I’m going to take a short breather from attacking the Democratic leadership in order to steer you toward a post at Thomas Nephew’s excellent newsrack blog wherein he recounts a recent and somewhat disappointing encounter with Eric Alterman. I do this because between the encounter itself and a few readers’ responses to it, the post pretty much lays out in a nutshell the conundrum facing liberals and progressives when trying to deal with the Dems or trying to decide if they’ve really sold out to corporations, or if it’s all some sort of “strategy” to roll over to the Bush Gang and yelp, “Please, sir, may I have another?” to the man with the whip in the apparent hope that people will feel sorry enough for them to vote Blue in ’08.
The post is titled “Why We’re Liberals” because that’s the name of Alterman’s new book, but it’s also the central question Nephew finds himself asking after a question about impeachment draws this response from Eric.
In the question and answer session, Alterman was asked about impeachment — and he kind of went off on the guy, comparing impeachment advocates to Nader supporters in 2000, allegedly blind to the consequences of their actions, indirectly complicit in the disasters that followed.
So I joined the short line of questioners, and wound up being the last one. I asked where he saw the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution in his definition of liberalism; in the tension between adhering to principles and focusing on winning the next election, where were the bright lines Alterman was willing to draw to say “this far and no further”, regardless of the cost?
Alterman, as Thomas pointed out later in response to a comment, is “an ally who is great at skewering the right” and has “earned a lot of respect over the years.” The fact that he has accepted the wholesale Democratic surrender of the last few years and defends it despite its manifest abandonment of core liberal values is precisely the dilemma that faces us. How can liberals continue, as Alterman does, to support a political party that no longer seems at all interested in liberal values?
Thomas put the question on himself.
Because, I told him, his answer to the first questioner had me thinking, ‘maybe I’m not a liberal after all.’
But Eric’s answer makes it perfectly plain that Thomas has the question backwards: it isn’t he who isn’t the liberal, it’s the Democratic Party.
So…he sort of squared up and said that to him principles were a form of moral vanity….
Principles are a form of vanity?? Really, Eric?
That is precisely the kind of so-called “pragmatic” sophistry that’s been running the Dems since Carter lost to Reagan. Whether he knows it or not, Alterman is aligning himself with the very people who have dumped overboard everything he claims to believe in, and that’s OK with him if it means winning. Anything else is “vanity”.
This actually supports my notion that the Democrats have been so infected by the GOP’s conservative propaganda that they actually believe most of it, making them, as I’ve said many times, little better than Republicans-Lite. If someone as “acute an observer” as him can be buffaloed into abandoning all his principles in favor of a conservative-skewed New Dem “pragmatism”, what can be left of the party we used to know?
Thomas puts it beautifully:
That’s funny, though, because to me that particular principle — rule of law, or “playing by the rules” in 90s Democratic vernacular — is a core liberal value and is not some kind of luxury item we can do without in tough times. Without it, the little guy has no recourse against the high and mighty, whether they’re government officials or CEOs. To me liberalism, plainly put, is saying the little guy should always have a chance to get his grievance heard and to be made whole, and that there’s a public sphere where the big guy with lawyers, guns and money can’t expect to win.
And it seems self-evident to me that that credo starts at the top; the measure of a country isn’t just how it treats its weakest members, but the standards it applies to its most powerful ones. We are plainly failing both tests; I think it’s a single test, and that those failures go hand in hand.
[The Democratic Party] has to all appearances been running a two year stall, a political “four corners” drill running out the clock to an anticipated win in 2008 — a strategy that may not be as clever as its authors thought. Late feints notwithstanding, it has effectively stood by — both before and after 2006 — and let the corruption of the Justice Department go unpunished; it has allowed the Bush administration to play semantic games about the meaning of torture and whether waterboarding fits the definition; it’s doing its level best to find as much as possible about warrantless surveillance to be legal after all — and it’s done nothing meaningful whatsoever to get out of a war built on lies that a majority of us (and a vast majority of self-described liberals) considers to be a disastrous mistake. If that’s liberalism, I want off.
So wouldn’t we all. But it isn’t liberalism, that’s the point I’ve been trying to make for months. Thomas is making it for me through classic liberal Alterman: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS NOT LIBERAL. It doesn’t support liberal beliefs or fight for liberal causes, so how can liberals support it?