Peter Beinart, editor of the The New Republic, proposes in their latest magazine that Democrats stop all this unity nonsense and get down to what’s really important: purging the party of all those wrong-headed “softs” who don’t have the backbone to stand up (really stand up) to the new totalitarian threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Their failure to “report for duty” (Beinart specifically mentions only MoveOn and Michael Moore but I think his criteria for softness would also implicate most of the liberal blogosphere, most Dean campaign activists, a good chunk of the leadership of the 527s and countless others within the party) cost the Democrats the White House in 2004 and will do so forever until Democrats decisively remove them from power and influence in the party. Yes, it’s purge time in the glorious spirit of the late ’40s actions against Communists and those soft on them within the Democratic party.
Boy, what a great idea: a massive, no-holds-barred faction fight about who’s really tough on terrorism. That may make the blood course in Beinart’s veins, but I guess I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary.
For one thing, his prescription seems more suited to, say, the Democratic party of the late ’40s than it does to the actually-existing Democratic party of 2004. Noam Scheiber, who is actually quite hawkish himself, makes this point in considerable and, in my view, devestating detail in a comment on Beinart’s piece on the TNR website.
Also on the TNR website, John Judis takes Beinart to task for a political prescription that won’t work and a complete misunderstanding of MoveOn and Democratic-oriented internet activism in general. I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a couple of key paragraphs from Judis’ article but I urge you to read whole piece:
Initiating factional warfare with, or even purging, everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman will not create a viable Democratic Party. Okay, that may be an exaggeration of what Peter prescribes, but there are clear echoes in his essay of Ben Wattenberg’s Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which tried to do something similar after the 1972 Democratic defeat by creating a party centered around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The voters didn’t buy it, and they won’t buy Peter’s party either.
Peter also misunderstands MoveOn.org and the various other Internet-based groups that have sprung up in the last five years. They are not an old-fashioned militant left but part of a college-educated post-industrial center-left politics that was developing under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. One of their big issues was the deficit, hardly a left-wing concern. They became identified with “the left” because they were early and prescient opponents of the Iraq war–a position that can no longer simply be identified with the left and that is not a reason to criticize them. Sure, they shouldn’t have participated in marches with the Workers World Party, but these new movements are organized by people who don’t have long political pedigrees. If anything, they are the best hope for a new moral vision that will animate the Democrats.