This is a very strange moment, as I am sure liberals and conservatives will agree. Democracy seems to be spreading in the Middle East, albeit pregnant with the possibility of disappointing failure. The Independent, Le Monde and the New York Times–not to mention the likes of Jon Stewart and Daniel Schorr–have been forced to at least ponder whether, in the words of Schorr, “Bush may have had it right.”
The willingness of many of Bush’s–and the war’s–biggest detractors to allow for the possibility that Bush and his “neocon” advisers were correct about the ability of democracy to take root in the Middle East is admirable and should be congratulated. Truth be told, before anyone can call the Bush Doctrine an empirical success there will be a lot more bad news which the same voices will–fairly or not–seize on to say that Bush was wrong all along. That’s simply because such momentous events almost never move in a straight line.
Take the situation in Lebanon. It’s entirely possible to imagine a situation where Hezbollah becomes even more powerful in Lebanon than it is now, if the Syrians leave. No doubt Bush’s detractors–and many of his friends–won’t see the elevation of Hezbollah in Lebanon as a good thing in and of itself. But sometimes a step back is necessary when you take many steps forward. Think of Poland during the Solidarity days. Gen. Jaruzelski’s declaration of martial law was a major setback for the cause of freedom, but in the larger context it was a huge leap in the right direction. Should Syria get out of Lebanon, there might be negative consequences for the Lebanese–though that’s not the way I would bet–but the concepts of national sovereignty and what the Lebanese call “people power” will have been ratified throughout the region.
Or maybe not. This really isn’t a column about foreign policy. Rather, it’s an attempt to back into a gripe I’ve had with liberals for the last few months.
Last year anti-Bush reporter Ron Suskind wrote a much-discussed article for the New York Times magazine in which he quoted an unnamed aide who introduced a new phrase which quickly became a term of derision for conservatives: “reality-based community.”
This is the relevant passage:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore, ” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality–judiciously, as you will–we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Since then liberals have adopted their residence in the “reality-based community” as a badge of honor. Left-wing bloggers prominently affirm that they are a “proud member of the reality-based community” or that theirs is a “reality-based weblog.” Suskind himself continues to proclaim himself a prophet-with-honor(arium) for calling attention to the administration’s “kill-or-be-killed desire to undermine public debate based on fact.” Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and the rest of the usual suspects have a grand time bebopping over the Right for its supposed faith in fantasy over facts as if this phrase is a cross every conservative everywhere must bear.
To a certain extent this is all fair game. Whoever the aide was–assuming the quote was accurately and faithfully reported–was at best clumsy in explaining what he was getting at. But there are a couple problems with the ongoing liberal glee over this whole RBC thing. 1) Liberals are not particularly fastidious in their attachment to facts themselves and 2) The Bush aide was largely right.
Take the second point first. Imagine that what the aide really meant by “reality-based community” was in fact “the status-quo community.” The promising developments toward peace and liberalization throughout the Middle East were considered unimaginable to the status-quo community not very long ago. But Bush found them quite imaginable and he acted to make what his opponents considered to be a fantasy into a reality. Well–fingers crossed!–it looks like Bush is finding considerable success in his efforts to, in the words of that aide, “create a new reality.” For good or for ill, who can doubt that Bush is one of “history’s actors” at this point?
I’m hardly the only one to notice this new reality aborning. What got me thinking about it was this comment from blogger Michael Totten in response to the “Was Bush Right?” headline of the Independent: “What I find interesting here is that this shows the foresight of historians like Victor Davis Hanson. He has long argued that we should stop worrying about anti-American and anti-war jackassery and just win the damn war. If things work out in Iraq and the Middle East, he’s been saying, opposition to the U.S. and the war will largely evaporate. I have had my doubts about that since the opposition is often so reactionary and toxic. But this definitely belongs in his evidence column.”
This dynamic is actually something I’ve been interested in for a very long time. I first wrote about it here and here). As you can tell, the first place I read about it was in a phenomenal essay by George Orwell in which he derided the tendency of Western intellectuals and journalists to worship the status quo because that’s where the power was. “Power-worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue,” he wrote in 1946. The power-worship–i.e. status-quo based–community suffers from a failure of imagination to see how fragile contemporary arrangements can be, particularly if they are fond of those arrangements for ideological, political or financial reasons. The idea that Iraq could have a democratic “teaching effect” on the region was most vociferously pooh-poohed by the Islamist voluptuaries in academia and by various journalists who either subscribe to anti-American or, more often, anti-Bush views. Maureen Dowd time and again has referred to the “discredited domino theory” as if all she needs to do is say something is discredited in order for it to be so. She’s really got to stop believing her own press releases.
Recall how Ronald Reagan was at times an amiable dunce and other times a horrific monster to liberals and some “realists” because he refused to accept that we were slaves to the “impersonal forces” of history. Now, of course, we are told that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the inevitable consequence of the Soviet Union’s internal contradictions just as the spin is just starting that Bush really didn’t have much to do with the new buds of democracy growing in Arab sand.
“Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid,” proclaimed the writer Dorothea Brande (though the movie Almost Famous attributes the line to Goethe). In the Middle East there had long been unseen forces that are now suddenly visible because the president acted boldly. That doesn’t mean he deserves all of the credit, of course. But it’s impossible to imagine that we’d be seeing this bloom if Bush had not tilled the soil.
As for the first point–that liberals aren’t particularly or especially interested in empirical reality…. Stay tuned for the next Goldberg File.
My apologies for not G-Filing as regularly as I should (those columns you’ve been reading in this space have been my syndicated column–you can tell because they tend to always be under 850 words). As readers of The Corner would know, I’ve been sick, the baby was sick, the wife was sick, and then we all traded sicknesses. Good times.
Another reason is that on Monday I sent 143 pages of my book to my editor. (You mean 30 usable pages, right?–The Couch.) People keep asking when I’m going to be done. After I yank the ballpoint pen from their foreheads, I explain: “When it’s done.”
Corner readers would also know about my Starbucks interview (which is not to be confused with my still pending interview with Dirk Benedict). Some time, starting next month, over one million Starbucks cups will have a quote from me on them.
Corner readers also know that Kathryn Lopez has signed a deal to become a syndicated columnist. She has also worked out a deal with the Timelords so that she can now work 37 hours a day. I figured that out when I heard her humming this. Congrats to Kathryn.
Oh and here’s a piece I wrote for the LA Times.
Last, let me just say I’m getting a little misty from the nostalgia of actually running a G-File with announcements at the end. It’s been a long time and just another consequence of the dark side of blogging.