Friday, November 25, 2005

Forever To The Left

Alright, so trolling around the blogosphere I see a few more resources that might have been useful in my last post, "The Left I Fell In Love With".

Let's start with the commenter to my original post. I want to reiterate that the "blame America" syndrome is not something that affects most or even many Democrats. It remains tightly contained to a small segment of the fringe. At the same time, I will stand by my claim that too many Democrats seem to take small stock in our historical commitment to human rights and liberation. I don't take this from Republican cherry-picking--I read Democratic sites and while it doesn't rise to the level that it's caricatured as, some of it really seems to be shocking when one thinks about it. Consider the comment itself. (S)he says that "[c]riticizing Mr. Bush's unwarranted Iraq adventure does NOT imply endorsing Saddam Hussein - it is more often a "plague on both their houses" situation." Well, that's okay and not okay. I do wish for a plague on both their houses. But while I want Mr. Bush to have a sort of mild flu, I want Saddam Hussein to come down with a particularly virulent and painful form of Ebola. Bush has done some terrible things in office, but clearly he does not even approach the horror of a Saddam Hussein. And the next line--that the US government (including current administration officials) supported Hussein at the height of his genocidal rage. I've never understood why that is trotted out as an argument against an intervention--I'd argue that it imposes a greater obligation on the US to make up for its complacency with past evils. Maybe it shows that Donald Rumsfeld shouldn't lead the charge, but that's an argument that can be made easily just on present performance.

Finally, what is still missing from even the charitable interpretation of the "plague on both your houses" argument is the point I made in the original post: there isn't any coherent alternative plan besides an aggressive American foreign policy to solving these moral catastrophes. The closest thing I've heard from the anti-war left is "the sanctions were working--they could have kept Saddam contained." Well, perhaps. But all that means is that Saddam would be contained to his own borders, where he could continue to murder, rape, torture, and maim with impunity. Paired with the empirical fact that sanctions fell hardest on women and the poor, and what you get isn't a human rights argument--it's a security-based argument that gives us the moral cover to allow thousands to perish. Sure, sanctions would insure that Saddam wouldn't threaten us, but we're not the only people at risk here. I don't consider this to be an adequate liberal response.

I'd also like to point readers to two stellar articles that went up on The New Republic's website over Thanksgiving (TNR, incidentally, has been a major exception to the crypto-isolationist movement creeping through the left). The first, by Lawrence Kaplan, takes issue with the Democrat's newfound love for foreign policy Realism.
The complaint here isn't with the Bush team's execution of its project to export democracy. It is with the idea itself....What we have in [its] place is a crude and cheap version of realism, which, although ostensibly a method of analysis that eschews ideology, is rapidly becoming an ideology of its own. Unfortunately, its key tenets as laid out by the Gary Harts and Paul Krugmans of this world--non-interference, narrowly defined vital interests, a foreign policy scrubbed of idealism--provide no adequate response to the war of ideas in which we're presently engaged and will be long after the war in Iraq draws to a close. Nor do its proponents factor in the steep moral price bound to be exacted by trading in Woodrow Wilson for Brent Scowcroft. Is it really necessary to point out how deeply amoral U.S. foreign policy was during the Kissinger and Scowcroft years? If idealism has failed in Iraq, the solution lies in the realm of means, not in abandoning idealism...

The second article, by John Judis, warns that a rising tide of isolationism may be overtaking the country. Isolationism did not augur the US' finest moral moments (acquiescing to the Nazi's rise to power, ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994, etc.).

I want to also state that I think nobody is fulfilling this obligation--by criticizing the Left, I do not mean to exonerate the Right. The flip-side of this argument is that nobody is taking this obligation we have seriously. I really liked this Kevin Drum post (linking to Dahlia Lithwick) because it shows how the right is also betraying this fight under the guise of fighting it, using an example I hadn't thought of before.
[Lithwick] Had Padilla been charged and tried back in the summer of 2002, rather than touted as some Bond villain - the Prince of Radiological Dispersion - his case would have stood for a simple legal proposition: that if you are a terrorist, a supporter of terrorism, or a would-be terrorist, the government will hunt you down and punish you. Had the government waited, tested its facts, kept expectations low, then delivered a series of convictions of even small-time al-Qaida foot soldiers, we in this country would feel safer and we would doubtless be safer.

