Friday, April 08, 2005

Is the Left bereft?

Michael Walzer's latest article in Dissent makes the argument, in so many words, that the Left/Democratic party is caught in a post-Communism hangover. While we've been trying to hang onto our gains over the 50 years prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Right/Republican Party mobilized itself as the party of ideas and conviction. Republican certainty of ideology has persuaded the electorate that the Republicans know how to address social issues, while the Democrats, even though they probably represent values more closely aligned with the majority of the people in this country, seem to flounder in a morass of self-doubts. As Walzer puts it,"ideological uncertainty and skepticism about all-out solutions to social problems have migrated to the left." The actuality of the situation, ironically, is that the Democrats on the left have become the party of values, while the Republicans luxuriate in their arch ideological simplicity. In short, they have had a plan and we have not.
Walzer's answer is that the Left must recall a different heritage than the one they have been utilizing (and losing with since 1980, for the most part), that of Cold War Liberalism. Walzer argues instead that the Left would do better to hearken back to the very beginnings of the New Deal and its consonant anti-fascism. In their haste to co-opt Walzer's argument, some Radicals might instantly jump on this phrase and point out this Administration's similarities to a neo-fascist state, Walzer declines to address that possible parallel, focusing instead on the external threat of Islamic fundamentalism as the proper target of his proposed anti-fascism.
It is here that I think Walzer makes a mistake. He seems to be suggesting that by accepting the notion that Islamic fundamentalism is completely incompatible with Democracy, the Left can re-energize the populous to accept their vision for social justice. In other words, by vilifying Islam, the Democratic Party can convince the public that it can also address the national security issues that clearly propelled Smirky and all the other Republicans into office since 9/11. I would argue instead that the evidence points to the conclusion that the voting public believes so strongly that only Republicans can keep us "safe" that they would even elect someone like Smirky the Chimp, regardless of his obvious incompacity and proven mendacity. Smirky's re-election is the punchline to Karl Rove's joke on all of us, courtesy of the palpable fear pervading the nation that Walzer notes throughout his article.
I don't think appropriating Republican fear-mongering is the answer for the Left, or even the Democratic Party (and there is a big difference between the two, a distinction Walzer neglects to make clear). That ship has sailed and right-thinking (pun intended) Republicans are the only ones they will let onboard. We should instead make our bones by convincing the public that we have better answers than ones in fashion 70 years ago (as Walzer wants it), or 40 years ago (as the Democrats have been trying to have it), or even 25 years ago (as the Republicans are having it).
The world is much more complicated now than it was in any of those periods of our history, even within our own borders. We must begin by admitting that we shouldn't rule the world, even if we can, because that isn't even remotely the principle the United States of America was founded on. We are supposed to be setting an example for the rest of world to aspire to, not cram our vision down everyone else's throat by virtue of the fact that we are stronger than anyone else. In that direction lies our doom and our destruction, and it's happening right before our eyes. Our arrogance will prove to be our fatal flaw, if we let it . . .


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