Saturday, February 19, 2005

Beinart's Naive Suggestion

In his latest column in The New Republic, Peter Beinart suggests that Democrats need to express their approach to foreign policy in a way that will inspire the American public. He says, "Bush's second inaugural doesn't challenge liberals at the level of policy; it challenges them at the level of rhetoric."

If I understand him correctly, he asks Democrats to acknowledge the United States' less than democratic history in the Third World. Such an acknowledgement would include admitting mistakes and "recognizing U.S. fallibility." Doing so, Beinart continues, "has implications for how the United States promotes democracy today." The upshot? "The United States should hold the world to a higher standard, but ultimately the best way to do that is to allow others to hold us to a higher standard as well."

Beinart is calling for a rhetoric "that fuses idealism with humility." If you read closely, though, you'll notice that he shifts from a prescription for Democrats to one for the nation as a whole. He's right that the country's foreign policy elite should be more humble. But if he thinks that's the way for Democrats to gain an upper hand over Republicans on foreign policy, he grossly misunderstands the American electorate. In the post-9/11 era, few swing voters will warm up to a party that humbly admits the faults of the United States - at least not while Republicans offer nationalistic certitude.


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