But what Charen has really done is the rhetorical equivalent of showing the world these liberals’ driver’s license photographs–she’s chosen the worst quotes in the worst context and ignored the rest. Obviously people had opinions that turned out to be wrong, and some were wrong a lot. But there are worse things in life than being wrong; a refusal to consider options and alternative approaches is just as serious an error. More to the point, there was substantial bipartisan agreement about American foreign policy since the Second World War. There was vociferous disagreement about policies and approaches, but in the main, both wings of both parties acted on the assumption that the Soviet Union was America’s adversary and posed a threat to our security, that communism was antithetical to our system, and that we needed to fund a large defense establishment and deploy forces around the world in order to support those positions. Charen acts as though there was a large liberal faction that wanted us to pull out of NATO or ground the Air Force. That’s just not so.

It’s also true that Charen makes her case knowing full well how the story turns out. From that exalted position, she is happy to argue that Reagan’s hardline policy toward the Soviet Union and communist expansion was the necessary one to defeat it. Certainly, Reagan’s combination of rhetoric and military appropriations helped to undermine the regime. But for all the considerable credit due Reagan, the weakness of the Soviet regime was a factor, as was the policy and personality of Gorbachev. If Charen wants to argue that harder-line policies should have been applied throughout the Cold War, then it seems just as fair to ask whether a Brezhnev–a far bigger thug than Gorbachev–would have reacted to Reagan in the same way. Here’s where Charen’s argument falters. It’s one thing to demand some accountability from liberals, quite another to argue, as Charen does, that liberal positions throughout the Cold War constituted policies of appeasement. Throughout the Cold War, there were a mix of policies that liberals supported: containment, dtente, non-proliferation, and arms control. Oddly, a lot of conservatives supported that mix as well. For Charen’s arguments to work, Richard “Dtente” Nixon would have to be considered a liberal. Thanks, but he’s not on our team.

Charen wonders why liberals were so weak on communism when they had been so strong against Nazism. She argues that Nazis were “the perfect enemy for America,” because their beliefs were so antithetical to our ideals. “But Communists paid lip service to liberty, and pretended to achieve equality. Communists in America participated in the civil rights movement and seemed on the right side of the conflict in South Africa.” She should think a little harder about her observation. Yes, communists were liberals’ friends; but more importantly, anti-communists were the liberals’ enemies. Most anti-communists were also anti-labor. Most were anti-integration. Most supported a lot of repressive regimes in the name of anti-communism. There are a lot of issues on which anti-communists undermined their own moral authority. Liberals need to come to terms with their mistakes about communism, but conservatives have a lot of laundry to wash as well. I doubt we’ll see a Regnery book on that subject, though.

Charen is weakest when she tries to argue that in the same way liberals were wrong about communism, they are wrong about Islamism. She cites a number of things liberals like Michael Moore said after 9/11 that seem to her to be patently stupid. They seem stupid to me, too, but so do things that Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter said. Among the comments Charen finds objectionable is this one by Norman Mailer: “Americans should reflect on and try to understand why so many people feel a revulsion toward the U.S.” Mailer may be a member in good standing of the Blame America First crowd that gives a life purpose to folks like Charen, but it doesn’t seem to me that figuring out how American policies contributed to the tangle of problems we’re facing puts one in the al Qaeda Booster Club.

Liberals are not apt to read Useful Idiots, and that’s too bad; if they were honest, they would use it to critique their own assumptions and proclivities. Of course, if Mona Charen were honest, she would similarly critique her own.

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.