Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Democrats Lack

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect makes the case that while the Republicans are at a huge disadvantage in terms of their record on national security, they have managed to turn it into a political advantage because the Democrats let them.

During the last administration, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil occurred, despite some forewarning. The Bush administration then failed to capture the leadership of the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, allowing Osama bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. Then, they manipulated the American people into supporting the invasion of a country completely unrelated to the terrorist group that attacked the United States, granting al-Qaeda a considerable propaganda victory as well as a second front where their adherents could gain combat experience. This focus of resources and attention on a country unrelated to the fight against al-Qaeda led to the Taliban regaining the strategic initiative in Afghanistan, the single biggest factor in producing what may be an indefinite American military presence there. The prison created by the Bush administration to hold suspected terrorists features prominently in the promotional materials terrorists use to swell their numbers. The current centerpiece of the GOP’s national security policy vision is a crime under domestic and international law, one that their own dream presidential candidate has said helps al-Qaeda win more recruits to their cause. The torture wing of the GOP wants to turn the United States into the kind of country it would want the U.S. to invade. That doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

And yet the Democrats have failed to make the case, either for political advantage or for the simple reason that it’s morally right, and that the approach the Republicans have taken on the issue is bad for us and for the world.

That’s not because they lack the courage of their convictions; it’s that they lack both courage and convictions. Most Democrats apparently saw torture as something they could bloody Bush over, rather than as a moral outrage that jeopardizes our national security and corrupts the most basic institutions of democracy, which is why they’re at a loss for words trying to counter the GOP’s pro-torture demagoguery.

I suspect that’s because the Democrats didn’t think the American electorate was as gullible and susceptible to demagoguery as it apparently is, and that they thought the onslaught of attacks since the Nixon administration, including the impeachment of Bill Clinton, were just aberrations. And moral outrage is not something they’ve ever been any good at; it’s usually done best by those who use it to divert the attention away from the fact that they’re the ones who are outrageous.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It’s Okay to Be Called a Liberal

Michael Lind in says that liberals can come out of the closest again and drop the word “progressive.”

If the conservative era is over, can liberals come out of their defensive crouch and call themselves liberals again, instead of progressives?

In the last two decades, Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, have abandoned the term “liberal” for “progressive.” The theory was that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan — had succeeded in equating “liberal” in the public mind with weakness on defense, softness on crime, and “redistribution” of Joe the Plumber’s hard-earned money to the collective bogey evoked by a former Texas rock band’s clever name: Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Dope.


The word “liberal” is a badge of pride. What is more embarrassing in 2008, to be associated with self-described liberals like Roosevelt and Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan, or with conservatives like Reagan and George W. Bush and Tom DeLay? I much prefer the public philosophy of the mid-century liberals, for all their blunders and shortcomings, to that of the three movements in American history that have called themselves progressive: the moderate-to-conservative progressives of the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980s and 1990s; the deluded pro-Soviet progressives of the mid-20th century; and the Anglo-Protestant elite progressives of the 1900s, who admired Bismarck’s Germany and wanted to keep out immigrants and sterilize the native poor.

John F. Kennedy said it best in 1960.

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

Long-time readers will recognize that quote; it’s been on the sidebar almost since the day this blog went on-line.