Peter Beinart ’93 said he usually does not see eye-to-eye with President George W. Bush ’68.
Given that fact, it might seem strange that the former New Republic editor credits the nation’s president with inspiring Beinart’s first book, “The Good Fight: Why Liberals — and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.” Then again, Beinart told a crowd of Yale students at a Branford College Master’s Tea Thursday, U.S. Democrats can take a number of cues from their Republican counterparts.
“One very dangerous trend today is to condescend to conservatives, to say ‘We are the party of ideas,’” Beinart said. “But to really understand liberal failures in American politics in recent decades, one has to start with the idea that conservatives seem to take ideas more seriously than liberals.”
Beinart, who served as editor of The New Republic from 1999 until 2006 and is currently its editor-at-large, said he has spent much of his career trying to establish an intellectual, liberal vision of America. After hearing Bush repeatedly declare during his 2004 campaign “you may not always agree with me, but at least you know where I stand,” Beinart said he realized that — unlike the president — U.S. liberals do not have a core set of beliefs to draw on.
While conservatives can rely on an intellectual tradition that spans the works of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr., today’s Democrats “haven’t yet built an academic edifice,” Beinart said.
Instead, he said, Democrats have consistently focused on improving the party’s political machinery. Though Democrats do have to worry about political realities, Beinart said, their focus on “winning the next election has almost completely crowded out their willingness to have a conversation about what they actually believe.”
While Beinart said he is not equipped to say what it is exactly that Democrats do believe, he thinks his book outlines at least the beginning of a “liberal” foreign policy.
America must promote democracy internationally, which can be accomplished only through international cooperation and domestic stability, he said.
“America can only be strong abroad if it’s strong at home,” Beinart said.
A number of Yale students who attended the tea said they appreciated Beinart’s drive to kindle Democratic intellectuality and his casual and charming delivery.
“I think he’s really clever, his ideas to reinvigorate the party,” Chase Olivarius-McAllister ’09 said. “I think it’s great to hear someone like him talk, an upbeat darling of the left.”
Other students, however, said they felt Beinart’s academic response to the Democratic party’s maladies may be politically unrealistic.
“It’s clear he’s a very intelligent guy,” Gabe Goffman ’10 said. “Still, I don’t know if he, as a journalist, has a real understanding of how hard you can push ideology.”
At Yale, Beinart majored in history and political science, and during his freshman year took Branford Master Steven Smith’s political philosophy Directed Studies seminar. He went on to do graduate work in international relations at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.