Sunday, December 05, 2004

Democrats on Terror

In a New Republic article, Peter Beinart argues that to be taken seriously on the anti-terrorism issue Democrats need to purge themselves of the likes of Michael Moore and MoveOn. His particular gripe with them is that they have been soft on anti-terrorism measures and that by allowing them to speak as prominent Democrats the party risks being viewed as hewing to their opinions and being rejected as a party by those who view terrorism as a greater threat than they do(funny how the Republicans don't seem to suffer by association with the likes of Robertson, Fallwell, Coulter, and any number of other rightwing spokesmen espousing decidedly anti-democratic views).

Beinart believes that MoveOn trivializes the threat to this country of terrorism while inflating the threat posed to freedom by the Patriot Act. Here, as in many areas, Beinart and the New Republic espouse a view virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush Administration. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are able to kill large numbers of Americans and frighten many more Americans, but they cannot defeat this nation nor can they, on their own, undermine our values. By values I don't mean lying to children about sex and banning gay marriage. I mean placing limits on government interference with individual liberty. Placing limits on government's ability to pry into peoples' private lives.

It may be that for our government to effectively battle the terrorism threat it needs the power to find out what books we check out from the library or buy at Barnes and Noble. It may be that air travelers need to be subjected to ever more intrusive public searches before being allowed to board airplanes. It may be that government agents need to be allowed to sneak into peoples' houses without warrants, snoop around, then return later with a warrant obtained with the fruit of the initial search. All of these things are now part of our lives. They weren't before 9/11. They may be trivial. They may not be. They weren't debated before they became part of our lives. In fact, the terrorism threat itself has never been seriously debated. After 9/11, Bush declared war on terror and most of the country went along. Now the New Republic wants those that paused to question why, such as Michael Moore and MoveOn, banished from the Democratic Party. I think instead of that we ought to have a dialogue within the party. Let's talk about the threat to this nation that terrorism actually poses and then maybe we can assess how much we need to or should give up to battle it.

Beinart complains that the Democratic Party does not have a coherent or aggressive enough anti-terrorism policy. Before deciding that, perhaps the party needs to decide the more elementary questions first. It's a little late for that, I admit. But before we go too far down the wrong path, wouldn't it be prudent to pause and look at the map?

The New Republic has been suffering a severe identity crisis in recent years. It still wants to honor its liberal roots but seems to want to be seen as a pragmatic spokesman for liberalism. This practice of calling itself liberal while defending Republican actions puts the magazine and Beinart squarely in the camp of Joe Lieberman, Mickey Kaus. They're a kind of Zell Miller-Lite.

(Update: Atrios addresses some of this, probably better than I have, here.
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