Wednesday, October 18, 2006

“We Answer to the Name of Liberals”

A new liberal manifesto, in the form of a response to an essay published a few weeks ago by Tony Judt in the London Review of Books, appears in the November issue of American Prospect

Signatories include, among others, Bruce Ackerman, Todd Gitlin, Benjamin Barber, Lizabeth Cohen, Robert A. Dahl, James K. Galbraith, Christopher Jencks, Michael Kazin, Robert B. Reich, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Richard Sennett, William Julius Wilson, and Alan Wolfe. (Go here to see the entire list of name and to sign it yourself.)

This is the statement in its entirety:
As right-wing politicians and pundits call us stooges for Osama bin
Laden, Tony Judt charges, in a widely discussed and heatedly debated essay in
the London Review of Books, that American liberals -- without distinction --
have "acquiesced in President Bush's catastrophic foreign policy." Both claims
are nonsense on stilts.

Clearly this is a moment for liberals to define ourselves. The
important truth is that most liberals, including the undersigned, have stayed
our course throughout these grim five years. We have consistently and publicly
repudiated the ruinous policies of the Bush administration, and our diagnosis,
alas, has been vindicated by events. The Bush debacle is a direct consequence of
its repudiation of liberal principles. And if the country is to recover, we
should begin by restating these principles.

We have all opposed the Iraq war as illegal, unwise, and
destructive of America's moral standing. This war fueled, and continues to fuel,
jihadis whose commitment to horrific, unjustifiable violence was amply
demonstrated by the September 11 attacks as well as the massacres in Spain,
Indonesia, Tunisia, Great Britain, and elsewhere. Rather than making us safer,
the Iraq war has endangered the common security of Americans and our allies.

We believe that the state of Israel has the fundamental right to
exist, free of military assault, within secure borders close to those of 1967,
and that the U.S. government has a special responsibility toward achieving a
lasting Middle East peace. But the Bush administration has defaulted. It has
failed to pursue a steady and constructive course. It has discouraged the
prospects for an honorable Israeli-Palestinian settlement. It has encouraged
Israel's disproportionate attacks in Lebanon after the Hezbollah incursions,
resulting in vast destruction of civilian life and property.

Make no mistake: We believe that the use of force can, at times, be
justified. We supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in
Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. But war must remain a last resort. The Bush
administration's emphatic reliance on military intervention is illegitimate and
counterproductive. It creates unnecessary enemies, degrades the national
defense, distracts from actual dangers, and ignores the imperative necessity of
building an international order that peacefully addresses the aspirations of
rising powers in Asia and Latin America.

The misapplication of military power also imperils American freedom
at home. The president claims authority, as commander in chief, to throw
American citizens into military prison for years on end without any hearing,
civil or military, that would allow them to confront the charges against them.
He claims the power to wiretap Americans' conversations without warrants, in
direct violation of congressional commands. These usurpations presage what are
likely to be even more drastic measures if another attack takes place on
American soil.

At the same time, the president is unconstitutionally seizing power
on other fronts. He seeks to liberate himself from the rule of law by issuing
hundreds of "signing statements" asserting, with unprecedented sweep and
aggressiveness, his right to ignore congressional control. Such contempt for the
people's representatives verges on monarchical pretension.

The administration's politics of panic diverts attention from
pressing questions of social justice and environmental survival. The president
remorselessly seeks to undermine the principle of progressive taxation. Under
cover of patriotism, he promotes vast tax cuts to the rich at the expense of
policies that strengthen the common ties that bind us together as a community.

We reaffirm the great principle of liberalism: that every citizen
is entitled by right to the elementary means to a good life. We believe
passionately that societies should afford their citizens equal treatment under
the law -- regardless of accidents of birth, race, sex, property, religion,
ethnic identification, or sexual disposition. We want to redirect debate to the
central questions of concern to ordinary Americans -- their rights to housing,
affordable health care, equal opportunity for employment, and fair wages, as
well as physical security and a sustainable environment for ourselves and future

Instead of securing these principles, the president and his party
view the suppression of votes indulgently and propose new requirements for
voting that will make it still harder for the poor and the elderly to exercise
their democratic rights.

The administration's denial of reality reaches a delusional peak in its
refusal to acknowledge basic science describing the massive climate change now
under way. Against the advice of all serious experts, the government has grossly
failed in its responsibility to our descendants. It has consistently sought to
undermine the Kyoto treaty and refused to encourage energy conservation. We
insist on a clean break with this shameful record. Our government should be
taking the lead in reducing greenhouse gases, recognizing our responsibilities
as the world's leading polluter. We should be investing massively in energy
sources that carry out a commitment to environmental stewardship and help
restore our manufacturing base at the same time.

The administration's contempt for science is of a piece with its
general disdain for reason -- a prejudice that any modern society ought to have
left behind. Whether confronting scientific research, evolution, birth control,
foreign policy, drug pricing, or the manner in which it makes decisions, the
Bush administration has defied evidence and logic, sabotaging its own
professional civil servants. It refuses serious consultation with experts and
critics. It acts secretly, in defiance of the powers of Congress. It refuses to
identify those whose advice it solicits, even concealing the names of the vice
president's staff. It stifles civil servants attempting to do their jobs. It
appoints cronies whose political loyalty cannot compensate for their
incompetence. When challenged, it responds with lies and distortions.

Reason is indispensable to democratic self-government. This
self-evident truth was a fundamental commitment of our Founding Fathers, who
believed it was entirely compatible with every American's First Amendment right
to the free exercise of religion. When debating policy in the public square, our
government should base its laws on grounds that can be accepted by people
regardless of their religious beliefs. Public commitment to reason and evidence
is the bedrock of a pluralist democracy. Nevertheless, it has been eroded by the
present administration in an ongoing campaign to pander to its hard right wing.

This government's failures to respect the process of public reason
have generated predictable consequences -- none of them good. The Bush
administration has failed to protect its citizens from disaster -- from foreign
enemies on September 11, 2001, and from the hurricane and flood that afflicted
the Gulf Coast in 2005. It has driven the war in Iraq to an impasse. It is
incapable of presenting a plausible strategy to bring our military intervention
to a tenable conclusion.

We insist that America be defended vigorously against its real
enemies -- the radical Islamists who organize to attack us. But security does
not require torture or the rejection of basic guarantees of due process. To the
contrary, this administration's lawless conduct and its violations of the Geneva
Conventions only damage our moral standing and our ability to combat the appeals
of violent ideologues. By defending torture, the Bush administration engages in
precisely the kind of ethical relativism that it purports to condemn. Meanwhile,
it refuses to confront its responsibility for the human-rights violations at Abu
Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Having failed to plan for obvious
contingencies, it has scapegoated low-level military personnel when it should be
identifying and punishing broader command failures.

We refuse to confine our criticisms to personalities. We believe
that the abuses of power that have been commonplace under Bush's rule must be
laid not only at his door -- and the vice president's -- but at the doors of a
conservative movement that has, for decades, undermined government's ability to
act reasonably and effectively for the common good.

We love this country. But true patriotism does not consist of
bravado or calumny. It resides in faithfulness to our great constitutional
ideals. We are a republic, not a monarchy. We believe in the rule of law, not
secret prisons. We insist on justice for all, not privilege for the few. In
repudiating these American ideals, the Bush administration disgraces America and
damages our claim to democratic leadership in the larger world.

It will take hard work to undo this damage. It will take more than
defeating the hard-line right at the polls. We must engage in large acts of
political imagination and inspire a new generation to take up liberal principles
and adapt them inventively in a new century.

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