Redefining Liberalism

George Will weighs in on the recent intra-liberal debate between the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner and the New Republic’s Peter Beinart. He believes the core problem of the modern Democratic party is that it shares Kuttner’s disdain for the values of the majority of the electorate and that Beinart’s prescription of a return the anti-totalitarianism of Harry Truman and John Kennedy is the only way to save the party. Will believes this an uphill fight:

But how do you begin reforming a base polluted by the Michael faction? Moore says “there is no terrorist threat” — that terrorism is a threat no greater than traffic accidents. MoveOn says that “large portions of the Bill of Rights” have been “nullified” — presumably, then, the federal judiciary also has been nullified.

When Moore sat in Jimmy Carter’s box at the 2004 Democratic convention, voters drew conclusions about the party’s sobriety. Liberalism’s problem with the Moore-MoveOn faction is similar to conservatism’s 1960s embarrassment from the claimed kinship of the John Birch Society, whose leader called President Dwight D. Eisenhower a Kremlin agent.

The reason that Moore is hostile to U.S. power is that he despises the American people from whom the power arises. Moore’s assertion that America “is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe” is a corollary of Kuttnerism, the doctrine that “middle America” is viciously ignorant.

Beinart is bravely trying to do for liberalism what another magazine editor — the National Review’s William Buckley — did for conservatism by excommunicating the Birchers from the conservative movement. But Buckley’s task was easier than Beinart’s will be because the Birchers were never remotely as central to the Republican base as the Moore-MoveOn faction is to the Democratic base.

I’m not so sure of that. While the Moore-Dean-MoveOn faction is better organized, more energized, and better funded, I still believe it represents a minority of Americans who identify with the Democrats. Even with its incredible fundraising success and momentum, the Dean train was ultimately derailed by the comparatively moderate John Kerry.

Beinart’s correlary point, though, that Democrats need to articulate a competing foreign policy vision, is correct. A party that tries to win elections based only on appealing to domestic interests will have much difficulty regaining the presidency in any period when national security threats are apparent. Kerry, afraid of alienating the Moore-MoveOn faction, failed to come up a foreign policy argument better than “George Bush is f’ing it up.” A Harry Truman wouldn’t have had that problem.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    As a matter of pure political efficiency, why would the United States need two major parties with the same official foreign policy?

  2. Cas says:

    IF John Kerry was considered a moderate, why is it that he was rated as having the most liberal voting record in the Senate?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Cas: Kerry was moderate, in the sense of being sober and responsible, compared to Dean.

    Jim: I don’t think the Dems need to mirror the GOP. They do need a policy position, though.

    Kerry could have gone to the right of Bush, arguing for the realism that most Democrats except Carter advocated during the Cold War. He could have gone left, outlining an actual plan for getting Europe and the UN aboard. Instead, he sounded hawkish or Deanish, whichever he thought convenient at any given moment.

  4. ken says:

    George Wills support of the incompetent, dishonest, and malevolent, Bush administration hardly qualifies him to comment on the need of the Democratic Party. He should worry about where his beloved leader is taking our country, not what Democrats can do to please people like him. Scew him.

  5. mishu says:


  6. b-psycho says:

    Ken, logically speaking, if George Will — George freakin Will — is feeling the need to give serious advice to the Democratic Party, couldn’t that be a sign that despite his alliegiance with the GOP he realizes the benefit behind having a strong opposition?

    If Sean Hannity had said it you’d have a point. But Will hasn’t exactly been shy of breaking from the pack, so painting it as the meaningless blurt of a drone is dishonest.

  7. LJD says:

    Rabid, hysterical, freaking-out, conspiracy theories, name-calling, self-loathing for the U.S., concessions for foreign terrorists, contempt for U.S. troops, extending constitutional protections to foreign terrorists, the U.N. is never wrong, Congress is always wrong, but it’s the GOP’s fault, the media is right-wardly biased, Michael Moore is a genius, Dan Rather is a patriot,….. I could go on.
    This is the new face of “liberalism”. Is it Moore-Dean-MoveOn, or is it Anjin-San, Ken, Kappiy? What is more despicable: The movement or those who buy it wholesale?

  8. ken says:

    What is dispicable LJD are conservatives like you who are traitors to American ideals. Your war on America is now being met by liberals who will defend America against enemies such as yourself who would take over our country and turn it into a fascist state where your Beloved Leader is never criticized.

  9. Mike says:

    Ken: You and your ilk are beneath contempt.

  10. ken says:

    Mike, If America depended upon conservatives like you to defend freedom we would still be under the crown. Our dollars would have picures of the Queen instead of George Washington. Your comments about me are what reactionaries have said about liberals throughout history. Why don’t you just go find another country, this one doesn’t need you.

  11. LJD says:

    I notice Ken hasn’t refuted any of the claims I made about the new liberalism in my earlier post…

    So now people with ideas different than yours are enemies of the American people… and the liberals will defend the country? Sounds kinda violent- have you talked to them about this? Does the DOHS know about you?

  12. ken says:

    LJD, I am not worried about the DHS knowing about me, not yet anyway. What I am concerned about is people like you who are willing to threaten police action to stifle criticism of yourself and of your beloved leader. If you are allowed to win in your war against America then no one will be safe.

    As long as we remain a free country the defenders of American ideals can withstand criticism. But people like you cannot. That is why you hope for a police state to enforce conformity of opinion. America cannot let that happen.

  13. Mike says:

    Ken: Reactionary is the last word anyone of sense would use to describe me. Your comments are over the top and it takes your criticism from something I’d seriously listen too, to something that is beneath contempt.

    For example, you through the word “fascist” around a lot. That’s no way to have a serious discussion.* Try treating your opponents with some respect. You haven’t as far as I can see, so your contempt earns my disdain.

    By the way, I’m not leaving my home. Certainly not before I get the word “liberal” back to meaning someone who is for human liberty, not the mutated worshipper of anti-American totalitarians it has become.

    *Unless you are discussing early Twentieth Century Italian political movements.

  14. Mike says:

    Read “throw” in place of “through” in the start of my second paragraph. Preview everything and still can’t get it.

  15. ken says:

    Mike, when your spashing in the mud and start claiming you would listen if only your opponent would show some respect you are just demostrating conservative hipocracy. Conservatives never listen. It is a rhetorical trick we see all the time. It makes me laugh.

    BTW, America doesn’t need you redefining it’s proud liberal tradition against tyrrany into something it is not. America would be better served if you took a stand against conservatives who hate our freedom.

  16. LJD says:

    I’m confused… Where did I threaten a police action? What is MY war against America?

    All I did was call a spade a spade. When people run off of the mouth about something they know very little, i.e. the military or what they’re doing in Iraq, I call them on it.

    My point all along is that crticsim gets you nowhere. It just emboldens the enemy and hurts our troops. If you are passionate about your cause, spend time coming up with some solutions to the problems you see.

    I don’t blindly follow any individual leader, idealogy, or person. I have put on the uniform of my country and stood for what is right. I have seen mass graves first hand.

    I am deeply disappointed by those in our country who take the sacrifices of those who serve so lightly. Especially when it amounts to no more than mimicking the whole Fahrenheit 9/11 propaganda. It is simply false.

    Stop the mudslinging. The election is over. If you don’t like something- fix it. Don’t drag our country’s good name down in the mud with you. We do much good in the world, more than any other nation. Some only want to see the negative.

  17. Mike says:

    Ken: You make my point better than I ever could.
    By the way, that’s a fine case of projection you have going there.
    Thank you very much for all your assistance.