Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Why He's Scared of a Bush Victory





Rick Shenkman, reporting for HNN (Oct. 4, 2004):

Speaking at the 92nd Street Y in New York City Sunday night, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. warned that "if Bush is reelected he will take that as an endorsement of his policies," including the doctrine of preemptive war, "and make likely a preventive war against Iran." He warned that President Bush would also embrace Patriot Act II, which would lead to further limitations on civil liberties.

Schlesinger spoke to a nearly-packed auditorium, responding to questions posed by NYU Professor Ralph Buultjens, who described Schlesinger as our age's preeminent public intellectual.

Schlesinger, author of a new book, War and the Presidency, appeared physically frail, but argued forcefully against the Bush administration, mixing humor and history in a presentation that went over well with his upper East Side audience.

He noted that war usually leads to the curbing of civil liberties and a robust exercise of presidential power. In the past he said the return of peace would restore the normal checks and balances in the system. But Professor Buultjens noted that the war on terrorism may go on and on, ending the prospect of a return to normal times.

Schlesinger observed wryly that at other times in our history, during the quasi war with France, World Wars I and II, the president endorsed limits on civil liberties. Singling out John Adams, he commented that Adams had approved of the Sedition Act. Then he added acidly, but "he did not choose to call the Sedition Act the Patriot Act." His audience responded approvingly at his jibe.

He said Bush's victory in 2000 was alarming enough. "A second election would be grim." Repeatedly sounding a pessimistic note about our politics, he said the big threat to American democracy is not money but "religious politics." "Money politics is a danger to democracy, but it is trumped by religious politics." Noting that democracy is only two centuries old, he said it is not clear that it will last. "There is no reason to expect the permanence of democracy." Democracy, he noted, needs capitalism, but capitalism does not need democracy.

Asked if he could recommend a way for the United States to gracefully leave Iraq, he said he had no "easy or glib solution" to offer. "My solution would have been never to go in."

He surprised his audience with his comment that President Bush is a skilled leader. Asked to explain what he meant, he said that Bush had demonstrated political ability, citing as an example the adoption of the "unprecedented" doctrine of pre-emptive war without provoking a national debate.

He said he likes to think of himself as a pessimist in the short run about democracy and an optimist in the long run. "Democracy has a capacity to self-correct," he said, then added drily, "I hope it will happen by next month."


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Jeff Schneider - 10/9/2004

It is a pleasure to see Arthur Schlesinger jr. come out so strongly against the War on Iraq. He has been a leader in the anti-war forces ever since the first Iraq war when he called for sanctions instead of Desert Storm. I remember arguing with him in classes about whether the Reagan Administration would break the Boland Amendment.( I said yes, he said no.) It is amazing to me that he has continued to grow with the times and turned against the militaristic madness of our leaders.


Jeff Schneider - 10/9/2004

It is a pleasure to see Arthur Schlesinger jr. come out so strongly against the War on Iraq. He has been a leader in the anti-war forces ever since the first Iraq war when he called for sanctions instead of Desert Storm. I remember arguing with him in classes about whether the Reagan Administration would break the Boland Amendment.( I said yes, he said no.) It is amazing to me that he has continued to grow with the times and turned against the militaristic madness of our leaders.


Jeff Schneider - 10/9/2004

It is a pleasure to see Arthur Schlesinger jr. come out so strongly against the War on Iraq. He has been a leader in the anti-war forces ever since the first Iraq war when he called for sanctions instead of Desert Storm. I remember arguing with him in classes about whether the Reagan Administration would break the Boland Amendment.( I said yes, he said no.) It is amazing to me that he has continued to grow with the times and turned against the militaristic madness of our leaders.

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