October 3, 2001
10:11 PM   Subscribe

"Whatever else is going on, the liberal-left alliance has taken as big a hit as the conservative-fundamentalist alliance after the blame-America remarks of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson ... It may be [...] that the far left's bluff has been finally called ... For the first time in a very long while, many liberals are reassessing--quietly for the most part--their alliance with the anti-American, anticapitalist forces they have long appeased, ignored or supported." Andrew Sullivan in Thursday's Opinion Journal. Strong piece, but is he correct? I've seen a few people reassessing here and there, but not a lot, at least not yet.
posted by aaron (25 comments total)
Me, personally, I hate politics. Loathe politics. Can't stand -- you get the point.

Politics should serve a purpose. Ideally, the liberal left would serve to remind us of our responsibility to those weaker than us. In practice, however, the Left (being human and having gotten carried away with itself, much like the Right, and most every other political group) has fallen in love with its rhetoric (as Sullivan says), painting every strong player on the global stage as an oppressor, and protesting everything the global powers do just because of who's doing them. Naturally, if you actually accept the view that the strong are inherently evil, you should cheer when David knocks Goliath down.

So it's encouraging that, finally, something should give the Left pause, and make us all reassess our understanding and our assumptions. (Though it's regrettable the high price we had to pay for the lesson.)

But pausing and reassessing is not fatal, and there is still a purpose for the Left to serve. We still need reminders that the strong do have a responsibility to the weak. We need to lose the politics and the rhetoric (and cancel the WTO protests instead of patch-working them into peace protests (what does that mean, we have to protest something, let's figure something out? Great, that really drives home how strongly you believe in your views)). But now we need, more than ever, to recognize that it is vital to our own national well-being that we not foster hatred and oppression for our own short-term gain (whether or not we have done so in the past), that we help up those weaker than us as best we can, at least as a practical measure, if not a moral one.

The politics of the Left have clearly been flawed. So what. Politics is always flawed -- it's much easier that way, and almost always more effective. The Left's position must be revised, but it is far from obvious that all it stood for must be abandoned.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:51 PM on October 3, 2001

I also think The Right has begun to realize that their "go in with guns blazin' " philosophy that was used in the past, doesn't apply here and is taking a more reasoned, measured, and (hopefully) effective course of action.
posted by owillis at 11:02 PM on October 3, 2001

I dunno. I'd say Jerry and Pat and the Christian right took a bigger hit, considering that they were accepted by a mainstream political party and had a larger media impact - even if Michael Moore once had a show on NBC and a hit movie, he had little to no influence within the Democratic Party. The fundamentalist-rightwing nutball coalition had a vastly, incalculably greater amount of influence within the Republican Party and, in turn, on American politics and culture over the past 20 years. You know that, I know that, and Bob Dole's "American people" know that.

Methinks -- OK, me knows -- that Rusdie and Hitchens are primarily writing to the left and liberals, and not the right OR a mainstream audience. They're mad at the sort of people they've felt themselves allied with, or used to be allied with or still do hang out with, or end up around despite themselves. And now they're really tired of those they see as dreary souls, angry at the influence and political capital lost by it all.
posted by raysmj at 11:07 PM on October 3, 2001

How does one go about joining "the liberal-left alliance"? They don't seem to have a web-site...
posted by Neb at 11:21 PM on October 3, 2001

Hm- there is a moderate amount of "reassessing", although as mattpfeff writes it's more of a pause for reflection than a radical shift in thought. However, Sullivan, and Michael Kelly in an earlier thread, both make the mistake of these broad pronouncements supported by basically no evidence. Sullivan at least mentions a handful of names- still a flawed basis, since 4 columnists does not a sea-change make; Kelly couldn't be bothered to even do that much. In both cases there isn't really anything offered as proof beyond their own speculation/wishful thinking.
posted by hincandenza at 11:44 PM on October 3, 2001


He just tares into that straw man there! He certanly convinced me. Not that I'm aware or have heard of anyone who fits the description he derides. But if I do come across one, I know I certanly won't agree with them
posted by delmoi at 12:27 AM on October 4, 2001

Articles like this are easy to write.

This type of writing seems to be the modus operandi of the political right (although Jonah Goldberg said it better:
"...the Taliban hates what the Left likes about America — our openness, our equality, our secular institutions. To assume immediately that America is to blame in this instance isn't a sign that you're thoughtful, clever, or sophisticated. Just the opposite. It's either a sign that you suffer from a political form of battered-wife syndrome, in which your mulched synapses leap to the conclusion that, once again, we must have done something wrong — or it means you're as absolutist and irrational as Osama bin Laden in your hatred of America, but just don't have what it takes to blow anything up yourself.")
Nice little catch-phrases like "a political form of battered wife syndrome" make the pieces amusing and foster passing them along. But do they help? Are there any answers there? It's basically a fart in the wind.

