Liberals and Leftists

Several times in this space I’ve said that liberals are not leftists. Each time I received at least one email from a reader asking me to explain myself. And each time I promised to answer online.

So here it is, the explanation I’ve put off for too long.

First of all, I want to get the traditional definition of liberal out of the way.

Broadly defined, a liberal is a person who believes in social, political, and economic freedom. In the United States, both major parties are liberal. Most members of both support democracy, civil and human rights, and a market economy.

Each party is more liberal than the other in certain ways. Today the Republicans are more likely to defend the rights of individuals to make stupid bigoted comments otherwise known as “hate speech,” customers to smoke cigarettes in restaurants, citizens to carry hand guns, and proprietors to operate businesses with minimal regulation. Democrats are more likely to champion the right of gays to marry, individuals to grow marijuana, criminals not to be executed, consenting adults to do as they please in their homes, and suspected terrorists to have an attorney.

Not all these positions are popular. Some aren’t popular at all. But that isn’t the point. Both parties champion freedom in different ways, and they do it on principle. Both parties have different liberal priorities, but they’re both generally liberal.

In conventional political terminology, liberal is often used as a stand-in for Democrat, just as conservative is often used as a stand-in for Republican. But liberal still has that traditional meaning so, as Steven Den Beste likes to point out, it is possible to be both a liberal and a conservative at the same time.

To be sure, there are liberal Republicans like Arnold Schwarznegger and there are conservative Democrats like Zell Miller. But for the most part, in the conventional sense, liberal means Democrat. And these are the liberals I have in mind when I say that liberals are not leftists.

The liberal agenda, or the platform of the Democratic Party, changes over time, as does the character of people we refer to as leftists. But the line which divides liberals from leftists remains mostly unchanged. And it is this:

A liberal (substitute with Democrat if you want to) believes in reform. And a leftist supports revolution. Liberals (Democrats) are the left-wing of the Establishment. Leftists are radicals who seek to overthrow the Establishment (either through violence or the ballot box) and replace it with something else.

Winston Churchill once outlined some differences between liberalism and socialism, socialism being leftist. Though his words date back to the early part of the 20th Century, they’re as true today as they were then.

Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle. [...] Socialism seeks to pull down wealth. Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference [...] Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.

Liberals and leftists are still, as ever, broadly separated as reformers versus revolutionaries and radicals. In today’s American political landscape, liberals and leftists differ in more specific and easier-to-recognize ways.

Liberals fly the American flag. Leftists burn it.

Liberals see America as the land of opportunity and freedom. Leftists see America as the bastion of Imperialism, Racism, and Oppression.

Liberals want higher taxes on the rich because it’s fairer to the middle and working classes. Leftists want to soak the rich out of class hatred.

Liberals want universal access to health care while leaving the system as market-driven as possible. Leftists would destroy the health care industry altogether and replace it with a state-run monopoly.

Liberals want to ban clear-cutting. Leftists want to ban the logging industry.

Liberals support globalization and trade and see it as an opportunity for economic growth and also as an opportunity to boost labor and environmental standards in the Third World. Leftists hate trade because they think it’s all about the West raping the rest.

Liberals blame the September 11 attacks on religious and political extremism in the Middle East. Leftists blame the September 11 attacks on America.

Liberals root for success in Iraq whether they supported the invasion or not. Leftists hope (either publicly or secretly) that America will lose and “learn a lesson.”

Liberals support the right of Israel to defend itself. Leftists support the Palestinian intifada.

Liberals support the troops. Leftists support the Iraqi Baathist resistance and put “terrorism” in sneer quotes.

Liberals support mainstream Democratic Party candidates in primary elections. Leftists support fringe candidates or a third party (Communists, Socialists, or Greens) to the left of the Democrats.

Liberals who marched against the Iraq war are disturbed by the Stalinism of the rally organizers in International ANSWER. Leftists view ANSWER as comrades or are unmoved by its agenda.

Some of today’s prominent leftists include Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Ted Rall, and Gore Vidal. The range of prominent leftist publications includes Z Magazine, Counterpunch, Adbusters, and The Nation.

Some of today’s prominent liberals include Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Al Franken, and Salman Rushdie. The range of prominent liberal publications includes The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Salon, and The New Republic.

