Michael J. Totten

Saturday, May 10, 2003

The Fog of Democratization

In a previous post I noted that the Web site for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan published one of my pieces. The link to my piece on their site is now dead, and they seem to have taken it down.

I'm not sure why yet, but I have an idea. Now that Iraq has been liberated from the Ba'ath Party, new political parties are forming. And naturally they are competing with each other. The PUK may have been asked to take it down by one of their competitors.

I got an email from Hiwa Talabany, who claims to be the president of the Iraqi Liberal Democratic Party. This party is brand new, and a Google search of "Iraqi Liberal Democratic Party" produces zero hits.

I am not saying the letter addressed to me is a fraud or that the party doesn't exist. I don't know, and it's not surprising either way since new parties are being created from scratch, and little has been written about them yet. That could easily explain why Google can't help me here. I did, however, find a letter to the editor at the Turkish Daily News that appears to be written by the same person.

Here is Hiwa Talabany's letter, in full.

Dear Michael

Thanks for your article about the process of democratisation in Iraq.

I have however, some points which I would like to clarify for you.

First of all, I agree that Mr Salih who I know personally, has made in to an excellent PM for the KR but I must correct you that he has never contested any elections neither in becoming the member of PUK's Leadership Committee (LC), the Politu Beauru Nor more importantly the Prime Minsterial post.

I have to stress that imporatant of facts instead of myth and I would kindly ask you to correct these mistakes as soon as possible.

The second point I would like to make is that although MR Salih is popular in part of Kurdish region ( Under PUK control) for most part is due to the influnece of Mr Jalal Talabany the PUK leader and not for his own popularity. To understand these issued you must first study the fabrics of Kurdish society which is far from democratic. Both parties PUK and KDP are almost part democratic and part dictatorship.. As for e.g. both Mr Talabany and Barzani were not really elected in the process of elections within their won parties but were re-given the posts they have held since 1975 for Talabany and 1979 for Barzani.

I hope you take these comments kindly and good luck for future.

Yours sincerely

Hiwa Talabany BA(Econ) , ACCA
Iraqi Liberal Democratic Party

I am by no means an expert on Iraqi Kurdistan. I have studied it a bit, but some of this stuff is controversial and I still have much to learn.

I checked with my historian friend Andrew Apostolou (a very kind and helpful person) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and he said Dr. Barham Salih "was internally elected, although he was nominated by Jalal Talabani." I asked if he knew anything about the Iraqi Liberal Democratic Party, and he didn't know either. He said "The Iraqi political scene is very crowded now. Things will settle down soon. It is sexy to be a liberal and a democrat."

This is the fog of peace, but I'll report it as best I can. It's hard enough to get this right if you're in Baghdad, and even harder if you're in Portland.

Great News

The odds that Iraq will become a theocratic state just plunged like Enron stock.

CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq - Surrounded by American tanks, an Iranian opposition group under orders to surrender agreed Saturday to turn over its weapons and submit to the demands of U.S. forces, Army officials said. The United States used the occasion to warn other forces not to assert power.

Representatives of the Mujahedeen Khalq operating near Baqubah, 45 miles northeast of the capital, struck the agreement after two days of negotiations with U.S. forces. Their capitulation was reported by the U.S. Army's V Corps headquarters in Baghdad.

"V Corps has accepted the voluntary consolidation of the Mujahedeen Khalq forces and subsequent control over these forces," V Corps said in a statement Saturday night. It said the process would take "several days" to complete.

It added: "When this process is completed, it will significantly contribute to the coalition's mission to set the conditions that will establish a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq.

The stock of foreign policy optimists is way up.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Liberal Iraqi News and Views

A recent post of mine promoting Dr. Barham Salih was republished by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

I am pleased to be featured there. It is an official Web site, run by the Kurdish regional government in the north of Iraq, but it isn't propaganda. It certainly has a point of view, but it's a point of view I happen to share, and it's a point of view you probably share too if you tend to agree with me.

If you want to learn about Kurdistan, and if you want to read intelligent news and commentary from a liberal Iraqi point of view (and the point of view of the friends of liberal Iraqis), it really is an excellent place to start.

