Peter Beinart's urge to purge.

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 7 2004 9:17 PM

Will A Good Purge Save the Dems?

For Peter Beinart, it's 1950.

Save DeLay's Security First! According to the LAT, at a private meeting on Bush's Social Security plan, "Administration aides indicated they wanted to move quickly on legislation next year. But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) wanted to give higher priority to overhauling the tax code, because 'it was an easier sell' ...." Hmmm. Tax reform is hardly an easy sell, in conventional terms--especially if it involves eliminating popular deductions like the one for employer-provided health coverage. But, as noted earlier, tax reform is a proven generator of campaign contributions (from terrified corporations) and fees for lobbyists (hired by those same terrified corporations). It's the paradigmatic "juice bill."  If tax reform seems a real possibility, DeLay and any GOP lobbyists he's seeded up and down K Street will be rolling in money. I'm sure this had nothing to do with his decision to try to postpone Social Security. ... P.S.:  Unlike many Democrats (and Republicans!) I don't dislike DeLay. During  the 1996 welfare reform debate, it was good to have someone on the pro-reform side who would stand his ground and enforce a little discipline. But he does seem to be trying to run a political machine, with its attendant financial requirements. Bush might need to figure out a way to meet them. ... 6:09 P.M.

Beinart-Skipper:TNR's Peter Beinart argues that, just as liberals needed to purge non-anti-Communists from their ranks in the late 1940s, Democrats need to purge today's "heirs of Henry Wallace"-- specifically, Michael Moore and MoveOn--who do "not believe there is a terrorist threat." It's a powerful analogy, and running Moore out of the party might well give any Democratic candidate an essential anti-Souljah credibility. But!

1) Beinart says

The left's post-September 11 enthusiasm for an aggressive campaign against Al Qaeda--epitomized by students at liberal campuses signing up for jobs with the CIA--was overwhelmed by horror at the bungled Iraq war.

There are two rhetorical tricks at work here. First is the conceit, among Iraq war supporters, that what's gone wrong in Iraq must be the product of administration "bungling." There has been bungling, of course. But it's not at all clear that a lot of the problems we've encountered could have been avoided by the best planning and diplomacy in the world. Maybe there were big problems inherent in the whole project. This is the possibility--that the decision to go to war itself was wrong--that vehement talk of bungling conveniently excludes. Was what we've faced in Iraq really what even the editors of the New Republic thought we'd face?

2) The second trick is the cunning exclusion of a sensible middle position--the anti-terrorist, anti-Iraq War position. Beinart supports the Iraq invasion and wants to purge those who don't believe there's a terrorist threat. But what about the "decent left" that doesn't support the invasion but believes there's a terrorist threat? They're handled in the penultimate, to-be-sure paragraph, which declares:

[E]ven if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism.

True. But since we're right now in the middle of this particular Vietnam War, can we have a debate about it? Isn't that the big argument of the day? Beinart concedes at one point that Michael Moore and MoveOn don't even represent the vast mass of their own followers, let alone of anti-war Democrats.  Why then doesn't Beinart take on the majority of his opponents instead of focusing on the far-left 5%? Is it because that's a debate he wouldn't win? If the Vietnam War had been waged in 1947 at the start of the Cold War, even the anti-communist liberal luminaries gathered at the Willard Hotel might have spent some time fighting over it.

3) Otherwise, Beinart's whole Cold War analogy is perfectly apt. Except that  

a) "Islamist totalitarianism" isn't a state phenomenon the way Communist totalitarianism was (which Beinart acknowledges in passing);

b) Angry Islamists in 2004, unlike angry Communists in 1947, are increasingly empowered by ever-more-available technologies of mass destruction (something Beinart doesn't acknowledge);

c) Attacking Communism didn't threaten to radicalize hundreds of millions of otherwise peaceable socialists the way frontally attacking Islamic fundamentalists threatens to radicalize hundreds of millions of Muslims (another way of saying that the "clash of civilizations" has a self-fulfilling quality that the twilight struggle against the Soviets did not); and

 d) We never did anything as agressive, in the course of successfully containing communism, as what we've already done in the course of combatting Islamic terror (i.e. invading Iraq).

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