very well in the Wisconsin presidential primary in the past.  On the Democratic side, Missouri rabble rouser and League of Nations opponent James Reed won in 1928.  Tennessee maverick Estes Kefauver won in 1952 and 1956.  John Kennedy, son of an “isolationist” tycoon, beat welfare state and globaloney poster child Hubert Humphrey in 1960.  Redneck populist George Wallace produced a shock by attracting a third of the vote against an LBJ stand-in in 1964.  Anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy beat LBJ in 1968.  The two anti-establishment Georges—McGovern on the Left and Wallace on the Right—dominated in 1972.  McGovern heir Gary Heart beat Humphrey heir Walter Mondale in 1984.  Late in the primary season, anti-globalization populist Jerry Brown nearly beat frontrunner Bill Clinton in 1992.  Clinton solidly won the more-crucial New York primary that day so it didn’t matter so much, but his wife may be concerned about Wisconsin this season.

Senator Robert La Follette (R-WI) is especially relevant.  La Follette won four straight GOP presidential primaries in his home state.  Running as a third-party candidate for president in 1924, he pledged, “Our State Department shall not be the agent of bankers, investors and imperialists.  Your sons shall not be conscripted as a collection agency of private debts. . . . We will end the partnership between our State Department and imperialistic interests, and we will divorce it from Standard Oil and international financiers.”  He denounced the Treaty of Versailles as “a treaty of financial imperialists, of exploiters, of bankers, of all monopolists, who sought through mandates to sanctify and make permanent a redistribution of the spoils of the world and to cement forever the stranglehold of the power of gold on the defenseless peoples of the earth.”  La Follette’s reference to Standard Oil—economic foundation of the Rockefeller family—foreshadowed Kissinger’s elevation to National Security Advisor and Secretary of State after serving as Nelson Rockefeller’s right-hand man and chief foreign policy advisor.

With her dependence on Wall Street, career of power-over-principle, and fondness for hawkish imperialism, Clinton has far more in common with Kissinger than with William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic predecessor as Secretary of State and a three-time presidential nominee.  Bryan was the first and last Secretary of State to resign as a matter of political principle.  He did so because he opposed President Wilson’s pushing of the nation into World War I, partly at the behest of J.P. Morgan & Co., which was invested in European governments and controlled industrial corporations that stood to make enormous money from war.  Bryan of Nebraska and La Follette of Wisconsin were friends and allies in the farmer-labor populist coalition of the Progressive Era.

A more recent manifestation of this Democratic tradition—which stretches from Bryan to Sanders—is Senator Harold Hughes (D-IA).  On September 21, 1973, Hughes voted against Kissinger’s confirmation as Secretary of State, saying that he had “a chilling, chessboard view of the world” and his philosophy was “inimical to the long range cause of world peace and inconsistent with the moral purpose of our nation.”  Hughes was on the losing side—Kissinger was easily approved by a vote of 78-7.  In this, as in his decision a couple years earlier to forgo a run for the presidency because his Christian pacifism would have prevented him from launching nuclear weapons against innocent civilians overseas, Harold Hughes showed that he was unwilling to lose his soul through political compromise.  Such a trade-off has apparently never tempered the ambition of Hillary Clinton.

Kissinger and Sanders are both prominent Jewish Americans.  If Sanders were to be nominated and elected, he would be a historic figure: the first Jewish president in American history.  Kissinger is indebted to Niccolò Machiavelli, the sixteenth-century Italian secularist.  The Machiavellian trinity of power, privilege, and profit is antithetical to the Hebraic tradition of the prophets.  Sanders is a secular Jew but is still channeling many of the ethical concerns of Yahweh, as expressed in the Hebrew scriptures.

A third Jewish American, Bob Dylan, disparaged the counterfeit philosophy of Henry Kissinger in his 1979 song “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.”  Nearly 40 years later, Bernie Sanders, who shares with Dylan an interest in truth and justice, has publicly called attention to the same.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a Democratic nominee who actually prefers democracy over oligarchy, and peace over war?  Someone in the Bryan-Hughes tradition?

Even if we dislike Sanders’ penchant for federal government programs and social liberalism, in several important ways he would provide a choice not an echo.  That would be good for democracy.

Local Culture
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  1. I’ll never understand why Americans are so pathologically terrified of “state socialism”. You don’t have to be a genius to see that the state socialism you see in places Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and even Canada etc… is a far more stable and equitable form of government than the aggressive manifest lunacy of American capitalism. And surprise, surprise, these socialist states encourage capitalism!

