Overcoming the Liberal Mania

“Great hearts, my dear master, should be patient in misfortune as well as joyful in prosperity.” — Sancho’s words of consolation to Don Quixote.

Ever since the extremely close presidential election in 2000, it had been clear that some Democrats and Liberals have collectively lost perspective, appearing to more concerned about threats they perceive from President George W. Bush than international terrorism. Now it would be an exaggeration to suggest that all Liberals ail from such a dysfunctional perspective, but the affliction is more common than one would ordinarily expect. Apparently, this “mania” is not a recent phenomenon, but appears to have be an ongoing problem among Liberals, at least as documented by William F. Buckley, Jr.

In 1959, Buckley wrote Up From Liberalism and his description of Liberalism seems almost prescient. He wrote, “that in most respects the Liberal ideologists are, like Don Quixote, wholly normal, with fully developed powers of thought, that they see things as they are, and live their lives according to the Word; but that, like Don Quixote, whenever anything touches upon their mania, they become irresponsible. Don Quixote’s mania was knight errantry. The Liberals’ mania is their ideology.”

The Liberals’ mania may still be their ideology, but the mania has certainly extended to President Bush. Agree with him or not, empirically George Bush is moderate both in tone and policy. He has instituted tax cuts, but so did Ronald Reagan and Reagan’s were more dramatic. He liberated Iraq and Afghanistan in response to perceived threats, but Bill Clinton attacked Bosnia even when all conceded that there was no threat to the United States. Some view the Patriot Act as a frontal assault on civil liberties, but it was passed by 3 to 1 in Congress and any civil liberties issues are trivial compared to the internment of Japanese Americans by Liberal icon Franklin D. Roosevelt or to the deliberate killing of 3000 people on September 11, 2001 by Al Qaeda terrorists. Disagreement on policy is not sufficient to explain the fury against Bush. It has something to do with continual frustration with the 2000 election and it has something to do with cultural animosity of America’s elites with the values of Middle America.

This Liberal “mania” is routed in cultural difference, the reaction of people who fancy themselves elites and are frustrated by apparent American backwardness in the hinterlands. Immediately, after the election, the Left was carping about the “moral issues” motivation of the Americas, but many simply subscribed to Michael Moore’s conviction that Americans, “are possibly the dumbest people on the planet … in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks… We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know about anything that’s happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing.” Given the number of people who paid money to see Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, one supposes that he has a point. In any case, the persistent insults that the Left lavish on American will not particularly endear them and it may help insure future Republican victories. But the mania is too intoxicating for some and they cannot temper either their thoughts or speech.

If they are to survive all American political movements must marginalize their more shrill and extreme elements. In his era, William Buckley pushed avid anti-state and to some extent anti-American government John Birchers from the mainstream of Conservative politics. In the New Republic, Peter Beinart argues for a New Liberalism that can speak authentically about dealing with the threat of terrorism, while eschewing their more fanatical elements on the Left.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, it was not clear if the US would take the necessary national posture and stand athwart Soviet expansionism. As Beinart recalls, “Former Vice President Henry Wallace, a hero to many Liberals, saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress.” Wallace eventually ran unsuccessfully for president under the Progressive banner breaking away from the Democratic Party, which Wallace believed was abandoning the legacy of Roosevelt. Wallace believed that unfettered capitalism led to the suffering of the Great Depression and allowed this fear of free markets to transform him into a reflexive Soviet apologist. He resisted the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe for fear that such involvement by the US in Europe would threaten the Soviet Union. Wallace even opposed the Berlin airlift and blamed the US for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia . Beinart’s critique of Wallace is particularly ironic since Wallace was served as an editor for The New Republic.

Unlike Wallace, Harry Truman accurately understood the nature of the Soviet Union and established what has come to known as the Truman Doctrine, the underpinning for American resistance to Soviet expansion during the Cold War. Truman believed, “that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The doctrine was first applied to assist Turkey and Greece from being pulled unwillingly into the Soviet orbit. According to Beinart, the American for Democratic Action was first formed to insure that American Liberalism would combine a commitment to progressive ideals at home and support to keep free peoples from the yoke of Soviet Communism.Liberals and Democrats are at a similar position with respect to the current struggle against religiously inspired terrorism. The challenge for responsible Democrats is to isolate the irresponsible elements of their party, the Michael Moore and MoveOn.org wing. This may prove particularly difficult, given that MoveOn.org believes that it is the Democratic Party. Indeed, it proudly boasted of the Democratic Party, “We bought it, we own it, we’re going to take it back.”

It is possible for Democrats and Liberals to maintain their commitment to ambitious domestic social welfare society, while aggressively pursuing the War on Terror. After all, Presidents Truman and John F. Kennedy were leading Cold War warriors. Or Democrats can allow their obsessive and compulsive distaste for Bush to blind them to the very real threats posed by vicious mass killers motivated by a deadly mix of religious fanaticism and a Fascist ideology. They can follow a Henry Wallace’s example of acquiescence to a very real threat or embrace the aggressive pro-American policy similar to the one promulgated by their erstwhile hero Truman. They can credibly recognize the seriousness of the threat despite the willingness of some Europeans to appease Islamic extremists, or they can isolate themselves further from the American mainstream, consumed by their mania, tilting aimlessly at windmills.

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