Decency and Political Discourse

I have received a greater volume of email and commentary than usual recently, and I have appreciated almost all of it. There have been some trolls (see the next post), but for the most part my supporters and critics have been kind, decent, and smart. I am more grateful than you know. I don't write just because I like to see my words on the screen. It's about communication with other people, and real communication goes in two directions. If I haven't answered your email, I promise you that I read it.

And so I think you will appreciate the guest blog at Winds of Change today by Francis W. Porretto. He is a conservative, and I don't agree with everything he says here, but I sure do agree with the spirit of it. It's called Decency and Political Discourse, and it is worth everyone's time and attention.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

My Trolls

I don't have a comments section, but I still get trolls. You don't often get to see them, but I do. They leave droppings in my inbox, and they post comments on discussion boards. I enjoy observing other people's trolls. I think you can learn about a person from who their trolls are, so I thought I'd share today.

You know trolls. They're not the one's who disagree. I'm fine with disagreement. Trolls are the people who call you names and are not interested in discussion. They don't want an argument, they want a fight.

My trolls have patterns. Other people's trolls probably have different behavioral patterns, but my trolls are my own.

My left-wing trolls rarely email me. They leave their droppings elsewhere, on dicussion boards or in other another blogger's comments. I think it's because they like the attention, but that's just a guess.

Many of them commit the straw man fallacy. They distort my argument to make it an easy target, and then they attack that distortion. I say the sky is blue, and they say I am "ignorant" because the sky is obviously not purple.

Sometimes they don't even bother to do that. They just say I'm stupid and call it a day. No counter argument, I'm just a twit. They don't address what I actually say. That's what makes them my trolls.

My left-wing trolls either cannot discuss or they cannot read.

You can observe some of my left-wing trolls here. (Not all my critics here are trolls, but many are.)

My right-wing trolls are different. They like to email me. They don't sign their emails, and they have funny email addresses that conceal their names. They imagine all kinds of personal details about me that aren't true. Maybe I'm Jewish. Or I'm a Communist, I get that one all the time. Occasionally I worship The Devil, and sometimes I earn a six-figure salary from the Secularist/UN/Comintern cabal.

My right-wing trolls sometimes threaten me with physical violence. No left-wing troll has ever done that.

You can observe one of my right-wing trolls here, and another one here.

I hope you enjoy my trolls. I sure do.

Please Remain Calm

In Portland, Oregon where I live this sort of thing is incomprehensible.

Georgia Governor Approves New Flag, Urges Calm

ATLANTA - Backing away from a promise to allow voters the chance to resurrect a flag linked to slavery and segregation, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday approved a compromise banner for the southern state.

'We as a state must heal the wounds, unite and move forward,' Perdue, a Republican, said shortly before signing a bill to replace a non-descript blue flag adopted in 2001 with one resembling a banner that flew in the state prior to 1956.

The new flag, which has three red and white stripes and the state coat of arms on a blue field in a corner, was raised atop the capitol building in Atlanta just minutes after the signing.

Its appearance prompted shouts of 'Sellout' and 'Stalin' from a small group of white protesters who favored a return to a 1956 flag that contained a giant rebel cross honoring the pro-slavery Confederacy.

First of all, I am only vaguely aware of what my state flag looks like. And I'll bet you I have a more concrete picture in my head than most Oregonians. If we get a new flag, no one will care. The governor will not urge calm.

Then again, we don't have a tradition of lynching and slavery that we're supposed to be proud of. We're proud of our beaches, our trees, and our smart urban planning.

And what's this business with calling a Southern Republican Stalin? I thought Bush was Hitler and the Democrats were supposed to be Stalinists.

Are You a Kook, or What?

Mike Silverman put together a brilliant and hilarious chart which tells you if you're a liberal, a left-wing kook, a conservative, or a right-wing kook. (Note: He compliments me in this post, but that is not why I linked it. I linked it because it's smart and made me laugh out loud at least eight times.)

Great Letter

Rich Shultz emails:

So I got this bottle of good Scotch for Christmas, a sure sign of creeping conservatism, decided I would have a shot every time I heard somebody on my local community access radio station, (WORT 89.9. Madison, Wisconsin) say two sentences in a row about Saddam or Iraq without mentioning George Bush. The seal on the bottle has yet to be broken.

