Professor Michael Berube is one of many fierce and shallow critics of our new database -- DiscoverTheNetwork, which is a comprehensive guide to the political left. In a recent attack on our site (on March 2) he reveals once again the intellectual laziness of the left when it comes to engaging opponents in, well, intellectual argument. On the other hand, tenured radicals like Berube have lifetime jobs and captive audiences, so what is their incentive not to be lazy?
When DiscoverTheNetwork was unveiled on February 15th, Berube was one of many leftwing bloggers to attempt a riposte with a mindless, tongue-in-cheek, assault focusing on one page that featured a hundred or so individuals profiled on the site. Forget that the website is the product of years of thinking about the left and that its rationale has been laid out in a series of books beginning with Destructive Generation, which I co-authored with Peter Collier, and including The Politics of Bad Faith, Left Illusions and Unholy Alliance (published this fall). Forget, too, that the new site, the result of tens of thousands of man-hours of work, is itself an attempt to redefine the political spectrum in a way that brings our political language into closer relationship with the reality described. In particular, that it makes an argument for changing a lexicon in which radicals like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore are habitually described as "liberals" by mainstream media, along with ideological feminists like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Argument anyone? The left isn't interested. In a collective hissy fit the leftwing "critics" responded to the posting of DiscoverTheNetwork with howls of ridicule and cries of anguish, fixating on a picture grid as the focal point of their ire. The grid had committed the unpardonable offense of "lumping together" a fraction of the individuals profiled in the base. As it happens, these individuals had been selected because they were famous and therefore recognizable, and thus likely to entice browsers to enter the interior pages of the base and view the contents inside (each picture served as a link to a profile).
Berube’s assault was typical of the pack attack. It was conceived (ineptly) as a satire of the alleged absurdities the site's authors had committed , rather than as a serious argument. Berube and other leftists guffawed over the presence of Barbra Streisand and Katie Couric in the base, as though no one could take these women seriously (imagine if conservatives had tried that) and because (along with other leftists) they were included in a site along with Islamic radicals like Sami al-Arian and the “blind sheik” Abdul Rachman. Al-Arian is the imprisoned North American leader of Palestine Islamic Jihad and Abdul Rachman is the convicted head of the Islamic Group which tried to blow up 200,000 commuters in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels a dozen years ago, and actually bombed the World Trade Center for good measure.
Since Berube and his friends can't be bothered to supply an argument, I will do it for them. Behind the posturing, two real issues are at stake in this caterwauling. First, in compiling a comprehensive encyclopedia of the left is there a legitimate rationale for including the full range of American leftists from radicals to moderates (all currently mislabeled "liberals")? Second, is there a rationale for including Islamic radicals like the aformentioned terrorists along with Americans who disapprove of terrorism (or like Berube, who disprove of terrorist tactics while locating their own strategic enemies in the environs of Pennsylvania Avenue)? Obviously, the second question is the one that has really got the leftist goat, so I will address it first.
Both Sami al-Arian and the "blind sheik" Abdel Rachman, as Michael Berube certainly knows, are no strangers to the American left. Indeed, al-Arian's National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom was the spear-head of the anti-Patriot Act movement. Al-Arian was a colleague and comrade of the leaders of America's legal left which includes the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Now that al-Arian is in jail, where he belongs, his organization is headed by a longtime National Lawyers Guild exectuive (and fellow radical), Kit Gage. The "blind sheik," Abdel Rachman has been championed and abetted in his terrorist enterprises by a hero of the academic left, Lynne Stewart, who – while under indictment -- toured American university campuses as a guest of their law school faculties.
How easy is it to be a guest of law school faculties like Stanford, as Lynne Stewart was? Ask Clarence Thomas and Judge Bork. The reason an indicted terrorist can get such invitations (and conservatives usually cannot) is that law school faculties are dominated by leftist professors like Michael Berube who are linked by one or two degrees of separation to long-standing radicals like Lynne Stewart – and thus no more than three degrees – to terrorists like Omar Abdul Rachman and his Islamic Group.
