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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Dissent from the center.

Many Americans who distrust the President's war plans undoubtedly wish they had another option. Those who oppose a war either have or think they have an alternative. But, as one Unitarian Universalist wrote in a recent e-mail, many antiwar folks feel that they are being tarred with the "unpatriotic" brush simply for expressing their doubts. He asks:

How do we re-frame the argument so that a dissenting view can be heard without automatically being dismissed as unAmerican?

Liberal leaders and groups should make this a primary goal, but it would mean that they would have to focus their arguments even more than they are already doing. They should, for one thing, expressly repudiate the language of the radical left, making it clear that liberal proposals are the best way to defend and cultivate American values in the world.

Liberals should describe how right-wing policies threaten things that most Americans value, and they should do so in a way that doesn't borrow an ounce of rhetoric from the radical left. For some of us, this is because we disagree with the radical left; for some of you, this may mean adopting a pragmatic discretion.

Skip, for instance, lurid catch-phrases like "No blood for oil" or "U.S. out of the Middle East." Don't mock American institutions or leaders. Keep the American flag; it belongs to the liberal tradition, not to jingoists and blowhards who forget what it stands for. Talk about what makes you proud of your country, and how those are the things worth defending. Show how the policies you oppose violate the ideals and best interests of your country.

Here's a simple example. David Cortright, founder of the "Win Without War" campaign, launched his group because he was appalled at the extremist language at the October 26 rallies sponsored by the Stalinist cover group International A.N.S.W.E.R. Cortright was worried that the antiwar movement could not reach middle America if its primary public events were being sponsored by fringe political movements. (He also opposed their weird political smorgasbord.) That's why the Win Without War group is a coalition instead of unions, mainstream liberal political action groups (NAACP, NOW), and religious groups like the National Council of Churches and the UUA. Its statements and proposals are explicitly, deliberately mainstream.

Dissent from the center. That's what the civil right movement did. It's the only way to make a meaningful difference.

And please note: I'm not suggesting that anyone adjust their own political ideology to the right. I'm suggesting that liberal goals have deep roots in American traditions, and the best way to get more people to share those goals is to get more people to tap into those roots.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 28 January 2003 at 3:49 PM

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