February 12, 2005

ROSS TERRILL WRITES in The Boston Globe:

DEMOCRACY IS FRIEND to the common man and authoritarianism is a crutch for millionaires with a villa in Italy -- right? Maybe no longer. Lady Liberty has acquired a new dancing partner. Politics in both Europe and the United States have unhitched the left from its trusted partner, democracy. American liberals now often spurn blue collar opinion that is democracy's fuel. They mostly reject global idealism that is liberty's post-communism vocation. This has allowed a Republican president to make democracy his cause. On the dance floor of the 21st century, the right embraces Lady Liberty. . . .

What a strange moment for the left to lose faith in democracy. The Soviet Union and other Leninist dictatorships are gone in a puff of smoke. Democracy is taking root in Latin America. South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Thailand are all newly democratic. Throughout the 20th century, war and authoritarianism were inseparable. For 30 years, democracy and free markets have surged and no war has occurred anywhere on the scale ofKorea and Vietnam, let alone World War I and World War II.

Seymour Hersh recently told "Democracy Now!" radio that America was in a bad way because "eight or nine neoconservatives" have "grabbed the government." Not mentioning that Bush was elected by 51 percent of the voters, Hersh did detect a ray of hope. One "salvation may be the economy," Hersh said regrettably, "It's going to go very bad, folks. You know, if you have not sold your stocks and bought property in Italy, you better do it quick."

A left that sees a lousy economy as political salvation and frets about stocks and a villa in Italy is not the idealistic, worker-respecting left anymore. Certainly it is not a believer in democracy.

Nope. And, as I keep repeating, this is no strategy for building a Democratic majority. Similarly, stuff like this is comforting to the true-believers, but it's not likely to win votes. (Via Peg Kaplan.) And read this, too.

This is where I have to agree and disagree simultaneously with Hugh Hewitt, who writes about Peter Beinart:

Peter is without question the very best face of the Democratic Party. Folks love him because he is earnest and very committed to Harry Truman's Democratic Party, which is a lot like being committed to the Edsel.

But the Edsel was a bomb from day one. No, more like the Nash Rambler -- a good car, popular in its time, that's no longer made. The Truman / FDR style of muscular Democratic thought has been supplanted by the '68-ers in the Democratic party, and their ideological descendants at MoveOn, MediaMatters, etc. They lack the essential faith in America possessed by their predecessors, and by the voters they'd like to win over. Beinart's views are marginal in the Democratic Party -- heck, the kind of patriotism that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd demonstrated in Davos is indiscernible in the MoveOn / MediaMatters end of the Democratic Party -- while the Seymour Hersh Vietnam-nostalgia strain runs strong. That's bad for the Democrats, and bad for America, but it's nonetheless the case.

UPDATE: Reader Mark Gunnion, on the other hand, emails:

Fuck you.

Your side is the Taliban side.

I hope all of you Bush-loving idiots wake up some day to how you have been hoodwinked into empowering 12th century religious fanatics - in OUR country.

But I doubt it will happen.

You got your $32,000 tax cut, so you'll put up with a little preaching.

YOU are the American Taliban.

Nice to see that the Lefties are retaining their sense of perspective.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmm. I think, actually, that the email from Gunnion above was inspired by this post from Ted Barlow that criticizes me for my post linking to this post by Nelson Ascher from Europundits on the Euro-left.

The problem is that Barlow seems to miss the Euro angle, and proceeds to suggest that I'm calling American liberals terrorists. (To be fair, there's a brief reference to Americans in Ascher's post, which I didn't notice before, but Barlow doesn't mention it, and it's certainly not the main subject of Ascher's argument.) I'm used to having my posts mischaracterized by Crooked Timber folks, but I do think that this is a bit much.

But maybe the emails I get from Oliver Willis, accusing me of thinking that everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman is a traitor, reflect a broader view rather than, as I assumed, just Oliver. So, in the interest of clarity: No, I don't think that. I do think that it's unfortunate that the Democrats decided to make the war their big issue for the election -- I suspect that they do, too, now -- and I think that it was unseemly and wrong for them to embrace Michael Moore, etc. That's hardly the same as calling them terrorists.