Are these degrees of separation important? Of course they are, and our database recognizes that fact. We have identified and distinguished Totalitarian Radicals, like Ward Churchill, who supports the terrorists from Moderate Leftists like Bill Clinton, who have fought the terrorists. The New Republic's editor Peter Beinart (who is not yet in the database) is such a moderate. Beinart is currently leading a movement to get other moderate leftists (whom he refers to as "liberals") to dissociate themselves from those leftwing individuals, organizations and publications (e.g, CounterPunch) who actively support the terrorists, and among whom are prominent leaders of the broad "anti-war" left (Leslie Cagan, Meda Benjamin) of which Michael Berube is also a part. We applaud Beinart's efforts and note that if successful they would create much more healthy degrees of separation than the existing ones. We wait for Michael Berube to join him.
In fact I have already made a detailed and extensive case for including Islamic radicals in a database on the left in Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. I even included in this book a lengthy collective portrait of progressives, which I called, “The Mind of the Left,” and which traced the continuities in radical thought from the generation of Stalinist intellectuals, like Eric Hobsbawm (an icon of the current academic left) through Professors Noam Chomsky and Todd Gitlin who despise each other but also share a common hatred of America, by which I mean the "actually existing America" and not some fantasy of an American future to be shaped by radicals.
It is this common anti-Americanism, that makes American radicals de facto allies of radical Islam, as in their unqualified attacks on the war to bring freedom to Iraq. Both elements in this alliance think of America as the Great Satan (and Israel as the Little Satan): the root cause of social evil in the world. This common belief also makes American radicals allies of convenience with Arab fascists like Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden described the collaboration of these unlikely allies in a fatwa issued on al-Jazeera TV just before Tony Blair and George Bush began their military actions to remove Osama’s blood-drenched ally in Iraq: “The interests of Muslims and the interests of the socialists coincide in the war against the crusaders.” Bin Laden had in mind the ten million leftists worldwide who went into the streets a month earlier in protests that, if successful, would have saved Saddam's regime.
My contention that the left is currently defined by its anti-American and anti-Israel agendas was recently confirmed by an academic leftist, Andre Markovits, in an insightful essay, "The European and American Left Since 1945," which appeared in the leftist magazine Dissent. But 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. (Doubters can consult the archives of The Nation, The Progressive and any number of leftwing sites on the web to confirm the negative posture of progressives towards the war on terror and their sympathetic back-bending for terrorists.) Naturally, not a single leftwing journal or blogger, for that matter, so much as noticed Unholy Alliance, or addressed its arguments, despite the fact that there is no better known critic of the left than myself and Unholy Alliance makes the same claims that now incite them. It is only because I have now constructed a website with pictures reflecting the same conclusions that they have been roused from their torpors.
More thoughtful people than Michael Berube were initially puzzled about the principle of inclusion behind DiscoverTheNetwork and the famous grid, which led me to the decision to modify it. I did this not by excluding any of the leftwing individuals already in the database – but by introducing five categories to the grid that differentiated the spectrum of the left for those who didn't bother to read the actual profiles (or couldn't understand the pattern they reflected). These categories are:
1. Totalitarian Radicals: Ward Churchill, Alexander Cockburn, Abul Rachman
2. Anti-American Radicals: Katrina Van Den Heuvel, Jane Fonda, Mumia Abu Jamal
3. Leftists: Hillary Clinton, Bill Moyers and Justice Ruth Ginsburg
4. Moderate Leftists: Bill Clinton, Peter Jennings, Maureen Dowd
5. Affective Leftists: Barbra Streisand, Katie Couric, Martin Sheen
Of course I never fooled myself into thinking that Berube and other leftists would be satisfied by these distinctions. In their minds, the first two categories boiled down to "McCarthyism" and last three don’t describe “leftists” at all. To hard core radicals, these are liberals.
