Roger L. Simon

Liberalism on Fumes

Jonah Goldberg has drummed Kevin Drum’s arguments on the War on Terror into the ground and stomped on them pretty successfully, but as one who defined himself as a liberal or a leftist for most of my life, let me throw myself into the breach on this, at least briefly.

Jonah was writing in response to a much talked about Peter Beinart piece urging liberals to take a harder line on Islamofascism in the manner many did on Communism back in the forties and fifties. Drum seems to have been peeved by Beinart’s suggestion, making the risible statement that Peter ought first to prove that Islamic totalitarianism was “an overwhelming danger to the security of the United States.” (Well, I guess we can’t expect Kevin to lead the charge hereabouts for Theo Van Gogh – poor guy was Dutch.)

But leaving aside Drum’s ahistorical flummery, Beinart is addressing the heart of the issue for liberals and the Democrat Party. If anything, however, he understates the gravity of the situation. The Democrats lost in the last election much more seriously than is commonly understood. A swing of three million votes is gigantic in our society where party allegiances are formed in childhood and reinforced by an omnipresent media. We can see the primitiveness of these allegiances in the remaining popularity of Howard Dean, a man who a very few years ago presented himself as a pro-gun centrist, jumping around like a re-upped version of Jerry Rubin to appeal to a segment of the Democratic Party that hasn’t changed one view about anything in thirty-five years. But… and here’s the crux… these people are not that exceptional. Few of us change our views over a lifetime.

Yet, three million did.

If I were the Democratic Party leadership I would be very nervous. Fortunately, I am not. If there’s one thing I have learned in the last few years it’s that allegiance to any political party should be transitory. I don’t care what the party thinks. I care what I think. The minute it is the other way round, I have lost freedom of thought. The same thing is true of “isms” for me. So unlike Peter Beinart, I am not worried about resurrecting “liberalism” (or applauding “conservatism” for that matter). What interests me is getting more citizens of this country to support our militant position in the war on terror and to support our intervention in Iraq. The spread of democracy is extraordinarily difficult, but it is by far our most serious work. Democracy should be what we are most concerned about. At the moment, it’s the only label that interests me.

MEANWHILE: Cliff May has an interesting insider’s view of the Bill Moyers sayonara commented on below that relates to the whole mysterious issue of “ideologies.”