“We Answer to the Name of Liberals”

This “manifesto for liberals in the waning Bush era” by Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin deserves reading and discussion. I regret I am still under the weather and not up to thoughtful commentary, but Stirling Newberry wrote some lovely thoughtful commentary, so if you want thoughtful commentary go read Stirling. And there’s more thoughtful commentary by Chicago Dyke at Corrente.

I gave the Ackerman-Gitlin piece a careful reading to see how it defined liberalism. I endorse it in its entirety, but I realize some might object to paragraph 5, which begins “Make no mistake: We believe that the use of force can, at times, be justified. We supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.” I supported those also, although not without reservation. Reasonable people, including reasonable liberals, opposed those actions.

Then I read the discussion of the manifesto at Crooked Timber. Most of the commenters got hung up on paragraph #4, which begins “We believe that the state of Israel has the fundamental right to exist.” The “discussion” devolved into the kind of impossibly precious wankfest Monty Python skewered so beautifully in “Life of Brian.”

But, OTHER THAN paragraphs 4 and 5, what do you think? (If you want to argue about paragraph 4, go to Crooked Timber.)

Update: For another POV, see Digby.

16 thoughts on ““We Answer to the Name of Liberals”

  1. No, paragraphs 4 can’t be discussed at the CT either. It’s an article of faith, like the Holy Trinity.

    But of course we could discuss other very important statements, like “we are a republic, not a monarchy.”

  2. I have so many problems with this “manifesto” that it’s not worth a long reply, but we could start with:

    1) Throwing Palestine under the bus. They want to talk about Israel’s right to exist? Fine. But then let’s also talk about Palestine’s right to exist. Sheesh. It’s no wonder we don’t have any ongoing diplomatic endeavors in the ME if that’s how even-handed we’re prepared to be.

    2) The authors talk about the loss to our moral stature in the world by not adhering to the Geneva Conventions/reinterpreting the definition of torture. Not once do they mention that torture is viewed by a majority of people in the world as just plain wrong, as in wrong versus right. Let’s just come out and say “It’s wrong.” At least the authors weren’t afraid to say that we were lied into a war. If I hear the word “misinformation” one more time, I’m going to scream.

  3. grayslady — I don’t see that they’re “throwing Palestine under the bus.” The essential message of paragraph 4 (which I didn’t want to discuss!) is We support Israel’s right to exist BUT the priority of the U.S. should be an honorable Iraeli-Palestinian settlement.

    Regarding torture, it says,

    … security does not require torture or the rejection of basic guarantees of due process. To the contrary, this administration’s lawless conduct and its violations of the Geneva Conventions only damage our moral standing and our ability to combat the appeals of violent ideologues. By defending torture, the Bush administration engages in precisely the kind of ethical relativism that it purports to condemn. Meanwhile, it refuses to confront its responsibility for the human-rights violations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Having failed to plan for obvious contingencies, it has scapegoated low-level military personnel when it should be identifying and punishing broader command failures.

    I don’t understand what your objection is.

  4. r4d20 — for some reason, your earlier comments got caught in the spam filter. I don’t know why. Thank you for the video!

  5. My problem with it is that they didn’t actually define liberalism. They define it’s effects, a common problem for modern liberals I’m afraid.

    I went at it a while back, with the same complaint — that liberals talk about liberalism’s greatest hits rather than it’s underlying principles. The Wikipedia used to have it thus:

    Liberalism is a political current embracing several historical and present-day ideologies that claim defense of individual liberty as the purpose of government. It typically favors the right to dissent from orthodox tenets or established authorities in political or religious matters. In this respect, it is sometimes held in contrast to conservatism. Since liberalism also focuses on the ability of individuals to structure their own society, it is almost always opposed to totalitarianism, and often to collectivist ideologies, particularly communism.

    The word “liberal” derives from the Latin “liber” (“free”) and liberals of all stripes tend to view themselves as friends of freedom, particularly freedom from the shackles of tradition. The origins of liberalism in the Enlightenment era contrasted this philosophy to feudalism and mercantilism. Later, as more radical philosophies articulated their thoughts in the course of the French Revolution and through the nineteenth century, liberalism equally defined itself in contrast to socialism and communism, although some adherents of liberalism sympathize with some of the aims and methods of social democracy.

    And for my money that’s the leaping off point to discuss liberalism.

  6. I was listening to 2 pollsters argue but both saying Repubs have a clear message and Dems don’t stand for anything And I just wanted to tell them – it’s not what you say it’s what you do. At this point we know what the Republican party stands for- torture endlees war pedophilia covering up every thing they do no accountability no oversight no ethics. If the Dems win they have to ‘do’ What people say at this point means nada

  7. With or without the right Israel does exist and has existed for almost 60 years now. It has the third most powerful military in the world, stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; it’s been brutally occupying and colonizing the territory of a Palestinian state as well as parts of Syria and Lebanon, it refuses to resettle or compensate the refugees it created. Its history is a history of ethnocentric expansionist militant state, history full of wars and bloodshed. It destabilizes one of the most important regions in the world and, consequently, the whole world.