On the other hand, if you took a shot every time a caller say's "Everyone agrees Saddam is a terrible dictator, BUT...", you could get hammered.

Victor Davis Hanson had a great solution to this problem a few months back. Replace the word "but" in your thinking with "therefore" and you'll get your act together. Everyone agrees Saddam is a terrible dictator, therefore...

My Strongest Recommendation

I said this before, but I feel the need to say it again.

Paul Berman is a genius. And he has just published Terror and Liberalism, the best 9/11 book yet.

Don't just take my word for it. George Walden agrees.

This is the best book I have read on Muslim fundamentalism and what to do about it. Paul Berman writes in the excellent American weekly The New Republic. His self-description as a Social Democrat suggests a European approach to the Middle East, yet his intelligence, breadth of culture, honesty and courage are a world away from the moralistic grandstanding of slithy toves like Chris Patten, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer. The clarity of his thought cuts through their evasions like a knife through butter, as Berman looks the evil of totalitarian Islam in the face.

Read the rest, and buy it.

Off the Balcony

We liberals are in sorry shape. Might as well just admit it and be done with it. I mean, really.

When sort-of-liberal Matt Welch links to this article by lefty writer Marc Cooper, and then I go and post it on my own site, we're toast. We just blew the 2004 election. Might as well wallow in the gloom.

An American friend of mine visiting from South America walked away from one of last month’s parties around the L.A. Times Books Festival rather shaken and bewildered. “I felt like I was in a loony bin,” he said as we emerged from a chic book-launch party in the Hollywood Hills. “If one more crazy person came up to me with some crackpot theory, I swear I would have thrown him off the balcony,” he said.

I know what he meant. With the 2004 presidential campaign now under way, it seems clear that as whacked out as George W. Bush may be, he’s driving his opponents even crazier. Nothing short of some sort of mass hysteria has gripped everyone to the left of Condi Rice.


Well, I'm left of Condi Rice and I still have it together. Matt Welch seems to be in one piece, and Christopher Hitchens is doing better than ever.

Some of our friends need an intervention.

A Fisking

In the interest of promoting left-on-left squabbling, I give you this article where liberal columnist Richard Cohen fisks The Nation and all it represents in the pages of the Washington Post.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Promoting Dr. Salih

Here is Thomas Friedman on democracy-building in Iraq:

[W]hat the smartest experts in the democracy field all seem to agree on is that this interim Iraqi authority should not focus on holding national elections — the hardware of democracy. Elections should come last. Instead, it must start with the software — building, brick by brick, the institutions of a free society — so that when people do get to vote, when national power is up for grabs, they have a range of choices and can be assured that there will be a rotation of power.

This is exactly right. And this is exactly what has already been achieved in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq.

The Kurds built the software, as Friedman puts it, for stable liberal democracy. They did it all on their own. No foreign power occupied the region. It was protected from Saddam's regime by a no-fly (and no-drive) zone, but the Kurds made their own bed. They built democratic insitutions without being told to do so by anybody.

It was messy; think Russian democratization rather than Czech democratization. Nevertheless, groping toward democracy was the natural thing for the Kurds to do once left alone by Saddam. The proof is in the history.

This, more than anything else, gives me hope for the rest of Iraq. If the Kurds had created Islamic theocracy, as they could have had they wanted to, I would be very very worried right now.

I wonder if it has occurred to anyone in the Administration to push for a Kurd to lead the interim government. Dr. Barham Salih, the Prime Minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, would make an excellent choice. He is an Iraqi patriot, a liberal democrat, a serious human rights advocate, and he's the only person in Iraq who has already won a popular election.

You can read an interview with him from early last year here. He is a good man, perhaps the best in that country. Read the interview and find out why.

Great Debate

Yesterday's piece "Builders and Defenders" (see the next post down) generated lots of great feedback on other blogs and in my inbox. Thanks to everyone who weighed in. Some of the smartest people around read my site, and I've learned a lot from reading everyone's comments. I'm not just saying that, it's true. Some of you changed my mind about a few things.