But are they? In fact, the entire database DiscoverTheNetwork.org (and a lot of my analytic work on the left contained in previously referenced books and in articles on the web) is designed to show that the common usage of the term “liberal” is a calculated obfuscation determined by leftists to provide themselves with an advantage in the political contest, an advantage that conservatives obligingly (and infuriatingly) seem willing to give them.
For those interested, the current term “liberal” was hijacked from actual liberals a generation ago. One can see this readily for oneself by taking the career of John F. Kennedy as a point of reference. Kennedy became a liberal icon at the beginning of the Sixties, before the left gained the ability to define (and re-define) the term liberal and thus the political spectrum for the rest of us. Kennedy's politics -- militant anti-Communism, hawkish defense policies and tax-cut agendas are indistinguishable from the politics of the 1980s "conservative" Ronald Reagan, who was weak on Civil Rights and a former Democrat. In the 1960s, Hubert Humphrey was also recognized as “liberal.” But he, too, was an anti-Communist liberal -- as any liberal worthy of the name would have had to be at the time. This made him an enemy of the left -- the same left which everyone refers to as "liberal" today.
In 1968, the left set out to organize Humphrey's electoral defeat and end his political career. To do this they labeled him a “cold war liberal,” which meant to them no liberal at all, and organized a riot at the Democratic Party convention, which was nominating him for President. The riot tarnished the Democratic Party and their candidate who went on to lose the general election.
In those very years, Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the (then) liberal magazine Commentary had begun dissociating himself himself from the “New Left” because of its support for America’s Communist adversaries, and because the Democratic Party after Humphrey's defeat and fall came under the leadership of George McGovern (a man who never met a Communist enemy he would go to war with). In other words, the Democratic Party appeared to Podhoretz to be joining the leftist camp.
Podhoretz thought of himself as a liberal and, as he describes in Breaking Ranks, fought fiercely to keep the label for himself and those like him who were reacting against the leftwing turn of the Democratic Party. It was the Democratic Party's betrayal of liberalism (its embrace of racial preferences, its appeasement of the Communist enemy) that made Podhoretz support the Republican Ronald Reagan. But leftists like Dissent editor Michael Harrington would have none of this. The socialist Harrington coined the term “neo-conservative” to identify and villify liberals like Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and other Democrats disillusioned with their increasingly leftwing party. If Podhoretz could be labeled a neo-conservative, then leftists like Harrington could be called "liberals."
Fortunately for Harrington, and leftists like him, they had political allies in the arbritrating instiututions of the political culture that could make such labels stick. Soon the New York Times and the network TV anchors were referring not only to Harrington, but to lifelong Communists like Angela Davis and pro-Communist radicals like Tom Hayden, who had organized the Democratic convention riot, as “liberals.” The Times, followed by the Washington Post and other engines of the political culture of course identified Podhoretz and his colleages -- despite their protests -- as "neo-conservatives." And the labels stuck.
In this way the entire political culture underwent a shift to the left, so that today leftists like Michael Berube are themselves amazed when an ideological feminist like Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also referred to as a leftist, although that is precisely what she is.
People who support the redistribution of income generally; people who believe that America is divided into race, class and gender hierarchies (as though we are still living in the Middle Ages), people who support the redistribution of social resources on the basis of skin color and gender; people who support the relentless expansion of the state; people who refer to Republicans as “Nazis” (as for example Bill Clinton, Rep. John Lewis and Senator Byrd have all done) and who can find nothing wrong with university faculties that are 90-95% situated on one side of the political debate -- such people are not liberal under any reasonable definition of the word. They are left.
On the other hand leftists don't want to be identified as "left" because they don’t want to be burdened with the history of their deplorable political "mistakes." In particular, they don't want to be accountable for their support for (or appeasement of ) our Communist enemies during the Cold War. Nor do they want to be accountable – the case with leading Democrats – for their protection and support for radicals like Cynthia McKinney, and the sixty odd socialist members of the so-called Progressive Caucus. They prefer to refer to overt socialists and anti-America radicals as "liberals" so people won't think of the disasters created by socialists and anti-American radicals when they think of them. Of course they then complain when conservatives respond negatively to the radical ideas of "liberals," that conservatives have maliciously given liberalism a bad name.
