Sunday, September 07, 2003

Although I hadn't commented in it, I do have to admit to being fascinated by this comments thread on Michael Totten's website about his latest "liberals vs. the left" post on which I commented earlier.

(By the by, one emailer charged me with equating Glenn Reynolds and Totten when I called them both "rightists" in the same sentence. Needless to say, I don't see them as equivalent; while I believe that Totten is hurting his own self-professed liberal/centrist position by doing the right's work for it, it's nothing like Glenn's out-and-out apologism for Bush and the Republicans.)

In any case, the dominant thread of this discussion was demands by right-wingers for liberals to abandon the supposed far left entirely; that they must do so, or lose any and all credibility for being associated with these people. There's one slight problem here, one of assumption: that one cannot be a leftist and remain a decent, caring person. I suppose that one can hold that position, but what's stunning is that they never provide a real reason for doing so!

Every time one reads an attack on the left in this thread (or, indeed, in much of the blogosphere), the attacks are based on the left's disagreement with certain ideas and concepts; the wisdom of unfettered capitalism, of pre-emptive warfare (or warfare as a tool of statecraft in general), of the structure and policy of the United States government, or any number of other conservative sacred cows. Thing is, any unbiased observer would figure out pretty quickly that most of these ideas are in contention, and that they are not by any means necessary to hold views about them that conservatives find acceptable to fit within commonly accepted ideas about morals and ethics.

So with that in mind, it raises the question: why should liberals distance themselves from the left? "Because conservatives think the left is wrong" isn't reason enough; conservatives shouldn't be allowed to define what is and isn't an acceptable political position- it grants them too much power. "because the left is immoral" simply raises more questions than it answers, and "because the left is anti-American" not only misses the distinction between criticizing the government as opposed to the people, but the distinction between attacking American culture as it is right now as unacceptable and attacking the American people as forever unacceptable. Saying "America sucks" could be perfectly legitimate, if there is a real reason why "America sucks".

Yes, that will make Americans, especially nationalistic Americans uncomfortable. There is no reason, however, why all political criticism and protest should make people feel comfortable, and rather a lot of reasons why it shouldn't. The problem is that being anti-American doesn't automagically make you wrong; America is at bottom a set of ideas, and ideas must exist in a constant state of contention or become stagnant and corrupt.

This is why I'm deeply bothered by this crusade by the right to try to divide up the left, even by those with only the best of intentions. The left is just as necessary to keep America strong as the right, and that left cannot be limited solely to those sections that conservatives are comfortable with. Even if they're America-hating socialists, it's been understood since John Stuart Mill that it's important that it is possible, however unlikely, that they might have a point, either by advocacy or example. For liberals like Michael Totten to allow conservatives to define what is or isn't acceptable is to watch America die by inches.

And that, friends, is unAmerican.

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