A Conversation with the Left About DiscoverTheNetwork.org
David Horowitz’s new database DiscoverTheNetwork.org presents itself as a “guide to the political left.” In less than two months it has been visited by nearly 625,000 individuals in 116 countries and has sparked a great deal of controversy. This controversy has been focused on what constitutes the left, specifically what individuals and organizations should be considered in this database. Objections have been raised to the inclusion of entertainers like Barbara Streisand and Sean Penn, Democrats like Howard Dean and Barack Obama and above all Islamic radicals like blind shiek Omar Abdel Rachman and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In all candor, most of the controversy took the form of ridicule and name calling -- familiar responses of the left when under challenge. There was a striking lack of intellectual comment and argument.
Part of the explanation for this failure to express disagreement in the form of an intellectual argument, we suspect, has to do with the left’s undisputed domination over the institutions of the higher culture – the universities, the large metropolitan press, and the TV networks. This dominance has caused it to inhabit a cultural echo chamber where the only interlocutor it really has to speak to (and answer to) is itself. Consequently, it has grown intellectually lazy and reaches for the most convenient epithet before it ever thinks about an argument. It has substituted emotional reflexes for ideas for so long that it has become a kind of latter day version of the conservatism that Lionel Trilling described as a “mental irritability” rather than an intellectual reference.
While the left often looks these days like a set of reactionary reflexes to conservative innovations, if we thought this was all the left was we would not have devoted several years to building our database at DiscoverTheNetwork.org, nor would we be attempting the present enterprise, which is to overcome the refusal of the left to discuss itself with us on its own and to invite it to discuss itself on our territory.
This is the first in what we hope will be a lengthy series of conversations with leftists about radicalism and leftism and liberalism and conservatism. We begin by inviting the first of three prominent members of the Left to discuss our new database with David Horowitz. Our guest today is Michael Berube, the Paterno Family Professor of Literature at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. He has a website at www.MichaelBerube.com, which featured one of the most linked satires attacking the idea behind DiscovertheNetwork.org.
Part I: Michael Berube and David Horowitz
FP: Prof. Berube and Mr. Horowitz, welcome to Frontpage's discussion on DiscoverTheNetwork.org.
Prof. Berube, let's begin with you. Tell us your thoughts on this new database.
Berube: My thoughts on it are pretty straightforward: it’s a database of liberals, progressives, leftists, and far-leftists. But it clearly seems designed to blur the distinctions not only between the mainstream left and the far far left, but between the far left and liberals such as Barack Obama, Barbra Streisand, and Bill Moyers. David himself says as much: “It should be obvious that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods.” By that standard, anyone with negative views of the Bush administration or the war in Iraq is an ally of Zarqawi. Suffice it to say that I don't think this mode of argumentation -- construing liberal dissenters as supporters of terrorists -- is appropriate for people living in republics and democracies.
More specifically, my objection to the Network is this. It’s one thing to associate [International ANSWER’s Brian Becker, Ramsey Clark, or [National Lawyers Guild convicted terrorist] Lynne Stewart with political Islamists; these people truly have gone around the bend, and are making what amounts to a red-brown alliance between the far far left and the far far right of Islamism. It’s quite another thing -- an indefensible thing, I think -- to suggest, as this database does, that there is a ‘network’ linking people like Katie Couric to Mohammed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui to Roger Ebert. So this ‘network’ deliberately confuses the distinction between people who criticize Lynne Stewart and Ramsey Clark and people who support them, and this fact alone renders the very idea of a ‘network’ incoherent.
FP: Mr. Horowitz?
DH: Of course we did not design the database to blur distinctions. We designed it first of all to make the distinction between the left and everyone else, and secondly to describe the particular positions of the left and their networks and to distinguish between them.
The database clearly identifies five categories of leftists: “Totalitarian Radicals,” “Anti-American Radicals,” “Leftists,” “Moderate Leftists” and “Affective Leftists.” How are these distinctions blurred if they are made? How, for example, does the database “blur the distinctions between the mainstream left and the far far left” or “between the far left and liberals such as Barack Obama?” as Berube claims, when Barack Obama is clearly identified as a “Leftist” and not a “Totaliatiran Radical” or an “Anti-American Radical?” I notice that Berube doesn’t identify a single statement that we have made about Barack Obama or any other entry in the database that is either false, inappropriate or misleading.
