Should Liberals Lighten Up?

SHOULD LIBERALS LIGHTEN UP?….Michael Ignatieff writes in the New York Times magazine:

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn’t suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn’t much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn’t much excuse for our naivete either.

Brad DeLong responds:

For Ignatieff to say that there is “no excuse” for his assumption that the Bush administration was competent is not satisfactory: Ignatieff needs to tell us what chain of thought could possibly have led him to the assumption that the Bush administration was competent….

This is a recurring theme, and one I really hate to see. There are lots of “liberal hawks” (and even a few conservative hawks) who are having public second thoughts about having supported the war, and we should warmly embrace them. They are excellent candidates to become opinion leaders who will help persuade other people to see things our way.

However, it sometimes seems as though a mere public reconsideration is not enough: we instead demand an abject, groveling apology and a confession that those who opposed the war were right about every last thing. But human nature being what it is, there’s a limit to just how much admission of pigheaded stupidity people are willing to make in public, and “there isn’t much excuse for our naivete either” is probably about as much as we can reasonably expect. Demanding a line-by-line recitation of error is surely more at home in a Mao-era reeducation camp than in the United States of 2004.

Now, it’s true that some of these public reconsiderations are pretty egregious ? see Tim Dunlop today for a pretty good example. But in general I think we’d all be better served by toning down the moral righteousness and welcoming our new comrades to the fold. We need all the allies we can get.