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The Left, the Right, and the Liberals
The Israeli Tragedy Helps Us Imagine a New American Politics
The War in Israel is a nightmare in every respect. First among those nightmares are the demonic attacks on Israeli civilians. Attempts to activate Hezbollah and Iran might work, so we don’t know the world we’re about to enter. I also worry about the inevitable distraction from Russia-Ukraine. Ukraine has survived partly due to much global attention to the conflict. Now Putin can get away with more than before. Indeed, I would not be surprised if he has helped influence Iran’s involvement.
But before the world goes to hell, I want to remark on a hopeful development in American politics. Left- and right-liberals seem closer together than left-liberals and leftists. My center-left friends often speak of the liberal/leftist split. I finally see it as manifest. Leftists have made this plain.
The New Right/Fusionist contrast now seems less salient. Much of the New Right seems united with traditional conservatives. One reason for this is that the first-mover intellectual on the New Right is Yoram Hazony. He's Jewish, living in Israel, and I am worried for him and his. We also see this among New Right pundits like Josh Hammer, who is also Jewish.
So, we have a spectrum of opinions divided into four groups. These are Leftists, left-liberals, right-liberals, and the New Right. Leftists favor Palestine and more than a few seem inured to Israeli suffering. The other three groups favor Israel. Of course, these groups differ on several issues regarding Israel. They differ first on how much to blame Netanyahu for the crisis. Yet even the New Right thinks the intelligence failure is a disaster. Indeed, Trump and left-liberals agree on this point.
Leftists seem far from the other three groups, especially the elite campus left. They express little concern about how anti-Israeli sentiment creates an environment of fear for Jewish students. Reflecting on this, I now find the cancellation of conservative speakers more offensive than before. Many leading universities have little issue shutting down conservative speakers. Yet they protect student groups indifferent to the death of Israeli civilians.
I will watch what happens to left-liberal/Leftist unity. I expect the previous practical unity to return once the Israel-Hamas war ends. But I fear the war will continue for a long time. That could create a deep fracture on the left for years, not unlike the Bernie-Hillary split, but worse. I don't know if this affects electoral outcomes in the US. Maybe not at all.
The only silver lining is the potential for a national liberal alliance favoring Ukraine and Israel. Roughly:
Leftists (often) oppose Israel and (usually) support Ukraine.
The New Right (mostly) supports Israel and (usually) opposes Ukraine.
Liberals support Israel and Ukraine.
The liberal center has a more coherent and defensible position.
As I argue in the epilogue of my book, liberals must ally. Our disputes about markets and the welfare state are now less critical. What matters is preserving the liberal framework within which we work out our disagreements. In the 20th century, liberals took too long to see this. Fascism and communism got the upper hand. This time around, anti-liberal forces are much weaker. Liberals can beat them.
How do liberals win? We point to the alternatives. Really-existing anti-liberalism means Putin and Hamas. Really-existing liberalism means Joe Biden.
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