The modus operandi of the left, on the other hand, is to call forth the spirits of oppressed civil rights and foreign policy misdeeds in years gone by. Barbara Kingsolver, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a prime example:
"Patriotism threatens free speech with death. It is infuriated by thoughtful hesitation, constructive criticism of our leaders and pleas for peace. It despises people of foreign birth who've spent years learning our culture and contributing their talents to our economy. It has specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists and the American Civil Liberties Union. In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder? Who are we calling terrorists here?"
While these concerns may be real, and the complaints valid, are they relevant to the issue at hand? Or is it just more political smokescreening? This kind of rhetoric doesn't answer any of the real questions for me. It's another gaseous emission into the breeze.

Both the left and the right take great delight in swinging for the fences as they bash the extreme end of the opposing political spectrum. But that doesn't accomplish anything.

I wish there were some way of focusing all the brainpower that is wasted in such diatribe on finding solutions instead. We know that as a nation we have to respond, and every possible response involves tradeoffs. (Including the response of not responding at all.) Who's helping us to better understand those tradeoffs? Hell, we've already created massive effects on millions of people just by talking about how we might respond, as evidenced by the flood of refugees to the Afghanistan borders. New problems are created, people suffer, and we have to decide how to deal with that as well. If military action is warranted, against whom, and how? How many American soldiers' lives is this war on terrorism worth? Which approaches, and in what measure, are likely to prove the most effective in combating terrorism in the long term? At what point do the mitigations of personal freedoms in the name of increased security outweigh the lives saved from future acts of terrorism? I mean, ferChristsSake, standing around going "you suck", "no you suck" on political grounds isn't going to get us any answers to questions like these.

There are no easy answers. The real intellectual leaders are not those who write with hatred, contempt or indifference about others with opposing views. We desperately need leaders who can see with some clarity through the fog of possibilites that surrounds us right now, who reaffirm the dignity and the values that we as Americans hold dear, and who can unite us as a people behind common principals to act in a reasoned and responsive way.

I find articles like this offensive. Not for the content, which is laughable, but for wasting our time. Let's keep the focus on the real issues. </soapbox>
posted by JParker at 12:31 AM on October 4, 2001

Dumb article. One of a tiresome stream of contrived, reductionist, binary ultimata - and this one adds an eerie, feudal implication that the ideological cogency of the far right is somehow affirmed by, and proportional to, the psychotic rage it compels from its enemies.

JParker: Nailed.It.

Pundits suck, especially on deadline.
posted by Opus Dark at 1:38 AM on October 4, 2001

One of a tiresome stream of contrived, reductionist, binary ultimata
I agree. Complex thought is another WTC victim. Though, to give Sullivan his due, he is usually not this shallow and enjoys a good contradiction, now and again.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:55 AM on October 4, 2001

JParker and Opus Dark said this much better than I can, but I read all these articles from writers of left and right political stands and it all seems like bullshit to me, because they sure didn't dazzle me with brilliance.
posted by bjgeiger at 3:28 AM on October 4, 2001

Divide and conquer belongs back in the days of Bismarck. But smart comments such as JParker's don't make for neat 700-worders, so who's going to bother with them?

Can I be a wee bit partisan (no! not me!) and suggest that the columnists on the right are trying oh-so-hard to get political capital in this time of "unity"? It's certainly bringing out the worst in the ideologues of both sides, but since the right is working from a position of "defence" rather than "critique" (if you pardon the analogy, pitching from the stretch rather than the wind-up) it's a little more obvious to see it in people like Sullivan -- damnit, a much better writer than this -- and Michael Kelly -- for whom there's no mitigation.

Reminds me of the poltical pamphlets of the 1670s, when Whigs and Tories alike wrote in defence of "Moderation", and condemned their opponents as dangerous, divisive partisans. ;)
posted by holgate at 3:44 AM on October 4, 2001

And I'm not so sure just how much "reconsidering" is going on with the conservative-fundamentalist alliance, or, for that matter, the conservative-religious right alliance in general. Our city newspaper has been running, on a regular basis, letters from devout Christians who have been saying that we got exactly what we deserved. Not a peep from the editorial board, and little or nothing from other letter-writers. (Do these people also suffer from political battered-wife syndrome?)
posted by thomas j wise at 4:19 AM on October 4, 2001

holgate writes:
"[...]columnists on the right are trying oh-so-hard to get political capital in this time of "unity"?"

