Partisans Gone Wild, Part II: Web Rage

By Anne-Marie Slaughter
Friday, August 3, 2007; 12:00 PM

As if to prove the headline to my article in Outlook, angry attacks from the left have been plentiful this week online. (See here , here and here.) Reading these responses, it occurs to me that a lot of what goes on in the blogosphere is the verbal equivalent of road rage (although I take the point made on Democracy Arsenal that pundits need to develop thick skins). What I haven't seen, however, is a response to my basic argument: that when Republicans -- and particularly this White House -- move in the Democrats' direction on foreign policy issues, Democrats should embrace it as a better-late-than-never recognition of how finally to move the country in the right direction.

None of the responders has specifically denied that the administration has been making more moderate appointments (except for valid objections regarding Negroponte's role in Honduras, which, I agree, was anything but moderate, although in his current incarnation he has been fighting the Cheneyites). Nor do they deny that the State Department's policies in Asia and on Iran, as well as Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates' efforts to close Guantanamo, are policies that Democrats have been advocating for some time. The seeming inability to recognize these facts reflects a destructive partisanship that makes it almost impossible to give the other side credit for anything -- and that demonizes party members (on the right and the left) who dare to break that taboo.

On the other hand, I have also heard negatively from friends, respected colleagues, even my mother! So a response is indeed in order.

I was not condemning passionate criticism of the Bush administration on issues like supporting torture, the conduct of the war in Iraq, or illegal wiretapping. On the contrary, I share it. In my new book, "The Idea That Is America," I call for a critical patriotism that is honest about our failings and insists on holding our government and ourselves to the values we proclaim as a nation. If we are going to pledge allegiance to "liberty and justice for all," it is incumbent on all of us to stand up and denounce what is currently being done in our name at Guantanamo and at various secret CIA prisons.

This reaction should not be partisan. It should be, and is beginning to be, the reaction of decent people across the political spectrum who are standing up not for their party but for their country.

But perhaps I'm just being naive. A dear and distinguished friend of mine accused me of "last-duchess" wishful thinking. The reference, it turns out, is to the Robert Browning poem "The Last Duchess": "She had a heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad." This was a gentler and more erudite version of those respondents who accused me of lunacy or simply massive stupidity in claiming to perceive signs of renewed bipartisanship amid the rancor that is Washington.

Fair point. But amid that rancor are the facts of an agreement with North Korea that appears to be sticking; a new East Asian Security mechanism based on the six-party talks; and a sensible strategy -- the best hope we have -- on Iran. (Although on Iraq, Sen. Harry Reid blocked a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Ken Salazar and Lamar Alexander that would have followed the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.)

Finally, another friend and mentor groaned at my suggestion that politicians seeking to push for real solutions to public policy problems publicly appear with someone from the other party, calling it wimpy girl stuff. The blogosphere prefers the increasingly standard pejorative of "kumbaya-ism." The irony, of course, is that standing with folks on the other side of the aisle takes much more strength and courage than standing on your side and lobbing epithets across. Republicans need that courage more than Democrats -- on immigration, global warming, torture, wiretapping -- the list goes on. But Democrats need it too -- above all on how to get out of Iraq and on how to continue and intensify the use of diplomacy to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

Many commenters referred to Grover Norquist's description of bipartisanship as a form of date-rape, asking why we should want that. But they miss my point: Instead of acting on the time-honored "they did it to us, so we should do it to them" principle, Democrats should join with those Republicans who have enough courage to recognize the error of the administration's ways and reject Norquist and all his kind -- wherever we find them. It's our best hope of reclaiming our politics. And it cannot wait until 2009.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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