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The Link Between How We Think and Whether We'll Win: III. Liberal Democracy Has Been No Small Blessing

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The thesis of the first installment of this "Link Between How We Think" series was that to defeat this regime it is necessary to rally a strong majority of American public opinion. That thesis, combined with the reality that the American public is not the least bit ripe to support the leftist agenda to conduct a major overhaul of the basic, long-established American system, led to the conclusion in the second installment that a restoration of the pre-Bushite status quo ante --of our traditional heritage as a constitutional democracy-- is the best realistic scenario toward which we should strive.

These simple realities dictate that we should focus our attention on dealing with the present emergency, i.e. the Bushite regime that is indeed overhauling the American system but in a fascist direction.

That left the question, however, as to how important the difference is between the Bushite regime and the American regime that has been normal in times past.

The leftist tendency has been to minimize the difference, not by denying the evils of the Bushites but rather by emphasizing the history of American injustice and corruption. They seem to conclude that nothing all that precious in what America was before.

America's Role in the World-- Under the Bushites vs. In the Past

I encountered this tendency in a recent discussion of America's role as a great power on the world stage.

I had made reference to the preciptious plunge, during Bush's tenure, in the esteem and trust given America by the peoples of other nations, including especially those of our traditional friends among the democracies of Europe. This elicited comments that made light of the changes in public opinion, and emphasized how America has long misbehaved, abusing its power at the expense of weaker nations.

I readily admitted that the United States has, over the many years of its being a great power, frequently used its strength unjustly. I'm fully aware of the long list of such abuses. But I maintained that the positive opinion in which America was held, before the Bushites, reflected a possibly more important truth: that in comparison with how other hegemonic powers have acted, the United States was relatively just and humane.

In this context, I referred to how clear it was to millions of Europeans during the Cold War, on both sides of that divided continent, in which superpower's sphere of influence it was better to live.

But there was dispute even regarding the idea that there was, between the two superpowers, a clear better or worse choice. It was clear to most of the world that the communist "alliances" were held together by coercion while the democratic ones were voluntary; that one part of Germany had to construct a wall to keep its people from escaping to the other part; that the peoples of half of Europe maintained a predominantly positive opinion of the superpower with which it was aligned, while the peoples of the other half stampeded to the exits as soon as it became clear that their dominating superpower was no longer going to enforce subordination with troops and tanks, as it had in 1956 and 1968. Even all this evidence was not sufficient to establish in the minds of my interlocutors that in important ways the American superpower was relatively good.

Here we see some of the hallmarks of the impediments to clear perception on the American left.

There is the refusal to make distinctions between something that is seriously flawed but relatively good and something that is much worse- a kind of thinking that I've referred to as "all shades of gray are black." There's the insistence on maintaining an un-nuanced stance of antagonism toward their own country, even if it means refusing to consider objectively the views of hundreds of millions of one's fellow humans, based on their own deeply lived experience.

So these leftists are not impressed when, in the wake of the Bushites shredding of the international order, a couple hundred million Western Europeans switch from having a positive to a negative view of the United States as an actor on the world stage. This seems to represent a commitment to ideology over truth.

But when people like these Europeans --with decades or generations of experience of American power figuring largely in their lives --perceive that something important has changed since George W. Bush became president, so should we. When it becomes something new for majorities of such people to tell pollsters that United States, under Bush, has become a global bully and a threat to peace, it is incumbent for us to recognize that previously the U.S. was something better than that.

Liberal Democracy in Historical Perspective

To speak of the United States as a relatively benign hegemonic power is not to deny the evils that it has also committed. It is to judge it, not just by the standards of the moral ideal, but also by (the admittedly dismal) standards of historical experience.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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