Whenever I’ve mentioned that liberals are not leftists, I did so in one of two contexts. I was either criticizing leftists at the exclusion of liberals, or I was defending liberals against attacks by conservatives who lumped them in with leftists.

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me about specifics. I don’t think this ought to be the last word on the subject. But even a polemicist like Ann Coulter must know, on some level, that the views of Noam Chomsky and Tom Daschle don’t differ in degree, but in kind. The interesting argument is about where, not whether, to draw the line.

UPDATE: Matthew Stinson has more on this theme.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing comments, too.

Ego Link

Tim Blair’s feisty new piece in the Australian Daily Telegraph begins with a breakfast cereal theme and moves on to the sane and the insane left.

Oh, and he mentions me, too.

(A side note to Tim: I’m not really a part of the sane left anymore. I’m either an independent, a moderate, a centrist, or an objectively pro-Bush yeehaw flag-waving nationalistic warmonger, depending on where you sit.)

France is Cleared

Last week I harped on the French police for letting seven possible terrorists go. The FBI matched their names on Air France flight manifests to those on a US terrorist watch list.

Forget I mentioned it. France did nothing wrong.

As it turned out, those who were detained were caught up in mistaken identity.

Their names were coincidentally the same or only similar to those on the terrorist watch list. One of them was only seven years old.

It looks like incompetence. But it’s also to be expected when officials need to act quickly on imperfect and murky intelligence.

”A check was carried out in each case and in each case it turned out to be negative,” a [French] ministry spokesman told AFP.

“The FBI worked with family names and some family names sound alike,” the spokesman said, noting that some of the names had been transliterated from Arabic, which uses a different alphabet from French and English.

“The difficulty is compounded when you have no first name or date of birth,” he said.

If it hadn’t taken a week for all the details to emerge, this would have been a non-story.

UPDATE: The first story I linked to said seven people on terrorist watch lists were found to have purchased tickets on Air France flights. And the second story said six were released. I wondered what happened to the seventh person, but chalked it up to sloppy reporting.

Turns out, the seventh person ran away and no one knows where he is.

One passenger who did not show up for the flight has fled and cannot be found, a U.S. intelligence official said. He was described as a male of Middle Eastern descent who is a pilot, according to another U.S. intelligence official.

(Via Jeff Jarvis.)

Flailing at Dean

Ever since September 11 I’ve found myself in the awkward position of defending George W. Bush, a man I didn’t vote for and even hated, from scurillous attacks.

I won’t vote for Howard Dean either. But I can tell already that if he does win the presidency I’ll spend a great deal of time defending him, too. I’ll even get pulled into his camp (happily, I might add) if he does a good job.

Dean opens himself up to a great deal of criticism with his crazy pop-off remarks. His opponents don’t do themselves any favors, though, if they can’t figure out what his actual problems are.

Here is Cal Thomas, Fox News regular, in the Washington Times.

Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself.

Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Thomas, but it seems to me that he’s sneering. It’s the use of that word “entitled,” and that he says it’s someone else (of the dreaded l-word persuasion) who thinks this way.

Maybe he doesn’t believe he’s entitled to sort out the truth for himself, that both he and Howard Dean (as well as the rest of us) are supposed to take dogma from feeding spoons. But that’s not the way most Americans think, and no one who can’t think for himself is qualified to be president.

Mr. Dean’s wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.

What’s strange at best is that Cal Thomas even mentions this in the first place.

I’d like to know what wouldn’t be “strange,” considering the makeup of Howard Dean’s family. Are Christians automatically entitled to come out ahead of Jews in religious disputes? Are part-Jewish children supposed to ignore half their heritage? I’ll be charitable and assume that’s what he’s getting at, although that in itself means he has some explaining to do. Christian supremacy isn’t the endearing quality that it used to be. The only other explanation is that Mr. Thomas thinks Howard Dean shouldn’t have married a Jew in the first place.

What exactly does Mr. Dean believe about Jesus, and how is it relevant to his presidential candidacy? “Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised,” he told the Globe, “people who were left behind.” Mr. Dean makes it sound as if He might have been a Democrat.

Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. In the Middle East. He was not a Republican, and neither is God.

I’d like to pause a moment and quote from a letter to the Weekly Standard back in January 2003.

The “culture war” isn’t driven by unbelievers, who are wrongly given first and second billing in the “secularist” credits. It’s a religious clash, and the big player in the game is Christianity–America’s majority religion. The Democratic party is not the “Party of Unbelievers.” It’s the Other Party of Christianity.

Speaking as a Republican agnostic, I object to being drawn into this dispute, much less having the entire dispute blamed on our miniscule percentage of the population. Non-believers have to deal with a 54 percent unfavorable rating and the fact that George W. Bush will never appoint us to the federal bench. Isn’t that enough? We’ll continue fighting the occasional Supreme Court case and sulk, marginalized, on the sidelines. Let us know what happens when y’all are done arguing about which party God belongs to.

And that’s enough about that.

(Back to Cal Thomas.)

“He [Jesus] fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything,” the candidate continued. “He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it.”

Not really.

Not really? Jesus didn’t fight self-righteousness? He didn’t say it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God? (Matthew 19:24) He didn’t set an inspiring example that lasted 2,000 years? What, exactly, did Jesus “not really” do?

If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations,” to be read or not, according to one’s inspirational need.

When did Dean say that is “all” Jesus was? He didn’t. I know “strawman” is an overused buzzword, but it’s completely appropriate here. Cal Thomas is attacking a strawman. It might be fun, but it doesn’t fly.

C.S. Lewis brilliantly dealt with this watered-down view of Jesus and what He did in the book “Mere Christianity.” Said Lewis, who thought about such things at a far deeper level than Howard Dean, “I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I can’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse.”

I see the logic here, but there is a problem.

I used to be a Christian. I left the religion more than a decade ago. For a couple of years I hated Christianity and looked at Christians with contempt. I forced myself to get over it. Bigotry doesn’t suit me. Besides, most Americans are Christians, and I’m not about to go through life despising almost everyone in my country.

But Cal Thomas and C.S. Lewis would make my position impossible. I left the faith. So according to these characters I must condemn Jesus as a madman or demon. I’m not allowed to admire the man or even say anything nice about him. In order to be logically consistent (or whatever) I’m supposed to be an offensive religious bigot. Thanks, guys!

One hopes that the next journalist who gets a chance to ask Mr. Dean about this will inquire as to which Jesus he is talking about, if for no other reason than to gauge whether Mr. Dean is being sincere or a political opportunist who seeks to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats.

Maybe Dean is trying to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats. He’s a politician, after all. But something tells me Mr. Thomas doesn’t care a whit about the sensibilities of Democrats unless they defect and vote Republican. If Dean wins the nomination I might do just that. It certainly won’t be to join Mr. Thomas. He’ll be no comrade of mine.

That reporter might also survey Christians in New England (there are more than Mr. Dean thinks) as to whether they are as offended by his reference to their region as Southerners were to his characterization of their symbols and driving choices.

So Mr. Thomas doesn’t care for regional bigotry. Fine, neither do I, but he destroys his own point with his conclusion.

I can’t wait to see how Mr. Dean panders to Californians. Fruits and nuts, anyone?

Way to go, Cal. The biggest state in the union is full of a bunch of fruits and nuts. I guess that’s why they elected Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarznegger as governors.


Happy New Year everybody.

Since so many people like to tout their New Year resolutions on the Internet, let me tell you about the last time I made one.

I resolved never again to have a New Year resolution. It’s the only one I’ve lived up to.

Help Gary Farber

I don’t generally link to blogging fundraisers, but I’m going to make an exception today.

Gary Farber is in danger of being evicted. If you’re a fan of his blog, as I am, give him a hand. It’s still (sort of) Christmas.

Really Important Column

Dave Barry asks a series of penetrating questions for which there are no answers. My favorite:

Can young people wear their pants any lower? Their waistbands are now at approximately knee level. Where will this trend end? The shins? The feet? Will young people eventually detach themselves from their pants altogether and just drag them along behind, connected to their ankles by a belt?

The Incumbent’s Advantage

I’ve never cared much for Dick Morris, but I have to give him credit. This piece in the New York Post makes a lot of sense.

