A lament for liberals

A lament for liberals

: I’m greatly troubled by my fellow liberals and their opposition to this war.

I’m liberal (and I’ll spare you the cliched blogger’s definition of what makes me that) and I used to be a pacifist (and I’ve already used this space to explain why I’m not anymore, after 9.11) and I openly struggled with my decision to support this war.

But I am terribly gratified with the results thus far: I see a tragically suppressed people free at last. Even through the hard work ahead, I see nothing but new possibilities for them (and perhaps even their neighbors).

Liberals in general — not all of them, of course — still oppose this war. And I still don’t understand it. Liberals are, by definition, the humanitarians among us. Liberals should care about the rights of the Iraqi people. Liberals are not the isolationists (and not always doves). Liberals should be the champions of the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the ignored. Liberals should have shouted in favor of saving Iraq’s people, not its leader.

But something has happened to the left, or rather, its vocal leadership. It got hijacked by an orthodoxy of offensiveness — that is, by political correctness, which cares more about words than actions or people, which stifles freedom of expression rather than protecting it. It got shanghaied by a not-in-my-name selfishness. It got coopted by a haughty condescension. This is not the left-liberal-Democratic movement of the masses; this is the movement of the elite; this is the PBS left. This is not the movement of action but of inaction. This became the movement of no-no-ishness, wagging fingers and tsking tsks at the other side; it became about being against something rather than being for something. I don’t know how this happened but I lament that it did.

I’m still a liberal — all the more so — even if I like many of my fellow travelers less. The Internet has made me more of a liberal, more of a humanist, because it has made me more of a populist, as I’ve also said quite often in this space. I believe strongly in giving the people the power to express and govern themselves in a context of civilization; I have faith in their (read: our) taste and intelligence and sense and morality. That extends to the Iraqi people. It extends to any people.

I cannot understand how the left cannot at least rejoice at the freedom of the Iraqis (though I give credit to those who do, like Eric Alterman, who, like a mensch, headlines his latest post “I was wrong”). But in general, they don’t. That’s a shame. That’s a damned tragedy.

I want to take the left back for liberals.

: See also a superb post by Anil Dash today in which he looks at this from another side: lamenting how libertarians and conservatives are only now in favor of intervening on behalf of peoples’ rights — but he hopes they keep it up. I wish Anil would also address the issue, the problem, the quandry of liberals no longer supporting such effort and intervention. (I’ll also quibble with his trivializing equivalency of NPR support with Iraqi free speech — even if it is just a rhetorical convenience.) Nonetheless, he says wise things:

I hope they keep saying that our continued safety in the future requires seeing to the freedoms of people around the world.

I hope that involvement becomes our policy. I hope that we go to the Congo. I hope we go around the world, first stopping genocides and massacres and ethnic cleansing, then preventing famines and mass starvation, and finally ensuring each of the other civil liberties we take for granted here in the United States. I really do hope that we stay on an interventionist course when it comes to the liberties of those in the developing world.

: See also Richard Bennett today. He quotes John Lloyd‘s resignation from the New Statesman. Says Lloyd:

A large part of the British left – and the left elsewhere – has made a fundamental mistake. In opposing the invasion of Iraq, it has shown itself incapable of thinking through not only the nature of the world as it is today, but also its own claims to be the leading force in making the world better….

Read it all.

And Bennett adds:

It’s really sad, and I mean that, that the Left has marginalized itself as badly as it has. With so many things going on in America that put civil liberties in jeopardy, we need a zealous and credible watchdog that can hold the Administration’s feet to fire, but the Left is more interested in having “Not in my name” rallies than in doing their job. Like I said, it’s sad.

Yes, as I said, it is time to reclaim the left for liberals.