The support for terrorism that Ascher describes on the part of the Euro-left is something different. I'm not the only one to note that France has been engaging in a "proxy war" with the United States using terrorists and dictators as surrogates -- Tom Friedman has noted something similar. I think that this hostility is part wounded pride, but also partly the result of the attitudes that Nelson Ascher describes. That my comments on that subject (in a post with a later update [LATER: since Barlow's post, I should note] also linking a British, not an American, journalist calling for our defeat in Iraq) would be seen as representative of the American left seems odd, and perhaps a bit overly defensive, to me. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it.

But as I thought things like my repeated praise of Barney Frank illustrate already, I certainly don't think that there's anything necessarily unpatriotic about being a leftist or liberal. I do think that those people who are rooting for our defeat, or showing a strange eagerness for a Vietnam rerun, and so on, are in fact unpatriotic, as surely rooting for your own country's defeat in time of war counts as unpatriotic. (Those people aren't entirely on the left, of course, as you can find some of them in the wackier theocon or isolationist or antisemitic paleoconservative movements, too. Indeed, the term "idiotarian" was coined with reference to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson among others.)

At any rate, to the extent that there's genuine confusion, and not point-scoring, going on here, I hope that this clears things up. In the meantime, I wonder if people will stop calling me a Taliban or a Nazi. Probably not. In fact, one commenter at Rand Simberg's is calling me a Nazi for not having open comments on my blog: "Some, like Instapundit , do not even allow comments for refutation. In that regard, they are like the mass rallies of the Nazis."

Well, it's true -- there weren't open blog comments at a single Nazi rally that I know of. It's a fair cop!

MORE: Let's cut to the real outrage -- Michael Demmons emails: "You got a $32,000 tax cut????"

Er, no. I don't know where he got that number. Nor was I aware that the Taliban were motivated by a desire for tax cuts. . . .

STILL MORE: Donald Sensing -- who has been the recipient of the same "left of Joe Lieberman" charges -- declares a Joe Lieberman meme war. And instead of an Edsel, above, perhaps the best automotive metaphor is the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado -- union-made, still desired by a lot of people, but no longer available from the original source.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Policy Institute offers a diagnosis of the Democrats' problems that isn't so far from mine:

As Democrats, we are proud that our party led the way in crafting America's resolute response to fascism and communism. Far-sighted Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy fashioned a tough-minded internationalism that eventually won the Cold War and stimulated an unprecedented expansion of liberty and democracy throughout the world.

For too many Americans, however, all this is ancient history. In recent decades, the public has shown a consistent tendency to trust Republicans more on matters of defense and security. We believe the confidence gap on national security played a major, even decisive, role in the 2004 election, and now stands as a major obstacle to building a new Democratic majority.

To persuade the public to entrust us with national leadership, Democrats must offer a more compelling vision for making Americans safer. We believe such a vision must incorporate key pillars of the party's internationalist tradition: the willingness to use force to defend our interests and values; support for open trade and a globalizing world economy; and active promotion of individual liberty and democracy around the world. We recognize that these are contentious issues and that some will want to paper over our internal differences to preserve a semblance of party unity. But we believe Democrats should not fear a vigorous, honest debate on national security -- better to wrestle these issues now than on the eve of the 2008 election. . . .

America's work in Iraq is not yet done. We, therefore, urge you to oppose calls to withdraw troops from Iraq prematurely, before the new Iraqi government is able to consolidate its authority and defend itself against Sunni insurgents and foreign terrorists. This is not the time for casting anxious glances toward the exits. Instead, Democrats should reaffirm our resolve not to leave behind a failed state in Iraq, because to do so would hand our Jihadist foes a strategic windfall, swelling terrorist ranks and lending credence to Osama bin Laden's claim that the United States is a paper tiger with no stomach for a protracted fight. . . .

This new danger tests the mettle of the people and parties that aspire to lead America. No political party will gain or hold power -- nor will it deserve to -- if it cannot provide people with a basic sense of security.