An incumbent president tends to catalyze opposite reactions among the moderates and the extremists in the opposition party. Because he is adopting policies which help the nation and echo the demands of the broad center, he attracts moderates in the other party. But as he pursues the core policies of his own party, he generally triggers greater hostility from the true believers on the other side.

Thus, President Bill Clinton’s policies of reforming welfare and balancing the budget attracted moderates among Independents and Republicans. But his position on core Democratic issues like gun control and abortion drove the right-wing extremists crazy.

Characters like Dick Morris are master manipulators. The Democrats, the wingnuts I should say, like the Clinton-haters before them, are letting themselves be played like flutes.

In the Clinton White House, we consciously used this theory to help the right dominate the Republican Party so that the centrists throughout America would vote to re-elect the Democratic president.

Karl Rove is a smart man. I’m sure he consciously uses this, too.

It only works because the leftists (like the right-wingers in the 1990s) go along with it.


Notes on Iraq

So how goes the quagmire?

In the Washington Times Andrew Apostolou says the Iraqi insurgency is made up almost entirely of Sunni Arab Baathists, and that they most likely will fight to the finish.

It will be a tough slog, but they aren’t likely to win.

[T]he insurgents are probably a minority within a minority. The U.S. military estimates their numbers at around 5,000 men. There are more Sunni Arabs fighting with the coalition in the new Iraqi police force.

Once the insurgents are defeated, and they almost certainly will be, the prospects for a decent future look pretty good.

Asked to choose the form of government Iraq needed now, 90% of those interviewed – in their own homes – said an Iraqi democracy, and overwhelmingly rejected the idea that democracy was only for Westerners and would not work in Iraq.

[W]hen asked to suggest the best thing that could happen in the next year, fewer than 1% said an Islamic government.

Dean Goofs, Clarifies

In an interview with the Concorde Monitor, Howard Dean says a bunch of stuff that later has to be “clarified” on his blog. (Via Daniel Drezner.)

Dean said there was no evidence to suggest the Bush administration’s use of force against Iraq had anything to do with Libya’s move [to shut down its weapons of mass destruction programs].

“I have no way of knowing whether we could or could not have done it” before the Iraq war, Dean said.

Let me just repeat this quote, since it obviously hasn’t gotten across.

Gaddafi himself said:

I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.

Case closed.

Back to Howard Dean.

We’ve had six or eight justifications of why [Bush] went to war in Iraq

Reminding everyone that there is a long list of reasons for going to war in Iraq is a poor strategy for an anti-war campaign.

Here are six or eight justifications, the existence of which do not boost Howard Dean’s position.

1. Saddam Hussein was in violation of the cease-fire agreements that put the 1991 Gulf War on hold by firing at British and American airplanes in the no-fly zones.

2. Saddam Hussein was in violation of more than a dozen UN Security Council resolutions, including one that threatened the use of force if he did not immediatly surrender all relevant documentation to Hans Blix regarding the production of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

3. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

4. Saddam Hussein publicly threatened to finish Hitler’s job by destroying the state of Israel.

5. Saddam Hussein was an obstacle to long-overdue political liberalization and democratization in the Arab Middle East.

6. Saddam Hussein’s support for Palestinian terrorists made a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict impossible.

7. Saddam Hussein was an ongoing threat to Saudi Arabia, and due to Saudi support for Al Qaeda and Islamic fascism generally, the United States was not able to continue protecting the House of Saud indefinitely, nor could the world afford to have Saddam Hussein in control of Saudi oil and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina if we abandoned the Saudis to their fate.

8. In the post-911 era of apocalyptic terrorism, mass-murdering anti-American dictators who align themselves with terrorists and who have produced and deployed the weapons of genocide are too dangerous to be allowed to remain in power.

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he’s caught? Dean said he didn’t think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.

Howard Dean needs a whole team of high-priced lawyers to tell him that the mass-murderer of Americans ought to be put on trial in America instead of in France or Saudi Arabia or Micronesia. This reminds me of the time when the first president Bush, while running for re-election, had no idea how much a gallon of milk costs. A president has to be at least slightly in tune with how normal people think and live, and must be able to demonstrate that he doesn’t live on a rarified plane in another dimension.