Instead Padilla, like Hamdi, was used as fodder for big speeches. They became the justification for Bush's position that some people are so evil that the law does not deter them, that new legal systems must be invented - new systems that bear a striking resemblance to those discredited around the time of Torquemada.

[Drum] Exactly. The corrosion of civil liberties highlighted by these cases is bad enough, but it's not the only problem they've caused. Every time a dramatic set of charges turns out to be baseless, it sends a very public message that the war against terrorism is just a sham, a campaign of partisan fearmongering being used as little more than a political club. This is the same message sent by the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, the lack of WMD in Iraq, the politically motivated orange alerts, the strategically timed marketing campaigns, and the transparent political stunts played by congressional Republicans last week in response to John Murtha's speech.

The American public can hardly be expected to take terrorism seriously if it's obvious that the Bush administration itself views al-Qaeda as primarily a political opportunity rather than a real problem. Sooner or later, we're going to pay the price for this feckless and irresponsible approach.

That's the meta-point here. Democrats are rightfully upset that Bush was misleading in his pre-war run-up. That was a grave sin, and he should take his fair sure of flogging for it. But that cuts both ways, Bush deserves to be bashed for jeopardizing the credibility of a really important mission, but Democrats had the obligation to sign on to the program even if they disagreed with the methodology. If the Democrats even were opposing the Iraq war on the grounds that we should be instead intervening in Darfur or North Korea (seriously advocating it, not just as a talking point), then I'd consider that to be a legitimate point of disagreement. But attacking the project of democratization itself is simply not consonant with liberal ideals. The issues that face us today, whether it's terrorism or human rights (I think the two are inextricably tied), are too important to be tied up in political considerations. They need to be addressed full-frontal and in good faith. And if I seem to come down harder on liberals, that's because I have more faith in them to bring about real, lasting, compassionate, and effective solutions to the problems we're faced with.

The Left I Fell In Love With

Well, I'm back from Rhode Island--hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I saw some family members I hadn't seen in awhile, which was nice. But alas, back to the old grind.

Fernando Teson has a post on PrawfsBlawg that I think is really important. It urges liberals to stop focusing on slamming President Bush, and instead "reconstitute itself and recover the great imagination about equality and freedom." Teson attacks those protestors who took to the streets not to call for the elimination of a genocidal monster, but instead to protest his elimination. There is simply no excuse for that.

I took Feminist Theory this last term, and it was very instructive on this count. I should hasten to say that the vast majority of the works I read were intelligent, thought-provoking, and in many cases spot-on. People who deride modern feminism need to read more of it, because it has a devastating critique of our modern world and brings up challenges that need to be addressed.

However, there were a few people who, in class discussions, I argued read less like serious liberal scholars and more like conservative plants meant to discredit the whole movement. These people reflexively attacked America on every front, defended despotic regimes, and offered no plan or suggestion for improving women's rights in other countries (regarding the US, of course, they were verbose in their criticisms). John Kerry and the Democratic Party do not "blame America first." These people blame us first, last, and always.

In some frustration, I wrote my final paper calling for a more active feminism (which, for this post, I'd extend to liberalism in general). One that wouldn't just talk about "injustice" and "oppression," but would actually take active steps to change them. This implies some level of political realism. Calling for the capitalist power structure to wither away and die from your Southwest Missouri State University ivory tower won't actually help anyone. Joining a coalition pushing for a multilateral intervention in Darfur just might. Seize opportunities when they present themselves--the purpose is to help people, not to win tenure or even elections. I should add once again that the type of person I mentioned above--the total America-hater who slams anything our country does and overtly props up dictatorial regimes is a tiny minority in America today. The vast majority of liberals are committed to a just global order and a better world--they're just blinded by (justifiable) rage at the current administration. But even still, I think that a principled left, dedicated to true reform and possessing a commitment to action, would be far more effective both in the world and at the ballot box, than what we have today.

