Peter Beinart and Bonehead Liberalism

Peter Ross Range has apparently decided to help Beinart pimp a forthcoming book. This month’s issue of Blueprint Magazine features a Beinart article titled Tough Liberalism. A more accurate title would be Bonehead Liberalism: How To Lose In 2006 Without Really Trying.

Beinart begins his ill begotten excuse for military and foreign policy analysis with a nostalgic jaunt down the memory hole of the forties:

When John Kerry lost in 2004, I started in my despair reading about the late 1940s, the first years of the Cold War. That was the last time America entered a new era in national security. It started very fast in 1945 and 1946. And it was the last period where the country trusted liberals and Democrats to defend it.

Beinart introduces his article with a worry wart tendentious assumption that ignores President John F. Kennedy at the very least. Linking John Kerry’s loss to the Cold War Worriers of WWII is an imaginative leap of faith. Anyone that thinks Beinart could not possibly stoop any lower in historical revisionism does not know Peter Beinart.

Try this one on for size:

The issue was fundamentally about whether liberal Democrats would define liberalism only in opposition to the right wing or whether anti-communism would be placed at the heart of what it meant to be a liberal.

Beinart revisits that historical canard a little later in his article. There are two implied parentheticals to this argument, as well as Beinart’s entire thesis. The first one is that domestic social policy was irrelevant to defining liberalism in the 40’s and it is irrelevant today. The second is that the threat of terrorism is equivalent to the perceived threat posed by communism in the 40’s, which even ignores the extent to which communism was a hyped up threat both domestically and internationally in the 40’s and 50’s. In the meantime, Beinart attempts to solve the quandry of how Democrats should approach foreign policy, in light of the unpopularity of Bush’s Iraq war, by presenting the reader with a false dilemma:

As Will Marshall has pointed out, if you look at all presidential elections since the Vietnam War, the disturbing reality is the Democratic Party has only won in those moments when the country turned inward. Carter won in 1976, when the country turned inward after Vietnam. It was the first election since 1948 when national security was not the issue that people told pollsters they were most concerned about. Then Clinton won in 1992, in the aftermath of the Cold War.

If Beinart’s reliance on a foreign policy analysis by a feckless neo-con like Will Marshall were not alarming enough, a discerning reader can only be horrified by Beinart’s superficial analysis of Presidential politics, Beinart glosses over Watergate as a factor in Jimmy Carter’s election and ignores the Presidency of Bush 41 to credit Bill Clinton’s victory to the end of the Cold War. The absence of foreign policy as an issue in the electoral victories of Carter and Clinton are a very thin reed on which to hang prospects for Democratic success in either 2006 or 2008.

Beinart’s next paragraph echoes Rush Limbaugh’s early days as a burgeoning force on talk radio, when he constantly informed his listeners “that’s the truth” every twenty seconds:

The truth is this: Unless the Democratic Party can change its image on national security, its only realistic hope of winning the White House is the hope that the war on terrorism is a passing phenomenon that will be over in a few years. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t believe that. Most experts don’t believe that. Most people see this as a generational struggle. And yet, you have to go back pre-Vietnam to find a precedent for how the Democratic Party can respond in a way that will win the country’s trust. (emphasis added)

A discerning reader can only admire Beinart for his segue from shallow historical revisionism to a false dilemma. Is hoping that terrorism is a passing phenomenon really the only hope of the Democratic Party? With Bush’s ratings in the high thirties, flagrant and pervasive corruption dogging the Republican Party, pending indictments of key Republicans in and out of the Bush administration, the nose-diving popularity of Bush’s Iraq war and domestic policies as well, the Democrats don’t have any other option? One can only wonder at this stage if Beinart’s article is intended as spoof.

In the next three paragraphs Beinart boils down the period from 1946 to 1949 into three succinct and superficial paragraphs of highly questionable, if not deceitful, analysis. Beinart completes his faux historical analysis with a monumental inferential leap from the early 50’s to the elections of 2002 and 2004 and the Swiftboating of John Kerry.

Beinart demonstrates he is a student of Donald Rumsfield, if not history, by answering his own question:

What can we learn from that today? It seems to me there has been a kind of silent, hidden divide on the left in the Democratic Party since 9/11. It is akin to the divide that existed in the late 1940s. The fundamental question is again whether the proper prism through which to view this new world is anti-totalitarianism based on the idea that we face another totalitarian foe. Osama bin Laden has said that the Taliban comes closest to the vision of a society that al Qaeda would like — a fundamentally, even classically totalitarian, vision

Sub-silentio Beinart has introduced the classic paradigm of the incipient Democratic neo-con movement of Scoop Jackson and Jeanne Kilpatrick: Totalitarianism – bad. Authoritarianism – good.  Left wing totalitarian dictators America opposes – bad. Right wing totalitarian dictators America supports – good. By this point there is no longer any question that Beinart is also perpetuating the myth of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.  Beinart is in full fledged neo-con mode and insisting that the Democratic Part must follow the reactionary and dangerous path of never ending Neo-con war to win elections. The only lesson Beinart would have us learn from history is that we don’t learn any lessons from history.

I’ll dispense with boring our Seeing the Forest readers with additional extended analysis of Beinart’s tedious article and briefly debunk his four big points.

What would liberal anti-totalitarianism mean today?

The first thing it means is a comfort with military power.

Beinart’s first point is the self evident tripe of all political bromides.

The second point is that American power is far more than military power.

See Joseph Dye’s Soft Power

The third point is that you can’t fight a global war against totalitarian ideology if you’re weak at home.

More self evident and meaningless tripe.

My fourth point has to do with how you talk about democracy and freedom — essentially the idea that democracy begins at home

If Beinart wants the Democratic Party to rely on platitudes, allow me to add, “Home is where the heart is” and “The first journey begins with a single step.” Now we’re all set for a Democratic victory in 2006 and 2008. All I can add is Send In The Clowns. We can’t have a Presidential election without clowns now, can we?

The completely unanswered question in Beinart’s article is how “fighting liberals” are any different from full fledged reactionary neo-cons. Is there any difference between Beinart’s position and Samuel Huntington or David Horowitz? As far as I can tell, it is a distinction without a difference. Is there anything that separates Beinart from the neo-con wonks at The Weekly Standard? We can only hope that the Democratic DLC leadership isn’t as naive and historically ignorant as Peter Beinart, whose analysis is nothing short of a road map of how to go to political hell in a handbasket
Cross-posted at MyDD

2 thoughts on “Peter Beinart and Bonehead Liberalism

  1. Gary, I’ll never understand why sensible people spend so much time and energy discussing the writing of pseudo-liberals, DLCers, corporatist demo creeps, pundit elite idiots, et al.
    I honestly don’t know who Peter Beinert is. I don’t care who he is. I wouldn’t kow a damn thing about his horrible ideas except sensible people pay so much attention to him. Ditto, Kevin Drum and a large number of other people who deserve to be ignored, not treated like some modern thinkers of great thoughts.
    I just don’t get the fascination. I’m much more interested in what you say, not what you say about what some scumbag says.
    I’m arguing that I’m ignorant (of Beinert and the whole mob) and I like it that way. So what I’m saying is easily dismissed, but I hope you give it some consideration and spedn your time more valuably (in my opinion).

  2. You make a good point Richard. The problem is that Beinart is a mouthpiece for the so called Strategic Class that establishes the D.C. Washington Consensus and to a large degree sets the tone for the Democratic Party leadership.
    The fact that Beinart’s article is in the DLC magazine, Blueprint is an appalling indication that there is still very little difference between the Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy. We can only hope that John Kerry has started a trend by admitting his vote for the war was wrong.

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