Eyes on the Prize

While right-wing pundits furiously try to spin Rev. Wright’s comments as speaking for anyone other than Rev. Wright, it’s vital that progressive observers and commentators remember that their machine will do anything — anything — to confuse people and divert attention from the failures of conservative governance. On the economy, on values, on social policy, and, perhaps most of all given the current situation in Iraq, on foreign affairs.

Our policies in Iraq — not to mention places like Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia, Iran, North Korea — make America and the world a more dangerous place. Expert upon expert and report after report say so, and they’re correct. The right wing wants to tie this common-sense argument to controversial figures so they can marginalize ideas along with individuals, and it’s a smear tactic that can be devastating if people don’t stand up and identify it for what it is. They’re not making substantive critiques, they’re using the politics of destruction and distraction.

After five years of war in Iraq, with constant reports coming out about letting terrorists escape in Afghanistan, failing to support non-proliferation in Pakistan, and neglecting the peace process while simultaneously inflaming countries in the Middle East, America will not be fooled by conservative claims that the US is doing just fine in foreign policy. Obviously our mistakes, historical and recent, do not justify the unacceptable and unforgivable targeting of civilians by terrorist actions, and people understand that — so when right-wing talking heads try to paint a position shared by the majority of Americans as soft on terror, or self-hating, or some other such slander, they do so because they have no ideas about how to improve our country’s security other than to lash out (preferably at the wrong people and places, it seems). Wanting to improve our foreign policy — and our nation more generally — isn’t a lack of patriotism, but rather its highest form.

I don’t believe it’s in the American character to bully, and I mean that in terms of macro policies as well as in the micro political sense. But there will always be bullies, and they won’t fight fair. We preserve our dignity and our ideology by pushing back strongly and honestly, and we can’t sell out our ideas simply because they are sometimes adopted and warped by individuals who occasionally find themselves with a megaphone. The media won’t help us, of course; nothing gets the media giddy like a lefty who doesn’t “properly” self-censor. But we can’t be distracted, we can’t accept the right when it frames mainstream ideas through controversial individuals, and we must constantly remind Americans — as well as ourselves — that the country is moving steadily in our direction, even (perhaps especially) on difficult, personal, emotional issues. And in that evolving discussion and political movement, we must not let others tell us what we believe. We’re right on foreign policy, on education, on health care, on jobs, on individual rights, on the environment, and more. We shouldn’t let anyone turn those ideas into caricature, and we damn sure shouldn’t caricature ourselves in response to smears and lies.

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