Identity By Negation

Jonah Goldberg has a brilliant little evisceration of Glenn Greenwald in The Corner. Greenwald made the following, and altogether too common, argument:

It used to be the case that in order to be considered a “liberal” or someone “of the Left,” one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, “judicial activism,” hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a “liberal,” such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a “liberal,” only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a “liberal,” regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more “liberal” one is. Whether one is a “liberal” — or, for that matter, a “conservative” — is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.”

Which, as Goldberg notes, apparently means that National Review has become a “liberal” publication, the Cato Insitution is staffed by liberals, John McCain is a liberal, Bill Frist is a liberal, and hell, even I am now apparently a liberal too. No doubt I’ll be changing the site’s tagline to “Liberalism With Attitude” any day now…

Goldberg later notices that there’s quite a bit of truth to what Greenwald is saying, except Greenwald confuses liberals with conservatives:

Several readers have observed something that I should have noted had I not been in vent mode. The opposite of what Greenwald and Sullivan is saying is far closer to the truth. So long as you hate Bush or attack him, you’re basically ok in the eyes of liberals. Often, when a conservative goes after Bush Andrew Sullivan will say something like “finally, a conservative with integrity” — the implication (repeated again and again) is that if someone does see things Andrew’s way, he lacks integrity.

As for actual liberals, I get email all the time from Kosites and the like saying, “Listen to Buchanan!” Or “Bob Barr’s right!”

It used to be that abortion, affirmative action etc defined who liberals would celebrate. Now, all it takes is going after Bush.

I think Goldberg hits it right on the head here. Since 2001, and especially since the beginning of the Iraq War, “liberalism” has allowed itself to be defined as nothing more than negation of George W. Bush. Liberalism has lost any sense of overarching purpose and is united strictly in its opposition to the President. It doesn’t take more than five minutes of looking through lefty blogs or reading publications like The Nation or Mother Jones before realizing that every issue, no matter how great or small, inevitably turns into an opportunity for vitriolic criticism of George W. Bush.

Furthermore, look at the coalition of the “right” these days, especially the “right-wing” blogosphere. Glenn Reynolds voted for Gore in 2000 and has always been a lukewarm Bush supporter at best. Ditto Stephen Green. Of the more popular “right-wing” blogs, many of them are hardly members of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. In fact, Reynolds, Green, Roger L. Simon, and others lean liberal on a whole host of social issues and aren’t afraid to take Bush to task on them.

And that’s the biggest difference I notice between the right and the left these days. The right has no problem taking shots at Bush when they are warranted. In fact, I’ve long stated, and it’s still been true that if you want an intelligent criticism of the Bush Administration, you’re far more likely to find it coming from the right than from the left. The idea that the right has “blind loyalty” to the President is categorically absurd.

Consider what happens to anyone who has even as much as a word of praise for Bush at a place like The Daily Kos or Eschaton or one of the other left-wing blogs. They’re instantly branded a “Bush apologist” and a “traitor” to the “progressive” cause – and usually shut down and kicked out in short order. It’s all or nothing for the left these days – either you join in their unending hatred of Bush or you’re not part of the clique.

Stephen Green also notes the disparity in rhetoric these days:

“Spendthrift Republican Congress” isn’t exactly a catchphrase, but I’ve used it five times in the last three years. Total comments from Democrats saying “Amen?” Next to zero. Thanks for the support, fellas. I did, however, hear from a bunch of conservatives who were just as disappointed as I was with their party.

When I virtually assaulted Canadian neocon columnist David Warren for his slipshod essay against gay marriage, I got the same result. Read the comments for yourself, but by and large I found Bush voters (and the usual libertarian suspects) on my side. Not one proclaimed Gore voter slapped me on the back and said, “Well done.” Not one of them said anything at all.

Last fall, I went out of my way to offend Republican sensibilities. I accused Bush and his science council of “tying their shoelaces together” in the race to develop new medicines. Again, the same pattern emerged. Republicans took me to task, libertarians shouted their atheistic hosannas, and Democrats said… nothing.

I could give more examples, but it’s late and my martini glass is empty. Besides, regular readers see it here every day: The right seems to love a good debate, and the left seems to love pissing on them for it. I’m speaking in broad terms here, obviously, but in my experience the point remains.