Take a look at the information provided in DiscoverTheNetwork.org (all the links in this article refer to the database), the alliances revealed and the common agendas disclosed, and learn why it is important to apply the term “left” to the individuals who have been included on this site. Or, if the site doesn't convince you, then argue why the case is not proved. Ridicule is not an argument, though Michael Berube and his comrades seem to think it is. As I wrote in my original rejoinder, “The striking thing about Berube’s response is his unwillingness to join the intellectual argument.”
In a more recent blog (March 2), Berube has responded to the newly articulated picture grid, which distinguishes the degrees of separation between factions of the left. But he has done so in a manner as superficial and dismissive as ever. Seizing on the category “Affective Leftists,” he writes: “What is an Affective Leftist you ask? Don’t ask! This humble blog does not know.” Well it’s not for lack of our trying. If Berube remains ignorant that has more to do with Berube’s inability to read plain English, or perhaps just his inability to look at himself.
On the very page in DiscoverTheNetwork where the picture grid appears, there is a description of the section that explains its principle of inclusion. At the end of this description one can read the following sentence: “For an explanation of this picture grid click here.” Even this sentence seems to have escape Berube’s notice because if he had clicked the link he would have been taken to an essay called “Defining the Left,” where his question is answered:.
"The term 'Affective Leftist' requires some explanation, and I am grateful to my comrade-in-arms Peter Collier for the description that follows: These are people who are often in positions of influence, the media in particular, who are bien pensant in the extreme. In spite of their social status, they see themselves ‘in opposition,’ a legacy from the 60s when the notion of 'The System' as a malign code word for America was born. They are also involved in post-radical chic, glorifying people who 'authentically' represent oppositional ideas in a way they would not have the courage or really even the political inclination to do themselves. To these people, as opposed to serious leftists, political “ideas” are the intellectual equivalent of a fashion statement, always adjusting to meet current trends, always meant as a sort of code to tell the world that they are good people. Obviously, this refers to people like Katie Couric and Robin Williams and almost all of Hollywood. (Some Hollywood people like Sean Penn with his Communist lineage are harder core and should be distinguished from this category; but there aren’t that many of them, and in any case as actors their politics are largely emotion-based as well.)
"These affective liberals have as their bottom-line definition the fact that they want to feel that they are on the right side rather than any real commitment to a vision (or anti-vision) for the country. They are for ‘freedom’ when it is freedom to kill third-term fetuses or engage in same-sex marriages or stuff blow up their noses; they do not define freedom as having anything to do with captive peoples around the world having the chance to escape the tyrannies that constrain them. They like Fidel because he is a thorn in America’s side and a sort of dime-store existentialist, and they rhapsodize about his spreading of literacy in Cuba without considering the fact that at the same time that he teaches people to read he tortures writers like Armando Valladares whose books he doesn’t like."
Is this definition difficult to understand? What people like Berube don't seem to understand is that politics is, in the end, a serious business. When Berube and his friends opposed America’s Cold War with the Communist enemy, the consequences of their actions were dire indeed. In Cambodia and South Vietnam, Berube and his fellow leftists -- including John Kerry and Ted Kennedy -- are accountable for making it possible for the Communists to slaughter two-and-a-half million innocent people after U.S. aid was cut at their insistence. But what if they had been successful in other campaigns? If the nuclear freeze movement had prevailed over its conservative opposition it is very possible that a billion people in the Soviet bloc would still be under the Communist heel. If leftists like Berube and Kennedy, had been successful in obstructing the effort of America and Britain to liberate Iraq, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, Iraqis would still be disappearing into plastic shredders and mass graves, there would be no democracy movement in the Middle East, and the world in general would be a more dangerous place.
The fundamental utility of DiscoverTheNetwork.org is that it shows the left is a network that is vast in scope, and that this network influences American policy at every level, with troubling consequences for us all.