---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002 13:28:14 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Liberalism's Patriotic Vision
Liberalism's Patriotic Vision
September 5, 2002
By TODD GITLIN
With the massacres of a year ago came righteous outrage, bewilderment and a
thirst for interpretations: What could such colossal violence mean? What did
mass murder require of us? Who were we now? We needed a story.
The White House declared that the terrorists hated our freedoms; after an
interlude of coalition building, the administration resumed its
America-love-it-or-leave-it attitude. Members of Congress became sullen
cheerleaders, cowed by the White House's willingess to question their
loyalty. Patriotism seemed to function not as a spur to come to the aid of
the country, but as a silencer.
Absolutists dominated the field - and eerily converged in their penchant for
going it alone. The terrorists took it upon themselves to act in the name of
all of Islam and all Muslims, to settle all accounts and slaughter all
enemies. There could be no appeal or dissent; they expected their allies to
be as silent as their enemies. They openly yearned to restore the
eighth-century caliphate: a purist theocracy and an empire if ever there was
Squandering much support from around the world, President Bush soon showed
he was ready to go it alone, keeping even Congress at arm's length. He was
not content with self-defense. Countries that were not with us were against
us. We were launched upon a permanent war against anyone he declared we were
at war against; the administration reserved the right to break treaties and
to undertake pre-emptive war.
The American left, too, had its version of unilateralism. Responsibility for
the attacks had, somehow, to lie with American imperialism, because all
responsibility has to lie with American imperialism - a perfect echo of the
right's idea that all good powers are and should be somehow American.
Intellectuals and activists on the far left could not be troubled much with
compassion or defense. Disconnected from Americans who reasonably felt their
patriotic selves attacked, they were uncomprehending. Knowing little about
Al Qaeda, they filed it under Anti-Imperialism, and American attacks on the
Taliban under Vietnam Quagmire. For them, not flying the flag became an
urgent cause. In their go-it-alone attitude, they weirdly paralleled the
blustering right-wing approach to the world.
Long before Sept. 11, this naysaying left had seceded. When Ralph Nader's
Greens equated a Bush presidency with a Gore presidency, they took leave of
any practical connection to America. Rightly demanding profound reforms but
deluded about their popularity, they withheld their energy from the
Democrats and squandered alliances that would have promoted their ideals.
They acted as though their cause had to be lonely to be good.
Many liberals and social democrats saw through this hollow negativity and
posed necessary questions. What was a war against terrorism? To what did it
bind the nation? War against whom, and for how long? Why should American
foreign policy be held hostage to oil? How should strong and privileged
America belong in the world? Was the United States to be a one-nation
tribunal of "regime change" wherever it detected evil spinning on an axis?
Some good answers float in the air now. They have not yet found political
support, but they could. As the Bush administration paints itself into a
corner, we could be headed toward a new liberal moment. Liberals need to
step up their promotion of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and elsewhere,
helping to stifle terrorism. Even conservatives no longer smirk about nation
building or foreign aid.
Likewise, mainstream economists like Joseph Stiglitz (once chief economist
of the World Bank) and Jeffrey Sachs (former free-market shock therapist)
campaign to convince rich countries to give more development aid.
Liberals should affirm that American power, working within coalitions, can
advance democratic values, as in Bosnia and Kosovo - but they should oppose
this administration's push toward war in Iraq, which is unlikely to work out
that way. Against oil-based myopia, there are murmurs (they should be
clamors) that we should phase out the oil dependency that overheats the
earth and binds us to tyrants. On the domestic front, corporate chiefs
have lost their new-economy charm - and the Bush administration's earlier
efforts on their behalf have lost whatever political purchase they had. With
the bursting of the stock market bubble, deregulation no longer looks like a
Whom do Americans admire now? Whom do we trust? Americans did not take much
reminding that when skyscrapers were on fire, they needed firefighters and
police officers, not Arthur Andersen accountants. Yet we confront an
administration whose policies reflect the idea that sacrifice - financial
and otherwise - is meant for people who wear blue collars.
A reform bloc in Congress, bolstered in November, could start renewing the
country. But we need much more than legislation. One year after, surely many
Americans are primed for a patriotism of action, not of pledges. The era
that began Sept. 11 would be a superb time to crack the jingoists' claim to
a monopoly of patriotic virtue. Instead of letting minions of corporate
power run away with the flag (while banking their tax credits offshore), we
need to remake the tools of our public life - our schools, social services
and transportation. Post-Vietnam liberals have an opening now, freed of our
60's flag anxiety and our reflexive negativity, to embrace a liberal
patriotism that is unapologetic and uncowed. It's time for the patriotism of
mutual aid, not just symbolic displays or self-congratulation. It's time to
close the gap between the nation we love and the justice we also love.
Todd Gitlin, a former president of Students for a Democratic Society, is
author of "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms
Our Lives." He is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia
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