A diary over at dKos got me thinking about what it means to be a moderate, and what has happened to the whole idea of political moderation.
In 1964, five years before I was born, Barry Goldwater made an infamous and damaging comment at the Republican National Convention. He said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
Lyndon Johnson had a potent retort, “Extremism in the pursuit of the Presidency is an unpardonable vice. Moderation in the affairs of the nation is the highest virtue.”
It’s a growing meme that the re-election of George W. Bush marks the final triumph of Goldwaterism. In many ways, I think this meme is a pile of crap. Goldwater was caricatured by the Democrats during the 1964 campaign, and his legacy has been similarly distorted and co-opted ever since. George Will actually had the temerity to say that Giuliani and Schwarzenegger’s 2004 convention speeches marked the return of ‘Goldwaterism’. George Will is a reliable idiot. Whether the current crop of Republicans owes anything to Goldwater’s political philosophy or not, the debate over moderation is alive and well.
Many of us are nostalgic for the days when moderation in the affairs of state was considered a virtue. We are not predisposed to be radical, intemperate, or overly partisan. And yet, that is exactly how we feel in the current political climate.
We feel marginalized, threatened, condescended to, angry, bitter, and in no mood for reaching for consensus. And we’re right to feel this way.
And that got me thinking about what it means to be a ‘moderate’. What does ‘moderate’ mean in a political context?
‘Moderate’ should mean that you believe in the two party system, that you think sanity lies near the center of both parties, and that the ideal government involves a broad cross-party center that does most of the work of building consensus, making compromises, and hammering out the details of legislation.
But we’ve lost that cross-party consensus, and while Iraq is not the only issue the blew it up, it was the biggest factor. In fact, longtime moderates like Biden and Kerry were swept up in the meat-grinder that destroyed moderation, and the validity of moderation. Once they realized that we were going to war in Iraq, they did the time-honored thing that moderates do. They tried to make the best of it. They tried to reach out to the UN, they tried to get Colin Powell to moderate and modulate the alienating rhetoric coming out of the White House and Pentagon. They tried to be patriots, in their own way. They were not rewarded.
The Bush administration ignored all the helpful advice that came from moderates in Congress, the State Department, the CIA, the salons of Washington and New York, and the pen of Tom Friedman. And the effect of this alienation was to destroy any consensus, or any middle, about what the ‘War on Terror’ means, why is should be fought, how it should be fought, or even whether it should be fought.
The fact that Iraq has been a complete disaster has had the effect of discrediting any moderates on the left who attempted to work on the ‘project’. And now, in return for their ill-fated cooperation on the biggest foreign policy initiative in two generations, they have been paid back with a list of nominees for our most important national security posts that most Democrats think should be in jail. Look at the list: Negroponte, Rice, Bolton, Chertoff, Gonzales, and Goss.
When a man like Dick Lugar tries to ram home a man like John Bolton, you know that there is no longer any room in the Republican Party for independent thought. They want to crush their opponents, humiliate them, irritate them…
Whatever Goldwater’s faults, this does not strike me as his legacy. His legacy, ironically, is that it is now we, on the left, that see no virtue in moderation. We see only resistance. We do not see ourselves as extremists, but our rhetoric is extreme. It is extreme because there is no longer any viable moderate center to appeal to.
Moderation is dead…for the time being. And Goldwater’s caricature is now the caricature of the left.
Man Eegee volunteered to make up a guide for the Newbie that would help newcomers navigate the site and understand all its features.
Boy!! did he do a good job. I am going to post his effort below so that we can have a comments period, and then I’ll integrate this masterpiece into the FAQ and create a new page for newcomers. Go below the fold. -Boo
Okay kids, for our exercise today, tell me what’s wrong with the headline.
