ack in September 2013, well before Bernie Sanders decided to run for president, the liberal journalist Peter Beinart called attention to the leftward swing among Democratic Party voters, marked by Elizabeth Warren’s popularity and Bill de Blasio’s victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. More to the point, Beinart explicitly challenged Hillary Clinton to move left and ride the new wave to power – or risk getting overwhelmed by what he called “The Rise of the New, New Left.” The following month, I responded with “Don’t Let Hillary Housebreak the New New Left.”
Beinart’s choice of labels was wildly misleading. For those who missed his reference, the original New Left of the 1960s – best embodied by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) – initially looked toward the kind of Democratic Socialism that Bernie Sanders now proclaims. We gave radical, mostly white support to the civil rights movement, usually leaning toward the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). We opposed both sides in the Cold War, seeing both as promoting nuclear disaster. We broke with the mainstream refusal to cooperate with Communists, an ideological prohibition that encouraged witch hunts, red-baiting, and the stifling of thoroughgoing social and economic reform.