Monday, February 21, 2005

An Unheeded Plea for Sanity

Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, perhaps the chief journalistic organ of American liberalism, has written a remarkable essay titled Not Much Left. The article is a lament for what he sees as a Left in its death throes and a call to return to some semblance of idealogical sanity. It is not too late to resuscitate the victim, he thinks, but time is rapidly running out. Here are some excerpts from a piece that should be read in its entirety:

It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying. The most penetrating thinker of the old liberalism, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is virtually unknown in the circles within which he once spoke and listened, perhaps because he held a gloomy view of human nature. However gripping his illuminations, however much they may have been validated by history, liberals have no patience for such pessimism.

Ask yourself: Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture? Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire? Whose books and articles are read and passed around? There's no one, really. What's left is the laundry list: the catalogue of programs (some dubious, some not) that Republicans aren't funding, and the blogs, with their daily panic dose about how the Bush administration is ruining the country.

So let's admit it: The liberals are themselves uninspired by a vision of the good society--a problem we didn't have 30 years ago. For several years, the liberal agenda has looked and sounded like little more than a bookkeeping exercise. We want to spend more, they less. In the end, the numbers do not clarify; they confuse. Almost no one can explain any principle behind the cost differences.

[A]mong liberals, the usual hustlers are still cheered. Jesse Jackson is still paid off, mostly not to make trouble. The biggest insult to our black fellow citizens was the deference paid to Al Sharpton during the campaign.

This patronizing attitude is proof positive that, as deep as the social and economic gains have been among African Americans, many liberals prefer to maintain their own time-honored patronizing position vis-a-vis "the other," the needy. This is, frankly, in sharp contrast to President Bush, who seems not to be impeded by race difference (and gender difference) in his appointments and among his friends. Maybe it is just a generational thing, and, if it is that, it is also a good thing. But he may be the first president who apparently does not see individual people in racial categories or sex categories. White or black, woman or man, just as long as you're a conservative. That is also an expression of liberation from bias.

The conservatives have their ideas [about improving education], and many of them are good, such as charter schools and even vouchers. But give me a single liberal idea with some currency, even a structural notion, for transforming the elucidation of knowledge and thinking to the young. You can't.

The heavily documented evidence of Fidel Castro's tyranny notwithstanding, he still has a vestigial cachet among us. After all, he has survived Uncle Sam's hostility for more than 45 years. And, no, the Viet Cong didn't really exist. It was at once Ho Chi Minh's pickax and bludgeon in the south. Pose this question at an Upper West Side dinner party: What was worse, Nazism or Communism? Surely, the answer will be Nazism ... because Communism had an ideal of the good. This, despite the fact that communist revolutions and communist regimes murdered ever so many more millions of innocents and transformed the yearning of many idealists for equality into the brutal assertion of evil, a boot stamping on the human face forever.

Peter Beinart has argued, also in these pages ("A Fighting Faith," December 13, 2004), the case for a vast national and international mobilization against Islamic fanaticism and Arab terrorism. It is typologically the same people who wanted the United States to let communism triumph--in postwar Italy and Greece, in mid-cold war France and late-cold war Portugal--who object to U.S. efforts right now in the Middle East. You hear the schadenfreude in their voices--you read it in their words--at our troubles in Iraq. For months, liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.

I happen to believe that they won't. This will not curb the liberal complaint. That complaint is not a matter of circumstance. It is a permanent affliction of the liberal mind. It is not a symptom; it is a condition. And it is a condition related to the desperate hopes liberals have vested in the United Nations. That is their lodestone. But the lodestone does not perform. It is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.

Will liberals listen to Beinart and Peretz? Will they rebound from their infatuation with big government and class warfare at home and tyrannical regimes abroad? Nah. They just had an opportunity to recover their equilibrium in their recent election for chairman of the party, and they responded by demanding Barabbas. This act alone may well have sealed their fate and doomed liberalism to eternal irrelevance.

Left-Wing Debating Technique

Howard Dean recently engaged foreign policy neo-con Richard Perle in a debate on America's conduct abroad. The exchange was marred by disruptive elements in the audience who booed loudly when Perle spoke and, in the case of one man, even threw his shoe at Perle (see here for a rather low quality video of the episode).

This is, of course, how brown-shirted lefties do politics. No one fears the free dissemination of ideas more than does the Left. No one will do more to prevent ideas from being heard than will the Left. Like totalitarians everywhere, whether Stalinists, Nazis, or the Taliban, they don't trust people with the freedom to make up their own minds because they know that majorities will not sympathize with their bankrupt ideas. Thus views which clash with their own must be suppressed, even if it means making a fool of oneself by throwing one's shoes.

This helps us, perhaps, to understand why leftists seek to impose their will on the public by way of the judiciary rather than through legislatures. In order to have laws and policy enacted through the legislative branch they need to persuade a majority to agree with them. In order to have it enacted by judicial fiat they need only persuade a single judge. It's much easier to find one congenial jurist than to persuade half of a legislature, especially when one is saddled with ideas as impoverished as most of those held by the political Left.

The shoe-tossing incident wasn't the only strange moment on the video linked to above. At one point Dean criticizes the Bush administration for attacking Iraq but leaving Iran and North Korea unscathed. He seems to be implying that we should have attacked Iran and North Korea instead of Iraq. If we had focused our military assets on these two legs of the axis of evil, he seems to be saying, he would have endorsed the effort.

Can this be? Can the hero of the anti-war crowd have only opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom because we had simply chosen the wrong target? Of course not. To conclude that he would have supported the administration if it had taken on Iran instead of Iraq would be to impute to Mr. Dean a level of consistency and integrity that would be misplaced in his case. He's simply trying to score rhetorical points by sounding tough and hoping that his audience is comprised mostly of unthinking lunkheads like the shoe-thrower.

Senator Kennedy Call Your Office

Time magazine reports that secret back channel talks with Baathist insurgents have been going on for some time in Iraq. It may be that they will come to naught, but it may be that the Baathist faction of the Iraqi insurgency is ready to throw in the towel. Most Iraqi insurgents are former Baathists. Abu al Zarqawi's al Qaida insurgents are comprised of a lot of foreigners, and their situation is bound to grow much more precarious if the Baathists reach an accommodation with the Coalition:

WASHINGTON (Feb. 20) - U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are conducting secret talks with Iraq's Sunni insurgents on ways to end fighting there, Time magazine reported on Sunday, citing Pentagon and other sources. The Bush administration has said it would not negotiate with Iraqi fighters and there is no authorized dialogue, but the U.S. is having "back-channel" communications with certain insurgents, unidentified Washington and Iraqi sources told the magazine.

The magazine cited a secret meeting between two members of the U.S. military and an Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of what he called the nationalist insurgency.

A U.S. officer tried to get names of other insurgent leaders while the Iraqi complained the new Shi'ite-dominated government was being controlled by Iran, according to an account of the meeting provided by the Iraqi negotiator.

"We are ready to work with you," the Iraqi negotiator said, according to Time. Iraqi insurgent leaders not aligned with al Qaeda ally Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi told the magazine several nationalist groups composed of what the Pentagon calls "former regime elements" have become open to negotiating.

The insurgents said their aim was to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis.

Things are looking as bad for the credibility and prognostications of the doom and gloomers like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as they are for the future of the insurgency.