Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Rational Liberal vs The Politics of Churling

Martin Peretz, Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic, begins today's article, "The Politics of Churlishness" with:
"If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others."

Is this what now passes as rational discourse? Can anyone see this as an honest criticism? It's nothing but a cheap insult. A taunt used to confuse and anger, rather than enlighten. And while I naturally disagree when cheap radio and television hucksters like Rush Limbaugh and Robert Novak toss up these kinds of rhetorical insults against those they label as "Bush-Haters", I expect it from them. Cheap theatrics is part of their game, and only the rubes in the cheap seats fall for it.

They're partisans, to be sure; but they're also entertainers, and like it or not, ratings are the name of their game. Honest discourse and rational arguments from them would be as likely as seeing Greco-Roman wrestling from Vince McMahon's crew. These guys might pretend to hate each other in the ring, but at the end of the day they're chillin' out with some hot dogs and brewski's (or so I would imagine). Similarly, we see guys like Novak and Carville duking it out on screen, but only a complete boob wouldn't understand that after the show they toss back a few drinks at the local saloon every now and again; chuckling at some of their more heated exchanges. Petty taunts and humorous insults are all part of the theatrics that bring in viewers, and only fools believe that this is intended to represent serious discourse of our pressing issues.

But to read this from the Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic is beyond disconcerting. It's downright frightening. This isn't a ratings hungry forum, eager to entertain the easily bored. This is one of America's top political journals, and even if you disagree with them, you expect a certain level of enlightenment and serious debate. I read it daily, and find many interesting perspectives and intelligent reviews. Yet, as anyone paying attention is aware, this is far from the first time that TNR adopted the cheap rhetoric of the hateful right to denounce and insult the left. I only mention it now because this is just the latest example that got my blood boiling. And that's the thing. The purpose of such taunts are not to open the debate for discussion or showcase differences of opinion, but to denounce the motives of those you disagree with. Peretz's piece was not an attempt to engage "Bush's critics" in an open discourse. Quite the opposite. He was giving a rationalization of why people who agree with him should not consider the opinion of those critics as being legitimate, or worthy of consideration.

The Rational Liberal

Nor does he believe that the opinion of "Bush's critics" should be considered legitimate. For him, it is entirely appropriate to dismiss the opinion of anyone who doesn't immediately accept Bush's middle-east policy as a success. Anyone who does not admit this is "trapped in the politics of churlishness," and is clearly going against their better judgment by not immediately touting Bush's success. He casts himself as the typical rational liberal who once doubted Bush's ability to cure the middle-east's woes, but is now glad to admit that he was wrong. Hurrah, hurrah! The rational liberal lives on.

But does it? Reading Peretz's opinion of what he wanted from Bush doesn't sound like any liberal I know. Peretz's initial view of Bush was that he'd be a pragmatist in the middle-east who would merely appease its dictators and monarchies, and strive to avoid rocking the boat. But to Peretz's delight, Bush did not take the status quo attitude of his father, but immediately began to rock the boat by using America's military might and economic strength to shake things up and overturn the established order. Now, maybe I'm the one out of touch with modern liberalism, but this doesn't really sound very liberal to me.

In fact, I would venture to say that the most accurate term to describe Mr. Peretz's ideology would be Neo-Conservative. And I use that term honestly, and not as the insult that many liberals hurl at anyone deemed to be a "war hawk". It's an accurate term to describe liberals who believe that America can and must use their military and economic might to solve the world's problems. But I also believe that it's such a departure from the liberal philosophy that its proponents must relinquish use of the term Liberal, and fully embrace their true ideology. But instead of relinquishing the term, neo-conservatives such as Peretz seem intent to drag the rest of the ideology into their corner, by dividing the field into two parts: The Rational and The Churlish (otherwise known as Bush's Critics). One either learns to embrace Bush's actions, or be dismissed as emotional and filled with hatred. And so when Mr. Peretz touts his change of heart, he's not referring to a liberal embracing a conservative's actions; but rather his own realization that Bush's heart was one with his own.

What a Liberal Believes

So what do liberals believe then? They clearly believe that democracy is a good thing, and that all of the world's citizens deserve it. So that's not the separating factor. But the difference is the methods used to achieve it. While neo-conservatives such as Mr. Peretz believe that it is most easily achieved through military and economic force, liberals believe that it is not only wrong to institute democracy at gunpoint; but that it is impossible. While short-term achievements are possible, due to the relatively easy use of guns to ensure free elections, elections are merely one attribute of an open society, and not the creation of it. And any victory in that direction will be more than offset by the hatred and anger of those who are being held at gunpoint. An employee who offers to work overtime will do much better work than one ordered to do so, even if they both receive the same compensation. And coercion by gunpoint by a foreign power should be expected to create a significantly stronger backlash, even if we believe we are acting in their best interests. Or so the theory goes.

I fully support democracy around the world, but I've always seen it as a natural outcome brought about by a long-term chain of events or conditions; and not as something that can be imposed instantaneously. While it is certainly true that democracies have many great qualities which promote stability and happiness; I've always believed that it was those qualities which produced democracy, not the other way around. To think otherwise is the equivalent of believing that a cold medicine which cures a cold's symptoms also cures the cold. You might not have a runny nose, but you're still sick. Similarly, democracy is a symptom of a healthy society, not its cause; and merely establishing voting booths and allowing the people to choose their leaders does not necessarily promote happiness and stability. A majority can still choose religious rule, can still stifle dissent, can still elect dangerous leaders, and can still attack other counties. And one doesn't have to look too far to see the truth of that.

Of course, what do I know. I'm just an irrational Bush-hater, so I guess I can't possibly have anything honest to say about the subject. TNR's recent article established that premise strongly enough. Perhaps once Peretz's troops are finished installing democracy around the globe, he can bring them back here and put an end to our irrational hatred of a man named Bush.

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