FIGHTING LIBERALS….Michael Tomasky writes in The American Prospect today about how “reasonable” Democrats helped Rupert Murdoch assemble his grand conservative media empire. Basically, he says that we were so dedicated to being fair and open minded that we let Murdoch do his thing even though it was demonstrably bad for Democrats:
There’s a lesson in this, and in the whole tale, for our side. Tolerance for other views has been part of the very essence of liberalism since John Stuart Mill. Read Lionel Trilling’s brief introduction to The Liberal Imagination: He fretted not that conservatism might one day overtake liberalism (the notion was laughable in 1949) but that conservatism was so weak that liberalism would grow flaccid from its ideas not facing rigorous-enough scrutiny from the other side (which happened, in certain respects).
Well, this isn’t 1949, modern conservatism is not founded on toleration for other points of view, and Mr. Murdoch has an empire that’s just getting up a head of steam (FOX News Europe? FOX News India?) and that’s out to smash everything we believe. We need to quit being so damn reasonable about it.
Now, as it happens, in the same way that I think the ACLU was right to support the Skokie marchers, I think it’s right for Democrats to support tolerance of other viewpoints even if they hurt us. But that’s a quibble, and Tomasky’s overall point is well taken: it’s time for mainstream Democrats to stop being such wallflowers.
This is something that I think got missed in the extremism vs. moderation kerfuffle a couple of weeks ago. My problem is with extremist liberals who seem to go out of their way to alienate Middle America ? highly public vomit-ins, tree spikings, trips to Baghdad ? without ever thinking about what effect this might have on acceptance of the liberal agenda in general. However, I decidedly don’t have a problem with honest partisans who bang the liberal drum loudly and without compromise. That’s why I like Atrios so much, it’s why I like the fact that Democrats are showing some spine by filibustering Miguel Estrada, and it’s why Paul Krugman is my favorite columnist. They aren’t engaged in dumb street theater that accomplishes little except making liberals look scary, but they are loud, cranky, partisan, sometimes obnoxious, and they get under conservatives’ skins. And good for them for being that way.
We should remember that we lost only a couple of Senate seats in the 2002 elections, not exactly a massive repudation of the party’s policies, and poll after poll shows that the American public basically supports moderate Democratic positions on most social and economic issues. There’s no question that the party needs a tougher and more coherent message on national security if it wants to have any chance of winning in 2004, but if we can manage to get our act together on that ? a longshot, I admit ? there’s nothing about the rest of our agenda we need to apologize for or back away from. Americans like fighters and they like winners. Democrats should start acting like both.