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August 09, 2004

Who's Being Divisive?

A brief idea, but I think it's an important one.

One of the most common charges leveled by liberals against Bush is that he has "divided" the country after 9-11. According to this argument, the country was "united" immediately after 9-11 (in fact, they say the whole world was united as well, but let's put that aside for now), but that Bush's Krazy Kowboy Konservatism has undone that unity.

For this theory to make sense, it needs to be the case that an "original understanding" was forged in the aftermath of 9-11, from which Bush and the conservatives, rather than the liberals, walked away. For the argument to be valid, it needs to be true that after 9-11 we reached some Grand Compromise that liberals have remained true to, but which conservatives have betrayed.

Is that true?

After 9-11, did the nation forge an "original understanding" that was fairly liberal, fairly conservative, or a good compromise of both?

After 9-11, did the nation rally around cherished liberal notions such as strong-form, if not absolute, enforcement of civil rights restrictions on law-enforcement activities or passivity, deference, and negotitation as our primary foreign-policy tools?

Was that the deal this national collectively struck in that horrible week after the disaster, with bodies still cooking in the ground, which Bush has betrayed by his subsequent actions?

That doesn't jibe very well with my recollection. I remember one reporter or liberal after another announcing that "we all now understood" that the passivity and "carefully calibrated counter-attacks" of the Clinton years would have to be discarded. I remember Howard Finemann saying specifically on Hardball that the ACLU and Muslim advocacy groups "understood" that there would have to be more aggressive, and sometimes more intrusive, law-enforcement scrutiny of potential Muslim terrorists, and that racial profiling was definitely on the table as a possibility at the very least.

In short, I remember the liberals crossing the ideological aisle to agree with, and acquiesce to, conservatives. I don't remember conservatives becoming more liberal in order to achieve a compromise. My memory is that liberals became hawkish on both law-enforcement and foreign policy -- or at least posed as being such -- and thus joined with conservatives, who had as rule been hawkish on both for years.

We did reach an Original Understanding, all right -- one that was almost completely conservative in outlook.

We did not come to an understanding that was more liberal. Nor even somewhat liberal. We came to an understanding that was decidedly conservative -- even arguably authoritatrian and belligerent in some respects -- in those seminal weeks and months.

Since those early weeks and months, we have seen liberals become increasingly dovish in their anti-war impulses, and increasingly strident in their demands that we be more "sensitive" as regards civil rights in combating terrorism inside the US.

So: Who walked away from that Grand Original Understanding we all forged after 9-11?

It is the liberals who have reconsidered; it is the liberals who have decided that their immediate reaction was too driven by emotion, anger, and fear; it is the liberals who have walked back the cat from their post-9/11 acceptance of a conservative -- yes, conservative -- law-enforcement policy and foreign policy.

Now, they have the right to reconsider. If they now think that they overestimated the danger posed by terrorism, or if they now think that such dangers are not as great as the danger posed by overagressive law enforcement or military action, they have the right to retract their original acquiesence in the post-9/11 Original Understanding.

But they do not have the right to lie about who, precisely, is splitting away from whom. They are splitting away from that Original Understanding. Conservatives are merely honoring it.

They have decided to "divide the country" by walking away from the original understanding. They may have reconsidered, they may have reevaluated, they may have repriortized, but they cannot blame Bush for merely holding to the original understanding we nearly universally embraced after 9-11.

Is Bush to be blamed because he has committed the great sin of not following the liberals in their, ahem, evolutions of thinking on these issues? Is it the conservatives' fault that we have, surprisingly enough, failed to become more liberal after 9-11 than we were before, simply because the liberals began reverting to form scant months after the greatest attack on this country in our history?

It is the right of liberals to "divide the country" by taking a contrary position. These are, in fact, divisive issues, and the interests of unity does not demand they remain silent when they dissent with the government.

But honesty does demand that they forthrightly admit that it is they who are "dividing the country," because it is they who abandoned the understanding reached after 9-11.

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posted by Ace at 03:31 PM

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