Monday, January 03, 2005

Moral Legitimacy

I've linked approvingly on several occasions (originally here and then expanded upon here) to Peter Beinart's pathbreaking article, "Fighting Faith," which outlines how the Democratic party needs to get serious on security issues. One of his most controversial claims is that the Democratic party needs to "purge" the radical leftists who deny the relevancy or importance of the global war on terror--those who think we can accommodate or appease the radical Islamic terrorists. Though I wouldn't personally go so far as to advocate a "purge," my general sympathies with Beinart's argument mean I'd be remiss if I didn't link to Joshua Zeitz's warning that getting rid of the leftwing sector of our party would rid of us some of our most important voices in the battles to assure domestic justice.
[T]he health of American democracy continues to depend on the ability of progressives to advance certain core values--on civil liberties, separation of church and state, gay rights, health care, and the social safety net. If liberals today boot out MoveOn, they will be purging some of their best organizers and fundraisers. But more importantly, they will be excommunicating the most passionate advocates of core progressive values in domestic politics. How often does one hear Joe Lieberman or Joe Biden talk about the crime of child poverty, the need to improve labor standards at Wal-Mart, the moral imperative of civil liberties and sexual freedom, or the importance of extending health coverage to all Americans? Sure, hawks like Biden and Lieberman more or less support these liberal positions. But their political passions lie elsewhere, namely in the realm of foreign policy. The Democratic Party needs moral clarity on foreign policy, but it needs moral clarity on the domestic front as well. If it simply purges the left, it may end up sacrificing the latter to achieve the former.

Zeitz notes that the very "softs" the Democrats purged in the 1940s were among the most articulate and passionate defenders of racial equality in the nation. Eliminating them seriously damaged the Democrats moral credibility on human rights. Today, the parallel issue is gay rights. Many of the moderate hawks in the Democratic party are ambivalent--at best--on the fundamental issues of gay equality. The leading lights in this fundamental quest for justice mostly reside on the left end of the party. I do believe that national security is an important issue for Democrats, and I might go so far as to say it's the most important issue. But I am not willing to sacrifice the rights of mankind upon the altar of political unity.

Going into the election, I recall being most concerned about security. The al-Qaqaa debacle and my continued fury at the Bush administrations refusal to actually fight the war they got us kept my focus firmly trained on foreign policy and military affairs. But after the election, undoubtedly aided by the 11 states passing anti-gay marriage referendums, I found that the issue that most arose my ire was gay rights. Part of it was due to Andrew Sullivan's coverage of the reaction in the gay community. It wasn't resignation, or disappointment, or even anger. It was fear. They were genuinely afraid of the message being sent by the rest of the country. It was loud, resounding, and universal: We don't want you. You're not welcome here. You aren't part of the American community. That message seriously disturbs me. When America starts telling its vulnerable minorities that they aren't welcome, starts passing laws that seek to relegate disliked groups to legal, moral, and political inferiority, we have a problem. And I do believe that this problem ranks right with the war on terror as one of the great moral challenges of our times.

If the baseline for continued Democratic legitimacy in the 21st century is support for the war on terror, then the baseline for Republican moral legitimacy is support for gay rights. Unfortunately, I see far fewer Republicans rising to this challenge than Democrat's rising to theirs.

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