Did the ADL and Media Matters get under the skin of Bill O'Reilly, embattled champion of Christmas ("nobody sticks up for Christmas except me ...")?
Did the ADL and Media Matters get under the skin of Bill O'Reilly, embattled champion of Christmas ("nobody sticks up for Christmas except me ...")?
As Bernard Kerik says, "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend." And we all know that what our enemies like best is overly aggressive Inspectors General. So, thank God, this guy, Clark Kent Ervin, the IG at Homeland Security, just got canned.
Late Update: I'd be curious to hear from people who are familiar with the backstory here. Ervin comes off the Bush-Houston-Texas ladder. So what happened?
When there's a lot of kindling on the ground, a few sparks can really start a fire ablazing. And that's what now seems afoot between the "DLC" and "the base" in Democratic blogdom. I did a post yesterday about one of my pet peeves about some in the leadership of the organization. So in the interests of having this fire generate more light than heat, let me briefly wade back into this debate.
If there is an institutional failing in the DLC, it is that some in its leadership -- or more specifically, its founder and CEO Al From -- have a habit of making public statements, often at what I consider to be opportunistic moments, that amount to saying that the problem with the Democratic party is that it has ... how can I say this, too many Democrats.
There is also a habit of deploying a highly elastic definition of what it means to be a New Dem which can be expanded or contracted for effect as the opportunities of the moment dictate.
In these intra-party disputes, I always try to get people to take the snarled edge of original sin off their polemics, wherever possible. So perhaps I should take that admonition to heart myself for yesterday's post. But however that may be, I stand behind the basic critique.
But my comments would be incomplete if I didn't note the crude, often silly, and in any case highly misleading caricature of the organization that I hear from readers in emails and on various sites.
The thinking goes that those behind the "corporate/DLC agenda" are simply closet Republicans, whose aim is to put a Democratic label on Republican policies or kow-tow and make nice to Republicans so much that the Democratic party becomes even more impotent and enfeebled than it already is. Whether these points are true or not, their model for successfully winning elections has been endlessly discredited and in any case all they're really about is serially abandoning the various groups that make up the Democratic party. And what right do they have to screw, or sell-out, of $%#& blacks or unions or the poor or gays or the environment, when these guys aren't even real Democrats anyway?
As I noted in my earlier post, over the last six or seven years I've had a few perches which gave me some unique perspective on this intra-party tussle. And I can see kernels of truth in the caricature. But this is a highly misleading portrayal of who almost all of these people are. And the caricature is sustained by a lot of people who only know what these folks are about from left-leaning anti-DLC polemics -- though I would say the DLC folks come in for a good deal of criticism for that being the case.
So before everyone goes off half-cocked, with misleading slogans and impressions, trying to purge this or that wing of the party, I would say, find out a bit more about the groups you're talking about. There are plenty of real differences to argue about without getting into shouting matches with folks who might agree with you about more than you imagine.
I should probably add here that there's also the running battle between From's DLC and Simon Rosenberg's New Dem Network over ownership of the 'New Democrat' label and various other stuff. I have no particular investment one way or another in the DLC as an institution. It certainly has its problems. I would just ask that people spend as much time finding out who these folks are as they do blasting them.
One final point, you'll notice I often link to the NewDonkey blog. It's run by my friend Ed Kilgore, who's the Policy Director for the DLC. If you want to know about what these folks are about, hearing what their policy director thinks is a decent place to start. And not just one visit. Spend some time there because that's the only way to get a sense of it.
At the moment the lead post is a smack-down of David Sirota's "Da Vinci Code" piece in the Prospect. So maybe this isn't the most auspicious moment for trying to get everybody to get along. But then, a core argument of David's piece was blaming the DLC for what ails the Democratic party and trying to write them out of the same. So what do you expect?
In any case, the Dems got 48% last month. Whatever else you can say about that number, it suggests we don't have the luxury of having enough of us that we can start purging anyone. There are serious issues that divide us -- and they'll be argued over. But I don't believe that any of them are deep enough to prevent both sides from coexisting within the same party, especially considering what we are up against.
Youâve probably already seen much discussion of Peter Beinartâs âA Fighting Faithâ piece in The New Republic. So let me add a few comments and start by making some broad points that I hope Iâll be able to follow up on in subsequent posts.
To review, Peterâs argument is that Democrats face a similar challenge to that they faced in 1947 when the founders of the Americans for Democratic Action (a group which, Iâm sure theyâll want you to know, still exists) pushed the Democratic party --- and its various institutional bastions --- into foursquare support for the Cold War. Anti-Communism, they argued, and argued successfully, was inseparable from liberalism.
