For quite a while now the liberal/Left position vis-a-vis 9/11 has been that those on the Right are a bunch of namby-pamby fraidy cats, motivated by an unwarranted and pathological fear of terrorists.
Or, alternatively, that the Right is not really afraid but is strategically engaged in a hypocritical and Machiavellian attempt to drum up fear where it needn’t exist in order to increase both their own power and their chances of election, because people trust Republicans more on national defense.
Or perhaps both at the same time, oxymoronic though that might be.
Paul Krugman’s latest riff on this old theme is featured in his column in today’s NY Times. In it, Krugman pronounces that “there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism—it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination.” Well, what a relief!
Quibble if you must over the term itself—I have here, and then again here —but surely it describes an actual phenomenon that is not a figment of anyone’s imagination, and to think otherwise is denial.
This is not a new tune of Krugman’s, however; not at all. He’s the same man who, shortly after 9/11, declared that Enron would come to be seen as a greater turning point in American society than 9/11. Granted, Krugman is (or was) an economist, but that’s a rather extreme case of tunnel vision. The man is nothing if not consistent in his downplaying of 9/11.
Today’s Krugman column also downplays the threat from Iran, partly based on evaluations of its economic capacity—as though it lacked the GDP necessary to obtain and use nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, it does have this ability despite its relative lack of wealth—and, what’s equally important, it may also have the will. And most proponents of bombing Iran do not have the naive goal of “bringing the Iranian regime to its knees,” as Krugman states. They have the more limited goal of undermining its nuclear program if diplomatic and economic means fail to do so.
Krugman likens proposals to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to Israel’s attempt to undermine Hezbollah last summer through bombing. That’s not a good analogy; the proper one is the recent action of Israel against Syria’s nuclear program, which seems to have been successful, at least for the moment.
Krugman is not important in and of himself. But he is important as an indicator of the direction in which a large amount of liberal thinking seems to be heading these days. He’s either a meme-setter or a meme-reflector; it hardly matters which.
And another meme he’s bent on spreading is the “Republicans=racists” one. For example, in today’s column, his parting shot was this:
…the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up—perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.
Here Krugman shows either his own ignorance of history or his reliance on his readers’ ignorance of history. Putting aside for a moment the pejorative and condescending term “lapped up” (yes, the Republican base is just a tool of the propaganda of the “Bushies,” unlike the think-for-itself Leftist base, immune to such machinations on the part of the Democratic leadership), this “fear of dark-skinned people” bit just doesn’t wash, although it’s a favorite self-congratulatory story Democrats often like to tell themselves.
The truth about the history of such “older fears” is that they’ve been more prevalent on the Democrat side of the ledger. Say what you will about Republicans—and Krugman certainly does—their civil rights history is comparatively impeccable compared to that on the other side. Take a look, for example, at the Civil War and its long aftermath.
The distortion of this history is a special pet peeve of mine; I’ve tried here to do my small part to correct the record.
Democrats finally changed their tune in the 1960s, and were instrumental in passing civil rights legislation, but this was not done over Republican opposition. Here are some typical votes from one of those landmark legislations of the 60s—the Voting Rights Act—for those interested in actual, rather than invented, history:
Senate: 77–19 [first number "for," second "against"]
You can see that the bill passed by a fairly large margin in both parties, but Republican support was actually greater, percentage-wise, than Democratic support.
It’s true that the South is now fairly solidly Republican, whereas before it was monolithically Democrat. So no doubt many of the descendants of those Democrats who opposed rights for African-Americans back then are Republicans now. But I don’t see the relevance; there’s no guilt by ancestry here. And I don’t see those present-day Republicans trembling in fear of “dark-skinned people in general,” although no doubt some of them do. As, no doubt, do some Democrats.
Bigotry is not the province of any particular party. But, more importantly, it is not—nor has it ever been—a commonplace basis of policy on the part of the Republican Party. If any party holds title to that distinction, it is the Democrats of the past.
Krugman’s title and theme are taken from Democrat FDR’s wonderful “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” speech of 1933. Krugman writes:
Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president—including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination—have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.
Well, it just so happens I’ve written previously about that FDR speech and how it might pertain to the attitudes of today’s political parties. Let me quote rather liberally (pun intended) from that previous post of mine:
Speaking of FDR, it was he who famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The context in which he made that statement is interesting; take a look at his First Inaugural Address, delivered in March of 1933, when the nation faced the Great Depression, the subject matter of FDR’s speech.
FDR does indeed say, “The only think we have to fear is fear itself” (and, by the way, listen to the audio; what a speaker he was!). But this is the message in which his quote was embedded:
“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory…In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties [he follows with a long list of the problems the nation faced at the time]…Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”
Then, as now, the danger of fear is not really fear itself. It is, as FDR stated [emphasis mine], “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.”
I submit that those words define the stance of the Left today far more than that of the Right–in fearing, for example, warrantless NSA wiretapping of calls with terrorist foreign nationals more than the consequences of not using reasonable tools in our arsenal in order to fight an implacable and vicious enemy (and see here if you wish to revisit the complexities of the legal arguments concerning these wiretappings).
And I agree, along with FDR, that “only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” I happen to think the Left fits the definition of “foolish optimist” in denying the dark realities of the present-day Islamist totalitarian threat. The Left, of course, thinks people such as myself to be foolish optimists in denying the dark realities of the threats posed by the would-be dictator…Bush…, and that we are timid and cowering fraidy cats in assuming that people such as Ahmadinejad mean exactly and precisely what they say.