Thursday, January 23, 2003

Newspeak of the Week

"Liberalism is anti-American."

Yesterday's Michael Kelly column is a vivid example of the kind of phenomenon I've remarked on recently, in which liberals are increasingly painted as being sympathetic to the enemy.

A typical snippet: The left has hardened itself around the core value of a furious, permanent, reactionary opposition to the devil-state America, which stands as the paramount evil of the world and the paramount threat to the world, and whose aims must be thwarted even at the cost of supporting fascists and tyrants.

I mentioned previously that this smear on liberals -- that they are "anti-American" -- is directly drawn from the same kind of mud that used to be thrown at them -- that they are "Commies." I thought that smear was mostly extinct, but not for the likes of Kelly:

This is whom the left now marches with. The left marches with the Stalinists.

Others, notably Glenn Reynolds and James Lileks, have made the same argument.

Let's put something to rest right now. Ideologically speaking, I'm as devotedly anti-Communist as I am anti-fascist, and I think the vast mass of antiwar liberals out there are as well. But pragmatically speaking, they don't particularly care who is organizing the antiwar rallies, because at least someone is doing it. And there are reasons liberals don't view Communists with the same kind of reflexive horror as do conservatives.

As authoritarian ideologies go, Communists have a decidedly more mixed role in America's history -- both good and bad -- than do fascists, whose contributions have been unremittingly negative. By way of example: Communists played a major role in the case of the Scottsboro boys, a group of nine transient young black men who were accused groundlessly of rape and nearly lynched in 1931. Were it not for the tireless efforts of the International Labor Defense -- the legal arm of the Communist Party of America -- those young men would have died. Philip Dray has an extensive account of the case in his excellent At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America.

And only a century ago, the people who were agitating for the elimination of child labor and limiting the work week to a mere 70 hours were regularly attacked -- often physically -- as "socialists" and "communists." [I always recommend J. Anthony Lukas' Big Trouble for a very clear rendition of social conditions at the turn of the century.]

This is an old smear, and it reeks of desperation. It's an attempt to silence reasoned debate by merely dismissing ad hominem the motives of the opposition. And of course, since it clearly violates the Orcinus principium, it carries the stench of anti-democratic zealotry.

Oh, in case anyone had forgotten amid all this Newspeak: Democratic liberalism -- especially questioning, probing and ultimately pragmatic liberalism -- is a quintessentially American product. Fascism -- particularly the kind that brooks no questioning -- is not.

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