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Friday, January 16, 2004

Fighting the good old fight  

Michael J. Totten on the King Day anti-Bush protests:
The left won this argument. Martin Luther King Jr. won this argument.
A white Republican from Texas paid his respects on Dr. King's birthday. Okay?
It's progress. Got it? Comprende?
It's not that hard.
It is if you really don't want to believe that you've won. That means you have to move on to something else.

It isn't only generals who fight the last war; soldiers do too. For some, the war never ends. You have to give up victory, and you have to give up peace, but you get to still be doing something vitally important. You get to still be righteous. You get to still have the same enemies and the same stereotypes and the same clear answers, and fight the same good fight.

Arminius at Meeting of the Gods recently posted a distinction worth remembering:
Possibly the most important thing to know about the American right and left is that they define themselves and their priorities today based on their greatest victories of the past. For the left, that victory was opposition to and defeat of racial discrimination and segregation. For the right, that victory was opposition to and defeat of communism.
For the left and the right, these victories were so complete that even the opposing side gives them credit for it. So, each side tries to leverage any debate to recreate those victories. For the left, every issue becomes a racial one, while for the right, every issue becomes a recreation of the Cold War.
(I think he understates the importance of Vietnam, for some on the Left; stoppping the war was a big win, too, if not necessarily a positive one - and inextricably tainted with self-interest. I know my anti-war fervor redoubled when my student deferment went away and I was suddenly subject to a draft lottery like the proles. One reason the boat people and the re-education camps were so invisible for so long was that the protests were never about the Vietnamese, north or south, but only about us. Likewise, ANSWER never gave a damn about the Iraqis. But I digress.)

The central point is valid about past victories; what I suspect is also a factor is not merely trying to continually recapitulate the past because it worked, but because it's familiar and comfortable, and you know where everybody stands, and that you stand on the side of the angels.

Totten is talking to people on the left who don't want to believe the battle was won - in part because so many of us now define ourselves by what we're against and who our enemies are, rather than what (if anything) we're actually for. No easily-identifiable enemies, no reliable self-image. (To what extent was the lack of an accustomed enemy after the collapse of the Soviet Union involved in the pathological Clinton-hatred of the 90's right? Discuss. Compare and contrast to today's Bush-hatred.)

It's been easier for conservatives since the Islamists leapt forward to volunteer for the enemy role, but liberals don't really have anyone new to hate. They have to keep recycling the same tired old racist/fascist claims. (I suspect, entirely independent of proof, that pretty much the same percentage of Republicans are actual racists as Democrats are actual communists. A troubling number of each are "merely" sympathizers and enablers, but the real issue is the opposition's simplistic paintbrush.) Let it go.

It really is time to move on into the 21st century. Come on in - the water's fast and treacherous and scary as hell, but at least it's not stagnant.

posted by Kelly | 7:39 PM link