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April 20, 2005

Optimism on the Left?
Posted by Michael Signer

This is gonna sound weird, but I have to confess that the Bolton Affair is giving me a strange, creeping sense of optimism over what has been Democracy Arsenal's dominant concern:  how do progressives rebuild based on affirmative ideas?

Oh, I know that dictionary definitions are kind of a tired trick.  But I recently -- I swear -- found myself looking up the word "hidebound" in the dictionary, just because I've found myself using it so frequently recently, without the slightest idea what it really meant.  Here's what it means:

1. Stubbornly prejudiced, narrow-minded, or inflexible. 2. Having abnormally dry, stiff skin that adheres closely to the underlying flesh. Used of domestic animals such as cattle. 3. Having the bark so contracted and unyielding as to hinder growth. Used of trees.

Funny -- I always thought John Bolton (not to mention Richard Perle) looked like he had abnormally dry, stiff skin adhering closely to the underlying flesh... Anyway, here's the definition of "liberal": 

1a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism. 

So, as far as tolerance and broad-mindedness go, we should be thinking not about how these are feel-good 1960's values that should help us feel superior to other folks.  Rather, we should view them instead as powerful guiding principles for our own new majority realpolitik.  Consider their traction in recent politics:

Ethical behavior, probity, and political toleration:  These have emerged as the real ideas guiding progressives in both the DeLay probes and the Bolton nomination.  These are not reactionary values -- on the contrary, they're actual principles that illuminate just exactly why it is Bolton's and DeLay's abrasive and belligerent behavior seems so wrong.  Check out Laura Rozen's great analysis of Bolton's belligerence, for instance:

Which brings me to the 10 times Bolton requested the identity of the US persons in classified NSA intercepts he had obtained, about which we will surely learn more. John Bolton misuses intelligence the way communists use it in police states -- against his internal enemies. It's classic police state tactics. But intelligence should be used in democracies to advance national security, not to gather ammunition on internal perceived bureaucratic enemies. Of course, Bolton just thinks of it as "opposition research" against the internal opposition. But using the vast reach of US intelligence powers to achieve opposition research crosses the line. Bolton behaves like a scheming apparatchik in a police state.

Consensus-based policy-making:  Public opinion is against the preemptive strategy -- but not, I suspect, because people dislike pre-emption per se.  Rather, they hate how arrogant and, yes, hidebound the Administration's approach has been.  A recent poll by the Security and Peace Institute found that 58% to 34% opposed the strategy of pre-emption, and 63% to 31% thought we should cooperate with other countries first.  Put those two together and you get a refound appreciation for the entirely progressive value of consensus -- domestically and internationally.  This explains why the Administration's conduct of the Iraq War was so wrong -- it was so intensely Machiavellian and political.  Scheduling the initial vote on Iraq before the 2002 Congressional elections, for instance, was just plain calculating and politically cruel, and entirely consistent with the hidebound approach of the Administration.  Progressives are winning this one, and they're winning it honestly.

Democratization everywhere, not just with the enemies we love to hate:  Progressives appear to have won over Secretary Rice in her continuing attempts to restaff State with professionals dedicated to -- you guess it -- ethics, probity, and tolerance of ideological opposites.  And, just today, we read that she's looking at taking a harder line against Putin on democratization.  This is good, and we should be taking credit for it.  The larger progressive value is that democracy -- unbalanced by Bush-I type realist concerns -- is good everywhere, everyplace (see my earlier post on same citing Mort Halperin's brilliant The Democracy Advantage).

Call it liberal or call it progressive, but these are values the American people like.  But, far more importantly, they're values that drive smarter, more precise, and more successful foreign policy decisions.  And we know this from experience.


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Call it liberal or call it progressive, but these are values the American people like.
The key is translating policies, proposal, values and ideals that people operationally agree with into politics that appeal to them.

I'm sure the vast majority of Americans --including me -- favor pre-empting imminent threats, but almost nobody outside Washington believes in a *preventive* war, or a war solely to bring democracy to an oppressed people.

No, for all their "political cruelty," the Republicans were right: if you wanted to invade Iraq, the only way to do it was to scare the bejeezus out of the American people. Lying is a prerequisite for starting a preventive war.

It's best if progressives acknowledge this fact and make their choice.

No, for all their "political cruelty," the Republicans were right: if you wanted to invade Iraq, the only way to do it was to scare the bejeezus out of the American people. Lying is a prerequisite for starting a preventive war.

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