Peter says Democrats face a similar challenge today: to transform themselves into a movement that puts the fight against terrorism at the center of their agenda and root out or purge those who are indifferent to the war against terror or doubt that American power --- military and otherwise --- can be a force for advancing liberal goals of democracy, openness and individual liberties around the globe.
I should start with what I agree with. In fact, I should begin by declaring a prejudice. Like Peter, I see that moment in 1947, the birth of the ADA, and more generally Cold War liberalism as a defining moment and one of the proudest moments of the liberal political tradition in the United States. It is a touchstone against which I measure my own political views.
I also agree with Peter that Democrats have a basic and non-cosmetic problem with national security policy. I wrote a number of articles about this in 2002 and had a hand in a couple of others. The problem is not principally dovishness but rather --- as Peter notes --- that Democrats are by and large simply not sufficiently interested in national security policy, as such. This is at least as much a problem in the Democratic operative world as it is at the grassroots. As Iâve written before, lack of interest in national security policy leads to lack of knowledge. And lack of knowledge leads to tactical and mutable political decisions on national security --- which is both bad on principle but also feeds public perceptions that Democrats arenât serious about the issue and that theyâre not trustworthy guardians of the national security in dangerous times.
To the extent that Peterâs piece can spark further discussion of this essential problem, great.
But I also have some major disagreements, which Iâll try to note here and hopefully expand on in later posts. Basically, I think Peter's diagnosed a key problem for Democrats. But the cure he prescribes is the wrong one, largely, I think, because several of his premises and assumptions are flawed.
First, the War on Terror is not comparable to the Cold War. Letâs focus the point a little more closely and say that the war against militant Islam is not comparable to the Cold War.
Letâs survey the world stage the ADA folks faced in 1947 for some points of comparison. Having vanquished fascism, the democratic world faced in world communism a political movement that in its basic hostility to democracy and liberalism was more similar to than opposed to fascism. Russia, half of Europe and (in a couple of years) China were all communist. The communists controlled the largest land army in the world and would soon have nuclear weapons. Communism had substantial minority support across Western Europe, including vast support (active or passive) among the most articulate in society. And in the United States many on the left saw communists less as enemies than as errant allies, with whom cooperation was possible on common goals.
Placing context or limits on the danger posed by Islamic terrorism is a hazardous business these days. But unlike communism in 1947, militant Islam simply does not pose an existential threat to our civilization. It just doesnât. It puts us all physically at risk. And especially for those of us who live in DC, New York or other major urban areas, it could kill us tomorrow.
But aside from middle eastern immigrants in western countries, this ideology has close to no support anywhere outside the Muslim world. As an ideology it controls at best a few small states; and it has possible access to Pakistan's small nuclear arsenal. But where is the danger of the Islamist takeover of any of the worldâs great powers? China? The US? Europe? India? Japan? Brazil? Will Germany or Canada becomes âfinlandizedâ by Islamist power? That doesnât mean the danger doesnât exist, only that itâs different. And those are fundamental differences we shouldnât ignore.
Admittedly, the lack of Islamist power, in this sense, will be cold comfort for many of us if al Qaida brings us cargo ship with a nuclear weapon into New York harbor tomorrow. But the difference between an existential threat and a physical one is an important one for thinking about its impact on our politics. Particularly, whether it should lead us to purge folks from the Democratic party or from American liberalism who havenât yet come around to a sufficiently serious view of the threat of terrorism or a coherent and tough-minded national security policy.
Peter rightly points out some instances where groups like Moveon and such consorted with some very illiberal outfits. And they shouldnât have. But I agree here with John Judis when he says that Peter is wrong in comparing Moveon or Eli Pariser to the old fellow-traveling left. And calling these folks the modern-day heirs of Henry Wallace is just bad history and bad reasoning.
I think many of the points Peter makes in his piece are more appropriate to the intra-Democratic debate over US military action in the Balkans in the late 1990s. That was a defining debate and one I think the right side generally won. This current debate is too muddled by the militaristic and neo-imperial policies of the Bush administration to make it as black and white a picture as Peter wants.
Much of the debate about how to practice anti-communism in liberal circles in the 1940s came down to basic questions about which errors were products of naivetÃ© or political inexperience and which represented something more sinister or a deeper failing of attachment to liberal principles. And hereâs where the differences between then and now become quite important.
I would argue that it is precisely those differences between today and fifty years ago which explain why we donât need and really canât afford to start to define ourselves by instituting any purges. To the extent that there is any analogy between Moveon and anything that happened half a century ago, the analogy should be to organized labor more generally. The ADA Democrats didnât try to purge labor. They mounted a campaign within organized labor to get unions to separate themselves from illiberal forces. In any case, whatever disagreements I may have with them on policy --- and particularly foreign policy --- I think Moveon is part of the solution not part of the problem in restoring a center-left in American politics that embraces liberal values both at home and abroad. And this comes from someone who vociferously attacked Dems and liberals who opposed US military involvement in the Balkans and is, Iâm sure, more of a foreign policy hawk than the majority of the people who read this site.
