‘NY Times’ Sunday Preview: Democrats Need a Shot of ‘Cold War Liberalism’

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By: E&P Staff

Democrats may feel they are riding high, heading into the midterm elections with President Bush?s approval rating at an all-time low, but Peter Beinart offers a warning, and a new direction, for the party in a feature piece upcoming this Sunday in The New York Times Magazine. It?s titled provocatively, ?The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal.?

The article is adapted from his forthcoming book, ?The Good Fight.? Beinart is currently editor-at-large for The New Republic.

Beinart warns that it is not enough for the Democrats to simply run on ?competence? this year, rather than telling Americans ?what their vision is.? For better or worse, the Republicans have such a vision, which voters understand: ?America represents good in an epic struggle against evil.?

Democrats have some good foreign-policy minds and even some worthy foreign-policy proposals but no ?coherent story about the post-9/11 world….Before Democrats can conquer their ideological weakness, they must first conquer their ideological amnesia,? he declares.

The problem is, ?Liberals don?t have a script because they don?t have a Reagan.? Their most recent presidents: Jimmy ?arter, considered a ?failure? in the international field, and Bill Clinton, who allegedly didn?t have to do much because foreign policy was ?peripheral? when he was in charge. (Beinart does not mention that Clinton at least ignored pleas to invade and occupy Iraq.)

While conservatives have “at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great,” liberals “have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme.”

So what are the Dems to do? According to Beinart, they should look back to the late 1940s and 1950s and embrace the cold war liberalism of the time, best represented by Reinhold Niebuhr and George F. Kennan.

Besides being tough and anti-isolationist, this is defined by ?a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survived.? It also requires admitting that even in fighting evil America must admit that we are not “inherently good.” He also calls for ?generosity at home? as well as ?generosity abroad.?

But how all this differs from current Democratic philosophy is hard to discern.

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