The Michael Moore Democrats
I have been recently been taken to task for my use of the phrase “the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party”. Given the use of the term “Michael Moore Democrats” by Republicans who’d like to tar us all, I think it is important to draw the distinction in my use. My usage is to make clear that while this tendency does exist, and exemplifies a strong and virulent strain of thought on the American left, it should not be used as a broad brush to tar us all. Frankly, the Moore group is smaller than it appears; unfortunately, the problem is twofold; its prominence among the media, which magnifies its importance to observers in the punditocracy and the heartland, and its malignant influence among other liberals who really do not believe in the same mindless kant. One reader said to me “I am damned proud to be a Michael Moore Democrat.” However, I don’t think he really understands what he is saying.
There is a tendency among liberals to romanticize left-wing true-believers as pure and noble. A similar tendency exists among many liberal Jews in regard to the Orthodox. Both tendencies are based upon observation of proud individual examples which deserve the respect they’ve earned, but fuller knowledge would shatter the illusions which underlie both tendencies.
The important thing to understand is that there are different kinds of liberals; and I might add, different kind of anti-war liberals. As David Greenberg in recently noted in Slate, this divide is similar to the one over Vietnam:
“the anti-war spectrum ranged much further than the McGovernite fringe...there were the liberals. Early on, mainstream anti-communist liberals such as John Kenneth Galbraith, Hans Morgenthau, Walter Lippmann, and Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield counseled against intervention in Vietnam….As the war widened and deepened, however, liberals' criticisms grew louder.…The most talented liberal leaders harnessed the energies of the young and the angry without succumbing to demagogic gestures or anti-imperialist cant. The classic example of this liberal dissent was Allard Lowenstein, the energetic mastermind of the "Dump Johnson" campaign of 1967 and 1968. Rooted in Cold War liberalism, holding no truck with communism, he was more interested in reaching out to the center than spurning it…Although he considered the war both an error and a lost cause, Lowenstein disdained an immediate pullout in favor of winding down the conflict through phased withdrawals, talks with the North Vietnamese, and a coalition government for the South….Far from renouncing American influence abroad , RFK reaffirmed "our right to moral leadership of this planet."...The three top Democratic candidates running in 1972 denounced the war. Edmund Muskie of Maine pledged "as close to an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam as possible." Hubert Humphrey insisted, "Had I been elected [in 1968], we would now be out of that war." It's not likely that either man, if nominated, would have run a "come home" America campaign like McGovern's. ..Philosophically and politically, the Democrats' post-Vietnam retreat from internationalism was a mistake….Similarly, there exist today many strains of anti-war opinion. Only a minority of critics of the war would endorse the left-wing maximalism now gaining so much attention in the news media. Indeed, a broad consensus now thinks the Iraq war was a mistake—even if no one can agree on what to do about it.”
As I’ve stated, at length, in an earlier article, opposition to unilateralism separates Clinton Democrats from Bush Republicans. But, our willingness to affirm “our right to moral leadership of this planet” (which, of course, must be earned) separates us from the “Moore Democrats”. Clinton Democrats are philosophically Trumanites; Michael Moore, and his ideological compatriots like Chris Owens, Jonathan Tasini, Dennis Kucinich Cynthia McKinney, Jim Moran, Jim McDermott, MoveOn.Org, and others, fall more into the line of Henry Wallace.
The difference on Iraq between war supporters like Lieberman and Biden, on the one hand, and liberal internationalists who oppose the war, on the other, resembles the Vietnam debate between Cold War Liberals like Arthur Schlesinger and Reinhold Niebuhr, who did not see the Vietnam War as a rightful extension of Trumanism (because Ho Chi Minh was a genuine indigenous nationalist, with real popular support, rather than a Soviet imposed stooge), and those like Johnson and Humphrey (initially) et al, who did not understand this; but neither side in that debate rejected the essential philosophy of Cold War Liberalism, “our right to moral leadership of this planet”. By contrast, Moore Democrats are more in line with the Tom Haydens who rejected Cold War Liberalism's entire raison d'etre. While Schlesinger might have been marching against the war with Hayden while Johnson stood at his window cursing the marchers, Schlesinger's world view was far more like Johnson's than Hayden's. Moore’s is somewhere else entirely.
Moore may be one of those creative artists, like Spike Lee and Tom Wolfe, whose art reflects a complex, mutli-dimensional intelligence not apparent when they open their simple minded one dimensional mouths. Frankly, I don’t think many liberals like the Moore Democrats as much as they think they do. I’ve surfed the net looking for examples of Moore’s ideology, and it is not pretty; yet, as I’ve noted, his poisonous viewpoint exemplifies a strong strain of the America Left. This strain cost us the 2000 election by its opposition, and probably cost us the 2004 election by its support. I think the perception of its influence on the party, although exaggerated, has been a factor in our recent inability to win national elections. Before one objects, "let’s look at the record”:
MOORE ON GORE:
"I want Ralph Nader to get millions of votes on Tuesday. I have seen the response to Ralph at numerous huge rallies across the country. There is a progressive movement afoot in America and it needs to explode into a majority movement -- beginning now, not four years from now."
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