UPDATE: I've got a longer addendum up addressing some further issues that have been raised since I posted (including those by Mister Commenter Guy).

Monday, November 21, 2005

Down on Warner and Feingold

I read two articles on Presidential candidates today, both of which left me softer on the candidates than I was going in.

Starting with Virginia Governor Mark Warner. It's always impressive for a Democrat to win statewide in Virginia, all the more so when he can use his coattails to bring another Democrat in his place. And certainly, Warner does seem to be generating a fair bit of enthusiasm amongst the young campaign worker set. However, in reading this article, I couldn't help thinking he sounded very standard politician--just saying what audiences wanted to hear. No risks, no willingness to take a stand. Consider this passage:
Warner often prefaces remarks by warning that he's "about to say something a lot of people might not agree with." He does this in his speech to the Harvard Democrats. As listeners brace for something controversial, Warner comes forth with the familiar refrain that Democrats can't compete in only 16 states in presidential elections. When a student follows up by asking what individual states Democrats should compete in, Warner pauses, stares at a spot on the ceiling for a few pregnant seconds before answering, finally:

"The South," he says, then mentions some "opportunities in the Midwest."

Wow...I can see the savage netroots crowd ripping him apart over that one. Warner has proven voter appeal, and that counts for something. But I just don't know if he has enough independent thought behind those buck-teeth of his to be worthy of our support. At least one blogger read the article and still is putting him as his top 2008 choice, so maybe I'm an anomaly.

Meanwhile, I finally read TNR's "Hillary-slayer" article about Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold is in some ways the exact opposite of Warner. Quirky, independent, willing to buck the party line when his principles call for it. And I respect that. A lot. Feingold is in many ways a breath of fresh air, and he has a lot of good accomplishments to his name that warrant a close look at his candidacy. Many politicians claim to be independent thinkers. With Feingold, there's no way to deny it. Like Dean, Feingold draws most of his support from the left wing anti-war crowd, and, also like Dean, Feingold is no where near as liberal as his supporters might be led to believe. Of course (again, like Dean), given the state of the political media, nobody will know that no matter how deep Feingold goes in the primaries. But I know it, and that appealing blend of progressive and principled is a sight for sore eyes here.

The problem is that in the area where we most need someone who's willing to buckle down and do the right thing, political finger-waving be damned, Feingold's on the wrong side. He has a long and consistent record of opposition to American humanitarian interventions--even in the midst of ongoing or imminent genocide.
Feingold has long harbored wariness about U.S. military action. When Republicans forced a 1995 Senate vote to cut off funding for U.S. military forces in Bosnia, for instance, he was the sole Democrat to join 21 conservatives in support of the resolution. As other Democrats waxed idealistic about human rights, Feingold fretted about Vietnam parallels and worried that "our attempting to police the world threatens our own national security." By 1997, he was fighting to cut off funding for military operations in Bosnia and to begin an early withdrawal of U.S. forces. "What they haven't done is define a concrete exit strategy for our American troops," he said at the time. "This administration needs to sit down and work with Congress to map out a specific schedule for bringing our troops home, or they will be there for a very, very long time." Likewise, Feingold cast just one of three Democratic 'no' votes against the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign. "It's a compelling notion that the American government has an obligation to stop brutality and genocide. I can't dispute that," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in March of 1999. "But how can we be acting in Bosnia and Kosovo and not Rwanda, or Sudan, or East Timor, or even Tibet?"

So people of Darfur (or their inevitable heirs elsewhere in the globe) will be free to die no matter how brutal the atrocities get. I'm probably one of the few pro-war liberals for whom Feingold's anti-war stance is not too bothersome. But this crosses the line. I don't think I can bring myself to vote for someone who would have abandoned Kosovar Albanians to Slobodan Milosivic's murderous hordes.

I'm heading to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. The computer, alas, is not. So this blog will be off from Tuesday afternoon until my return on Friday afternoon. See you then!

Big Noise In Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has resigned from Likud, the party he helped found, and is starting his own centrist party to run in new parliamentary elections.

