Posted by lex, on Saturday February 19, 2005 at 12:03 PM
Martin Peretz, the editor of The National Review The New Republic (tks MT), has a compelling article up today, outlining the intellectual bankruptcy that is modern American liberalism. (Registration is required, but it is free, and definitely worth it.)
“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.”
Speaking from his position as a leading light of that same movement, you’d think that his essay would be the cause of thoughtful dialogue and introspection among the chattering members of the liberal class, folks who by now have presumable given up the empty calories of “Jesusland” jokes, and are wondering how they might one day again become a positive force in the country’s national dialogue.
You’d be wrong , of course, but there it is.
For my own part, the celebration of the conservative element of my soul at the Republican Party’s rout of their foes last fall has begun to be overcome by the impending hangover being suffered by the libertarian branch, when it ponders the unchanging frailty of human nature on the one hand, and the concentration of all political power in the hands of any political ideology that doesn’t have an opposition with a compelling argument to make on the other. Thriving democracies have political parties which own distinct and competitive views of the social order, of the nature and reach of the state into the private sphere, of the size, cost and character of the social contract. Of who we are as a people, and who we ought to be 100 years hence, and how we ought to build the bridges to get there.
With political debate limited to screechy “STOP IT, STOP ITs!” on the one side, and smugly self-satisfied “Stuff it, minority party” on the other, it’s hard to see how we’re going to get back to a place where we can have a reasoned debate as to what constitutes progress, and as to what is worth defending.
Peretz asks serious questions – he asks about the liberal wing’s continued and anachronistic playing of the race card, long after the civil rights card game has broken up, mission complete – this evidenced by the Democratic Party’s thoughtful obeisance to the likes of the rapacious Jesse Jackson and the truly odious Al Sharpton, and what lessons this kowtowing imparts:
“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-à-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.”
Just so, and hat’s off to Peretz for noticing. And it also begs the question of sending people like Senators Boxer and Byrd (for God’s sake, why choose him?) up front to keep a icon of success like Condi Rice squirming on the hot seat for another useless week or so in confirmation hearings. For one thing, it would tend to insulate others of the majority part from heat they’d justifiably receive for policies which may not be race-neutral in effect down the road. These were not only wasted rounds fired down range, these angry, oppositional spasms, they were worse than useless.
On education, Peretz notes:
“The conservatives have their ideas, 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.”
And finally, tellingly, Peretz joins hands with Peter Beinart (also of TNR) on the primary issue of the day, and in fact of last fall’s election: National security.
“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.”
Far too many voices on the left are still howling that there is nothing wrong with their message, nothing at all! but that they chose a poor messenger. Or that they are too “nuanced” to communicate effectively with the red state rubes. Or that even if you stipulate the intellectual bankruptcy of their cause, the right is even worse, the bastards!
Which, as a position from which to buttress Karl Rove’s generational conservative dominance of the political agenda is a perfectly sound place to be. I’m just not sure that’s good for the sake of the country. The left has learned the wrong lessons from Newt Gingrich’s scorched earth oppositional tactics in the 80’s, forgetting that he also came armed with a positive message in the form of the “Contract with America.” You didn’t have to believe in it, in sum or in detail, to realize he had something.
And as everywhere, something beats nothing.