    • Define ‘stable’ and ‘equitable’ under a FIAT legal tender regime based on the ‘full faith and trust in XXX government’
      Indeed I would argue of you parse “For that you need the state to directly socialize, presumably through actual ownership, the ̶s̶o̶u̶r̶c̶e̶s̶ ̶ fiduciary media (of exchange of) wealth in society.” North American currency already *is* socialist. And even worse: not only are we pledged in union with fellow US citizens/residents we’re pledged globally to all consumer-holders of Treasury reserves (ie certificates of their US-originated deficits). Property rights may well be moot when Ms Yellen arrogates authority to herself for extending ‘crony-capitalist’ (aka seignorage) privileges via negative interest rates…

      Scalia’s “corporations are persons” and “money is speech” orthodoxy may be axiomatic, however his inheritance of traditional classical political economy constrained by real life God-given contingencies may not be if the US persists in promoting ex nihilo ‘progress’ as cultural amnesia

      • I am not even sure how to understand a response like this. I’m a simple man who works with my hands. And maybe my simple life makes me look at things in too simplistic a way. Maybe I haven’t read enough of the “right” books. Maybe I’m just dumb. But I do wonder whether you are so deep in a jungle of jargon that you have lost touch with reality. In your mind what you have written may make perfect sense, but to the vast majority of normal people, (without unpacking all of the internal references to things that you must believe are self-evident), I suspect that reads as a paragraph of utter nonsense.

        A country in which any citizen, whether they are impoverished or rich, can attend university and better their place in a society seems more “equitable” or “fair” to me. I think we have too many university graduates and not enough bricklayers, but nevertheless, there is the opportunity in some of those countries for the brilliant daughter of a bricklayer to rise to a position more suitable to her gifts in that society. And a country in which an impoverished man can walk into any hospital and get good health care (along with a rich man) also seems fair, even if we are self-righteous enough to think we can judge that impoverished man as a lazy, no-good loafer. I recognize that it is not quite that simple, but in another way, it really is that simple.

        I find it apt that you cite Scalia in your response. As much as he was and is loved by most conservatives, he is, to my way of thinking, a fine example of what is foundationally wrong with Western culture as it was set down by Aristotle and co. Specifically, an adherence to language as if it could entirely contain or be “the truth” itself (a kind of fundamentalism) always leads to the abuse or perversion of Truth, or the spirit of Truth, that I prefer to call Jesus Christ. So by adhering strictly to the Constitution, as if language is not malleable, or could not carry manifold meaning, or never be made to serve evil intentions, leads to the kind of ridiculous statement like “money is speech”. And what breaks my heart is that so many “brilliant minds” like Scalia have closed the eyes of their hearts and lost touch with Truth in their pursuit of an intellectual purity of truth. Again, maybe I’m a deluded simpleton, but that’s what it looks like from my plot of ground.

        There never will be an intellectual purity of truth, (not the Bible, not the Constitution), not ever. The only Truth is the living God him/herself. Language is just a tool that we use to describe or apprehend it.

  2. Even if we dislike Sanders’ penchant for state socialism

    I concur with Jordan’s comment above, and add one of my own: just what is the “state socialism” which Senator Sanders, if he had his druthers (which we all know he politically will not), would introduce? If we assume, as so many automatically do, that high levels of taxation equals “socialism,” then sure, he’s a state socialist, because he wants to see the American estate levy much higher taxes on both the wealthy and the upper-middle class. But, as anyone intelligent enough to read this site should know, high levels of redistributive taxes do not, in fact, equal “state socialism.” For that you need the state to directly socialize, presumably through actual ownership, the sources of wealth in society. Single-payer health care would arguably partake of some elements of that (though not nearly as much as many other health care systems around the world), but by and large he seems much more a populist Democrat than a state socialist. (To be sure, I’ve no doubt you know all this, Jeff, but I think it’s important to emphasize it nonetheless.)

  3. The Democrats actually are spending time in their debates arguing about who dislikes Kissinger more? Too funny. Now I see why the kids are so crazy for the Bern.

  4. Russell and Jordan, You have a point. Sanders isn’t a doctrinaire Marxist, as Lew Rockwell pointed out last week: But I wanted to mention the two main objections to his candidacy that traditional conservatives have. He does call himself a socialist and he’s not of the anarchist variety, which means he’s more statist. Yet even as I wrote the phrase “state socialism,” I wasn’t content because it lacks precision. He’s no Lenin or Mao. So I’ve changed it to “federal government programs.” With his talk of “free” higher education for all, for example, I think that’s an accurate description. He’s not an advocate of the Tenth Amendment, strict construction, or fiscal restraint. But, overall, more of a populist Democrat than a state socialist.

  5. The Republicans spend time in their debates arguing about who likes Reagan more. The Kissinger disagreement is more substantive.

  6. In my initial draft I said something like “While Republicans are usually attacked (rightly, in many ways) for arguing about who loves Reagan more…”

    Arguing in 2016 about who dislikes the Secretary of State from the mid-1970s more is many things, but “substantive” is not on the list.

    Besides, Obama’s Middle East foreign policy (“a chilling, chessboard view of the world”) is by far the most Kissinger-like approach that has been applied in the last 40 years.

  7. I know you are already aware of the problem, and I know all of you folks volunteer your time for free, but is there any way to change to a format that allows for paragraph breaks in the comments?

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