. . . Monday October 18, 2004

I am Liberal. Hear Me Rorschach.

Win or lose in November, liberals, progressives or whatever we want to be called in the future (The UnBushes?) need to do a whole lot of work when it comes to self-definition and the creation of an intellectual platform. We need a gut check.

We are in danger of seeing political life in this country reduced to a battle between the fanatics and the zombies.

During a recent appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Alanis Morissette gave her three cents (in turns out you get an extra cent for being famous) on the war in Iraq – and her point drew general agreement from Maher:

“The concept of imposing the version of freedom that this administration calls freedom on another country, I think that is the heighth (yes, she said heighth) of arrogance to impose our version on another country that is evolving at the rate that they need to evolve to get to a place where we say that they need to be now.”

Leave it to someone who can give twenty straight examples of irony without even one of them actually being ironic to introduce the oxymoronic theory of imposed freedom.

This is not liberalism. But it is the kind of hogwash with which those who oppose liberalism can have a field day. I know it’s only Alanis Morissette, but her views are reflective of a larger base of opinion that has been choking the Democratic party for years.

You can oppose the Iraq war on several grounds. But this kind of international relativism flies directly in the face of what it means to be a liberal. Liberals stand up for the little guy. Liberals know that freedom is the right of every citizen of every country. The Iraqi people were not “evolving” towards their own version of freedom. They were being brutalized, killed and oppressed by a sick regime. If the liberal position is that the Iraqis just have cultural differences and we shouldn’t assume that they’d prefer freedom, then count me out.

If you can’t celebrate the fact that millions of women just voted in an election in Afghanistan, then you’re no liberal. You’re a liar, an idiot, or both.

It’s not about being weak. It’s about being smart.

When I was a kid, my dad and I were watching part of a miniseries on the Holocaust. During one scene, a Jewish man had managed to get a gun which he pointed at the head of a Nazi. My dad, who rarely said much during these years, stood up and yelled, “Come on, kill him.”

Knowing what I do about my dad’s own past, that moment made me feel good.

And I am a liberal.

When I taught high school in Brooklyn, I talked to kids who knew that the existing metal detectors didn’t provide much protection. But they still wanted them there. I know that those kids and their parents wanted more cops on their streets and more justice for those who soiled their neighborhood with violence. Sometimes equality requires toughness, not just a pat on the head.

And I am a liberal.

When I was visiting a concentration camp in Poland, I saw that it sat in a valley surrounded by homes that had been there for decades. My parents wanted to take me there and show me those houses on the hills to teach me a lesson; that thousands of families went about their business, living their lives, while doing whatever they had to do to ignore the constant stink of burning flesh, day after day, year after year. Evil doesn’t surprise me. Rage is no stranger.

And I am a liberal.

I think the Iraq war was a mistake for many reasons. And I think it was launched under false pretenses. And I don’t think we’re safer. And I don’t think you send other people’s kids to a war that is optional. But now that we’re there, I do think we’ve got to finish the job. I do think that we need to ensure that freedom takes root. And if that means killing a whole bunch of the bad guys, then so be it.

And I am a liberal.

I love freedom. I love America. I hate thugs. And I don’t believe America, its people or its corporations should ever do anything to support a regime that opposes those values. And that was my belief before 9/11 and after it.

And I am a liberal. Hear me roar.

Concentration is important!