In contrast, I could write an entire book about the false, inappropriate and misleading statements about any given conservative on leftwing sites like MediaMatters, MediaTransparency, NameBase, RightwingWatch and the like.) In other words, we have actually made the distinctions Berube claims we haven’t, and we have done them in a responsible, fair-minded and accurate way. Berube’s claim reduces itself to the claim that all these names of people who are “far left,” “left” “liberal” (his terms) are included in a single “database of the left.” The issue, in other words, is whether there can be said to be a “left” that includes all these individuals, disparate and otherwise.
What Berube actually seems to disagree about is whether Barack Obama or Roger Ebert, for example, should be described as “liberals” or a leftists.” My question to him would be how can someone who supports racial preferences, income redistribution, and unlimited expansion of the nanny state, and who is comfortable with university faculties from which conservatives are virtually excluded be regarded as a “liberal?” Reasonable people may disagree on this, but we certainly have a right to identify modern liberals as belonging to the classic left. However, one may come down on this particular question– whether Obama is a leftist, or a moderate leftist or a liberal -- surely no reasonable person can maintain that we have blurred distinctions when we have actually codified them.
Whether actual liberals (by our standards), e.g., Senator Joseph Lieberman, New Republic Editors Martin Peretz and Peter Beinart, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, NBC reporter Tim Russert belong in a database on the left is a difficult question. All of them are Democrats and thus deeply enmeshed in networks that obviously identify themselves as left (or “progressive”). There is, in fact, a profound battle going on in the Democratic Party for the soul of liberalism and we cannot predict what the outcome will be. But are comfortable including these – or people like them -- in this database precisely because we have made the internal distinctioins between those on the left who are radicals and totalitarians and those who are opposed to radicals and totalitarians.
Berube’s claim that I have conflated Barbra Streisand and Zarqawi is unintelligible. To say that two people share some views – in this case opposition to American policy in Iraq – is not the same as saying that any critic of policy is an ally of Zarqawi. Although I notice that people who really want America to lose the war on terror often have a guilty conscience that makes them feel hunted in precisely this manner. But as I have explained many times, and most recently in my essay "Why We Are In Iraq," not all criticism of American policy is the same, and I certainly do not make that mistake. Calling Bush Hitler in the midst of a war is one kind of criticism; calling his policy mistaken is quite another. Agitating to have American troops defect from their service in the war terror, as many so-called “peace” organizations do, cannot be regarded simply as justifable “criticism” of the war. Why are Zarqawi and Streisand in the same database, or Zarqawi and Michael Moore, or Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill? It is a question the left really has to answer for itself.
How can people who claim to be for women’s rights, gay rights, equality and freedom take sides against America when it is at war with Islamic terrorists who oppress women and gays and who have declared war on democracy and equality? I have answered this question in my book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, which provides the rationale for the design of DiscoverTheNetwork.org, which Berube doesn’t like. Not a single leftist has commented on this book however. This reflects how intellectually lazy the left has become in examining itself and its commitments, and is why it resorts to name-calling and derision when it is forced to confront an analysis it does not like. If you don’t answer critics you find yourself unable to articulate why you are marching shoulder to shoulder with your own ideology.
It should be mentioned that Unholy Alliance is not the only book on the war on terror that links the Zarqawi Islamists with segments of the American left that Berube would find familiar and also identify with. Paul Berman a well-known leftwing author who despises conservatives in general (and myself in particular) has written an insightful book, Terror and Liberalism, which describes the affinities and alliances between American leftists (for example attendees of the Socialist Scholars conference) and Islamic terrorists.
Most people like to be judged by their intentions and given wide latitude for their deeds. People on the left are no different. Berube is asking us to judge opponents of the liberation of Iraq on the basis of their stated intentions that women should have equal rights rather than on their practical activities during the war, which – if successful --would have kept Saddam in power and prevented Iraqi women from gaining their rights. We regret that not being leftists ourselves we can’t indulge his narcissism in this regard. But then when do leftists like him judge conservatives by their intentions and not their deeds?
In any case, I have argued in Unholy Alliance and elsewhere that in the post-Communist era, the left’s intentions are even less important in understanding and evaluating their agendas than they were in the past. This is a direct consequence of the collapse of Communism and the socialist fantasy, and the lack of a coherent plan for the revolutionary future. The left is united today only by its commitment to “social justice” and “progressive values” which are vague statements of the imploded socialist dream. The real unity – the organizing principle as it were – of the left today likes in its its oppositions -- first to the United States and then to the state of Israel. Another way of putting it is that the left is defined by these oppositions. This is not a view peculiar to me, though I believe Unholy Alliance is the first attempt to systematically articulate it. I have posted a lengthy analysis of the left’s history from 1945 to the present written by an academic leftist Andrei S. Markovits for the socialist magazine Dissent that comes to exactly the same conclusions. I would welcome in these pages a leftist response to these conclusions. So far I have not seen any.