So, to summarize, the war on terror is not the Cold War. Tying the two together in too tight analogies leads to errors in judgment and prescribed policy.
A few other points.
I think Peter raises Kerryâs vote against the $87 billion Iraq supplemental to an ideological significance it simply wonât bear. This wasnât a vote for isolationism or against democratization abroad. It clearly did hurt Kerry in the general but it was a mix of political calculation and even more than that --- and something that couldnât really be discussed in the campaign --- it was an effort to exercise some control over a president who was well on his way to creating the disaster weâre now saddled with by placing restrictions and oversight of his conduct of the reconstruction. He didnât really vote against that money in way Peter implies.
Iraq. I donât think we can deal with the issue of Democrats, national security policy and the war on terror, without addressing Iraq front and center and recognizing just what a disaster our enterprise there has become. This isnât a secondary issue.
Finally, I should confess that ideally I would like to see the Democratic party unify behind a thorough and coherent TPM agenda, with TPM views on national security, social policy, fiscal policy and all the rest of it. Those who wouldnât go along with the proper TPM doctrine Iâd probably expel, I guess.
In the absence of that TPM party, though, Iâm happy to consider myself one more fallen and perhaps disagreeable member of the Democratic party, filled with people I disagree with but with whom I think I share some core political values and beliefs. And Iâll work to point them in what I think is the right direction.
If you've ever lived in the Boston area (and for many who never have) you'll know David Brudnoy, the WBZ radio talk-show host, who has long been one of the fixtures of the city. According to this morning's Globe, David is standing at the threshold of death at Mass General, with cancer, once in remission, that has spread through his vital organs.
Principi out at VA.
(This is almost like bowling.)
I got an email this morning from a New Dem friend alerting me to the column by Al From (CEO) and Bruce Reed (President) of the DLC on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
The essence of their argument is that Democrats must put back into play most, if not all, of the red states if they're to have any hope of winning presidential elections or again becoming the majority party. Some of the particulars I agree with; others I don't.
I first considered printing the exchange my friend and I had, but quickly realized that expurgation would rob it of its meaning.
Suffice it to say that I asked my friend whether he thought From and Reed were fully aware of the 'optics' of running such a 'Dems get your house in order' piece on the Journal's editorial page. He said yes, they did and that they enjoyed the optics of it. I responded, yes, I knew that; but still really didn't think they quite 'got it'.
Let me explain what I meant and didn't mean. I didn't mean that Democrats should boycott the Journal OpEd page or restrict their writing to house organs -- plenty of liberals write pieces there and that's fine; I wouldn't want it any other way. Nor do I mean that Democrats shouldn't air their dirty laundry. They should. And now, frankly, as far as you can get from an election, is the time to do it.
But to advise Democrats you've got to be a Democrat, part of the Democratic party. And what that means is a certain threshold level of lack of contempt for people who, day in and day out, are the Democratic party. I don't mean 'the base'. I mean everyone -- right, left and center, the volunteers, the funders and the intellectuals, the issue activists and the occasional voters. And this shows a basic unwillingness to do that -- even in the most simple symbolic ways, indeed, a delight in not doing so.
I've come to expect this sort of thing from Al From, but I was more surprised to see it from Bruce Reed, who, from personal experience, has always struck me as a different sort of player.
My disgruntlement over this, I should add, is not rooted in an opposition to the DLC, but a belief in how much most of those associated with the organization have to offer the Democrats. On most issues, I probably see more eye to eye politically with my friends there (who, for the purposes of this post, I will mercifully leave nameless) than I do with those in "the base" of the party. (The last 9-to-5 job I had I basically got run out of for being -- allegedly and rather ridiculously -- a DLC plant. But that's another story.)
But for folks who often, unfairly, get charged with being Democrats in name only, they manage to find awfully good ways of playing the part.
I've gotten a bunch of questions asking why I've yet to weigh in on the debate about Peter Beinart's piece -- "A Fighting Faith" -- in the current issue of The New Republic. It's not for lack of interest. And there's no implied judgment from the lack of comment. It's rather that the issue is so near and dear to my heart that I've been mulling what I think and considering the pros and cons of Peter's argument.
I should mention that the PPI is putting on a panel discussion about Peter's article Friday at 12:30.
Don Rumsfeld responding to complaints from troops that they're forced to dig up scrap metal to fashion make-shift armor for their vehicles: "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up."
If ya think about it ...