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And now, from David Brooks, the Order of Stakhanov

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April 6, 2002

Native and narrative From “Nation and Narration”, by Michael Berube:
The fissure on the left that began in 1989-90 and became visible in Kosovo is now a chasm. In retrospect, Kosovo didn’t have quite the impact on the left it might have, partly because conservatives also opposed that operation on the grounds that Clinton had ordered it (by 1999, Clinton could have launched a campaign against childhood diseases and House Republicans would’ve responded by declaring measles a vegetable and bundling it into school breakfast programs), partly because of Monica, and partly because it was shrouded in murk from Srebrenica to Rambouillet. But many of the most vocal opponents of the U.S.96led NATO intervention in Kosovo are now the most vocal opponents to the U.S.96led intervention in Afghanistan, which suggests two things: first, that the fact of civilian deaths on U.S. soil is in an important sense immaterial to their position on U.S. policy, and second, that on the grounds they offer today, they will never support another American military action of any kind. Permanently alienated by Vietnam, by Chile, by Indonesia, or by Reagan’s deadly adventures in Central America, they’re gone and they’re not coming back, not even if hijackers plow planes into towers in downtown Manhattan.

The right is just gleeful about this, of course, because it needs the Chomskian left for effigies, hate minutes, election-year fundraising and general vituperation. Christopher Hitchens seems pretty happy as well, since he gets to settle a bunch of old scores and coin acerbic new phrases like “the Milosevic left” and “the Taliban left.” But for all my sympathy with Hitchens, I cannot share his sense of exhilaration; instead, as I watch that shard of the left sailing away, I modulate between relief and sorrow. Relief, because the break is decisive and clarifying, highlighting all those who cannot use the word “heroes” without scare quotes, all those who cannot bring themselves to utter anything about freedom and democracy if doing so will make them say words that might also have come from the mouth of a conservative. Sorrow, because there will soon come a time when I am going to miss these people, when I am going to wish they had some clout in domestic politics. Not because I will agree with them, necessarily, but because—unlike liberals—they do not make compromises, and they know how to get mad. Liberals are good at patient deliberation and stress abatement in the Mister Rogers mode, which is why conservatives simply tear them from limb to limb whenever anything important—like, say, a Presidential election recount in southern Florida—is at stake: while the liberals hold a seminar on the lessons of 1876, Tom DeLay flies in a bunch of goons to stop the recount by force. Liberals like that image of themselves: so what if those firebreathing yahoos run the country? At least we’ve got our sanity and our Birkenstocks. But for precisely this reason, liberals are not very good at organizing demonstrations and mass protests when the President announces the creation of military tribunals or the abrogation of client-attorney privilege in cases where the client has an Al- in his last name. How many liberals stood up and shamed John Ashcroft when he appeared before the Senate on December 6 and impugned the patriotism of civil libertarians? How many liberals voted against the USA-PATRIOT act? How many liberals took to the streets when Bush issued Executive Order 13233, overturning the Presidential Records Act and closing the archives on the Reagan-Bush years? Who’s kidding whom? This is just not the kind of thing liberals do these days.

But there’s still plenty of mobilizing to do on the domestic front for everyone who prefers democracy to mild totalitarianism, and this should include everyone from William Safire to Katha Pollitt. The narrative of that struggle will doubtless be experimental and self-reflexive and full of postmodern historiographic metafiction in the mode of Ishmael Reed and E. L. Doctorow, but if it’s going to be a narrative any of us will want to tell our children at night, first we’re going to have to remind liberals how to get good and mad.

Sorry for the long quote. Wait a minute, that’s milquetoast liberal-speak. Not sorry for the long quote! Go read the whole article. [11:55 PM]
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Comments on Native and narrative:

Andrea Harris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2002, 12:34 PM:

"[...]whenever anything important--like, say, a Presidential election recount in southern Florida--is at stake: while the liberals hold a seminar on the lessons of 1876, Tom DeLay flies in a bunch of goons to stop the recount by force."aa?aaAh, well do I remember the dreadful day when my state was invaded by jackbooted, AK-47-bearing thugs! Marshal law, nine-pm curfews, fear was in the air! I huddled with my cat in the darkness of my apartment, behind the blackout curtains, listening to the sirens and the screams of the voters, and shivered, wondering when it would all be over. Now it all seems like a dream...aaBut anyway.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2002, 02:09 PM:

Of course, Berube is referring to events such as the Palm Beach courthouse riot, planned and committed by Republican congressional staffers flown in for the occasion. aaI think it's possible for reasonable people to disagree about details of how the 2000 election was resolved. But just as we've found, post 9/11, that certain America-deserved-it views reliably distinguish the dishonest from the thoughtful on the Left, I also find that a certain kind of yobbish triumphalism about November 2000--the attitude epitomized by the Republican consultant who bragged that "we stole the election fair and square"--is a useful indicator in the task of distinguishing thoughtful conservatives from worshippers of power.