The negative framework of the left’s agenda in the political events following 9/11, that are described as the war on terror, can be understood by referring to its anti-war effort during the American intervention in Vietnam some forty years ago.
In the Vietnam War the United States had undertaken to support a dictatorship in South Vietnam on the grounds that the dictatorship was also anti-Communist, and therefore a lesser evil than a unified Communist Vietnam. Some on the left supported the Communist totalitarians. But many “New Leftists” were self-declared “anti-totalitarians” who believed that Communism was a flawed attempt to create just societies. Moreover, they did not believe that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was a Communist pawn (as it was) but a quasi independent socialist and/or nationalist force. Their argument for opposing the United States defense of the South Vietnamese regime was that a victory for the NLF would mean the emergence of an independent Vietnam committed to the principles of equality and justice. This was an incentive to see that America was defeated. And this indeed is the delusional vision that motivated people like Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda other anti-war activists, who worked to cut off all aid to the regime in South Vietnam (and Cambodia as well) that was fighting for its life against the Communists..
But in Iraq, America did not set out to defend a dictatorship for whatever reasons. It set out to overthrow one. In Iraq the United States overthrew a monster regime, and liberated women and Iraq’s minorities -- and the left did everything in its power to prevent this. The practical actions of the left were to save the regime of Saddam Hussein. But what could saving Saddam Hussein mean but more corpses shoveled into mass graves, more human beings stuffed into plastic shredders, more terror for the Iraqi people, and further deferment of the rights of women and other minorities.
Even after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the left’s agendas were primarily to bring down the Bush Administration, not to help American forces to consolidate the peace or establish an Iraqi democratic state. Many leftists even actively support what they call the Iraqi “resistance,” led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Others like Barbra Streisand and Michael Berube didn’t like Saddam and don’t like Zarqawi but seem to fear George Bush and American power even more. To read the publications of the left which Michael Berube’s perspective since 9/11 – the Nation, the Progressive, Salon.com, the Village Voice -- is to read relentless attacks on the Patriot Act, on American military actions and America forces in Iraq, along limitless skepticism about the American goal of establishing a democracy in the Middle East. The sheer volume of this criticism adds up to a political action against American purposes in this war. The impression reinforced by the virtual absence constructive proposals for defeating the Zarqawi terrorists and establishing a democratic regime.
So it’s not really the DiscoverTheNetwork team that has to defend the decision to include Zarqawi and Streisand in the broad networks that link disparate elements of the left. Rather it’s leftists like Michael Berube who have to explain why they are engaging in a political course of action which if successful would strengthen the global Islamic jihad against the West, along with its misogynist, anti-minority and reactionary agendas.
A point that may need reiterating (I have made it before) is that the mere fact that people on the left disagree does not mean that they are not on the left. As I observed in an earlier article on the design of DiscoverTheNetwork, Trotsky and Stalin declared war on each other, which ended with Trotsky’s murder by Stalin’s agents. But a responsible complier of a database on Communism would still be obligated to include both of these mortal enemies in the database.
FP: Prof. Berube, aside from your problem with the distinctions that, according to you, are not made, do you recognize that there is a “network” operating? Or do you deny the existence of any network at all? Tell us what you think of a Lynne Stewart and what she did. What was in her heart and why? What does it mean when Michael Moore calls for the victory of our enemy in Iraq? Just for the record, this is Michael Moore’s statement in his piece “Heads Up...from Michael Moore” on his site MichaelMoore.com, April 14, 2004: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win.” Does this say something about the Left, especially since Moore was an honored guest in Jimmy Carter’s box at the Democratic Convention? Is there a chance that Moore’s propaganda activities may bring harm to this nation and free peoples everywhere? As a member of the Left, do you feel a sense of responsibility to say something here?
Berube: Last question first: of course I have a responsibility to criticize members of the Left who've gone around the bend, and I have done so -- many times. It was strikingly ungenerous of David not to acknowledge that, especially since I criticized ANSWER in no uncertain terms on this very site two years ago. There really is no basis whatsoever for David’s claim [in the article “Why Michael Can’t Read” that “radicals like Berube can’t be bothered to actually read or respond rationally to anything that ruffles their progressive feathers, let alone be concerned about the fact that their entire political focus since 9/11 has been in getting our terrorist enemies off the hook.” And I’ve always insisted that my opposite numbers on the Right have a responsibility to criticize their lunatic fringe, which is why, six years ago, I went after David’s appalling defense of Augusto Pinochet.
