Tuesday, July 16, 2019


The hand-colored Voyage dans la Lune of Georges Méliès (1902), via Fritzi.

Shorter David Brooks, "What Pelosi Versus the Squad Really Means", New York Times, 16 July 2019:
Pay no attention to the contest between Democrats and Republicans. The real struggle is the civil war between the troops of Nancy Pelosi, representing liberalism,  and the legions of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing illiberalism, who are probably going to win because (1) Americans have moved into lifestyle enclaves, (2) universities, media, and the Senate have degenerated, as people who put the rules of fair play above short-term partisan passion scarcely exist, and (3) Donald Trump is on their side. I am not a crank.
After President Trump came to the "defense" of Pelosi ("But Cortez should treat Nancy Pelosi with respect.... She should not be doing what she’s doing. And I’ll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do. She is not a racist, okay. She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace." [NARRATOR VOICE: Nobody called her a racist]) and announced that the members of the "Squad" (Reps. Ocasio-Córtez, Pressley, Tlaib, and Omar) ought to go back where they came from (Bronx, Boston, Detroit, and Somalia-via-Minneapolis respectively) and "fix" those places, and Pelosi responded appropriately with a tweet

and a censure motion sponsored by Polish-born rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) that "strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should 'go back' to other countries", and Rashida Tlaib dismissed the haters who applauded Trump in language that might have been Christian: "There's more love," she said on "The Situation Room." "There's more love for unity, for respect for each other. There's a love that this is a nation of immigrants," and AOC added, "We don't leave the things that we love. And when we love this country, that means that we propose the solutions to fix it."

Brooks just wants to be sure you don't get distracted by all this superficial noise and lose sight of the important issue, that some people nowadays have really bad manners.

No, I don't think it works. For starters, I'm really suspicious of the efforts of Brooks and his colleagues to seize the word "liberal" for their own purposes, to mean something more or less opposed to what it means now, from the "classical liberalism" of a fictional version of Adam Smith preaching absolutely unfettered markets to the Mister-Rogers niceness of Brooks's current mask:
No matter how moderate or left, Democrats of a certain age were raised in an atmosphere of liberalism. I don’t mean the political liberalism of George McGovern. I mean the philosophic liberalism of people like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass — people who witnessed religious and civil wars and built structures to restrain fanaticism....
Liberalism loves sympathy, suspects rage and detests cruelty. Politics is inevitably a dialogue between partial truths. Compromise is a virtue, not a sign of cowardice. Moreover, means determine ends. If you win power through rhetorical violence, and by hating those who disagree, your regime will be angry and destructive. Liberalism arose out of the fact that political revolutions, while exciting at the outset, usually end up in brutality, dictatorship and blood. Working within the system is best.
(If he hasn't learned by now how radical Mill, Lincoln, and Douglass all were in their very different ways, he clearly never will, but I can't understand how he doesn't know that Lincoln pursued a civil war to the total destruction of an enemy with which he saw compromise as impossible, and "built structures" to extirpate them forever, or began to build them in the weeks before his untimely death, please don't tell me about the kindly words of the Second Inaugural, offered after the destruction phase was pretty nearly complete.)

I'd rather see a bridge than a chasm between what Britons meant by "liberalism" in the period from Gladstone to Lloyd George and what we mean in the period from Johnson (and McGovern) to now, and I found it, very early in the story of this blog, in the novels of Gladstone's contemporary Anthony Trollope:
Mr Monk was in the Cabinet, and of all the members of the Cabinet was the most advanced Liberal. "Lady Glencora was not so far wrong the other night," Mr Monk said to him. "Equality is an ugly word and shouldn't be used. It misleads, and frightens, and is a bugbear. And she, in using it, had not perhaps a clearly defined meaning for it in her own mind. But the wish of every honest man should be to assist in lifting up those below him, till they be something nearer his own level than he finds them." To this Phineas assented -- and by degrees he found himself assenting to a great many things that Mr Monk said to him.
An ideology not with a negative aim—to "restrain fanaticism"—but a positive one, to approach equality, but trying not to take it so far as to spook Lady Glencora. And a particular defect—not the timidity, which may or may not be justified at a given moment but is always strategic, based on the likelihood that we might need Lady Glencora at some point—the defect of being addressed to a ruling class which is to give liberation to those below, not to a working class that needs to take it in order to own it.

I regard myself as a radical in this picture, but I love liberals, for the broadminded spirit Brooks praises them for and the generosity he doesn't recognize. And I regard them as essential to progress, the liberal and the radical shoulder to shoulder with the same aims and slightly different ideas of how to attain it. It's never going to be easy for AOC and Pelosi to work together, but it is possible, it's been happening, and it needs to continue. The stakes are really pretty high. Look at how much Brooks wants to stop it.

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