Political consensus-making is grayer territory than column indicated

To the Editor:

Alexander Dominitz maintains that only the right cares about goodness and America; perhaps the center acquiesces to the right’s own brilliance (“Political consensus not always worth forging,” 9/11). I would remind him that the right hasn’t the trustworthiness on this or other matters. Has the right always condemned the intentional targeting of civilians? Has the right always spoken for progressive, democratic nations such as Israel, which embraces such traditional conservative policies like universal health care, strong union rights and gays in the military? Occasionally the right wants to defend the nation with a strong military, especially when this is in the interest of the economic elites.

Sometimes it finds bribing foreign dictators to its immediate economic and social interest. Occasionally it turns inward in between xenophobia and hard isolationism. The left has a stronger tradition of supporting the initiatives Dominitz alleges to hold dear. The world was made safe for democracy by a leftist president; fascism was defeated, we thought forever, by a leftist president; the Soviet threat was stood down by leftist Cold Warriors such as Rep. “Scoop” Jackson and Sen. Dan Patrick Moynihan. There was a struggle, during the Cold War years, for the soul of the American left, especially in the trade union movement; the Stalinists lost, and the anti-totalitarian center-left won. Perhaps some of the Stalinist impulse — ideological purity at the expense of core values and reason — has returned among the so-called limousine liberals.

The anti-totalitarian center-left recognizes that our primary concern must be the prevention of totalitarianism. We achieve this by solidarity. We must pledge and feel eternal solidarity with captive peoples. We must also promote the small loyalties that undermine totalitarian governments and support liberal ones: associations and clubs, churches and trade unions.

The closest thing I have ever seen to an understanding of conservatism and progressivism, and therefore of the right and left, is a quotation by Sen. Moynihan. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” We must realize that the American federal government is the greatest tool for the betterment of humankind that our age knows. Yes, we support the free market, not for its own sake, and not because it makes our personal lives more pleasant, but because it is a tool for improving the welfare of people. To embrace national character as the only explanation of human action is to reject the fundamental equality of man we lefties hold dear. No, all men are equal, all men are capable of self-decision and self-rule, all good men will choose what is best for them and theirs. And, as a member of the left, I see national governments as useful tools for the promotion of liberty, which, as I say, is not nearly a teatime hobby, but an essential part of our national and human missions.

Dominitiz’s column enlightens on many fronts. Yes, we must fear the far left that sees America as a bad thing. It has become fashionable of late in leftist circles, as Dominitz points out, to measure a person’s leftist-ness by the number of rightists who hate him. This is a silly criterion. If we can convince those who think they are right that, truly, they are progressives concerned about the rise of totalitarianism abroad, for both national security and human reasons, we have succeeded. But we who are heirs to the American progressive tradition must realize that we haven’t allies on the hard right, either. Despite the ideological chatter of the News’ editorial pages, the sentiments of most Americans align with ours, and in that we can take comfort.

Michael Pomeranz ’09

Sept. 11, 2006

Comments