Now, is there a network here? That's a good question. When Hillary Clinton named that “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she was really referring to a network -- and I wish she’d used that term instead-- of people who belonged to groups like the Rutherford Institute and the Federalist Society, who were working with Congressional Republicans and figures in the right-wing media to impeach the President. These people met, corresponded, and worked together toward a common goal. Nothing comparable exists between people like me and people like Brian Becker of ANSWER or Ramsey Clark, most recently of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, let alone between people like Katie Couric or Bruce Springsteen and Lynne Stewart.
As for Stewart, hers is a sorry story. I think that the New York Times Magazine profile of her in September 2002 had it right: like Clark, Stewart has allowed her opposition to US policy to make her embrace the very worst kind of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend"” logic. I’m not aware of Moore saying anything that batty with regard to Iraq, but I do know that whenever I come across a far leftist speaking of the ‘Iraqi Maquis’-- or Arundhati Roy telling us that we don’t have the luxury of supporting an Iraqi resistance more to our liking, and so must support this one -- I dissent. Such sentiments are not part of any Left I call my own, because the fringe Left that endorses them forfeits its moral authority to oppose totalitarianism, torture, and terrorism. (And I invite the Right to join me in opposing all three! Anyone?)
To associate me (or Roger Ebert or Ted Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg) with such fringe Leftists is to partake of precisely the same ‘logic; as that of the fringe Left itself: for Becker and Clark, the enemy of their enemy is their friend, and they welcome figures like Milosevic or al-Sadr, because anyone who opposes the US must be all right with them. Likewise, in Discover the Network, anyone who does not support George Bush and the war in Iraq is part of a “network” that extends to al-Qaeda. It’s the same fundamentalist logic, and the same forfeiture of moral authority.
DH: Well of course I specifically did not defend Pinochet in the article he refers to; in fact I specifically criticized Pinochet. What I did that upset Berube was to point out that Pinochet left his country prosperous and democratic (he voluntarily submitted to a referendum which he lost) and to contrast this to the fact that Fidel Castro is the longest surviving dictator in the world and has made his country dramatically poorer than it was when he took power. For this Berube called me a Nazi (to be precise he said he couldn’t wait for my next article defending the Third Reich). Now that’s what I call blurring distinctions, and I have to say it is pretty much a staple of the “arguments” of the left, as I have encountered them.
In fact in my conservative career – and from the very outset I – leftists have smeared me as a “renegade,” a supporter of contra terrorists, a Nazi, a fascist, a racist, a homophobe, a McCarthyite, a Stalinist, and most recently a Maoist. And these leftists attackers have ranged from what Berube calls the “far far left” to People for the American Way and a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, who described me both as a McCarthyite and a Stalinist in her column in the Denver Post for merely contemplating the creation of an online guide to the left, which she referred to as a “snitch site.” So these complaints about DiscoverTheNetwork are really like the pot calling the kettle black, only worse, because we have gone to great lengths not to indulge in casual smears.
Turning to Berube’s point about Hillary, in the interests of historical accuracy allow me first to point out that the reference to the “vast right wing conspiracy” was in response to a question as to why anyone would “invent” the charge that her husband had committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky. Knowing full well that her husband had indeed committed the act, denied it and instead maliciously identified a vast right wing conspiracy as the author of the “lie.” In other words Hillary’s comment (which Berube approves) was a classic McCarthyite attack on conservatives to cover her husband’s misdeeds. And this is being unfair to McCarthy, since there actually were Communists with malign agendas towards the United States whom he did identify, whereas no one invented Monica Lewinsky. Berube’s willingness to take at face value a malicious and false accusation from the left and at the same time to deny the evidence presented in a database that took conservatives years to research is revealing of how unable he is to maintain an intellectual standard let alone appreciate how he is perceived by others.
Berube’s dissociation from the criminal activities of Lynne Stewart and the Bolshevik dementias of International ANSWER are welcome and yes – ever mindful of the distinctions between leftists – we provided Berube a platform to express them on FrontPagemag.com. But this is only scratching the surface of the problem that Lynne Stewart presents for the left.
Lynne Stewart is a fifty-year veteran of the progressive left and a key player in its legal defense community. The organizations that have been her political base include the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights, two pillars of the anti-Patriot Act movement, the immigration reform movement, the reparations movement, the affirmative action movement, the solidarity movement and other causes of the broadly based left of which Berube is a part. If Berube will consult the database he will see that these are working allies – and share personnel with -- the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ford Foundation, and the Tides Center (to name just a few of its allies) and thus with the core institutions of the activist left of which Berube considers himself a part. Berube’s political friend, Todd Gitlin, a fellow critic of International ANSWER and of the politics of Lynne Stewart shared platforms with Lynne Stewart at the Socialist Scholars Conference. In his book Liberalism and Terror, Paul Berman has described how this Conference – which represents a pretty broad spectrum of the progressive left – gave a warm ovation to a speaker who justified suicide bombing. So both the network and the blur are realities; we didn’t create them; we have just described them, and have done so as scrupulously and accurately as we are able.
