By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The wrong stuff

I’ve got a look ahead at the year in politics in the new Boston Phoenix. The subhead gives it away: “These should be the best of times for Democrats. So how will they blow it in 2006? Let us count the ways.” Click here.

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  1. Bill Baar

    I voted for Democrats for President from 1972 through 2000.I belonged to Grinnell College’s class of 1976 list serv discussion group during the months before we went into Iraq. The majority position there then on that list serv was this was an example of a wag the tail strategy by Karl Rove. Bush would drum up support with a war. I argued that was goofy. There was no political gains for Bush. It was far far from that. Bush was taking a huge risk based on a pretty dire assesment of Saddam and a risky strategy of pushing Democratic Revolutions in the middle east by force as the way to combat extrmeist Islam. I called him a Democratic Jacobin at the time and recall explaining the term. I agreed with Bush but thought his strategy would yield anything but short term gains in popularity. Just the opposite would happen. In fact the war’s gone better than I thought but I still agree with this link and the verdict on Bush’s Presidency hinges on the outcome in Iraq. I think I’d qualify that more though. I think Iraq is receding and there’s a much larger impact emerging from him.But turn to the Democrats though, and I see nothing but a repeat of 1968 in Chicago (I was there) when the party imploded over Vietnam and destroyed a great Liberal: Hubert Humphry. I think we’re bound for a repeat of that. In part it’s cowardly failure in leadership among Democrats who can’t lay out a coherent position on war and instead tell us they’ve been duped.That’s poltical death.On another level though, Liberalism fails to address a fundamental split, or even acknowledge it.Nick Cohen is a columnist in the UK and he’s described it this way writing of the awarding of Secularist of the Year 2005 to Iranian dissident, Maryam Namazie,Namazie is on the right side of the great intellectual struggle of our time between incompatible versions of liberalism. One follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own. (Or ‘liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!’ as philosopher Martin Hollis elegantly described the hypocrisy of the manoeuvre.) The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere.The gulf between the two is unbridgeable. Although the argument is rarely put as baldly as I made it above, you can see it breaking out everywhere across the liberal-left. [***]As Namazie knows, the dispute can’t stay in the background for much longer. There’s an almighty smash-up coming and not before time. So the crack up is coming. I’ve gone over with the Jacobins. I think there will be little left among the Democrats but toxic mix of strangley allied followers of Howard Dean and Pat Buchanen afflicted with the growing disease of anti semitism.A sad end to FDR’s party.

  2. Neil

    Bill I don’t know if it’s just me, but I often have trouble following your train of thought. Wag the tail? Don’t you mean “wag the dog”? Maybe you’re a couple of jokes ahead of me.I agree with Dan’s and your point that the Democrats are weak especially in their incoherence about the war. They have effectively neutered themselves because they didn’t speak up when it mattered. What say you now, Hillary? I can’t hear you! And their objection that they were duped, even though true I think, does them no credit. This is the “fool’s defense”. Nor did they speak up on the wiretap issue when it mattered. They are wishy-washy.But the weakness of this crop of Democrats is not inherent to liberalism I think. To Nick Cohen’s point then, I think you jump too quickly to the general case. He presents a false dichotomy. Just because you believe in the principle of tolerance does not mean you tolerate any behavior at all. That is sophistry. You support universal human rights of course. The question is how do you do it.Begin with the principle of the self-determination of nations. We do not seek regime change in Saudi Arabia (or Burma, or Pakistan, or…) because of their abysmal human rights records. Doesn’t mean we approve of what they do, but you must pick your battles. We cannot be the world’s cultural police. Unless a state is an explicit threat to us or our allies, you apply influence in ways other than force. You do what you can–lead by example, by economic incentive, by education. You practice subtlety and patience rather than swaggering about emanating threats and righteousness.For example, Arabic should be taught in our public schools, at least to the extent that say French is. This would be a small step, to provide a long-term strategic benefit to us. I don’t consider this a “liberal” idea, but I would not be surprised if some would characterize it as weakness and a capitulation to the “terrorists”. And I bet no Democrat would dare mention it.The Democrats, in their effort to avoid appearing weak, confirm the accusation by their unwilingness to stand firm for their beliefs, and by their inability to express new ideas. But this is their weakness, not that of the beliefs themselves.

  3. Anonymous

    Nice job on the Phoenix piece, DK. Spot on. Unfortunate that the topless women in the adjacent lingerie ad serve as a distraction.

  4. Bill Baar

    Sorry, yes Wag the dog; not the tail.The self-determination principle should be rejected. This is much of what Bush’s Foreign Policy is about now. Failed States pose such a threat to us and the world, they can not be allowed to go without intervention.I started thinking like this in the 1990’s watching Yugoslavia fall apart.Subtlety, patience, swagger, threats all valid tools frankly in my opinion because I do believe we’re in an era where our values (and they are rightous ones) and our self intersts are aligned.We are making great progress as noted in the LA Times a few days ago in Freedom had a Good Year. Google around and you’ll find the number of conflicts at a low too.The great danger to all of this progress is if the Unites States (as we’re inclined to do) backs off agian into a cocoon of isolationism. Yes, Arabic as well as other non-European languages should be required in schools. It should be part of our diversity programs. I signed up for Arabic at our Community College but the class cancled for lack of students. On a related note, check out Congressman Hoekstra’s Editorial Needed:Arabic Translators.As of Democrats and their beliefs, are you suggesting we have beliefs without advocates? I read my local Liberal blog sites. The ideas are quite clear there. They’re increasingly inclined to blame it on the Jews. Here is my dialog with “Fran” in Chicago. What’s distressing is not so much how this stuff gets said, but how it goes unchallanged. It’s all over the anti war movement out here. Very pronounced when Ward Churchill came to speak at DePaul.

