the left’s disenchantment with obama and the antiwar movement

Yesterday, Clancy Sigal, of the Guardian, cited my research (with Michael Heaney) on the antiwar movement as evidence that the left has dropped Obama:

Meanwhile, Obama’s contribution to the left has been to weaken it. From the day of his inauguration, antiwar activity in the US collapsed. In a little noticed study last April, a University of Michigan survey, by professors Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, concluded that the movement evaporated because its mainstay Democrats, lulled by Obama’s “second coming”, withdrew almost in a body. As Heaney said, “the election of Obama appeared to be a demobilising force … even in the face of his pro-war decisions.”

A few thoughts. The antiwar movement, at various points in history, has often occupied a central place in American politics. My own view is that antiwar issues were dominant in the mid-2000s. Most historians would argue that antiwar sentiment was strong in the late 60s/early 70s, the isolationist era of the 1930s, and other moments. So the antiwar movement can be one indicator of a more general political sentiment. At the same time, antiwar movements are dependent on very specific historical conditions – the length and intensity of war, the legitimacy of war, and so forth. These forces aren’t always related to the general trajectory of the left, or any other faction embracing the antiwar issue. And if I understand recent public opinion polls, self-identified liberals are still fairly supportive of Obama. That suggests to me that Sigal is wrong.  For most liberals, the wars have been successfully decoupled from the rest of the progressive agenda. That may be troubling, but it shows a strong alliance between rank and file liberals and the Obama administration.

Written by fabiorojas

August 8, 2011 at 5:00 am

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  1. […] to Jepperson and Meyer – sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves (and since we’re in self-promotion mode here at orgtheory)  –  O&M’s Nicolai, Peter Abell (LSE) and I wrote a short essay […]


  2. In one place you refer to “the antiwar movement” and in others to “antiwar movements” or “antiwar sentiment.” I think the first is misleading and you had it right with the latter two, especially when you go back before Viet Nam. I agree that there it’s reasonable to treat the antiwar movement as a coherent object since the mid-1960s, but going back beyond that implies that George McGovern, Robert Taft, and Eugene Debs were all part of the same movement and that makes no sense at all. (This is putting aside the CP’s gymnastics around the Hitler-Stalin pact). That is, once you go back before VN, both the framing (isolationism vs. anti-imperialism vs. bait and bleed anti-Communism) and political connotations (left vs. right vs. strange bedfellows) varies pretty drastically over time in ways that makes me reluctant to apply the definite article to the movement.



    August 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

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