On Second Thought…

On Second Thought…

Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again

The Good Fight:
Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again
by Peter Beinart
HarperCollins, 2006 290 pp $25.95

It is time again to reinvent the liberal project. Since 1968, it has almost always been time to reinvent the liberal project. Beginning with that fateful election, when the white South and much of the white working class abandoned and thereby ended the New Deal coalition, liberals and Democrats have wandered for nearly forty years through a desert of ideological conflict and confusion, of fragmentation and lack of definition, of brief bursts of power and long stretches in opposition.

Never did they seem more marginal than early last year. Republicans (and not just any Republicans, but the most right-wing Republicans anyone had ever seen) controlled everything—the White House, the Congress, and the courts, where things were only going to get worse with each new Bush appointee. Things have indeed grown worse in the courts, but in the other branches of government, the Republicans have undone themselves beyond anyone’s expectation. For once, they had enough power to really act on their ideas: That was their undoing. They sought to privatize Social Security, but their numbers didn’t add up and nobody supported their plan. They continued to wage their war of choice, past the point where anybody could envision even a remotely happy ending. They were drenched in corruption. They let a great American city drown.

Through all this, the Democrats have not stood idly by. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, respectively, have proven themselves better at herding cats than any party leaders in recent memory. Democrats stayed united in their opposition to Bush’s Social Security lunacy and to most other Republican panaceas as well. They are even evolving a straightforward, modest program to campaign on this fall: raise the minimum wage, rewrite the drug benefit legislation so that government can negotiate costs with pharmaceutical companies, implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and so on. See, they really do have ideas, and they’re pretty good ones at that.

What they lack, the current generation of Democratic pundits agree, is a vision, a big picture, a philosophy; a coherent, sustaining worldview that benefits both the world at large and the Democrats in particular. Democratic thinkers, pollsters and analysts have been making this point since the mid-seventies, at least, and rightly so. Of late, editors of publications that identify themselves as liberal, more or less, have been making that point. My American Prospect colleague Michael Tomasky has sought to restate liberalism’s principles in what he calls a doctrine of the common good, which has engendered a good deal of interest in liberal circles over the past couple of months. And now Peter Bei...


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels