TRB: The Good Fight

Last week, I wrote a cover story in The New Republic arguing that the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism should define contemporary liberalism, as the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism defined liberalism during the early cold war ("A Fighting Faith," December 13). This week, I waded through responses--some supportive, some critical, some both. The most surprising came from Kevin Drum, who writes the blog Political Animal at washingtonmonthly.com.

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A Fighting Faith

On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country ...

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Incorrect Answer

It took only a few sentences on Wednesday for Donald Rumsfeld to demonstrate why he is both morally and strategically unfit to serve as secretary of defense. In a townhall-style meeting at a staging area in Kuwait, Rumsfeld was asked by Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard why soldiers were forced "to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic [i.e., bulletproof] glass to uparmor our vehicles?" There was a short pause, and then many of the 2,300 troops in attendance erupted in cheers and applause.

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Not What They Do

The New York Times recently made the alleged hypocrisy of red-state voters front-page news. A Bill Carter piece, which ran under the sneering headline "Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like their Television Sin," observed that ABC's show "Desperate Housewives" ranks high in the Nielsen ratings in many red states.

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Own Up

The presidential election is over and "values" won. Political observers seem united on this essential point--the reelection of George W. Bush was an affirmation of Republicans and their values and a repudiation of Democrats, who apparently lack them. How could it come to this? Through the years, we have always prided ourselves on being champions of the values that working people and the electorate care about most: fairness, opportunity, inclusion, and responsibility. But, this time around, we didn't frame our message on these ideals persuasively enough.

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Rigor Mortis

Yasir Arafat buried the political careers of three Israeli prime ministers, Ariel Sharon liked to tell confidants, referring to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. But, Prime Minister Sharon would add, he won't bury me. With Sharon's goal of outlasting Arafat seemingly close to fruition, there's satisfaction in the prime minister's office, but little joy. That's because the new Palestinian leadership that succeeds Arafat almost certainly won't deliver on Israel's nonnegotiable demands for renewing peace talks: disarming terrorists and dismantling their operational command.

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Turn On

George W. Bush and John Kerry probably differ more on energy policy than on any major issue except abortion, yet news organizations have said barely a word about their positions. Energy policy ought to be a limelight issue this election year. Congress has not passed an energy bill in more than a decade. Oil consumption and oil imports continue to rise. Natural gas prices are high and supplies are tight. Average fuel efficiency of new cars is the lowest in 15 years. The United States continues to supplicate to Persian Gulf dictators for petroleum.

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Fictional Character

If you have read any of those "man on the street" newspaper stories about the election this year, you've probably read something very much like the following. It's a Baltimore Sun interview with Shirley Irwin of Dunbar, West Virginia:Irwin, a 64-year-old lifelong Democrat, says things have been "terrible" during the nearly four years that Bush has been in the White House. She's scared that he's "ruined" Medicare and would do the same to Social Security, the programs she depends on to get by.

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Winner Take All

Forget all the one-liners and policy details for a moment. Looking back over the three debates, what is the biggest change in the presidential race since Bush and Kerry took the stage in Miami on September 30? Without a doubt it is the fact that Bush's year-long effort to define John Kerry has been undermined. Kerry won the first debate because most Americans found out he wasn't the guy they had been told about in Bush's ads.

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I've never thought the chances of John Kerry winning this fall were very good, since it's become clear these last four years that George W. Bush and his advisers are more cynical and ruthless than pretty much any group of politicos in the country's history. I figured that even if the race got close--or, God forbid, Kerry surged to a late lead--Rove et al. would pull some dirty trick and that would be that. This may still happen--the forthcoming anti-Kerry "documentary" being exhibit A in this brief. But, after last night, I'm not sure it matters.

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