Friday, September 13, 2013


Bill Scher, who blogs at Liberal Oasis and works for the Campaign for America's Future, sees a liberal menace in the Syria debate: the all-powerful ... um, Alan Grayson.
... While the Left has long been identified with the compassionate philosophy of pacifism, the debate over the past two weeks has shown a growing tendency on the Left to embrace the hard-hearted call of isolationism. If the isolationist trend continues, it not only makes Obama's immediate case for military intervention on humanitarian grounds a much harder sell, but over the long term it threatens the ideological underpinnings of liberalism itself.

A core tenet of liberalism is the belief that active government should take responsibility in alleviating or preventing the suffering of others. In turn, a liberal expressing pacifist opposition to a military strike in Syria would still accept responsibility for preventing genocide, and lobby for diplomatic and economic means to avert slaughter without risking the unintended consequences of violent force.

The Left's loudest spokesperson against a Syrian strike is Rep. Alan Grayson. His main argument is far colder: "This is not our problem."

Grayson's offers no alternative solutions, and instead frames a false choice between helping Syrians and helping Americans: "Our own needs in America are great, and they come first. The death of civilians is always regrettable, and civil war is regrettable, but no Americans have been attacked, and no American allies have been attacked." That petition language from Grayson has garnered more than 90,000 signatures so far.
Yeah, and? An online petition to demanding the deportation of Piers Morgan garnered more than 100,000 signatures. A petition urging the U.S. government to build a Death Star by 2016 garnered more than 33,000 signatures. Signing online petitions is easy. No one takes them seriously.

But to Scher, Grayson is liberals' "chief spokesman for rejecting military force," and he's "making an amoral case." And since Scher apparently assumes that every last one of Grayson's 90,000 online signers is (a) a fellow liberal and (b) an opponent of any and all engagement in foreign affairs -- I don't know if Scher has noticed, but there are a hell of a lot of right-wing attack opponents out there, most of whom have Internet connections -- that means that the entire left is going isolationist and amoral.

I don't even know for sure that Grayson himself opposes all engagement with the world. Sure, he said, "This is not our problem." And yes, there's this:
Grayson even went as far as embracing Sarah Palin, telling radio host Ed Schultz, "I think I'm in agreement with Sarah Palin. She said, 'Let Allah sort it out.'"
But that's just Grayson's act. He envies the ability of right-wingers to motivate followers with glib soundbites, so he responds with even glibber soundbites of his own. It's gotten him elected to a couple of terms in Congress (though there was one loss in there as well). But to treat this guy as some sort of Pied Piper of isolationationism is absurd. To assume he's even thought this position through is absurd.

Liberals have had a wide range of responses to this and other Obama-era foreign policy questions. Liberals cheered the killing of Osama bin Laden; liberal support for Obama endured, admittedly with quite a bit of grumbling, through drone strikes and a troop increase in Afghanistan and an engagement in Libya. On Syria, a lot of liberals are genuinely torn -- yes, chemical weapons are awful, but the solution seems likely to deal just as much death to civilians, though doing nothing seems callous, and, oh, wait, should we hope for a diplomatic solution now or is the U.S. being played by Russia and Syria?

But no. To Scher, we are all sheep blindly following Alan Grayson. And that's means we've lost our souls:
Grayson, with plenty of poll numbers at his back showing little appetite for military strikes, is gleefully ducking the problem of offering constructive alternatives. That's all well and good as a congressional backbencher. Presidents, however, have to worry about not just poll numbers today, but also the effects of policies tomorrow. Democrats who want to retain control of the Oval Office need to have a bit more to offer than what Grayson is serving.

Furthermore, once you give up the essence of liberalism -- empathy for others -- you lose the underpinnings of all of your other liberal objectives. If suffering in someone else's country doesn't warrant our help, why should suffering in someone else's state or someone else's neighborhood?
Take a deep breath, Bill. Alan Grayson is just one guy -- even if he is a mouthy, camera-hogging guy. And a few names typed into his online petition don't commit the entire left to moral bankruptcy for all eternity.