I encourage everyone to follow the links to commentary on other blogs at the bottom of the "Builders and Defenders" essay. All of them are good. Just scroll down.

UPDATE: The response to this piece is predictably mixed. I never intended it to be the last word on anything; it is the first word, an opening. The amount of inspired debate is a pleasant surprise. I think Geoff Pynn understands best what my objective is. He left this comment at another site, and his own blog Too Much Text, is, I think, indispensable and underappreciated.

Of course Michael's piece has an argument. It runs something like this:

1. I've noticed A, B, and C.
2. A, B, and C suggest D.
3. Therefore, the possibility that D is true is worth thinking about.
4. E and F could explain D.
5. Therefore, E and F are worth thinking about, too.

The piece is best read with this in mind.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Builders and Defenders

After September 11 I discovered an intellectual weakness on the left that I never noticed before. For some reason, perhaps for several reasons, liberals and leftists are bored by the outside world. Compared with conservative magazines, publications like The Nation and The American Prospect rarely feature articles about what happens in other countries. They'll do it occasionally, but almost always in the context of how it relates back to America. The Nation might report on the effects of Iraqi sanctions, but rarely does it publish anything about Iraq in its own context. If you want to learn about the history of the Ba’ath Party, Saddam’s human rights abuses, the fate of the Marsh Arabs, or Iraqi public opinion, you have to seek out magazines and journals of the center and the right.

Liberal blogger Gary Farber noticed something similar.

One problem I see is that only some leftists I know have actually engaged in a years-long course of education in the history of international politics (no, Howard Zinn isn't sufficient), or long study of military theory and history, or even, in many cases, long study of political history that isn't simply doctrinaire propaganda from a similar didactic point of view.

These two phenomena are, I think, very closely related. Those bored with foreign countries generally are less likely to study international politics and history.

Liberals think of themselves as more worldly than conservatives. This is true in some ways, but not so in others. It seems (to me) that liberals are more likely to travel, and are more likely to visit Third World countries in particular. (If you meet an American traveler in, say, Guatemala, odds are strongly against that person being a Republican.) Liberals are more likely to listen to “world music,” and are more likely to watch foreign films. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to study the negative consequences of American foreign policy. But that’s about it. If you want to find a person who knows the history of pre-war Nazi Germany, the Middle East during the Cold War, or the partition of India and Pakistan, you’re better off looking to the right than to the left.

I am astonished and dismayed to discover this. I’m a life-long liberal and I devour history like food. Not until after September 11 did I learn I’m a minority on the left.

This is a broad generalization and there are, of course, lots of exceptions. The New Republic and Dissent both publish excellent analyses of international relations and foreign policy. You can learn a lot about history and current events abroad by reading these magazines. And it isn’t all filtered through a partisan lens. But look at other left magazines like The Nation. Foreign policy is unmentioned except as an excuse to whack the Bush Administration. Read The Weekly Standard and National Review and you can easily find articles about, say, China or Iran. Many of these articles could easily have appeared in The Nation or other left magazines, and yet they didn’t. Presumably the editors are bored with the subject, or their writers don’t know enough to write about it.

It’s easy to find writers on both the left and the right who lack historical knowledge. But I find this far more often on the left. This is not a partisan point I’m making. I’ve been on the left forever, and I have no reason whatever to shill for the right.

Look at my links on the left panel. I included a list of what I call “good conservatives.” I did this for one reason only, the same reason I read them myself in the first place. I learn more about world history from them than I learn from the left. I have little interest in what National Review says about labor unions, taxes, abortion, the death penalty, or the environment. I read those articles occasionally because I need balance, and sometimes the magazine makes good points. But I rarely agree as a whole no matter how well-written the article. The pieces on Iraq, though, are indispensable. The Nation has nothing informed or accurate to say on that subject. Its writers usually ignore it completely. And because they ignore it, because they don’t study it, when they do pipe up they tend to get everything wrong.

Why are liberal intellectuals less interested in the history of foreign countries than conservatives are? I have never heard anyone ask this question, and I wonder if others even notice the problem. Maybe they do, but until recently I hadn’t noticed, and I assure you the left hasn’t noticed. I’m not talking about who is right and who is wrong about history. I’m talking here about who is even interested in the first place.

