Much attention has rightly been focussed on the irrational aspects of right-wing protesters, especially those whose irrationality is rooted in racism. But, the Left has its irrationalities as well and some of them are on full display these days.
The most obvious was the sad spectacle of the rostrum at the United Nations hosting the likes of Maommar Qaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both of them known murderers and tyrants. I have never trusted Qaddafi: He spells his name with a "Q" and it is not followed by a "u" so we’ve known all along he was playing by a different set of rules. Seriously, I am all for the spectacle at the UN insofar as it shows the whole world how crazy they are: Qaddaafi droned on for more than an hour and one-half! But, there is no denying that such tyrants at that stage diminish the institution of the UN. More importantly, these appearances at the UN confer a degree of legitimacy upon these cranks, at least for their domestic audiences and while Libya’s internal politics are a mystery, the rise of a democracy movement in Iran is one of the few pieces of good news from a part of the world where good news is infrequent. Those opposed to Ahmadinejad may not be swayed by his appearance before the world body, but many who are unsure about him may find his appearance a reason to accept his undoubtedly illegitimate re-election.
Reading accounts of the meetings of the Big Three during World War II, especially the meetings towards the end of the war at Yalta and Potsdam, it is striking how much importance the United States government placed in the creation of the UN. Difficult issues such as the boundaries of Poland and the holding of free elections in Eastern Europe were postponed until a peace conference that never happened and to the UN. Needless to say, the tyranny that descended upon Eastern Europe was ended not by the UN, but by the internal rot of a system built upon lies that finally collapsed of its own weight. But, in 1945, the organization was the vehicle for the hopes of a war-weary world, hopes that war would never again darken the entire planet as it had twice within thirty years time.
It is difficult to assess the value of the UN. Certainly, it is a place where the business of diplomacy goes on around the clock, which has its usefulness in keeping difficulties from becoming crises. The UN usefully promotes a variety of humane programs in the poorer regions of the world: anything that transfers wealth from the self-indulgent West to the neglected South deserves a prima facie nod of approval. But, just as certainly, the UN has not lived up to its promise of a new order in international relations and it never will. That is one liberal dream that can now be consigned to the realm of fantasy and our expectations of the organization should reflect that fact.
Another instance of liberal irrationality is the subject of E. J. Dionne’s column this morning. Dionne writes about the opposition of non-profit groups to a proposal to limit the value of charitable deductions for high-income earners. When the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011 (and why don’t we repeal them tomorrow) the top marginal rate will return to 39.6 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent. The proposal Dionne supports would allow the rich (the top rate applies only to those making more than $370,000 per annum), to continue to deduct whatever charitable contributions they make, but at the value of the lower 35 percent rate. This proposal would raise $90 billion over ten years, money that Dionne thinks should go to pay for health care reform.
Of course, non-profit groups, including many leftie groups, are up in arms, worried that this 4.5 cent change will cause all manner of havoc in the world of charitable giving, a claim that has no historical resonance. What is worse, as Dionne argues, is the narrowness of vision, the NIMBY aspect of the reaction to the proposal. He writes, "If even groups whose very mission is public-spirited can’t take an exceedingly modest risk to extend health coverage, how can we expect anybody else to pay a little more for a moral imperative?" Congress should do the right thing and pass this proposal.
Finally, I caught glimpses of Larry King’s interview with Michael Moore last night. Moore is releasing a new film next month called "Capitalism: A Love Story." Moore is not untalented, but he peddles a variety of leftie paranoia that does nothing to further the important debates in which our country is engaged. I do not think his influence is as pernicious as, say, the John Birch Society, but it is pernicious nonetheless. Don’t feed the craziness by paying to see his new flick.
So, craziness has no ideological provenance and it can flourish on both left and right. Both camps must police their own, for their own sake as well as for the sake of the commonwealth: if either side considers kookiness not as an "outlier" but as "the base," their subsequent modus operandi will be sketchy and unhealthy. So far, Obama has pitched to the center on virtually every issue unlike his predecessor whose politics was built on expanding the base. Obama’s politics does not contain the promise of ending polarization: the kooks we shall always have with us. But, Obama’s centrist approach does have the potential for a political realignment because politics change at the center not at the fringe. The best thing conservatives can do is to call out their own crazies and disassociate themselves from the craziness. And, those of us on the Center-Left need to do the same.