I don’t know if all of you are familiar with Ray McGovern. McGovern is a former high level member of the Central Intelligence Agency, who has been a very vocal critic of the George W. Bush administration, and especially of the Iraq war. I cribbed the following from his official bio:
Let me recap. McGovern started out at the CIA during the Kennedy administration, when the agency was going through its first crisis with the Bay of Pigs. He worked his way up until he was given the responsibility for explaining the daily presidential briefing, (the most closely guarded document in the whole government), to Vice-President Bush and the other high ranking people responsible for protecting our country from Soviet attack. When he retired he received a medal for his distinguished service, and a pat on the back from G.H.W. Bush. Does this sound like a man who is qualified to tell us what the leaked Blair memo is all about? Does he sound like a biased person with an ax to grind?
I didn’t think so, and that is why I found his interpretations so revealing.
The documents are actually the official minutes of a July 23, 2002 briefing given by Richard Dearlove. Deerlove was then head of MI6, so his position was equivalent to George Tenet’s.
Mr. Dearlove, carrying out a duty very similar to McGovern’s job in the Reagan administration, briefed Tony Blair and his top national security officials about what he learned on his recent trip to Washington.
This is the fact that the American people need to understand. The stovepiping of information was not the fundamental problem with the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Stovepiping didn’t send William Safire onto a war-path, or transform Charles Krauthammer into a conspiracy theorist. They got their marching orders, just as George Tenet, Colin Powell, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi got theirs. The intelligence was faked. It did not exist.
First, Bush gave his axis-of-evil speech, which was basically a declaration of war on Iraq. It was obvious that we were not about to attack North Korea without the consent of South Korea. It was obvious that we would not attack Iran without first taking care of our ongoing disagreement with Iraq. As a reminder, this is what Bush said:
When we look back at January 2002, we remember that the country was still rattled. We were still worried that our mail was contaminated, we were afraid that new sleeper cells might be activated and cause enormous harm to the country. And we were still intensely angry. I remember looking to the President to give us some reassurance, to help calm our nerves, and to set out a series of policy proposals for fundamentally changing our foreign policy in the Middle East. But the President chose instead to make demonstrably untrue and unsupported allegations about Iraq, and to declare that he would not wait around to do something about them.
At the time, I was shocked by the bellicosity of his rhetoric. And I was also frightened by it. I didn’t doubt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Why else would he kick out the inspectors? So he could do an even better job of disarming himself?
Now the President was stating that we were going to topple his regime, and yet no plans or preparations had been made to follow through on the threat. I knew it would be at least a year until we would be ready to invade and I doubted Saddam would fail to craft a deadly defense, or even attack us preemptively. I thought the President was recklessly endangering the country.
But it was worse than that. Saddam did use his time to craft a deadly defense, and one that caught our military completely by surprise. But he didn’t have the WMD necessary to deliver a preemptive attack. And our intelligence agencies understood that. Even then, “the intelligence and facts (were) being fixed around the policy.” Richard Clarke told us this, Paul O’Neill told us this, and now Mr. Dearlove and Mr. Straw have told us this.
But, to make matters even worse, as Saddam busily planned for his post-war insurgency, six months passed by and the Pentagon had still done almost no planning for a post-war reconstruction.
And most outrageous of all, is the clear meaning of the following:
What does “initiated by an Iraqi casus belli” mean?
It can have only one meaning. As McGovern points out, we were prepared to fabricate an event that would serve as a pretext to attack Iraq. Anyone who claims the same for the war in Afghanistan is considered a loon. And I’m not suggesting 9/11 was an ‘Afghani casus belli’. But it is blood-curdling to realize that the Brits considered such an event a likely pretext for our shared war against Iraq. Does everyone understand the full meaning of those words? Does Larry King give a shit?
McGovern explains what this cynical attitude means for our intelligence agents, and the country:
And McGovern sums it all up with appropriate disgust:
No, outrage does not even begin to describe the complete disregard for decency, for the truth, for peace, for America’s credibility, for the the emotions of scared Americans…
There are not even words to describe these crimes and this betrayal.
***Note: My e-mail is not working right. I received an email from my wife at 6:25 that she sent at 3:00. I have not received other mail that I know has been sent to me. So, if you sent me an email, and I didn’t get it, please be patient. Once I get librarylil’s GMAIL invite, I will be ditching my piece of crap Verizon account. Thanks lil!
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