Politics & Policy

Strange Bedfellows

Praising some friends on the Left; cringing at some on the Right.

Editor’s note: Due to the intensity and volume of the e-mail from Friday’s column, I felt it necessary to come back to this well, at unforgivable length. If you’re tired of this topic, please fast forward to the announcements.

My new copy of The New Republic is truly excellent. I don’t know what Rich and the rest of the home team at National Review have in store for us with the next issue of NR OnDeadTree, but they have their work cut out for them. Led by Lawrence Kaplan’s incisive essay on what America’s defense priorities must be in the years ahead, the whole issue — brimming with liberal writers and editors — is spot-on. Indeed, just a week or so ago, I chastised New Republic editor Peter Beinart for taking the TRB column for himself instead of leaving it in Andrew Sullivan’s hands. I still think losing Sullivan was bad news for TNR, but Beinart’s piece is great. I’ll get back to that in a second.

Also very good — alas, uniquely so for the magazine it appears in — is Christopher Hitchens’s piece in The Nation. I disagree with Hitchens (my upstairs neighbor) on all sorts of foreign-policy questions, but he still understands the core issue here.

And hey, while we’re at it, let me be a uniter, not a divider, and say there are plenty of other liberals and Lefties worthy of praise. Clyde Haberman of the New York Times has written some very un-Timesesque pieces on how racial profiling isn’t so, ahem, black and white after all. Tim Russert has become a font of patriotism. Dan Rather’s tears have been sincere. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt have been nigh upon statesmanlike. Indeed, as much as it pains me to say it (and her pugnacious performance at President Bush’s speech last Thursday night notwithstanding), I must confess that Hillary Clinton has been saying all of the right things and handling herself admirably.

In fact, I was watching the PBS show To the Contrary the other day and I thought there were a lot of level-headed and serious points being made… [pfffffhaa ha ha ha, snort, chortle, chortle, hack…] okay, I’m sorry. I made that up. Nobody watches that show except for emaciated feminists who — like the Japanese soldiers who kept fighting after World War II — are convinced their effort is still winnable. And, I guess there are some tragically bedridden oldsters in the audience who’ve dropped the remote control by accident and their nurse won’t come to change the channel. But for all I know, even Bonnie Erbe said something I’d agree with.

Regardless, I am serious about the rest of it. There are plenty of liberals and lefties I would normally debate, taunt, disparage, or poke with a sharp stick in the status-quo antebellum (Latin experts, please be gentle with me) yet who are more or less on the same page as most conservatives on this issue. Hell, I think I largely agree with Joe Conason, and saying so pains me only slightly less than having a hawk feed her young using my face as a buffet.

Meanwhile, there are some conservatives who’ve made me cringe. Falwell and Robertson responded like caricatures in a Rob Reiner movie. In fact, Reiner would write better characters. Pat Buchanan didn’t make me cringe, but gosh, I do tire of his tendency — even if he’s gifted at it — to make any event an excuse for America to pull up the drawbridge. And, of course, there are the numerous Rightish folks who’ve written to say terrible things about Israel, Jews, me, the Rothschilds, etc. etc., using the same moral-equivalence logic the Lefties use about America.

Anyway, you may wonder why I’m mentioning all of this.

Friday’s column elicited a phenomenal response from readers. The vast majority agreed with me about the human toothaches who inevitably respond to any debate about America’s role in the world with a dismissive, “Who are we to judge?” Hundreds wrote in to offer “attaboys,” or to tell their own tales of the infuriating Che Guevara in the adjoining cubicle who cloaks his ignorance in anti-American relativism.

But then there were the others. These were the folks who consistently accused me of inventing a Leftist “straw man” who doesn’t actually exist. These folks do not claim that I painted with an overly broad brush (to which I plead guilty, with extenuating circumstances), but rather that I created a totally fictional picture in an effort to depict all liberals as anti-American. “Give me an example of one Leftist who’s ‘torn’ between the terrorists and America?” pounded several correspondents.

Well, there are the dozens of un-famous Lefties who wrote me, in a fern-kicking rage, about America’s “terrorism” in Vietnam, our “institutionalized hate” of gays and minorities, and our support of Afghan fighters in the 1980s. And there are the folks too dumb to let go of a red-hot rock, who explained to me that the attack was the direct result of George Bush’s pullout from the Kyoto Treaty (even though America had made it clear during the Clinton administration that we would never ratify it). Because, as we all know, Osama bin Laden is a conscientious steward of the environment.

What I really wish is that I could introduce all of the people who wrote me saying, “I couldn’t agree more! You wouldn’t believe what my professor said today…” to the folks who said “Liar! You’re making all of this up!” One day, when NRO can finally get a chat room up — without grossly violating child-labor laws — that might happen.

