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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Dem's Civil War

Peter Beinart: DEMS' CIVIL WAR.

December 5, 2004 -- THE Democratic Party is in its worst crisis in nearly six decades — and just like last time, the only way to get bigger is to start by throwing some people out.

On Jan. 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. During World War II, only one major liberal organization, the Union for Democratic Action (UDA), had banned communists from its ranks. At the Willard, UDA members met to expand and rename their group.

Announcing the formation of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the attendees declared their principles: America should support "democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over." That meant unceasing opposition to communism, an ideology "hostile to the principles of freedom and democracy on which the Republic has grown great."

At the time, the ADA's was still a minority view among American liberals. But, over the next two years, in bitter political combat across the institutions of American liberalism, anti-communism gained strength and by 1949, liberalism had been fundamentally reshaped.

Today, three years after 9/11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, American liberalism still has not been reshaped by the experience. Liberalism, as defined by its activist groups, remains largely what it was in the 1990s — a collection of domestic interests and concerns. There is little liberal passion to win the struggle against al Qaeda.

Two elections, and two defeats, into the post-9/11 era, American liberalism still hasn't had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.

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