Saturday, February 19, 2005

Martin Peretz Fights His Demons - It's a Draw

Every so often, you can get an idea where things stand, by paying attention to what your opponents are saying. With that in mind, I turn to the latest opinion piece in The New Republic, by Editor-in-Chief Martin Peretz.

The title gets your attention; “Losing Our Delusions: Not Much Left”. It certainly sounds as if Peretz is trying to express some mature consideration his party desperately needs to hear. Peretz has a lot to say; the article is sixteen paragraphs and 2,350 words long, which means it’s either very comprehensive or very evasive in its examination of the Liberal condition. I shall walk through the paragraphs to see where he’s going with that long process.

In the first paragraph, Peretz goes back forty years to quote a sneering John Kenneth Galbraith, as if conjuring the image of a time when Liberals seemed invulnerable would be useful in a time where Liberals lost their hold in every theater of power.

In the second paragraph, Peretz draws a predictable moral equivalence between Liberalism and Conservatism. Peretz laments the demise of Niebuhr, but lamely pretends that the loss of interest in Liberal politics is due to the unreasonable optimism of Liberals. Peretz writes “however much they may have been validated by history, liberals have no patience for such pessimism”, as if the Liberal message for the last generation has not been essentially negative and pessimistic. Peretez does admit to a strategic flaw in the Liberal plan, confessing that when Liberals advance an idea, “it is the apparatus that is designed to persuade, not the idea.“

In the third paragraph Peretz hits the mark again to some degree, wondering rhetorically, “Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture? Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire?” Peretz also admits that the Liberal mindest boils down to a “daily panic dose” about President Bush.

In his fourth paragraph, Peretz considers “Europe’s leftist elites”, but blames the absolute failure of Socialism on Immigration, particularly “a virtually unchecked Muslim immigration”. Peretz somehow manages to miss the blinding irony of crediting superior tolerance to a philosophy which defends itself by racist ideology. While he does not actually consider the sheer lunacy of Socialism in practice, Peretz vaguely confesses that the Socialist policies amount to nothing more than “left-wing bromides” which “are no longer believed”.

In his fifth paragraph, Peretz claims “what animates American conservatism is the future of the regulatory state and the trajectory of federalism”. In saying so, Peretz makes two errors: Claiming to understand a philosophy which he opposes, which invites assumption and depends on a biased foundation, and generalizing the politics of a group tens of millions strong into a single convenient statement. I understand the desire to comprehend the attraction of a dominant political theme, as well as the inevitable hope to provoke “a great national debate” by challenging the truth of the claim he thinks all Conservatives hold. I think Peretz’s quasi-federalism claims do not work out in practice, especially in the pragmatic world-view of most Red-staters, who don’t buy into elaborate or academic theories, but at the gut level of what matches their personal values and personal experience.

In paragraph six, Peretz makes perhaps his most useful observation: That Liberals “have not yet conducted an honest internal conversation that assumes from the start that the very nature of the country has changed since the great New Deal reckoning”. Unfortunately Peretz does not pursue that vein of gold in political thought, consoling himself and his allies with the promise that Liberals must resist the Right, because under the Conservatives, “There will simply be too many victims left on the side of the road.” Such a statement demonstrates that Peretz remains unaware of Liberalism’s many victims over the years, that indeed these victims have come around to the Right, precisely because the Left deserted them.

In the seventh paragraph, Peretz plays an old card: China. Peretz warns of “the dizzying specter of economic competition from China, whose hold on U.S. Treasury bonds leaves the dollar vulnerable to a tremendous decline should China decide to sell them”. I considered this charge the first couple times I heard it, then had to laugh, when I considered it all the way through. First, governments do not speculate in investments the way individuals do. China invested in T-bills for exactly the same way every other nation does; because relative to other countries, the U.S. Economy is remarkably stable and robust in growth. Countries do not casually or drastically change major economic policies. In fact, it’s a simple and important fact that the Soviet Union kept massive reserves of American securities, even as they decried Capitalism. Even during World War 2, Nazi Germany held reserves of British and American securities. Economic actions are taken for the most elemental reason; they are economically viable. Dumping the bills would damage China, in almost every scenario to a greater degree than it could hurt the United States. That’s why the Soviet Union never sold off their T-bills, and Peretz has not considered History or Economics in his claim.