In the meantime I can only tell you about Amos Brown, who co-opted the memorial service for Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United Flight 93, to prattle on about how America was to blame for the attack. Or I can tell you about the NAACP leader from North Carolina who exhorted blacks to sit out America’s war on terrorism because the firms in the World Trade Center were racist. Or, I guess, I could repeat all of the ridiculous, offensive, silly, odd, but always anti-American things offered by Edward Said, Susan Sontag, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, and Katha Pollitt. I could recount the absolutely knee-jerk response of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who voted against the bill offering support for President Bush just because her first instinct is that America must be wrong in whatever it’s about to do. Or we could pore over Robert Fisk’s sophistry in The Nation. We could even transcribe all the calls to NPR over the last week or two.

But let’s skip all of that (though the Washington Times has a nicely comprehensive article on the subject). I am perfectly willing to concede that most liberals are on the right and correct side of the current challenge facing America. In fact, I invite everyone to read Peter Beinart’s piece as a case in point.

I’d even hazard a guess that most Leftists are more with “us” than against “us.”

Enough Carrot, More Stick

So, now that I’ve gotten the liberal hand-holding and “go team” stuff out of the way: If you simply do not believe that the Left has long been infected with a virulent strain of anti-Americanism — which, even now, is acting up again — that’s a symptom of your ignorance or denial, not of my dishonesty. I find it fascinating when liberals refuse to denounce the awful creatures to their left. There seems to be a tendency among unthinking liberals to simply assume that anyone to their left must be more noble or more in touch with their conscience than the rest of us. Sometimes, this is true. But, just as often, people on the far Left are simply bitter and twisted jerks, and, yes, Michael Moore — a fraud and a fool — comes immediately to mind.

Maybe it’s because conservatives are constantly asked to disavow those to their right, but I would dearly love to hear a vast array of liberals refer to Fidel Castro as “evil” or “cruel” instead of “complicated” or “a man who’s done a lot of good.”

The French have a phrase, Gardez les munitions, mais passez le fromage, which means, roughly, “Hold the ammo, pass the cheese” — but that’s not important right now. More relevant, they also have a phrase, Il n’y a pas d’ennemi à gauche, which means, “No enemies to the left,” and which I think goes to the heart of why so many honest liberals refuse to see that revered Leftist icons can be unthinkingly hateful toward America. Normally, these icons are defending Communists and fashionable murderers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, and when they do, a lot more liberals go weak in the knees and the spine. Indeed, replace Osama bin Laden with Fidel Castro and the amount of stupidity and denial on the Left, and among conventional liberals, multiplies by a factor of a thousand, at least.

Indeed, I’ve always thought that one thing the zealous Right has over the zealous Left is that conservatives always pound the table on the assumption that America is a wonderful and beneficial nation, while Leftists instinctively take America to be racist, sexist, corrupt, or guilty of some injustice or other. There’s probably a healthy democratic or Hegelian benefit to such give and take — but I’d rather be on the side that’s right more often than wrong, and which loves the country we live in rather than feeling embarrassed by it.

Indeed, I may think Pat Buchanan is deeply wrong in his analysis and prescriptions in the wake of September 11, but I can’t deny that he argues out of a genuine, patriotic love for America. I can’t even begin to make that argument for Edward Said or his friends, who, I’m sure, have to give you a long preamble with lots of caveats before you can get them to mumble, “I love America.”

Similarly: In the here and now, if you are a serious person of the Left, Right, or wherever, it’s not a complicated question whether or not America is superior — in every relevant sense — to our foe in this “war on terrorism.” Of course we are. Terrorism isn’t even an “ism” like Communism or fascism, which, evil as they are, at least claim to have a noble end. Terrorism is simply a clever word for mass murder. And Taliban-style Islam isn’t some cutesy or chic anti-Western “lifestyle” like the kind you find encapsulated on kitschy plaques in those Indian crafts stores that play World Music and burn incense all day.

Chris Hitchens may believe that Henry Kissinger should be tried for crimes against humanity, but he’s also serious-minded enough to chastise his colleagues on the Left, and to remind them that what the Taliban hates about America isn’t what the Left hates about America. No, 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. Perhaps the French should come up with a new phrase to mean, “No enemies among the America-haters.”


I should have announced this a while ago, but in an effort to keep us all vigilant about many of the topics in this column, we’ve created Kumbaya Watch. Written by Ross Douthat, the feature keeps tabs on various instances of muddle-headed anti-Americanism on the Left. If you’ve got ammo for him, please send suggestions to kumbaya@nationalreview.com.

Also, in our effort to provide maximum coverage, we’ve brought a military historian into our regular stable of contributors. Check out Victor Davis Hanson’s work so far and, if you’re interested, check out his new book Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.

And lastly, we are very grateful and flattered for the compliment you pay us as represented in the increased traffic for NRO. If there’s anything more we can be doing, please let us know at nronline@nationalreview.com.


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