    These are the reasons some people feel that creation of Israel wasn’t such a great idea in the first place.

    If the good professors really wanted to address this situation, then “we support Israel’s right to exist”, is a strange way to do it.

  8. I just wanted to tell them – it’s not what you say it’s what you do….If the Dems win they have to ‘do’ What people say at this point means nada

    Having a plan makes “doing” a lot easier and with a higher chance of success.

    Of course, the Dems aren’t going to be in much of a place to “do” anything (assuming Republicans retain enough seats to obstruct Dem legislation) but at least Bush will also be able to “do” a lot less in his quest to subordinate the country to the Executive.

    What Bush may “do” is decide that no future gov’t will have the balls to start a war with Iran and give the order to bomb their nuclear facilities – which I think he rightly believes will start a tit-for-tat (another Hezbollah fiasco etc.) that draws us into a real War with Iran. For a sufficiently cycnical bastard it’s a smart move – you get the war you want and a hell of a house-warming gift to the next Dem president who will have to deal with the mess. I could be wrong – I hope I am.

  9. What I fear the Dems may do is focus on politics waste time attempting to start “investigations” of the president that the Republicans will be able to stop but which will provide Dems with opportunities to grandstand with an eye towards 2008.

    Sure, investigations are warranted, but if the Reps keep the strength to stop them from actually happening then the only purpose will be to score political points by engineering a confrontation that they hope will make the Reps look bad.

    Many left/liberals underestimate how much of the Republican anti-‘liberal’ rage is produced by Fear- they acctually believe “leftists” mean to put capitalists in camps etc. The “Stopping Nacy Pelosi is worth dying for” stuff is built on top that fear – fear they have spent decades inculcating in the minds of their listeners – and it only makes sense if you understand that many people are afraid of “radical leftists”.

    I think the best way to assauge this fear would be to resolutely stand up to the president on any future issues like the Torture bill while attempting to pass legislation to help the lower and middle classes, but to refrain from aggressively partisan moves like “investigations” that (right or wrong) are bound to meet massive Rep resistance, further polarize this country (and ‘confirm’ the fears of the right), and accomplish nothing more than the “Marriage Ammendment” did for the republicans.

  10. abb1

    If the good professors really wanted to address this situation

    But they didn’t want to address this situation. They wanted only to make a statement that American foreign policy should re-focus on enabling a just settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, instead of encouraging Israeli aggression as the Bushies have done. The nature of that settlement is left unstated and (obviously) is outside the scope of the document, WHICH IS ABOUT AMERICA, NOT ISRAEL.

    Not everything in the world is about Israel and Palestine.

    For the record, The Mahablog remains strictly neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian question, because frankly I think all parties have behaved badly, and the blame for Why It’s All Screwed Up should be liberally spread across both the Israelis and Palestinians.

    After reading the crap at Crooked Timber, I assure you I will not allow this thread to devolve into that level of anality (definition: the quality of being anal). Further discussion of paragraph 4 will be deleted.

  11. Appreciate that you keep diaries active for several days. Didn’t see your response, maha, until just this evening. In response to your response,

    1) Glad you’re neutral on Israel-Palestine. So am I. Neutral is not, IMO, starting off a paragraph by saying “Israel has the right to exist.” Neutral, to me, is starting off by saying “Both Israel and Palestine have the right to exist as independent nations”, or something like that. It just seems to me that whenever I see a comment on Israel, Palestine is treated as an afterthought: “Oh, and Palestine, too.” Perhaps I was unfair to the authors.

    2) I do understand that the authors are concerned about adhering to the Geneva Conventions. Never doubted it in my reading of the piece. It’s just that the whole article sounded so sanctimonious and contrived, even though the underlying thoughts were certainly valid. For example, I think most would agree that the statement “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” is forthright, clear and unlikely to confuse anyone with excess verbiage. I’m of the Howard Dean/Russ Feingold school of speech: when you have something to say make it clear and understandable; don’t bury it in unnecessary language. Therefore, my comment, why not just say “torture is wrong”? One can agree or disagree with that statement, but the point is clearly made. You would have written a much better piece, maha, than they did. You use a lot of words to express your thoughts, but you don’t drown in your own words. That’s my real complaint with the manifesto. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  12. You would have written a much better piece, maha, than they did.

    Um, well, yes, I think so too. 🙂 There are several spots I would have worded differently. Even so, I get what they were attempting to say (I think) and agree with it.

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