Friday, February 11, 2005


Michael Tomasky has a good article in the American Prospect on the situation of American liberals, asking the salient question: What constitutes necessary rethinking, and what constitutes selling out?

One of the Democratic Party’s biggest problems these days is that people don’t know what they stand for, and just standing for something -- anything! -- is better than always appearing to be backtracking, soft-pedaling, trying to prove they’re just as tough or patriotic as Republicans. It’s a pathetic thing to watch. And here’s one point on which I want to be very clear: Self-examination does not mean inevitably moving to the middle. Adopting a centrist pose can be every bit as knee-jerk and shallow as insisting that nothing’s changed since 1974, and it can be even more debilitating politically than going (or staying) left.

But the historical analogy to the 1960s conservatives breaks down here. In 1964, conservatism was not in the position that liberalism is in today. Conservatism at that point had never been the country’s reigning ideology for a long period of time. Of course, the America of the 1920s, and of the 19th century, was a very conservative country by today’s standards. But in those days, conservatism wasn’t yet an ideology in the way it became in the 1950s, under the leadership of people like William F. Buckley Jr. and others. Movement conservatism of the sort that nominated Barry Goldwater and elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush didn’t really exist until the postwar period.

In other words, the conservatives of the 1960s had never been in power. So they didn’t have a legacy to contemplate, because they hadn’t been in the position to make one.

This is the latest salvo in the "where do we go from here?" conversation that liberals desperately need to have, and which I'm surprised is moving so slowly. Hopefully people won't take Tomasky's could-be-construed-as-less-than-favorable mention of Michael Moore and use it as an excuse to brand him a traitor.

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