In a telling anecdote from President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, one attending Democrat looked up to watch the Air Force’s fighter jet fly-over and remarked: “Those are our F-15s now.” There was hardly a nationalist Left back then, as many liberals and those even further Left had spent the better part of two decades alienated from the institutions, symbols, and instruments of U.S. power and influence. Over the succeeding two decades, however, we have seen a muscular Left nationalism rise to set liberal foreign policy, and begin to set the Democratic agenda here at home.
Nationalism and patriotism were hard sells to a generation of the disenchanted Left, thanks to the Vietnam War and revelations of assassinations both attempted and successful, coups, and more nefarious activities carried out by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. There was “Cold War liberalism” for a time, but it rarely if ever made vulgar attempts at jingoism to sell its policies to the wider public. Cold War liberalism always argued to work in concert with the international system that it had helped create. Such jingoism was instead often used by the Right, especially after the Liberal crack-up of the late 1960s when the Cold War liberals became isolated in the halls of the liberal power elite, cut off and opposed to their party’s activists on the Vietnam War, the size of military budget, nuclear weapons, U.S involvement in Central and South America, direct military action in placed like Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War and other foreign policy issues.
What changed the American Left was power, pure and simple.