Monday, December 06, 2004

Big Tent, Little Tent

In the most recent issue of The New Republic, Peter Beinart makes a suggestion that I thinkeveryone should consider and reject -- he says that Democrats should basically kick people who don't understand Islamic terrorism as something akin to communism in the cold war, right out of the party. In his article, Beinart gives a history lesson about big labor and other liberal activist groups who basically purged themselves of communists and communist sympathizers during the 40s and 50s. Beinart says the tactic was politically effective and I can't disagree with him.

Problem is, it was morally suspect. Stalin might have been a genocidal madman, but Beinart wasn't talking about the man who perverted communism, he was talking about communism as an idealogy. And the point of having freedom of thought and expression in America is that you should be allowed to believe in something like communism, even if it is in conflict with the dominant, free-ish market paradigm that America has always followed.

Also, the analogy doesn't hold up. Back in the day, there were honest communist thinkers on the American left and they had some influence. I don't know anyone on the pacifist American left today, anyone who doesn't want to be at war with Islam, who is arguiung that radical Islam should replace our current system in America. If such people existed, I guess I'd have to fight them, since I don't want to live under the Koharn. But, they don't. Instead, we have people advocating what I believe is a smarter path to peace in the world -- the path of curbing our own imperialist tendencies.

Then, I have to think of our more successful opponents in the Republican party. The Republicans seem to gain voters not only from the vaunted religious right, but from economic conservatives and outright libertarians. A true libertarian would likely be pro-choice, not have a problem with Gay marriage, against the FCC fining CBS for Janet's wardrobe malfunction and entirely hostile to any sort of moral or religiously based culture war. Yet, these types tend to vote Republican. Is it for the tax cuts? Well, that's part of it, and only party. I'm going to guess it's because, as much as people on the religious right might abhor libertarian social beliefs, they aren't so stupid as to try to purge their party of a dependable voting block.

The Democrats shouldn't do that either. The difference between a pro-war Democratic candidate and anm anti-war Democratic candidate is only the difference between John Kerry and Howard Dean. And those two actually have quite a bit in common.

Strategically, one could argue that the doves have nowhere to go. They won't vote Republican just because the Democrats put up a pro-war candidate. But, let's face reality. One of the reasons Kerry seemed like an untrustworthy opportunist is that he tried to have to both ways -- he was afraid of driving pro war people to Bush and afraid of driving pacifists to Nader. HAd his party and campaign been mroe respectful of the difference of opinion among voting Democrats, he could have done better. He could have said, "Yes, I voted for the war and sometimes, I will vote for war, but you who were against it should realize that I voted with reservations and with regret. My opponent is looking for the next war. I'm looking to save us from the next war."

But, he either didn't, or couldn't say that because, while the Republicans play to the far right and win elections, the Democrats ignore the far left and lose.

That's what Beinart is advocating. And the Democrats will never win so long as they alienate the base of the party.


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