The Attack on Liberals

“One who calls himself a liberal is nowadays diversely called by others a traitor, coward, parlor-pink, eclectic, jelly-fish, a selfish or muddy thinker who wants both to have his cake and eat it, rationalist, skeptic, conservative, radical…. But there is unanimity of opinion on one thing, namely, that liberalism is essentially negative, paralytic, and disintegrative. It’s boasted open-mindedness is nothing more than axiological anemia.”

Leslie Page, “Liberalism, Dogmatism and Negativism”, Journal of Social Philosophy, 5 (1940), p. 346; quoted in John Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, Chicago, 1993, p. 136

The illiberals have always been around. The above quotation is now 65 years old, and hatred of Roosevelt even before then had been virulent enough to motivate an abortive

coup attempt. Most of the big Roosevelt haters are dead by now, but illiberalism is the political philosophy of the dominant wing of the Republican Party. I doubt that anyone would have guessed, even a decade ago, that Social Security would be on the chopping block, but it is. (We seem to be winning that fight, but it’s hard to take any comfort in that; we’re fighting in our last ditch.)

As part of this attack have come a flurry of accusations that liberals are allied with Islamic terrorism. I’m not going to link, but these accusations have come from Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, John Hinderaker, Robert Conquest, and the fraudulently named Armed Liberal. None of these are marginal figures or populist talk-radio hosts; they represent the conservative mainstream.

The facts do not support the charge. Before 9/11, American sympathy for Islamic fundamentalism came mostly from the right wing, as I have documented here. Conservatives and Islamic fundamentalism share a bitter hatred of atheism, feminism, gay rights, sexual liberation, and secularism, and many or most Islamic fundamentalists are economically conservative..

Illiberalism has been charged up by Bush’s re-election, and they’re going to shoot for the moon. The gloves are off. Things that Oliver North and Michael Savage were saying five years ago are going to go mainstream. The hapless, bought media will whimper occasionally, but they aren’t capable of fighting.

I really don’t think that most Democrats have figured out what’s going on yet. I’ve thought for a long time that the controlling majority of the Republican Party is acting entirely in bad faith, and that we have to treat this as a street fight rather than as a faculty-lounge debate. The so-called rational conservatives and moderate Republicans, if they aren’t playing malicious games, are a hopeless, craven rabble which will never do anything. (Yes, John McCain, I mean you.)

Going around the left blogosphere I really feel that people haven’t gotten the word yet. All the things people are saying in response to these attacks are nice and reasonable, but when you’re accused of treason, a reasonable response is not appropriate. (The egregious Armed Liberal made a joke of this on the Crooked Timber comments, expressing surprise that the CT people were being all huffy, and not rational like him!)

This is looking like another Dukakis moment. When Dukakis was asked a hypothetical question about someone raping his wife, he made the mistake of thinking that he was in a rational forum and gave a detached, correct, policy answer about the death penalty. The problem wasn’t that he said the wrong thing about the the death penalty. The problem was that he should have taken it personally. What he should have said was something like “You son of a bitch, don’t you drag my wife into this!”

The sons of bitches are calling us traitors, and we need to take it personally. There are no good Republicans or conservatives except the ones who openly denounce this kind of smear. The rest of them are not fit to talk with. Rational discussion about this kind of thing will just make us look like weenies, and the Armed Liberals of the world will laugh at us.

(Written in part in lieu of a comment to this Crooked Timber post, since their comments are down.

I have fixed the bad link to the story of the coup attempt against FDR. It’s worth following. This forgotten episode of American history deserves more attention than it gets.)