Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.
Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.
The expression “Scoop Jackson Democrat” is a term that is now falling out of use because there are few liberals left who understand that while Americans can afford to differ on domestic policy and the economy, we must present a united front against foes of liberty. Though once his sort of politician was commonplace in an era when both major parties were “big tents,” nowadays it is inconceivable that a Democrat who shared Jackson’s worldview could survive a primary. This principle was conclusively proven when Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination for the Senate the last time he ran for re-election in 2006 because of his support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieberman, who is retiring from the Senate this year largely because another independent run would be unlikely to succeed, is aptly termed the last such “Scoop Jackson Democrat.”
Though nowadays many claim credit for securing the freedom of Soviet Jewry, in the early days of the movement, support from major political figures was by no means automatic. But Jackson, whose opposition to Soviet imperialism was a matter of principle, not political convenience, was steadfast in his advocacy for Moscow’s captives. Undeterred by the fashionable support for détente with the Soviet Union championed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Jackson became a thorn in the side of both the Nixon and Ford administrations as well as of the Kremlin. His sponsorship of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking Soviet trading rights to the right of Jews to emigrate became an impassable roadblock to those who wished to prioritize commerce with the evil empire over freedom. Despite Kissinger’s efforts to outmaneuver him, Jackson prevailed, and his signature legislation became the lever by which Soviet policy was undermined and eventually overthrown.
Today, we hear a great deal about the need for bipartisanship, a line of argument that is generally a cover for getting officials to throw their principles overboard in order to accommodate the majority. Jackson’s brand of bipartisanship was of a different variety. It was forged in a belief that the defense of freedom at home and abroad was a higher calling than the appeal of parties or presidents. Without him, the consensus in support of Israel’s fight for survival as well as opposition to Soviet tyranny would have been diminished if not impossible.
Though Jackson’s brand of Democrat may no longer be the flavor of month, his example still inspires new generations of thinkers and activists who uphold the ideas he held dear. It is no accident that when a British group dedicated to those principles was formed, it took his name. Henry Jackson’s 100th birthday is an occasion for us to celebrate the victories he won on behalf of Soviet Jewry and American ideas, but it should also be a moment for us to rededicate ourselves to the brand of patriotism for which he is the exemplar. May his memory be for a blessing.