A few random thoughts continuing what Scott said below.
First, everyone should read this Neiwart post at Ornicus. I have little to add to it. Yes, some people used faulty and dangerous reasoning to correctly oppose the Iraq war. But significant segments of Democratic party leadership used different, perhaps less ideological but equally faulty and dangerous reasoning to incorrectly support that war. We know these people have power in the Party; the power of the former group is asserted to a far greater degree than is demonstrated.
Second, it seems that much of the disagreement on this issue revolves around the nature of the strong too stridently anti-war for the wrong reasons wing of the left and the Democratic party. Scott suggests a few 2004 electoral indicators regarding the position this wing holds over our political process, and I largely agree with his conclusions. Much of our disagreement revolves around three questions–the size, power, and ideological rigidity of this group. There’s little we can say to each other to prove our instincts about Indulge me in some anecdotes that help explain why I remain less concerned about these people than Beinhart and those who see something to his argument.
I spent the run-up and immediate follow-up to the 2003 war teaching political science on a pretty liberal campus. For a variety of reasons, I was a rather popular instructor with a handful of the more activist left wing students around, and I spent a fair amount of time talking about various political matters with a number of them. This core group of students made a number of the bad arguments about the war that I’m sure Yglesias heard and Harvard and Ezra Kline heard at Santa Cruz. In a few cases, these students made assertions that would confirm a good deal of what the paranoid right believes about the ‘hate-America first’ left (unlike Yglesias and Klein, I didn’t use the low quality of these arguments in determining my own position on the war, which seems like a no-brainer to me…). The also deployed the rhetoric of absolutist pacifism.
But you know what? These positions were not intractable. I found myself conducting an ongoing seminar in February/March 2003 on how to sensibly oppose this war, and I found these students immensely interested and open to discussion. At first, they seemed utterly shocked by my assertion that the war wasn’t principly about oil, but they heard and understood my case and many of them came to partially agree with me on this and various issues. Their pacifist rhetoric was largely reflexive–a serious principled pacifist position is a deeply counterintuitive position that almost requires a religious commitment, which few of these people have. Pacifist rhetoric is a lot like libertarian rhetoric in our political culture; it gets tossed around a lot more than it is actually deeply believed. I’m sure this is the case for much of the right as well, but it bears repeating and emphasizing: People are often not as stupid as their stupidest rhetoric. These people can be lead, but they won’t be led by a warmed-over version of the Bush agenda, which is what a prominent wing of the Democratic party seemed to want to offer in 2002-2003.
My larger point is that however big this wing of the party is, most of them can be led away from their worst impulses. And in fact, in the 2004 electoral cycle, that’s precisely what happened. Now I just hope we can also find a way to lead people like Beinhart away from theirs.