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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Townhall.com :: Columns :: A liberal looks to history for hope by George Will - May 21, 2006
[Peter Beinart, editor at large of the liberal New Republic magazine]'s project of curing liberalism's amnesia begins by revisiting Jan. 4, 1947, when liberal anti-totalitarians convened at the Willard to found Americans for Democratic Action. It became their instrument for rescuing the Democratic Party from Henry Wallace and his fellow-traveling followers who, locating the cause of the Cold War in American faults, were precursors of Michael Moore and his ilk among today's "progressives."
Liberalism's civil war seemed won after Henry Wallace's Progressive Party candidacy failed to prevent President Truman's 1948 election. But the war broke out again in the Democratic Party's crack-up over Vietnam in 1968. Then, Beinart says, a "new liberalism" emerged that "questioned whether America had much to offer the world." Four years later the party nominated George McGovern, who had been a delegate to the 1948 Progressive Party convention that nominated Wallace. McGovern's trumpet sounded retreat: "Come home, America."

Since then, Beinart argues, liberals have lacked a narrative of national greatness that links America's missions at home and abroad. It has been said that whereas the right-wing isolationists in the 1930s believed that America was too good for the world, left-wing isolationists in the 1960s believed that the world was too good for America. After Vietnam, Beinart says, liberal foreign policy was "defined more by fear of American imperialism than fear of totalitarianism."
But while excoriating the Bush administration for perhaps ``creating exactly the condition the conservatives have long feared: An America without the will to fight,'' Beinart's most important contribution is to confront the doughface liberals who rejoice about the weakening of that will. Reading liberals who seem to think they ``have no enemies more threatening, or more illiberal, than George W. Bush,'' Beinart worries that Deaniac liberals are taking over the Democratic Party much as McGovernite liberals did after 1968.
Beinart is correct in attempting to rescue liberalism from the excesses of the Leftist notion that America is the problem in the world, rather than part of the solution. I think his history is a little off though; I'm not sure that the Democratic Party ever has escaped the grasp of the people who took control of it with the nomination of McGovern in 1972. Their excesses are what drove many into the arms of the Republican Party through the 70s and 80s. (It was in 1984 that Jeane Kirkpatrick gave her famous "Blame America First" speech at the GOP National Convention. Like many former Democrats, Kirkpatrick left due to a sense of the feeling of anti-Americanism present in the Democratic party leadership.

Has the Democratic Party really changed? While these views don't reflect the views of many, or even most Democrats, I think those with the most influence certainly feel this way. Look at their treatment of Joe Liberman: he votes for the Iraq War and they think he's some sort of arch-conservative. He is, of course, no such thing. It's a sign of the intellectual vapdiity of the modern liberal (or "progressive", to use Beinart's preferred phrasing) movement that they are so insistent on ideoligical unity. Those who are unsure of themselves are the most likely to demand people agree with them on everything.

Let's take a look at the closing section of Kirkpatrick's speech:
They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead.

But then, somehow, they always blame America first.

When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.

But then, they always blame America first.
A very similar speech could be given today. Replace Grenada with the World Trade Center, and you have progressives (and Pat Buchanan) blaming our support of Israel for the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Replace Lebanon with Iraq and terrorists killing our soldiers, and progressives blame Bush rather than the actual murderers.

You don't have to replace Marxist dictators in Central America. Look at how the progressives love Castro and now his buddy Hugo Chavez. If you're against America, the progressives will love you, regardless of how you treat your people or how many you kill.

Beinart is right that this both bad for the country and bad for the liberal movement. Americans acknowledge our country has flaws and has made mistakes. They don't think we should deny that; but they also don't think we should blame all the world's problems on America or believe the answer to all of the problems are restraining American power or influence. In fact, they are more likely to believe that American influence can be a positive force in the world abroad.

As long as the Democrats are identified (rightly, in my opinion) with those who wish tor estraing and tie down American power, they will continue to lose elections. beinart is working to prevent that; are there enough people in his party rational enough to listen amy more? That I'm less sure of.

UPDATE: Mynym shares similar thoughts.

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