Some Rethinking Going On…

Nathan Newman is one of the first serious Lefty commentators to step back and look at where the peace movement went wrong.

I’m not a pacifist (a pacifist Armed Liberal? A double oxymoron…), and while I certainly don’t consider my self a hawk, probably stand a little more on the “kill Americans and you’re toast” side of the spectrum. But I think we need an engaged and useful peace movement, if for no other reason than to keep the true nutcases on the right in check.

And we haven’t had one. We’ve had a form of bad psychodrama in which various unhappy people act out their issues with Authority.

Newman raises most of the right issues:

The antiwar argument had to be about whether there was an alternative way to achieve the goal of a freer and more democratic Iraq (and questioning the good faith of war proponents to achieve that result).

The antiwar movement lost the argument on timing and on the efficacy of alternative means of addressing peoples broad concerns on Iraq. And I attribute that partly to their simplistic focus on “no war” unity over developing a more sophisticated positive message that also would have required more outreach to non-rallygoers (and probably less focus on rallies).

And I continue to argue with a range of activist friends that when we allowed groups that defended the Hussein regime in the past to lead some of the rallies, many folks who don’t like Hussein rightly could think that such a movement has no real plan for an alternative challenge to Hussein’s regime.

For some of the left, they’ve retreated to almost isolationist pacificism as all the argument they need, without any need to address strategy and why THIS PARTICULAR WAR is the wrong direction.

The left in this country has an honorable history of leading the fight internationally for human rights, from challenges to Belgium’s mass murder in the Congo at the end of the 19th century (led by among others Mark Twain) to denunciations of the fascist regimes in Europe in the 1930s to attacks on colonialism in the 1950s to denunciations of death squads in El Salvador and Apartheid in South Africa, the left has always called for challenges to bad regimes.

Well, there’s a start.

Nathan places more emphasis on techniques of organizing and less on thinking through positions than I would, but that’s a post that’s coming soon. I’m glad to see that someone with credibility on the Left is talking critically. It’s a start…

6 thoughts on “Some Rethinking Going On…”

  1. I for one think that the real problem is that most of the thinkers of the movement have, by and large, become what we wrongly call “neocons” and should be calling “neoliberals.”

    There’s an essay in that. I dunno if I’ll write it or not. I’ve touched on similar themes before.

    The truth is that the Left won most of its biggest arguments of the last century. Although it also lost some spectacularly big ones. What’s left for the left isn’t much, because the so-called “Right” (which isn’t actually very conservative or authoritarian anymore, if you look at it) has taken the mantle of individual freedom and civil rights and egalitarianism as its own. Leaving the Left wondering what the hell to do with itself.

    At least, that’s so here in the States. Plus all the intellectual energy of youth today is more focused toward libertarianism than statism. Rightly or wrongly, that’s my assessment of the situation as it actually is.

    I really think that the Left is dying out, and that what we’re more likely to see happen over the next decade is a complete political realignment. The spectrum will completely change. And the words “liberal” and “conservative” will mean even less than they do now–which ain’t saying much, since they don’t mean much as it is.

    I consider myself a liberal. I support this war. I support a smaller state, but I’m no anarchist or radical libertarian or utopianist. I’m a moderate on most social issues, huge on civil rights, and increasingly alienated from the Democratic Party of my youth. Where do I fit?

    I still think I’m a liberal.

  2. Well, Dean, you and I can be the first members of the new party, whatever it’s called, because I line up pretty damn close to you on most of the issues you raise.

    Now if we can only get Kevin (CalPundit), there’ll be three of us…


  3. The American leftt’s basic problem is that throughout the 20th century it defended every communist dictatorship that surfaced. It can talk about the fights for civil rights, labor rights and human rights, but those fights mean little in the context of the gulags and mass graves of 20th century communism. My God, there are still leftist in this country (the editors of the Nation for example) who believe Alger Hiss was innocent. Until the left is ready to examine and regret the blood on its hands, it will continue to be marginalized as more of the world moves toward freedom.

  4. In Newman’s piece he says “The antiwar movement lost the argument on timing and efficacy of alternative means…”

    What if “alternative means” simply did not exist? That is, Newman’s argument presupposes that the American people could be convinced of the antiwar position without asking whether that position had any validity. Once Americans were convinced that Saddam was a long-term threat (not hard after 9/11), the Bush administration and various political advocates were very effective at convincing the American people that the only real choices were A) forcibly removing Saddam or B) pursuing UN inspections. In many ways Saddam made the final choice obvious by so blatantly mocking the entire inspections process.

    So, as more and more of the “reasonable left” was peeled away by the reality on the ground, the remaining “anti-war” movement (aren’t we all anti-war?) was distilled down to three fringe groups: the hard-core hate-Bush crowd, the unconditional pacifists, and the various totalitarian sympathizers like ANSWER. Is it any wonder that the arguments against the war began to ring hollow? The only reasonable arguments were whether the inspections would work and whether Saddam was really a threat. Once these points were lost in the popular debate and many on the left came to support the war, the only arguments left were “Bush is Hitler” or “No war for Oil” etc.

    The situation in Europe was a bit different. The political and business classes there, having far more to lose from the war, effectively kept the argument regarding inspections afloat by sheer force of will. Evidence of Saddam’s perfidy was simply denied like the dead parrot in the Monty Python skit because too much would be lost by acknowledging the alternative.

    So, to a degree I disagree with Dean on the specific point of whether the left is “dead.” I am sure that the typically left-leaning political partisan makes a very clear distinction between himself and the views of the nutcases on the hard left. However, in so doing, there is a subtle shift to the right in the minds of these people. Recognizing the idiocy of the attacks that have fallen on them by those to *their* left, they may well begin to understand why some of their attacks to the right suffer as well.

    So, while I may not be as bullish as Dean, I do think that he is largely correct.

  5. It seems to me that the unifying thread in the noble causes of the Left that Newman identifies is an anti-United States, anti-West posture. Such a position may be meritorious when you are opposing Belgium in the Congo or agitating for civil rights in America, it is horribly limiting, however, when it becomes a leitmotif. That is why the Left fiercely opposed the South American death squads but averted its gaze from Saddam’s version of the same or, writ larger, Stalin’s gulags.

  6. I find myself thinking what Gary Farber once said, that he’d get behind a presidential candidate who had most of Howard Dean’s domestic policy grafted onto most of Joe Lieberman’s foreign policy. Where is that guy? The closest living approximation I can think of was Bill Clinton, and that’s not so close.

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