Moths, swarming, in the ghastly firelight.
Magicians, manipulating cognitive dissonance into Fourth of July fireworks.

There is no silver lining large enough to cover the blood, but, WTC should have been complex thought's Big Bang - and all the wee folk who are getting all tribal, and superstitious, and who are beating their drums louder and louder, threaten to squash what little good might have crawled out of this tarry shit.
posted by Opus Dark at 4:55 AM on October 4, 2001

I've lost a lot of respect for extremists on both sides in the aftermath of Sept. 11 (and that includes Sullivan).

How does one go about joining "the liberal-left alliance"?

http://bernie.house.gov. The home page of my favorite Congressman, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
posted by rcade at 5:28 AM on October 4, 2001

It's true. Name one insightful WTC piece, that actually added to, or reorganized, your thought patterns. No? Yeah, I couldn't either. If forced, though, I'd plump for the late Isaiah Berlin's piece in the new issue of the New York Review of Books. On prejudice, natch.
They're hastily cobbled-together lecture notes - from 1981 - but they've never been published before and they make one think; a rarer and rarer thing since September 11.
So thanks, NYRB.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:40 AM on October 4, 2001

rcade writes:
"I've lost a lot of respect for extremists on both sides in the aftermath of Sept. 11 (and that includes Sullivan)."

God, me too.

What really wedgies me is that these guys have nothing to do but know of what they speak. It's their effing job, and, I assume, their passion. Instead of white papers, we get abbreviated white-washes with coupons for free agendas. These guys should be as good as or better than foreign policy advisors. My fear is that they are.
posted by Opus Dark at 5:44 AM on October 4, 2001

"I don't like what the left writes!"
"I don't like what the right writes!"

Well, then what SHOULD people be writing about? Nobody is going to isolate all the causes, feelings, and conflicting agendas in a way that makes everyone happy. I, personally, am taking in what I can and trying to find an objective balance. However, I think everyone should take "extreme" articles (which I don't think this is, by the way) with a grain of salt. Why is every columnist that slightly veers right ready to drop nukes on the entire Middle East? On the left, they're all ready to conduct a love-in with bin Laden, because everyone in America is evil and deserved to die. As usual, somewhere in the middle, the truth can be told.
posted by byort at 5:53 AM on October 4, 2001

The Liberal Left Alliance's web site. (And boy, are they lunatic-fringe.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:04 AM on October 4, 2001

Thanks for the post Aaron.
"Strong piece, but is he correct? I've seen a few people reassessing here and there, but not a lot, at least not yet. "
Is he correct? No.
Is reassessing going on? Yes.
I see unilateralism being reassessed.
I see giving voice to fundies of any stripe being reassessed.
I see a move for smaller federal government being reassessed.
What I don't see being reassessed is greed and ignorance and their opportunism.
posted by nofundy at 6:06 AM on October 4, 2001

Anybody who says America deserved this doesn't deserve my time. No one deserves this. The death of 5000 people in a flash is a horrible thing. By the same token, for anyone to say that America is an innocent bystander is fooling themselves. America cannot continue to act like a swaggering bully, interveneing here, giving money there, enforcing economic sanctions while thousandas die from lack of food there, without some sort of retaliation. We push people around everyday and hold other countries interest in disdain, if not completely ignoring them. And George Bush has taken this arrogance to a whole new level of absurdity. We cannot continue to act like a universal jerk and expect people to sit and take it. The Right wing response that the Left was wrong is ridiculous. It was right wing politics that got us into this mess inthe first place.
posted by bob bisquick at 6:21 AM on October 4, 2001

Yeah - it's clear from that article, which was inflammatory and shameful in the extreme in its attempt to score shallow political points on the back of such a disaster, that the spokesthingies of the extreme right are scrambling to re-cast themselves as the righteous, rather than the ones whose views are proving to be shockingly ineffectual in this new context.

This is but one shot - there have been many more - but they all share the same problem of equating critique and questioning with anti-Americanism, when it is clear that those are indeed the pinnacle of the American experiment, the ultimate victory of the US system, notwithstanding the bugs (McCarthy and others) that have appeared over the years.

The problem for people like Sullivan is that the current right-wing government is proving that engagement is good (and unavoidable), rules matter, and that the US doesn't exist in a vacuum. These are fundamental points of the "left" critique of globalization. Such a critique is not anti-American at base (though some go to excess and tread on that path), it is one that proposes that America be its best, that it live up to its best traditions not just for its own citizens but on principle, hence universally.