That is the single biggest issue I have with the left these days. Granted, I still think they’re wrong on the issues, but one can and should be able to have a respectful disagreement on the issues without resorting to the sort of hyperpartisan crap that is currently poisoning American political discourse. The issues we face are far more complex, far more nuanced, and far more important than to be distilled down to either hatred of or support for one single individual. Yet the war in Iraq has become less about American foreign policy, democratization, weapons of mass destruction, intelligence failures, or anything else than it has been about being another stick to use in the flogging of the President.

No matter what the issue, everything on the left revolves around President Bush. Whatever substance their critiques may have, eventually it all boils down to the personal. It’s no longer about policies it’s about the person of George W. Bush. Our national political rhetoric has turned into a massive circle-jerk of ad hominem arguments. Just for once I’d like to see a substantive argument from the left without the pathological need to drag the President into the argument. I’d hold my breath for one, but I don’t think I can go without oxygen that long.

Greenwald is right, but his comments reflect more of a sense of projection than anything else. The left’s current identity is one of negation: all that is required is a passionate dislike of George W. Bush.

On January 20, 2009, George W. Bush becomes part of history, and when that day comes, what will the left stand for? When one’s entire ideological basis becomes inextricably enveloped in the singular hatred for one man, where does that ideology stand when that man becomes irrelevant? The anti-Bush side better start asking themselves that question now, because unless they want to be full players in the marketplace of ideas in this country they’d better have an answer before that day comes.

3 thoughts on “Identity By Negation

  1. Your argument is, just like it was the previous 742 times you’ve made, dumb. George Bush is a figurehead for a very powerful administration that consumes thousands of individuals directly and millions indirectly. When “the Bush administration” is criticized on any number of justifiable fronts, it’s seldom the man PERSONALLY being attacked by the collective ideology of his morbidly obese TEAM. I seldom if ever participate in useless personal slams against Bush’s speech issues because they’re pointless and irrelevant. However, his undistinguished and potentially criminal personal background is fair game for drawing policy comparisons….just as it was for Bill Clinton a decade ago.

    I doubt you’ll find a liberal in the country who sees George Bush as the single problem obstructing their agenda….and you know that. It’s just your partisan ploy to caricature Bush’s critics as driven by blind hatred for him and him alone since saying so (in your case, over and over and over and over) makes Democrats look foolish. Ultimately, however, it simply makes you look foolish. Approximately 60% of Americans disapprove of Bush’s job performance, many of whom do not hate Bush personally or view him as the king of evil. By suggesting that the opposition party’s criticisms of his ADMINISTRATION’S POLICIES AND PRACTICES are all personal attacks, you further push away independents with similar concerns and criticisms who don’t wish to be told they’re full of hate simply because they dissent.

  2. Sorry, Mark, I can’t agree with you there. When they’re on TV or otherwise on their best behavior, a few members of today’s left can just manage to contain themselves long enough to muster a few facts or arguments. But that’s basically window dressing. They hate the man.

    He is purpose-built for their hatred because he seems to present, in one package, everyting the left loathes. He’s religious. He speaks with a Texas twang, not a nasal Ivy League whine. He uses words like “evil,” which have been expunged from the vocabulary of moral equivalence.

    The irony is that a lot of what they’re reacting against is purely symbolic. If leftists were actually liberals, and not flaming loonies, they’d see that GWB is one of them using the Republican party for protective coloration. No one could be a stronger champion of open borders and illegal immigration. No one could overtake him in vote buying through pork barrel budgets. He is as liberal as you like in using the military for armed social work in the Middle East. What’s not for a good liberal to like?

  3. Rick, sounds like if anyone is full of hate, it’s you towards “liberals”. And it seems as though we’ve been through this before, but George Bush’s support for open borders and illegal immigration comes from a far different perspective than the limousine liberals who support similar legislation. Bush sees immigration as a means to a colonialized American labor force immune from participation in the very political process where its fate lies in the hands of. Not exactly what “liberals” have in mind when they foolishly call for open borders. As for pork barrel projects, that’s the nature of representative government no matter which party gets in. Unless Tom Coburn is cloned 534 times and elected to every Congressional district in the country, pork barrel budgets continue as far as they eye can see.

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