The Jihadist creed, in its bigotry and intolerance, its sanctification of murder and its contempt for liberal democracy, bears a sinister resemblance to the totalitarian ideologies of 20th century Europe. Like fascism and communism, it poses a moral challenge to our liberal beliefs and values. Once again, our foes doubt that we will fight and sacrifice for the ideals we profess to live by. Once again, we must prove them wrong. Moral clarity in this fight is essential. The American people will not trust leaders who will not vigorously defend their ideals.

Indeed. But David Adesnik's comment on this letter also points to the problem:

Does the Democratic party dare associate itself with a phrase such as "moral clarity"? Or will the invocation of a phrase associated with the White House simply persuade the Democratic left that the idealists who drafted this letter are closet Republicans? I hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did.

One should also point out the significance of this letter's suggestion that the American people actually prefer leaders who "vigorously defend their ideals." I can't really recall any instance during the campaign when either Democratic pols or media figures said that John Kerry was hurting himself by not talking about democracy promotion. Unsurprisingly, Kerry didn't even try to insist that he was the real idealist and that Bush was just a poseur. Instead, Kerry simply let Bush take the pro-democracy high-ground.

Although both the pols and journalists knew that Kerry had to present himself as tough, they never seemed to think that American voters also cared about electing a president who is openly idealistic. Nor did the pols and journalists ever argue that being idealistic is part and parcel of being tough.

The bottom line is that there is a massive gulf of perception that separates tough, idealistic Truman-style Democrats from the party's liberal establishment. This isn't just about the war in Iraq or even the occupation.

No, it's not.

STILL MORE: Or, people could just try to blackmail me, as Robert McClelland urges in the comments over at Oliver Willis's. Yeah, that'll solve the problem. Jeez. Perhaps they should start here . . . .

McClelland's obviously one of Karl Rove's provocateurs, implementing his demonically effective "blogpaper" strategy, in which lefty activism is drained off from constructive sources and into obsession with an obscure law professor's personal website. Apparently, it's working pretty well.

MORE: John Cole emails:

You missed the humor in the suggestion that you be blackmailed.

Robert McClelland is a Canadian, or at the very least a resident of Canada, who most recently described the United states as a 'third world hellhole.'

So, to summarize: An America hating Canadian is so incensed by a post in which you assert that some lefties seem to hate America that he travels to a left wing site to recommend the outright blackmail of an American to stifle political speech.

That ought to play well in the heartland. I officially declare irony to be dead.

Heh. And buried. I wonder if that comment counts as "hate speech" in Canada? But, really, I think this kind of frothing -- in response to a post whose actual point is, of course, that some lefties like Barney Frank are showing a spirit I'd like to see more of -- is indicative of how some people have just lost it, and I really do think that it's hurting the Democrats. Maybe we can get a Lieberman / Frank ticket in 2008 to restore some sanity. And though I've thought that by pointing out this problem I'd do some good, I suspect that in some cases the reaction to hearing it pointed out overwhelms any benefit. That's unfortunate, as -- unlike, say, Hugh Hewitt -- I'd be quite happy to see the Democratic Party flourishing in the way that the Progressive Policy Institute, or Peter Beinart, want it to. (Aside from the war, I probably agree with Barney Frank on more issues than I agree with, say, Trent Lott on -- and unlike some, Frank's opposition to the war has been honorable, as his behavior regarding Davos illustrates.) And I think that all this hatred and bitterness and reflexive opposition is deeply damaging to the Democratic Party, and not good for America, either. Those people who engage in it are doing the Republicans a favor (at least short-term) and serving the Democratic Party very badly.

And to go full circle, read this post by Dr. Frank on more of the Euro-Left's nostalgia for communism, along the lines described by Nelson Ascher. For a more sensible leftist perspective, on the other hand, read this piece from Harry's Place.

But look, here's the bottom line on the domestic side: I was a card-carrying Democrat for years. Unlike Hugh Hewitt, I don't want to see Democratic power broken forever, I just want to see a more constructive attitude toward national security. I'd really like to see the party do better, but instead it seems to be trapped in a sort of 1972-style anger that can't possibly be good for its future or for the country. I've hoped that calling attention to that would do some good, but I'm afraid that through a sort of reverse psychology it may actually be doing more harm than good -- when I point it out, some people, at least, actually seem to become more hardened against the idea. Perhaps Hillary Clinton will be able to fix things.