Saturday, December 11, 2004

The liberal repetition compulsion

Is it really possible that anyone who calls themselves a liberal is using the word "purge" in relation to the more progressive citizens who have aligned themselves with the Democrats of late? Is it possible that anyone who thinks of themselves as a Democrat is espousing the "get tough against communism" tactics of the ADA during the red scare?

I know I am more of a leftist than most people. I am, in fact, not a registered Democrat and I confess I voted for Nader in 2000. I think of elections in this way: Do I vote the way the world is or the way I want the world to be? In 2000 I chose the latter and Nader seemed to me to be the best alternative. I have since grown to despise him and I admit I was wrong; it was a dreadful mistake on my part to obscure the real differences between Gore and Bush because they are both in the back pocket of big business. During this past election, I threw my efforts behind Kerry and put aside my differences because I favor liberalism over totalitarianism and a fascist police state. While I don't feel well represented by the Democratic Party, I don't feel despised by them either...well I hope I don't...this is sort of the point.

Inspired by Peter Beinart's article in the New Republic, a host of blogs are calling for a "purge": excising Michael Moore, Moveon, and company from the Democratic rolls. Beinart argues that the Democrats must recreate themselves in the model of Americans for Democratic Action during the Truman era. Many have repudiated Beinart's call, but it shocks me that others are debating its merits or responding in a "yeah but" sort of fashion. I am not going to recapitulate the whole debate here. Many or most of you have probably been following it.

What I will say is democrats with a capital "D"--those of you who feel fully represented by the Democratic Party, who are more liberal than left--I am begging you not to go down this road. Please read some history about the red scare, the Truman Doctrine, and the ADA's role in redefining the Democratic Party. And I don't mean just liberal history; read some leftist history. The historical record makes it crystal clear that communist-hunting liberals, while not as vilified as McCarthy, hardly acted as a check on the grotesque treatment of leftist members of the government and Hollywood. Is this really where you want your party to go?

You don't have to like the progressive views. To be sure, we don't always like yours, but god help your party and the nation as a whole when you start talking about us as your enemies. Call me closed-minded, but the minute someone uses the word "purge" to describe a liberal course of action against a dissenter, I think we should just say "thanks for sharing" and move on. This is a classic case of social "repetition compulsion." Who will be the Ethel Rosenberg of this millennium?

My father was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He loved America very much, as do I, but he was a Jewish lawyer for the NLRB, and he would not roll over on his friends when brought before HUAC. My father cried when Nixon was elected; I was one of two kids at my elementary school who voted for McGovern in our mock elections. Seemingly, Nixon's obsessive pursuit of communists was not a factor for most people, or if it was, they applauded his role in bringing down Alger Hiss. Yet we all know the story of what came of Nixon don't we. One of the co-authors of All the Presidents' Men was the son of my father's best friend, Carl Bernstein. His dad, Al Bernstein, was also blacklisted. My dad and Al Bernstein, talented, principled attorneys, opened a laundromat together, having been effectively kneecapped in any legal career they might have had. By the time I can remember, my father was a real estate agent. And yet, he was never bitter about this country. He held onto the promise of America.

Many of us who grew up in families forever shaped by the savage persecution of the left, and frankly the Jews, during the McCarthy era, were weaned on the notion that we must always be vigilant to preserve the freedoms that are central to our national identity and the promise of our Constitution. At times we may align ourselves with more centrist liberals and at other times we may be more critical of them and feel it would too accomodationist to do so. But never in my life did I think that anyone who seriously considered themselves a Democrat would be calling for a return to the days gone by when the liberals turned on the left and ruined lives and executed an innocent woman. Shame on any liberal who speaks of "purges."

Let's be clear. This is not about whether or not I or any other potential purge candidates supported the war in Afghanistan or whether we are cognizant enough of the threat radical Islamic terrorists present to our country or even whether or not we politically benefit your party. This is about the role of hysteria in American politics, the sanctity of the rule of law, and the tolerance for dissent.

What a dark, dark time we are in.

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