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When Barak Obama said recently that we cannot only talk to our friends but must also be willing sometimes to talk with our enemies, when he implied that talking could prevent increased conflict and when he explained that additional personal intervention in diplomatic dialog would be required of the next president to repair the damage done by the arrogance of George Bush; I felt light had come again to a room long gone dark.
George Bush's election in 2000 came near the conclusion of over a decade of near Utopia in American. In the 90s when we read Churchill's "the history of civilization is one of war interspersed with short periods of peace" we were convinced we were heirs to a new history. It had been said before that the age of War was over, and we believed we were living it.
Ronald Reagan frightened us as children when we heard him call the Soviet Union an evil empire. We knew America was not evil, and was probably a better place to live than Russia, but that made us feel sorry for the Russians, and we didn't want to go to War. With our children's eyes, we saw Russian children with the same hopes, dreams and feelings we had. We had no stake in geopolitics or economics or ideology to defend. We were simply human like they were.
And then the Evil Empire fell like a dark room opening on a spring morning. As far as we could see safely in California, there was no blood and the tears were mostly of joy. There had been no campaign of troops and no terrible bombs on homes. Peace, Liberty and Openness had prevailed on their own self-evident strength alone, without the need for bullets.
As far as we could understand this was the way it would always be. Totalitarianism could not survive simply under the weight of its wrongness. This was not an ideology, it was a truth like gravity.
And in the event nations, governments or anyone tried to close themselves off and shut out the ring of freedom, we knew in America there was one solution. Dialog. The strength of the values we embraced was self evident and any conflict against those values was the product either of ignorance or misunderstanding.
The power of this world view is cosmic. In this world view there could be no war for the brave and the smart because the challenge was not defending ourselves, but either explaining to others the purity of our intentions and plans or working harder to understanding other's needs in the context of our values. Everything could be worked out through education and dialog.
Little did we as teenagers understand the seriousness of the Arms-Race through the 70s and 80s. Little did we understand the gravity of the doctrine of M.A.D. We saw only that it was insane.
But the truth is M.A.D., the Arms-Race and our President Reagan's calling the U.S.S.R. the Evil Empire were the product of an intensely conceived and brilliantly developed ideology by a group that latched on to the label Conservatives. This group and this ideology took on its broad shoulders and deep pockets the weight of defending us and our bright eyed hopes. And they did not call themselves doves, or believe in the self evident weight of our values and ideals. They called themselves hawks and understood the wheels of both power and might. Their worldview included the active role of the mythic warrior PeaceMaker. To ensure peace for everyone, and certainly for ourselves, order had to be enforced with the means for violence; when attacked or threatened the means and the plans for defense were all that mattered.
On the back of the great success of the American Enterprise these hawks were eminently successful. They had the right ideology, the right country and the might behind them to prevail. The Soviet Union collapsed and those hawks took the credit and it is by their sweat, that they felt that we bright eyed doves entered our adult lives to enjoy the spring of liberty and cooperation we saw blossoming in our country and the world.
When Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected in 1992 it was a tremendous setback to these Defenders of the Free World. Bill and Al were formed out of the 60's liberalization. They were the other side of debate, the idealists against the realists. It was under their leadership that our Utopia blossomed, but to Conservatives this was a theft of their Labors. The wrong team was getting credit for peace. A corner stone of Bill and Al's ideology was that dialog mattered. Dialog and respect for argument were almost as important as being right.
To many of us the centrality of dialog was an obvious part of the commandment "Do unto others as..." It was self-evident as the sun. But we did not understand that to those that felt they had delivered utopia: belief in the primacy of dialog, even during conflict, was silly and even, dangerous.
To this school of thought, committed to being In the Right, defending what is Right becomes not just noble, but necessary. To shy from that defense is not just weak, but contemptible.
Standing on the sunlit hill of Utopia it was easy to make the differences indistinguishable. To many of us there was only the sounds of the party of possibilities for many years. Purseliped defenders of Right were usually just killjoys stomping in the distance. And when the Right was right, it was easy for everyone to rejoice. Inclusion is easy in an ideology that believes in dialog, and was easy while the music played.
But purselips everywhere were organized. Their bitterness gave them a plan. Their footstomping knew the stakes of complacency and the call to defend their Right was clear. But the call to be open, flexible and to listen was so easy to accept, like Truth, or the Sun, that it seemed unnecessary to defend. And because of this Liberal call was not George Bush won the presidency in 2000 and the room went dark.
The great ideals of Liberal thought have been systematically attacked since William Buckley's famous excoriation of decadence describing his opponent's supporters as "vegetarians, pacifists, hermaphrodites, junkies, Communists, Randites, clam-juice-and-betel-nut eaters" in 1965. The huge mistake made by those who should know better in dismissing this obvious provincial and bigoted demagoguery, is missing and dismissing the coherence and organizational intentionality with which the Conservative movement has developed institutions, policies and an ideological frameworks around an ideology that has built itself on tearing down the assumptions of Liberal thought with epithets of relativism, decadence, Liberalism and worse. This is no fringe reaction, but a methodical movement that has fully grabbed the gravitas of American thinking.
And that thinking is deeply wrong in its reliance on the righteousness of our beliefs justifying closing our ears to attackers and aggressors from within and without. It is an absolute staple of human nature that the second right is seized for our own we immediately begin on the path to wrong. The liberal ideology of continued dialog and openness is founded in the bedrock truth that dialog and humility are the only way to save ourselves from the eventual evils that always rise from knowing we are right.
The Doctrine of Preemptive Strike is a clear and egregious example of brilliant minds gone wrong on an ideology of Right and is just one more light switch turning wrong I hope positions like Obama's on the importance of dialog help flip right.