I‘ve pondered this for a while now, and I think I have part of the answer.

Liberals are builders and conservatives are defenders. Liberals want to build a good and just society. Conservatives defend what is already built and established. This is what the left and the right are for. What draws a person to one or the other is more a matter of personality than anything else.

The first priority of builders is the immediate surrounding environment, starting with the home and moving outward from there. Next is the community, followed by the city, the region, and the nation. The other side of the world is the lowest of all priorities. “Think globally” but “act locally” is a bumper sticker for the left. That we shouldn’t meddle in other countries if our own needs work is also a liberal idea. It partly explains why Tom Daschle focused on prescription pills for old people in war time.

Defenders, unlike builders, are on the lookout for threats. This is what conservatism is for. In the absence of civil war or revolution, threats exist abroad. Canada isn’t a problem, and Mexico isn’t really either. The biggest threats are on the other side of the world. Conservatives don’t write about China and Iran because they’re into Taoism or because they swooned at the Persian film festival. The interest is there because these countries are dangerous.

Conservatives are more likely to study pre-war Nazi Germany because they’re watching out for a repeat. The right side of the blogosphere laughed uproariously when anti-war protesters carried placards that said “Peace In Our Time.” The left just didn’t get the reference. It’s not that the left is stupid. Rather, because liberals are builders not defenders, liberal intellectuals focus on internal problems rather than threats from outside.

I think this explains other phenomena, too. In other pieces I’ve noted an annoying equivalence between the far-left and far-right. The far-left says Republicans are Nazis. And the far-right says Democrats are socialists or even Communists. It’s an annoying habit for people on the margins, but the reason it happens is very different for each side.

Radical leftists think the Bush Administration is like the Nazi Party for one specific reason. They haven’t studied the rise of the Nazis. They truly believe the comparison is apt not because they misunderstand Republicans, but because they misunderstand Hitler.

Far-right conservatives have the opposite problem. They understand Lenin perfectly well. It’s the Democrats they don’t understand. A hyper awareness of threats leads to hallucinations of banshees in the bushes. Joseph McCarthy had a deep understanding of Communism. And he did find some Communist spies. But he saw the tentacles of Communism everywhere, whether there were adequate grounds for it or not.

An anonymous radical leftist at Indymedia recently posted something to this effect: If Iraqis hate life under Saddam, just wait until they find out what it’s like to live under George W. Bush. This is paranoid like McCarthyism, but the cause is quite different. This person knows very well what it’s like to live “under” George W. Bush. He lives in America. What he doesn’t understand, very unlike Joseph McCarthy, is what it’s like to live in the other country. McCarthy knew Stalin well. The Indymedia poster knows nothing about Saddam Hussein.

One of the most common criticisms of liberals lately is that Israel is held to a Middle East double-standard. Every Arab state is guilty of far worse than anything Israel has ever inflicted on Palestinians. I’ve made this criticism many times myself, but there is a defense of the left here. Liberals, as I’ve said, are builders. And Israel is inside the sphere of liberal influence. The Arab regime in Sudan enslaves black Christians. This indeed is odious. But it’s far beyond the ability of liberals to affect. A protest against Sudan would be utterly useless. The regime wouldn’t listen, and everyone knows it. So what looks like hypocrisy and a liberal double-standard is partly a result of perfectly rational priorities.

Conservatives are myopic in ways that look hypocritical, too. Take a look at Uzbekistan. Here is a Muslim state with a Stalinist dictator. Conservative writers hardly ever complain. The reason for this is simple: Uzbekistan helps out America. The regime is secular, and it takes out Islamists root and branch. It doesn’t pose a threat, or at least it doesn’t seem to, so the right shrugs when the left criticizes. The Uzbek regime is our “ally.” But it’s the same sort of filthy ally Saddam was when he took on the mullahs in Iran. This can be explained by “realism,” and there is a case to be made for it here. But it sure looks hypocritical, and it weakens the case on the right against other dictators.

It’s a big world out there, and we can’t all study all of it. The left and the right each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It behooves us to understand and appreciate what the other side offers occasionally.

Everybody needs to get out of their rut. Start small.