  5. neil

    Harvard’s night school has many language courses available, and when you register online you can see how many open spaces are left in each class. Last year they had two Arabic sections with 30 seats each, and didn’t fill up either one. I signed up for Italian and got onto the waiting list.The govt could not build a stealth fighter or two, and use the money to subsidize college-level Arabic and other strategic languages, and pay for high-school programs nationwide. We need intelligence more than hardware. Knock the price of Arabic off by half and I’m there. Sign me up! As for some liberal-anti-Semitic link, that’s a pretty strong charge, a smear in fact, and you’ll have to do better than your dialog with Fran to back it up.About Dan’s article, I found that the lingerie ad caused me to linger over his dazzling, seductive, provocative umm…prose longer than I might have otherwise. 🙂

  6. Bill Baar

    Neil,The best essay on the growing anti-semtism in the left is Andrew Sullivan’s essay on The Wages of Hate Anti-semitism and the warwritten back in 2002.A couple of blogs who follow the growing merger between the right and left are in the UK: Normblog and Harry’s Place.Another group following in the UK is current viewpoint.Here’s George Galloway on the Unity between Islam (and he means radical Islamism) and the progressive left in an interview on the Iraq News Netweork.We’ve got this issue going on in Chicago with DePaul University.The anti-semitism is palpable when you spend time with these folks.I also have some diaglog going on with some UU bloggers who I think have gone over the edge (one I refuse to read anymore), especially latching on to Pat Buchanen who’s becoming a hero to the anti war movement. You see him carried now in anti war. comFinally, there is a new book out written by a German on the anti-semtism of the 68’ers. It’s a history of this incident which I remember, On November 9, 1969, on the anniversary of “Kristallnacht”, over two hundred people were gathered in Berlin’s Jewish Community Centre in commemoration of the victims of Nazi Germany. Unbeknownst to them, a member of the radical Left student movement “Tupamaros West Berlin” planted a bomb in the building. The device failed to explode because the clock meant to trigger it off was connected by a rusty wire. There has always been this strain in the left since around 1968… as far as I can tell, it’s growing.Of course there is the wacky stuff David Duke has been saying in support of Cindy Sheehan too. I think there is more support for Duke out there than people realize.

  7. neil

    Bill, well the comment section of Dan’s blog isn’t really the place for an extended back and forth about this, but…Is David Duke a liberal now? If David Duke agrees with something Cindy Sheehan said, that is not evidence that Sheehan is an anti-Semite. Is Pat Buchanan a liberal now? The Tupamaros West Berlin, from 35 years ago, as an example of Democrats or liberals being “increasingly inclined to blame it on the Jews”?You’re conflating “the radical left” in Europe no less, “the left”, and “liberals” in this country, in order to smear the latter. You’re using David Duke, a far-right anti-Semite, to smear Democrats!? This is the most careless kind of guilt by association. It is not news that extremists on both ends share certain beliefs, but the beliefs of extremists are not evidence that the mainstream of either party feels the same. Republicans are not racists because David Duke is a racist. Nor are Democrats.None of this supports: “They’re increasingly inclined to blame it on the Jews.” Whatever “it” is.By anti-Semitism, by the way, I do not mean to be opposed to Israeli policy in the Middle East, or to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. These are valid political positions to have, even if those positions may be shared by anti-Semites. (In the same way that Cindy Sheehan’s beliefs aren’t invalidated just because David Duke may agree with some of them.)Your evidence of anti-Semitism among Democrats or liberals is feeble. You toss the slur too easily. You touch those that disagree with the principle of interventionism, with the brush of anti-Semitism. Better to argue the case on its merits, I think.

  8. Bill Baar

    It’s really among the anti-war left. I think there is a growing convergence and there is a strong theme of anti-semitism in it. The Andrew Sullivan article really the best discussion of it.No, I don’t think David Duke a liberal now at all. Nor is Pat Buchanen. But they all believe in an isolationist Foreign Policy and believe Jews inspire an internationalist foreign policy via neo-cons.I had a link on one UU site with words to the effect our gov was being driven by the “talith” and it linked to an Israeli flag.Many of us here in Chicago went and protested Ward Churchill and showed our support for Prof Klocek who the school fired. You didn’t have to scratch very deeply among the “left” there to realize the anti semitism coming forth.It’s more pronounced in Europe but it’s growing here too. When you see Unitarian Universalists saying the “Talith” is behind American Foreign Policy I’d say Liberalism isn’t so Liberal anymore and things don’t look good.I can start a thread on my blog if you want to carry this over there.

  9. Bill Baar

    Harry’s Place on the left right anti war alliance.It’s an odd mix coming together with some toxic ideas.

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