>Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2000 23:21:28 -0500 (CDT)
>From: Michael Eisenscher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Subject: Edward Herman / What is Liberalism?
>If you pass this comment along to others, please include an explanation that
>Commentaries are a premium sent to Sustainer Donors of Z/ZNet and that to
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>and specifically the Sustainer Pages
>And here is today's ZNet Commentary Delivery.
>WHAT IS LIBERALISM?
>By Edward S. Herman
>In a May 22 editorial in the liberal The American Prospect (TAP),
>which he edits along with Paul Starr, Robert Kuttner lauds radicals,
>for keeping moral demands to the fore and for pioneering on major
>issues that were central to democratic advance (as in the struggle
>against slavery). In his editorial, entitled "Why Liberals Need
>Radicals," he notes that "nearly every great social justice movement
>was initiated by radicals before it became safe for liberals." It
>is radicals who "push out the boundaries of the possible....In a
>ferociously capitalist society, liberals in government and politics
>need pressure from radicals." Kuttner notes that radicals "are more
>likely to appreciate the political dynamics of capitalism as an
>obstacle to the reforms that liberals would like to carry out."
>And he admits that "Neoliberals are often too quick to accommodate
>But Kuttner nevertheless declares himself to be a liberal, and asks
>"Why, then, publish a self-consciously liberal journal? Why not
>just join the radicals?" His answer is as follows: "Too many radicals
>think that most ills in the world can be traced to the United States
>of America. On balance, I consider the United States -- its
>Constitution, its political liberties, the economic opportunities
>it offers, and its openness to invention and reform -- a force for
>good in the world. America needs redemption, not contempt. Radicals,
>as zealots, are often demagogues and dictators when they attain
>power. Too many have excused dictatorships that brutally ruled in
>the name of workers."
>Kuttner does not explain why he couldn't be one of the radicals
>who DON'T blame the United States for all the world's ills and
>apologize for dictators, but who believe that "redemption" requires
>fundamental change. He seems to be illustrating his own observation
>that liberals are not able "to appreciate the dynamics of capitalism
>as an obstacle to the reforms" liberals claim to want, and their ready
>accommodation to power.
>But it is also clear from the statement, with its patriotic double
>standard, that he feels that the status quo is pretty good and that
>U.S. foreign policy is more than acceptable, even if some marginal
>changes might be desirable.
>Perhaps this is the defining quality of liberalism.
>Kuttner berates radicals for excusing dictatorships "ruled in the
>name of workers," but the fact that the United States has supported
>numerous dictatorships "ruled in the service of transnational
>corporations" he glosses over with vague rhetoric about "on
>balance...a force for good." He confuses the internal freedom of
>the United States with what it does abroad, and even as regards
>U.S. internal affairs he is awfully complacent about "political
>liberties," "economic opportunities" and "openness" to reform.
>Radicals might be concerned that plutocracy had eroded those
>political liberties and reform possibilities, and that the ongoing
>racist reaction and the increased power of police and moves toward
>a law and order state designed to control rather than serve the
>poor and minorities are ugly and ominous. But Kuttner mentions only
>the positives without any qualification.
>Kuttner pats the WTO and IMF protestors on the back for making
>global issues debatable. "Defenders of the prevailing global order
>now feel compelled to offer decent space to dissenters. Even The
>New Republic, as the saying goes, published World Bank dissenter
>Joe Stiglitz." This grossly exaggerates the openness of the media
>to dissenters on global issues.
>Stiglitz is part of an establishment that has its own tactical
>dissenters, and their access does not extend to those with radical
>messages. Radical messages are still almost inaudible. In their
>treatment of the Washington protests, the media's defense of the
>police, hostility to the oppositional forces, and huge skewing of
>the debate on substantive issues, was a throwback to their pro-NAFTA
>crusade of 1993-1994. As Rachel Coen points out in her analysis of
>the media's coverage of the Washington actions, "the small broadening
>of coverage was accompanied by a formidable backlash on op-ed pages,
>and by a rash of reports more interested in tittering at activists'
>fashion sense than in examining their politics" ("Police Militarize
>D.C., Media Provide Cover Story," EXTRA!, July 2000 [forthcoming]).
>A similar massive bias has characterized the media's handling of
>the current debate over the granting of Permanent Normal Trade
>Relations to China, where the media have once again manned the
>barricades in service to corporate community demands.
>Despite this deep apologetic thrust, Kuttner's own journal TAP has
>had many good articles opposing the ongoing conservative revolution
>and sometimes even assailing the Clinton abuses and contributions
>to the erosion of the welfare state. The journal generally eschews
>foreign policy issues, however, although the Kosovo war impelled
>co-editor Paul Starr to put up a crude apologetic for the U.S. and
>NATO actions ("The Choice in Kosovo," July-August 1999).
>Interestingly, TAP refused to publish a letter
>of criticism I wrote on the Starr position, as well as at least
>one other critical letter. (It also refused to publish a letter
>criticizing Kuttner's "21-Gun Salute" to the retiring William
>Buckley, who according to Kuttner has been a "role model" in both
>openness and success in demonstrating "the power of ideas" [Jan.
>3, 2000]; an editorial that demonstrated Kuttner's integration into
>the mainstream power structure rather more tellingly than the "power
>So TAP doesn't feel any compulsion on its own part to offer "decent
>space to dissenters" on something like the Kosovo war or an accolade
>to William Buckley. Its editor may claim to need radicals, but
>perhaps more in historical retrospect, honoring their leadership
>in former battles, rather than in allowing them to contest and
>debate the liberal apologetics of today! But it is good to know
>that the struggles of our ancestors are respected.
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