But wouldn’t most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America – and put to death?

“I’ve resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found,” Dean said.

Osama bin Laden admitted to planning the September 11 attacks, then laughed about it on camera.

I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials.

Dean issued a clarifying statement on his blog.

I share the outrage of all Americans.

Then why the need to clarify? Bush, Gephardt, and Lieberman never have to issue statements like this.

Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world.

Then let’s not worry about prejudging jury trials. K?

Our Friends the French

At the request of the United States, France arrested seven men and then released them.

French authorities found nothing to suggest the men had terrorist links.

All seven were on a US terrorist watch list and were scheduled to fly on the same Air France flight from Paris to Los Angeles. An intercepted Al Qaeda email even singled out the flight number.

This isn’t evidence? It’s one heck of a coincidence then. We have their names. The French damn well better hope these guys don’t terrorize someone later.

The Emerging Mainstream

Young people may be more conservative than their elders in some ways, but not in every way.

A new poll has found that 79 percent of all Americans believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

In the 18-29 year age range, 91 percent said that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Those aged 30-49, 50-64, and 65 and over were 81, 74, and 68 percent respectively.

Full equality for gay citizens is going to happen.

The anti-gay position is simply disintegrating. Those who don’t like it best get used to it. Because when my generation runs the country, equality won’t be left-wing, it will be mainstream. (Via Kevin Drum.)

Playing Dumb

Howard Dean is pretending to be stupid.

Here he is on the capture of Saddam Hussein:

“If we are safer, how come we lost 10 more troops and raised the safety alert” to the orange level, Dean said Sunday night in Ankeny, Iowa.

I don’t really think he’s that dumb. I could be wrong, perhaps I’m overestimating him. But he’s a successful governor and a doctor. You don’t get that far in life without smarts. What I really think is that Howard Dean thinks his supporters are stupid.

No one could possibly believe the capture of Saddam Hussein would make every single Baathist thug in Iraq lay down his arms and go home. No one could possibly believe that yanking Saddam out of a hole in the ground would make Al Qaeda quit the jihad.

I doubt there’s a single anti-war activist who thinks the hawks believe the Terror War is over all of a sudden. But Howard Dean thinks so and hopes his supporters will find his latest pop-off witty and clever. I think he’s mistaken. “Safer” doesn’t mean “safe,” and everyone knows it.

If George W. Bush said “We got Saddam, the War on Terror is over,” then Howard Dean would have a point.

POST-SCRIPT: If, like me, you can’t get enough of Howard Dean, check out Jonathan Chait’s Diary of a Dean-o-phobe blog at The New Republic. Chait is a Bush-hating liberal who would rather plug away at Howard Dean on a regular basis. Dean just does that to people.

Jeff Jarvis Profiled

Norman Geras profiles Jeff Jarvis:

I called myself a pacifist early in the age of Vietnam and did not change my mind until September 11. There’s an old joke that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. A hawk is a pacifist in the foxhole.

Friedman Discovers Poland

Andrew Apostolou makes fun of Thomas Friedman for being six months behind the news. Poland is pro-American. Who knew?

Friedman is sometimes silly, but I confess to being a fan. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem is sadly out of date (he’s a little too optimistic about the Oslo peace process), but it’s nevertheless a fantastic piece of Middle East reporting that reads like a suspenseful historical novel.

And maybe Friedman is a bit slow on Poland, but I enjoyed the piece anyway.

After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the Middle East, Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me. Get this: people here actually tell you they like America — without whispering. What has gotten into these people? Have all their subscriptions to Le Monde Diplomatique expired? Haven’t they gotten the word from Berlin and Paris? No, they haven’t. In fact, Poland is the antidote to European anti-Americanism. Poland is to France what Advil is to a pain in the neck. Or as Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs specialist, remarked after visiting Poland: “Poland is the most pro-American country in the world — including the United States.”

I detected no anti-Americanism when I visited France. But I can’t read French newspapers, and I hung around waiters and cab drivers, not Chirac and de Villepin. I’d still like to visit Poland, though. It’s a beautiful country, and it’s always nice to be welcomed.


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