Contrary to Berube’s understanding, Stewart is most definitely not someone operating under the formula, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For Stewart the enemy is her friend. Stewart is a Communist and a terrorist and believes in her heart that the Islamic terrorists are freedom fighters, and she has said so in so many words (her statements are gathered in Unholy Alliance). The fact that Berube and others dissociated themselves from Stewart after she was caught in terrorist activities is a good beginning, but it is not the whole story, since Stewart’s communist and terrorist sympathies were the substance of her politics for years, with no visible dissent from Berube. Her anti-American, pro-terrorist sympathies are shared by organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights which are integral to the causes of the political left. New Republic editor Peter Beinart has called on liberals to purge from their ranks individuals and organizations like the National Lawyers Guild (and even MoveOn.org) that oppose America’s war against radical Islam. Berube has written a critical response to Beinart, which suggests that he himself is not ready for such steps. This is the real issue. If Berube doesn’t want to be associated with supporters of terrorism, he has to do a lot more than separate himself from one embarrassingly caught and convicted individual and some holy rollers from the International ANSWER.
I haven’t seen Berube dissociating himself, for example, from the Coalition United For Peace and Justice, described by the New York Times, Salon and others as the “moderate” peace movement. Does Berube think that the politics of the leaders of this organization differ significantly from those of International ANSWER as far as the war on terror is concerned? Medea Benjamin and Leslie Cagan the principal organizers of the CUPJ are two pro-Castro communists, (Cagan with a capital C, Benjamin with a small c). Leslie Cagan, who is a lifelong member of the Communist Party organized protests against the Vietnam war, movements for solidarity with the Communist guerrillas in Central America, and against the first Gulf War. Her lifelong sympathies lie with America’s enemies, yet she is the leader of a “peace” coalition that includes factions which extend from the Communist Party and radical Islamic organizations to People for the American Way, the National Council of Churches and MoveOn.org. What does Berube have to say about this network, and where do his own agendas part company with this coalition?
FP: Prof. Berube?
Berube: The American right needs to dissociate itself from:
-- the torture and murder of random Iraqis and Afghans
-- its support of South African apartheid
-- its support of violent, ultrareligious homophobic patriarchs in the US
-- its support of violent, ultrareligious homophobic patriarchs abroad
Until it does, I'm going to persist in thinking that its recent endorsements of “freedom” are hollow and meaningless.
DH: This answer from Michael Berube is disappointing but not surprising. As I have already observed, the left has become so intellectually lazy from years of talking to itself (and “at” everyone else) that it has lost the ability to conduct an intellectual argument with its opponents.
Berube has not answered any of the points made in response to his original criticisms. He has failed to defend his claim in particular that networks of the left to which he himself actively belongs include Communists, Islamo-fascists, and supporters of terrorism, united by their opposition to the American Great Satan. Nor has he attempted to explain why an alliance of convenience is justifiable in these cases. And he certainly has made no credible case for excluding Lynne Stewart’s terrorist friends from a database of the left.
As if happens – to answer his final contribution to this conversation – conservatives do dissociate themselves from the “torture and murder of random Iraqis and Afghans – beginning with the President, who is the author of America’s policy to promote freedom in the Middle East. If Berube wants to discuss the question of whether torture of terrorists is justified under any circumstances, perhaps we can organize a symposium on the subject.
Most conservatives opposed apartheid. A database on conservatives should certainly include those who did not however. What is the point of this challenge?
Who is Berube referring to when he refers to “violent, ultrareligious, homophobic patriarchs” in the United States and abroad. Conservatives are in a war with the “violent, ultrareligious, homophobic patriarchs” of radical Islam. Progressives are either not in the war or still attempting to make up their minds.
This grandstanding, initiated by Berube, is really out of place in an intellectual discussion, and an unfortunate way to conclude this exchange.
[To read the second half of this debate, Click Here]
FP: Prof. Berube and Mr. Horowitz, thank you for joining Frontpage's discussion about DiscoverTheNetwork.org. We encourage our readers to stay tuned for Part II of this series, in which Mr. Horowitz will continue this dialogue with Prof. Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.