The Head Heeb has a spectacular analysis of the political implications of the move. One major impact is that Israeli voters now have clear choices in the forthcoming elections. For the past several years, the two major parties, Labor and Likud, have drifted closer to the center, including significant time spent as coalition partners. But Sharon's split will push Likud firmly back into the ranks of the nationalist right. Meanwhile, Labor just took a hard turn to the left with the upset victory of union activist Amir Peretz in their leadership primary. Many people are expecting moderates from both parties to defect to Sharon's new National Responsibility Party, setting up a contest with a definitive left, right, and center.

The timing of this move couldn't be more dramatic. As Fruits and Votes reminds us, the Israeli election will take place soon after the Palestinian legislative elections, which undoubtedly will play a crucial role in spinning the results. And with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shimon Peres now a persona non grata in Labor, he too might jump to Sharon's boat ("Kiss of Death"? I'm not sure I'd go that far. Meryl Yourish is calling Sharon to win the PM slot again, and if I had to put my money down, I'd place my bet there as well).

Armand wonders about the impact on Shinui, a pre-existing centrist party and the one I currently identify with. Assuming that the new party doesn't suck all the life out of Shinui (either by voter or political defections), I'd assume they'd join a coalition with Sharon. However, the reaction of Shinui chairman Tommy Lapid was far from welcoming. Shinui currently has 14 members in the Knesset, a substantial bloc in the 120 member body (by comparison, Likud had 40 members pre-defection). I would not be surprised, though, if some of those seats were lost to Sharoniks. At least one commentator thinks Shinui is "done".

Predictions remain fractured (as they should at this early stage). Cosmic-X thinks that Sharon is going to be spending time with grandkids soon enough. But then, he thinks that his new party's support will draw mostly from far-left Meretz and Labor dissidents, which strikes me as spectacularly unlikely. "ingenious" is the term used by Clarity and Resolve, and as I said above that's the camp I tend to fall into. One assessment I have no qualms signing onto though: It's going to be messy.

By far the best overall round-up is at IsraellyCool.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

You Go (B)Oy!

This is what I like to hear! Jews standing up for themselves and taking on the "religious right's" false claims to represent all religions (H/T: Balloon Juice).
The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.

The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term "religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."

I should say that I think his "Hitler" analogy is being misinterpreted. I don't think he's saying that the policies of the religious right are "akin" to Hitler. Rather, he's reminding us that hatred is a slippery slope--each time society labels one of its members sub-human, it becomes that much easier to demonize another and another and justify all manner of atrocities. Jonathan Glover, Professor of Ethics at Kings College, put it best:
Respect for dignity is one of the great barriers against atrocity and cruelty. To acknowledge our shared moral status makes it harder for us to torture or kill each other. The erosion of the protective barrier creates danger. When one group tramples on the dignity of another, it tramples on its own inhibitions, and [a] massacre may not be far off.

AmericaBlog may be slightly hyperbolic, but it's also right: America's human rights history does not come near to inspiring the confidence that "it could never happen here."

In any event, I agree with Cafe Politico:
This was long overdue but better late than never. More people of faith need to speak out against attempts by some evangelical Christians to paint every political/moral issue within their narrow, often bigoted framework. I am tired of the public falling for the talking point that the GOP is the God's Own Party.

If Christianity wants to represent itself as the sole province of hyper-conservatives, I suppose that's its business. But I'll damned if I let them drag my religion down with them.

Balloon Juice also reminds us that Rabbi Yoffie is not the first major Jewish figure to sound this theme recently. Foxman took some flack from, well, Jewish conservative flacks who haven't quite managed to distinguish our religion from Christianity. One can perhaps cherry-pick a few cases where Jewish organizations have gone over the top (although I'd assert that in the current environment, it's best to err on the side of caution). But the world the Christian Right seeks to create is not one that includes our religious message. It is not a Jewish world. And with all due respect to my dear friend Dennis Prager, the more I read about Jewish theology and ethics, the more I turn to the left, not right. When it comes down to it, Judaism is a force for progressivism and change, not maintaining status quo injustices, and I've yet to see anyone persuade me otherwise. And for the record, Jews have other interests beyond just Israel (although to be clear, Foxman is a vocal advocate for Israeli interests as well).