Warren Terra said...

Ah, forget it, it's Bill Scher. The only place I've ever become aware of his existence is his weekly appearance as an Alan Colmes-esque doormat on the Bloggingheads podcast, where each week he would, in true emulation of the Master of the craft, appear limply unlikeable while failing to remotely try to counter the disingenuous talking points of his smug interlocutor. He was so clearly auditioning for a gig as a Fox News Liberal it wasn't even funny.

Victor said...

Grayson is a slightly less wacky Dennis Kucinich.

I like a lot of what he says, but he grandstands a bit too much for my taste.

And usually I like Bill Scher, but I think he's over analyzed this.

Democrats are in no danger of becoming the same kind of isolationist party that the Republicans were between the two World Wars.

Philo Vaihinger said...

"A core tenet of liberalism is the belief that active government should take responsibility in alleviating or preventing the suffering of others."


Our compatriots and fellow-citizens.

Philo Vaihinger said...

"Isolationist and immoral"?

Oh, boo hoo. He spoke crossly.

Peter Janovsky said...

I like Grayson, but he lost credibility on this when in his NY Times column he cited The Daily Caller as to evidence against Syria's use of gas.

Examinator said...

Um Gentlemens and Victor ;-) ,
Liberalism does not= left leaning, socialist et al. that is pure misdirection (spin.) trying to define and stifle any real discussion/ change.

The Liberals tend to be socially more left than the conservatives but fiscally conservative, pro business.

For example sake Australia has just elected a “Conservative” leaning government.(that is the 'Liberal Party' it was founded on Liberalism as opposed to a conservatism) The Liberals and the Liberal Democrats in England are somewhere in between the Conservatives and the Labour party.

The Australian Labor Party (note the US spelling was in sympathy for the 1890 US Labor union wars) and the English Labour Party are essentially WORKERS (union) based parties and tend to be socially inclined and less pro corporate.

The Aussie Labor party has opened up to ballot for parliamentary leader to the rank and file of the party. Previously it was the same as the Liberals/conservatives chosen by the parliamentary representatives and the unelected hierarchy.
BTW Most Democrat parties world wide do this as part of their under pinning political philosophy.

I mention all this not to lecture but to illustrate how the US right (read conservatives) have appropriated unfavourable ( expansive/ 'dangerous' to the maintenance of THEIR power) terms/ concepts have oversimplified and blurred them out of consideration.

Consider the impact on political conversations when the choices are between Hard right (conservative)and right (liberal.... aka US Democrat)
A clear example is that Unions , social services like Universal health and fire arm control are either tolerated or dirty terms. Yet in other countries where the choice is between Conservative lite and “Leftish?' worker parties the hard core conservative right all but a minority. With the choices being between right lite and leftish the above services are considered rights. Attempts to take them away and there is a massive voter back lash. e.g. a ten year popular Liberal Government was trashed at the election because it's leader tried to alter the industrial laws to the pro business like in the US. Their leader was only the second sitting leader PM Not to hold his seat.
NB I am not saying that the Westminster system is better. Rather that that US electoral choices are clearly far more tilted the other way.
NB both England, Australia and a myriad of other countries has Universal (nation wide) suffrage … in other words states can't monkey with the right to vote (see ALEC red state restrictive boiler plate laws). If you are entitled to vote in one district /state you have the same right in all.

I also note that there is considerable misdirection bias in what the term internationalist actually means.

In one sense the US is already isolationist well not internationalist … it doesn't recognize international law jurisdiction over it's self. Interestingly enough the US would have been crushed in it's war of independence if it wasn't for internationalism.

The US could be so much more but misses out on so much because of its insular superiority complex.

paulocanning said...


I would broadly agree with you but point out that Labor hasn't actually changed its rules to allow rank and file voting for party leader yet. In fact it seems unlikely that it will as it would be turkeys voting for Xmas.