In the eighth paragrah, Peretz attacks the entire Stock Market. Peretz repeats the assertion of “rapacious Capitalism”, with no serious support for the claim. Peretz claims Capitalism “is demoralizing and punishing.” That is incredibly asinine, to attack the only system which allows an individual or group to succeed by the merit of their own work. Peretz is undeterred, also claiming “ Moreover, it threatens its own ethical foundations”. He never even attempts to support that claim, unless one counts the slanted and unfair assumption that businessmen are inclined to cheat and lie by their nature. Peretz admits that “The very extent of stockholding through mutual funds, pension funds, and individual holdings is a tribute to the reliability of the market makers, the corporations themselves, and their guarantors.”, but then contends “Many individual corporations, investment banks, stock brokerages, insurance companies, auditors, and, surely, lawyers who vetted their contracts and other arrangements were complicit in violating the public trust”. Peretz does not cite even one example of such a broad conspiracy. In fact, Peretz again demonstrates his own ignroance of the facts in such a claim. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which I wrote about earlier this week, was designed to determine the transparency, consistency, and honesty of Corporate reporting, and given the extremely few indictments since its implementation, the evidence proves Peretz is distinctly wrong. Peretz finally proves that ideology is driving his writing by falling back on some of the most blatantly false and unfair assumptions of Liberal thought, as he wrote “greed need not go unbridled. What is a responsible liberal for if he doesn't take on this task?”

In paragraph nine, Peretz returns to glance at some of the truths which have been hammered into their heads by the voters. He writes “The liberals are themselves uninspired by a vision of the good society”, and “For several years, the liberal agenda has looked and sounded like little more than a bookkeeping exercise”. Sadly, Peretz falls back on assumptions on certain American values, claiming “People who are voluntarily obliged to each other across classes and races, professions and ethnicities, tend to trust each other, like a patient his doctor and a student her teacher”. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand that Republicans and Conservatives believe in this same trust and commitment to decency; pretending that only a Liberal can make this promise is to lie to yourself.

In paragraph ten, Peretz tries to salve his wounded pride, by playing again at the claims to Liberal moral superiority. “U.S. power is dangerous to others and dangerous to us”, he says. “Still, the last 30 years separate two worlds”, he contends. To read Peretz, he and his Liberal colleagues are all that separate America from a Dark Age. Nowhere does Peretz admit that the invasion of Iraq stopped a regime which murdered millions of innocents, that the Liberal refusal to save South Vietnam led to the murder of millions in that time, that it has been Liberal leadership in the White House and Congress which allowed Rwanda to happen. Far easier to indict the other guys, than to check the mirror and wonder how your hands got bloody.

In paragraph eleven, Peretz comes back to a serious consideration of Liberal faults, dwelling on the lionization of racist and bigoted figurehead Al Sharpton.
In paragraph twlve, Peretz compares this blatant and pervasive “patronizing position” with the open attitude of President Bush: “he may be the first president who apparently does not see individual people in racial categories or sex categories. White or black, woman or man, just as long as you're a conservative. That is also an expression of liberation from bias.” Bearing in mind Peretz’s clear slavery to filtering every piece of data through his own Left-wing bias, that is a remarkable statement.

In paragraph thirteen, Peretz attacks the lack of functional Liberal theory. He does so in the process of assuming the Conservative ideas are wrong, but at least gets to the point in three sentences: “The conservatives have their ideas, and many of them are good, such as charter schools and even vouchers. But give me a single liberal idea with some currency, even a structural notion, for transforming the elucidation of knowledge and thinking to the young. You can't.”

In paragraph fourteen, Peretz flails around again for some justification of the Liberal vision. His attempts come up with, ultimately, nothing, yet somehow Peretz can’t bring himself to say so. He comes a bit closer in paragraph fifteen, noting that in the past election, “liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.”

In the end, while unwilling to come to the fundamental flaws of Liberalism as it is embraced in American Left-Wing politics, Peretz is able to identify the flaws in its practice, saying “It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.” Peretz is unable to say where that strength may lie, or why anyone should believe their claims anymore.


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