It's ironic, perhaps, that it is the most right-wing administration in years that is going down the road that the thoughtful parts of the left have proposed, and insisted upon, for years, but no one I know begrudges them their efforts - and most have been pleasantly surprised by the pragmatism being shown, and the willingness to NOT do what Sullivan et al are engaged in.
posted by mikel at 7:40 AM on October 4, 2001

The problem for people like Sullivan is that the current right-wing government is proving that engagement is good (and unavoidable), rules matter, and that the US doesn't exist in a vacuum.

As David Talbot rather cheekily notes to those who paid the $30:

To his credit, so far Bush has resisted this spectacularly bad advice from his right-wing gallery. He has done so because his defense and foreign policy team (led by Powell) knows there is no way to prosecute a successful military campaign in the Islamic world in the year 2001 without taking an extremely judicious, multilateral approach. And Bush knows that he can't build a wide political coalition at home in support of the war, particularly during the current economic distress, if he's seen to be favoring the rich. Capital gains cuts are not the way to inspire and unite the public (or recharge the economy) in a time of national sacrifice.

So even if the Republicans did rob the Democrats, the man in the White House these days is acting suspiciously liberal. And he seems to be doing what needs to be done. Now if he can stay the course and stand up to Dick Armey the way he is with the Taliban, he will seem even more genuinely presidential

As mikel has said, this chimes in more with the tenor of Blair's speech on Tuesday, to engage with the world in the name of social justice, and "to practice the principles of fair trade we preach": principles that derive much of their strength from the foundation of the US, and which deserve to be spread around.
posted by holgate at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2001

One of a tiresome stream of contrived, reductionist, binary ultimata

I thought the piece provoked some good thought (regardless of what I thought of its actual content or rhetoric). I mean, even with my hatred for politics (for much the same reasons as what people here have said, above), it was interesting to read an analysis of how at least one political stance must be reassessed in light of "recent events". True, the piece itself is a political piece -- inevitably -- and only addresses one political position, but the points it raises are at least worth noting and thinking about.

The fact is that if you are reasonably intelligent, there is no political position that will be completely satisfactory. I remember a line, I think from the Talmud, to the effect that a government is just when its courts do not rely only on the law books. (Sorry about the double negative, I'm not sure how well I remember it.) It's the same thing with politics -- you must always be prepared to adjust your way of thinking, to change with the circumstances; whereas politics will always insist that you must fix your position according to something that happened before.

Complex thought was not a victim on 9/11. Those capable of it are thinking more about these issues than before. It's just that not too many people are ever capable of it. Right now there is a huge hot-button issue, which is defining a number of other issues, and so of course political ideologies are coming to the fore. But those old ideologies do not fit the issue very well. The people that will redefine them are not thinkers, but politicians, but there is still the chance that they will arrive at less painful and costly ideologies than those of the past, especially if we (the people, bla bla bla) do what we can to educate ourselves (and, as JParker suggests, focus on the best response to this situation, not on its politics).
posted by mattpfeff at 9:30 AM on October 4, 2001

Excellent post.

I confess that even I, an actual Wing Commander in the Liberal-Left Alliance, have searched my very soul (yes, even liberals and animals are said to have souls) and I have seen the light. My "bluff has been called."

From where the sun now stands in the sky until forever, I now solemnly vow to treat all "swarthy" people as the enemies they truly are. I'm screaming for tax cuts to make rich people richer and poor people poorer. I'm demanding we put the one Christian God back into the classroom, the boardroom...nay, even the War room...where He belongs. I'm supporting the New Northern Alliance Freedom Fighters And Minstrel Singers in their noble battle with the Taliban/Al Quaed Ex-Freedom Fighters Turned Terrorists(bastards!)....and you can shove talk that we're just creating new terrorists up your commie behind. I'm retooling my gun control lobbying firm/patchouli oil distributorship into a bazooka factory, crankin' out the armaments the good ol' U.S. of A. can sell to new bands of terrorists...er...*cough*...I mean freedom fighters.

Hell, before 911 I had no idea I was so wrong...so blind. I can only pray that my new actions will bring about a new golden era of peace, justice, oil drilling in the wilderness, and an SUV in every driveway.

After all, such acts, such ethics, such incredible righteousness have always brought forth peace and justice before, haven't they?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:25 PM on October 4, 2001

John Ralston Saul points out in one of his books (maybe even in all of them but I got it from his dictionary) that but for a quirk of architecture the far left and the far right would have been ideological neighbors because the political spectrum was dictated by the seating arrangement during the French Revolution.

While Sullivan lambasts the far left from his position on the far (or close to far) right he doesn't realize that his critique is just a few degrees off targeting his own politics.
posted by srboisvert at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2001

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