Guilty Liberals Annoy Me

I’ve already criticized Tony Judt’s hit piece on American liberalism. Now Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin published a somewhat longer, and entirely misguided, critique of Judt. Instead of explaining why Judt has no idea why he’s talking about, they write a meandering manifesto that isn’t worth the electrons it’s displayed on.

Lindsay summarizes the manifesto better than I can:

[Link] Here’s the shorter version of the manifesto:

1. We opposed the war all along.
2. Israel has a right to exist.
3. We are not pacifists.
4. The president is using his illegal war as a pretext to take away our civil liberties.
5. Signing statements are an affront to the rule of law.
6. The war is distracting us from domestic issues.
7. We owe every citizen the means to a decent standard of living.
8. Everyone should be equal under the law.
9. Voter suppression is a big problem.
10. The president is in denial about global warming.
11. The administration is at war with science.
12. Reason is good.
13. Torture is unnecessary.

I can’t object to any of these principles.

However, it irritates me that this so-called manifesto appears to be motivated primarily by spite at Tony Judt’s blunt assessment of America’s recent intellectual history. Yes, Gitlin and Ackerman were early Iraq war skeptics, but even they were relatively mild and measured in their critiques.

When someone tells you you didn’t oppose the war on Iraq enough, the last thing you do is issue a clarification that you oppose the war now. The said someone usually doesn’t care what you really believe; he only wants to have a good excuse to hate moderates. When he does care what you believe, he’ll convince himself that his own criticism caused you to see the light.

Rather, what you do is explain how you’ve opposed the war since before it was executed, and how the mainstream liberal establishment did, too. More importantly, you defend seeing the world in more than black and white, contrasted with your opponent’s shrill anti-Americanism. You point out that your attacker is using selective quotes and overblowing the importance of the few liberals who really do support wars of aggression, like Beinart.

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