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Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Moore of the Same, or can the left Move On?

* Note to self: worse title ever!

Peter Beinart has a must-read article on the challenge liberals and Democrats face in the aftermath of Bush's re-election. It's quite simple really, as Andrew Sullivan, OxBlog, and others - even Jonah Goldberg - have been saying: is the left willing to discard its negative critique of the Bush administration adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of a foreign policy that takes seriously the threat of militant Islam? In other words, is the Democratic Party willing to do to Michael Moore what it did to Henry Wallace in 1947 - cast him by the wayside? Says Beinart:
Most Democrats agree with [Moore] about the Iraq war, about Ashcroft, and about Bush. What they do not recognize, or do not acknowledge, is that Moore does not oppose Bush's policies because he thinks they fail to effectively address the terrorist threat; he does not believe there is a terrorist threat. For Moore, terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where's My Country?, he says it plainly: "There is no terrorist threat." And he wonders, "Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?"


What they do not understand is that his real casualties are on the decent left. When Moore opposes the war against the Taliban, he casts doubt upon the sincerity of liberals who say they opposed the Iraq war because they wanted to win in Afghanistan first. When Moore says terrorism should be no greater a national concern than car accidents or pneumonia, he makes it harder for liberals to claim that their belief in civil liberties does not imply a diminished vigilance against Al Qaeda.
Beinart has some equally strong words for (which as Tim Blair points out, should really be renamed ""), whose founder Eli Pariser, when asked at an anti-war rally why he was sharing the stage with ANSWER and other apologists for dictators, said "I'm personally against defending Slobodan Milosevic and calling North Korea a socialist heaven, but it's just not relevant right now."

Beinart then proceeds to sketch a framework for anti-totalitarian liberalism based on an even more ambitious American foreign policy: one that would involve not just killing terrorists, but also nation-building - something Beinart argues the Republicans, for all their talk about promoting freedom abroad, are still instinctually suspicious of. Hmmm. I agree on the importance of nation-building. I just don't know if the "deep-seated opposition to foreign aid and nation-building" on the Right is as strong as it once was (i.e. during the Cold War). Beinart is good at quoting Moore and MoveOn, but he can't seem to find a single quote from a representative Republican or conservative who's skeptical of nation-building. (And no, John Derbyshire and Pat Buchanan don't count.) In fact, it seems to me that a great many conservatives these days are quite supportive of nation-building. And if there is inherent conservative skepticism to foreign aid, it sure wasn't manifested in the $87 billion loan package approved by the House and Senate last year. It seems to me that Beinart is confusing intentions and consequences. He should read Arthur Chrenkoff.

Still, Beinart's lack of evidence on this point doesn't detract from what is a splendid and important piece. Read the whole thing!


Responses from Andrew Sullivan ("the essay we've been waiting for"), Jonah Goldberg ("a wonderful, heartfelt, tough-minded, morally and politically serious wake-up call"), Kevin Drum ("What he really needs to write is a prequel to his current piece, one that presents the core argument itself: namely, why defeating Islamic totalitarianism should be a core liberal issue."), and Matt Yglesias ("I wouldn't put nearly as much weight on dovish sentiments within the base as Beinart does.").