Liberals: Read about Iran. Don’t just read about American policy there, read about Iran. Find out what happens when America isn’t looking.

Conservatives: If you live in a major city, next time the Persian film festival comes to town, buy yourself a ticket. Some of the best films in the world are made in that country. The outside world is greater than the sum of its threats.

UPDATE: Fellow liberal Roger L. Simon agrees and adds a good comment.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy has critical comments. He says "Michael’s angle is, Conservatives are the True Cosmopolitans." That's not what I said. My point is that liberals in general are less interested in history than conservatives are. This doesn't necessarily make conservatives more cosmopolitan. Nor does it mean that historically-literate conservatives are any more likely to be right than historically-literate liberals.

UPDATE: Patrick Ruffini has lots of comments.

UPDATE: Joe Katzman comments and asks a question without an easy answer.

UPDATE: Lots of responses to this one. Sometimes I wish I had a comments section. TR Fogey weighs in, too.

UPDATE: I expected to catch flak for this, but I didn't expect it from British libertarians. Perry de Havilland at Samizdata.net likes the piece, but lands some good punches too.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias rescues me from disparagement.

UPDATE: Adam at the brand-new Karmic Inquisition has some good observations, too.

UPDATE: Armed Liberal buckles under pressure and chimes in, too. I didn't pressure him, it was (apparently) self-imposed.

Getting the Hang of It

Pluralism and democracy are quick studies in Iraq.

The northern city of Mosul took a small step toward controlling its destiny Monday, naming a cross-section of residents to run the city alongside the American military until elections can be held, a US military official said.

Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, is largely Arab but ethnically mixed, and remains tense weeks after Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown. In late April, 18 people died in confrontations between the US military and crowds in Mosul.

More than 200 representatives of the city's tribal and ethnic groups chose a mayor and city council. Retired army Gen. Ghanim al-Boso, an Arab, was selected as mayor, CNN reported.

Fadhil Mirani, a top member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the KDP official dealing with Mosul, said the 230 electors were dispatched from main groups and families chosen in cooperation with the United States, Arab groups, the Iraqi National Congress and the Turkoman Front.


Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network, characterized the action in Mosul as an election and said the council had been sworn in. The network showed footage of council members pledging allegiance to Iraq.

It said the council included seven Arabs, three Kurds, a Christian and a Turkoman, or ethnic Turk, among others.

On Sunday, in Kirkuk, another northern Iraqi town, the government building formally reopened. The US military called it "a significant milestone toward establishing civilian governance."

This success may or may not be repeated everywhere else. Either way, doom and gloom stories of Iraqi anti-Americanism and Shi'ite fundamentalism are rarer by the day.

Good news is easier to find, even though it's off the front page now.

Asking For It

Well, isn't this odd.

Militant Palestinian groups in Damascus today challenged American statements that Syria had cracked down on them, and Syria's government sidestepped the issue, refusing to confirm one of the few Syrian concessions that seemed to emerge during a weekend visit by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Might as well tape a sign to your back that says "Kick Me."

Blogging for Poets

Matt Welch points me to Rob's Amazing Poetry Generator. You punch in a blog address and it spits out a poem. Here's mine:

Michael J. Totten there
The papers will not record the 20th Century,
to be printed regardless,
and Saddam's birthday. Happy
Birthday, Happy Birthday, party
with Hamas, which was a
national, ethnical, racial, or
part We read. Be seized
on the first half
the Telegraph have
banned smoking.
Farewell, in Afghanistan.

This crazy thing writes poetry better than I can. That is just wrong.

Ken Layne is having a blast with this.

The Democratic Divide

The Democratic Primary election is going to be an ugly fight.

Democrats are united in their determination to send President Bush back to Texas in November 2004, but the first debate of the presidential campaign exposed the limits of that unity and the near-total absence of consensus on how best to challenge the president in the general election.

Instead, the Democrats turned on one another -- in some cases to bare serious differences over the war in Iraq or how to expand health care coverage; in other cases to reveal personal animosities and to begin in earnest the jockeying for position in what now promises to be an especially tough battle for the nomination.

