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Beinart’S Reach



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The Starr-Kuttner exchange gets more interesting when you compare it to Peter Beinart’s much discussed call for a purge of Democratic doves. (Here’s my take on Beinart.) Beinart takes pains to deny that gay marriage had anything to do with the Democrats’ loss. Yet Starr and Kuttner each loudly acknowledge the gay-marriage effect, while saying virtually nothing about terrorism or foreign policy. So far, then, the big picture looks something like this. There are three broad policy challenges for the Democrats–foreign policy, economic policy, and social policy. Beinart wants a more hawkish foreign policy, and denies that social policy is a problem at all. Starr fingers social policy as the key to the Democrats’ dilemma, and calls for a retrenchment on social issues in order to save liberalism elsewhere. Kuttner acknowledges the political harm of liberal social policies, but hopes that a refurbished crusade over pocketbook issues can overcome any difficulties. In saying this, Kuttner directly draws on the widely publicized views of The Nation’s Thomas Frank. In short, when it comes to making sense of the election, the Democrats are all over the map. Their big thinkers and big publications are touting mutually contradictory strategies and analyses. It’s still early on, of course. The Dems have time to get their act together. And parties can certainly win without everyone being on the same page. In fact, that may be the only way parties can win. Even so, we’re talking about the Democrats’ liberal core here. Beinart’s purge is never going to succeed if he can’t inspire a broader constituency among his fellow liberals. And Starr will never provoke a meaningful retrenchment on gay marriage if prestigious Democratic organs like TNR stand in the way (not to mention his own co-editor). In the absence of more consensus on a new direction, the Democrats risk lapsing into Kuttner-like denial and Kinsley-like obliviousness. My money’s on the latter.



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