Using Bees To Effect Vengeance
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic uses his review of Nicholson Baker's new book as a launching pad to examine a question that has been much discussed in these pages (pages? IPs? quarters? quarters) -- namely, whether liberals should be gettin' in the gutter' along with the Republicans.
Allow me to quote a couple of passages -- Leon's my homie, at least on this issue:
For the virulence that calls itself critical thinking, the merry diabolization of other opinions and the other people who hold them, the confusion of rightness with righteousness, the preference for aspersion to argument, the view that the strongest statement is the truest statement -- these deformations of political discourse now thrive in the houses of liberalism too. The radicalism of the right has hectored into being a radicalism of the left. The Bush-loving mob is being met with a Bush-hating mob.
Wieseltier goes on to identify some instances of liberal self-abasement (the man clearly is not a Black Sabbath fan, but do not let that prejudice you against him), and then leaves us with this (quoting extensively because it is so goddamn sweet, preach that moderation, Brother Leon):
Liberals must think carefully about their keenness to mirror some of the most poisonous qualities of their adversaries. It was never exactly a disgrace to American liberalism that it lacked its Limbaugh....The argument for liberal demagoguery is twofold, tactical and philosophical. There are those who believe the Democrats cannot succeed without the politics of the sewer. These are the same people who believe it is the politics of the sewer to which the Republicans owe their success. This view significantly underestimates the depth and the nature of George W. Bush's support in American society, and significantly overestimates the influence of the media and its pundit vaudeville on American politics. Rush Limbaugh did not elect a president and neither will Michael Moore. All the professional manipulation of opinion notwithstanding, reality is still more powerful than its representations. If it is not, then all politics is futile.
The philosophical argument for liberal demagoguery is that it is merely an expression, or an exaggeration, of American democracy. But then this must be true also of conservative demagoguery, which also claims to speak (but rather less plausibly) in the voice of the common man. It is when politics becomes a competition in populist credentials that demagoguery, and the sophistry of the slippery slope, flourishes, and the voice of the common man is stolen. The demagogue's gravest sin is not incivility, it is stupidity. Does the Bush administration love capitalism too much? But it is also possible to love capitalism too little. The greatness of capitalism, after all, is that it may be politically corrected. Was American power used improperly, or for ill, in Iraq? But it is also possible for American power to be used properly, and for good. Is the friendly opinion of the world a condition of American security? Often, but not always. The incompetence of the Bush administration in world affairs, too much of which was ideologically ordained, does not alter the fact that the United States must sometimes deploy overwhelming force against extreme wickedness. It will be disastrous, for liberalism and for America, if the indignation against George W. Bush becomes an excuse for a great simplification, for a delirious release from the complexities of historical and political understanding that it took the American left decades to learn.
What he said.
He closes with this, re: Kerry/Edwards:
Whatever the merit of their opposition to the Bush administration, the spirit of their opposition is not dark. They are not taking the radical bait. This is admirable not only on strategic grounds. When the Democratic candidate for president criticizes the conduct of the American war in Iraq but recognizes the catastrophic consequences of an American withdrawal, he is practicing the lost art of opposing two errors, two evils, at the same time. There are many good reasons to wish to be rid of George W. Bush, but there are no good reasons to wish to be rid of intelligence in our public life.
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