The tone of the article suggests the infighting is a bad thing. But I don't think it is. The Democratic Party is a donut. It has no center, and it needs one.

The good news is there’s no party-line to toe. The Democrats are a broadly liberal party. The bad news is we can't agree what liberalism means any more.

Liberalism for me is what it always has been, the definition you'll find in the dictionary.

From www.dictionary.com:



A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.

This is classical liberalism, something many Republicans (but clearly not all) also believe in. I differ from them in two significant respects.

For me, favoring the individual against authority goes beyond individualism in the libertarian sense, though it does include that. It also means supporting the little guy against the big guy. Sometimes the big guy is the state, other times he’s a powerful corporation. The rich are big guys, and the poor are not. I’m no socialist, I’m a liberal (see above), but my liberal sensibility is informed by the morality of the democratic left. I also have more interest in justice than tradition. Change, even radical change, is thrilling. Stability preserves defects and prohibits improvement.

Most left-of-center people will agree with what I just wrote, whether they are moderate or radical. Most Republicans probably disagree.

The problem with the left is now this: America is the world’s most powerful country. After the Soviet Union imploded, America became “the big guy.”

This is a huge problem for left-reactionaries. If we must oppose the powerful, we must oppose America.

The Democratic Party is not anti-American. Anti-American leftists, for the most part, exist outside the party. Nevertheless, many Democrats are ill at ease with American power. There is a real contradiction here that liberalism hasn’t come to grips with.

For me, the resolution is easy. In the war between America and Iraq, America was the big guy and Iraq was the little guy. But this shouldn’t matter to a “little guy” liberal. Liberalism is not about empowering small states. It is about empowering individuals against those states. Saddam Hussein was Iraq’s most illiberal leader in its history. Opposing him was the only logical liberal position to take.

The Democrats are divided on this question, and we’re just going to have to battle it out. It isn’t going away just because the war in Iraq is over. Those who try to dodge the issue will fail. Iraq was only one part of the terror war, and that war will continue beyond the next several elections.

One side of the left will beat the other. The disunited party will have a center again. Only time, and maybe a civil war, will tell what that center will be.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Indymedia Keeps Sinking

An anonymous poster at my city's Indymedia outlet laments its decline.

After yesterday'd dissapointing May Day march, I decided to see what interesting analysis I might find here on Indymedia. I expected to see some critique of the march, or at least some reporting on it. With the exception of Andy Davis' comments on the permit, and a few pictures, I found very little. Instead I saw several anti-semitic and homophobic posts, presumably from the same person. Some blather about how Jews have taken over Portland so that ugly lesbians can adopt children or some bullshit. Has Indymedia been completely taken over by right-wing trolls and their ilk? Has this little experiment in open publishing run its course? I don't know what the answer is, but if something isn't done, Indymedia will cease to be an effective tool for progressive change.

Indymedia has already ceased to be an effective tool for any kind of change. I doubt it was ever effective in the first place.

And, really, who knows if the anti-gay Jew-hating trolls Mr. Anonymous laments are right-wing? The far left and the far right teamed up to go bowling together some time ago. I can barely tell the difference between the two any more.

If you want open publishing, Mr. Anonymous, use your name and get a blog. If you're good, people will come.

Thank You for Smoking

Christopher Hitchens is bummed that Manhatten and now Dublin have banned smoking.

Farewell, in one word, to Bohemia. From now on, New York will be just another safe, whitebread city, conscious of its health and its figure and its respectability.

Don't get me wrong. I probably ought to quit. I don't light up if people prefer me not to do so. I would avoid the many non-smoking establishments of Manhattan, and wish their patrons a long and tedious life.

I should quit, too. I've quit many times, and I'll quit again soon.

Hitchens is right, though. Bars without smoking are dull as board meetings.

Mr. Dalyell's "Tell"

British MP Tam Dalyell is in trouble.

Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House, sparked outrage last night by accusing the Prime Minister of "being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers".

You can often tell something about a person by the vocabulary they use. We all pick up words from the people we interact with and the books we read.

Be wary of anyone who speaks of Jews as a "cabal." I know of no serious person who describes groups of Jews this way. But it's a favorite among anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.

I wonder where Mr. Dalyell picked it up.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten