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On Hubris

With the inauguration of Barack Obama only days away and and the Eugene Weekly trumpeting that “Our Long National Nightmare is Over“, I found today’s column by Peter Beinart in the Washington Post both refreshing and instructive. In the context of a plea for Democrats to finally recognize the success of the “Surge” in Iraq,  Beinart cautions liberals and progressives, especially young ones, the likes of which one frequently encounters around the University, against excessive hubris:

Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president, an entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported — and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn’t happen.

Younger liberals, by contrast, have had no such chastening experiences. Watching the Bush administration flit from disaster to disaster, they have grown increasingly dismissive of conservatives in the process. They consume partisan media, where Republican malevolence is taken for granted. They laugh along with the “Colbert Report,” the whole premise of which is that conservatives are bombastic, chauvinistic and dumb. They have never had the ideologically humbling experience of watching the people whose politics they loathe be proven right.

In this way, they are a little like the Bushies themselves….

Come Tuesday, there’s likely to be a lot of celebration and triumphalism among Democrats and other liberals here in Eugene and indeed nationwide. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’d do them well, though, to keep in mind that Peter Beinart isn’t really talking about the “Surge” at all. He’s warning against the temptation to believe that, after eight years of the “national nightmare,” the return of the Democratic party to the Oval Office has vindicated the “progressive” worldview as being inherently superior to competing ideas.

The idea that the Republican party has become a “permanant minority” or little more than a “regional” Southern party might be comforting to some, but it’s more than a little reminiscent of Karl Rove’s “permanent majority” rhetoric. Conceiving of conservative thinking as a whole — from the Republicans to the Constitution Party, Libertarians, and others — as wholly discredited and fundamentally unserious (as Beinart argues the Bush Administration treated its critics) or simply viewing them as an undifferentiated mass of Bible-thumping racists might feel good on a visceral level, but it’s not really grounded in reality and it certainly isn’t good long-term thinking.

Indeed, anyone who thought Barack Obama was going to work that way has already tasted disappointment. Some have already begun to jokingly refer to the Obama Administration as the “third Bush term“. While such quips are obviously tongue-in-cheek, they do reflect “progressive” disappointment that Obama himself hasn’t shown much interest in waging an ideological crusade against Republicans and conservatives in Washington.

“Being proven right too many times is dangerous,” Beinart concludes. “It breeds intellectual arrogance and complacency.”

If Democrats and “progressives” follow the same path along which the Republican Party has trudged since 2000 (Or 1994. Or 1981.), toward arrogance and complacency, they might find themselves hunkering down and bracing for the next “national nightmare” in 2012. After all, what happened in November 2008 wasn’t a revolution. It was just a Presidential election. And these things happen.

  1. C.T. Behemoth says:

    What’s bad about the citizenry and the intellihentsia? Just curious.

  2. T says:

    “This opinion is incorrect. What we have is an unusually bad citizenry, especially the intelligentsia.”

    Zing! You got right to the spleen of the matter, Brett. Kudos.

  3. C.T. Behemoth says:

    “In short, he will do everything Bush would have done. ”

    I find this hard to believe.

    Along with most of the other comments so far, hehe.

  4. John says:

    And here’s the benefit of being right about most things:

    In order for Obama to achieve anything ay all, he will have to drop all his lefty nonsense and govern as a centrist or even a Republican.

    The economy will crater if he raises taxes, attacks “greedy” Wall Street or imposes state health care.

    Iraq could unravel if he withdraws. Troops will still be there in 4 years.

    To keep the nation safe, he will not undo the Patriot Act or any of the other terrorist monitoring programs Bush created.

    He opposes rendition. So, if and when he closes Gunatanamo, what will he do with its inhabitants? Release them into the DC suburbs? Dump them into the sea?

    In short, he will do everything Bush would have done. The MSM, of course, will never admit that. They will simply crow that Obama’s “responsible” approach requires that we not precipitously withdraw from Iraq, etc etc.

  5. Brett says:

    “Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president,”

    This opinion is incorrect. What we have is an unusually bad citizenry, especially the intelligentsia.

  6. Lily says:

    “Watching Bush flit from disaster to disaster”. Now, I’m no Bush fan, and have my own list of grievances about his administration, however, I felt the public criticism of him was overwrought. So, now, in hyper emotionalism, people have elected a man with little experience, based on his charisma and his pretty words. They let themselves get carried away again in emotionalism.

    Until we become a thinking people (rather than an emoting people), I will fear for my country.

  7. Letalis Maximus, Esq. says:

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. If the GOP writ large had listened to Tom Coburn instead of Trent Lott, Don Young, Ted Stevens, Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Ralph Reed, and their ilk, the Republicans would still be a majority party in Congress and would likely have retained the White House. But nooooooo. If I may mix metaphors a bit, they had to belly up to the trough that is the public fisc and gorge themselves on not only the low hanging fruit, but the whole damned tree.

    A pox on all of their houses.

  8. Scott says:

    That is actually a really good column. Thanks for posting this Vincent.

  9. C.T. Behemoth says:

    I think this summed some things up nicely.

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