But in the late 1960s, the American Left started going Randolph Bourne’s way. They rejected Lyndon Johnson’s “guns and better” and renounced the Vietnam war. They cheered rather than objected when Richard Nixon abolished the military draft. They supported civil rights and tolerance of diverse lifestyles and multiculturalist responses to immigration. They opposed military action in Grenada, in the Gulf war, in Iraq and oppose it today in Afghanistan.
Barack Obama is very much part of this lyrical Left. He seems to have absorbed its tenets somewhere between Punahou Academy and Columbia University. He never considered military service despite the large presence of the military in his native Hawaii. He left the business world and big law firms for community organizing.
The problem for Obama and America’s lyrical Left is that dovishness abroad and statism at home don’t readily go together. Mobilization in a war effort, as Randolph Bourne taught, tends to create a frame of mind that welcomes regimentation under big government at home. Denigration of military discipline and tolerance of cultural diversity tend to create a frame of mind that resists government ukase and standardization. A big government president, Obama is learning, needs to be a war president first.