The Breakfast Table

Left, Right, Left

Hi Paul,

I envy you the Ireland trip, though Stanford too is pretty nice in the springtime, as you well remember. Uncannily nice, given that half a world away, NATO continues the aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia and refugees continue to stream out of Kosovo in tractors and wheelbarrows, according to the sad color photos in this morning’s New York Times. The politics of the bombing here in the United States are quite interesting. As you note, there is some old-fashioned left anti-imperialism rhetoric in the European papers, and the Times today covers anti-American protests in various cities throughout the world. But has anyone taken to the streets in protest the bombing in the United States? No pictures or stories in the Times today, though it covers student protests on campuses from Duke to Michigan against the labor conditions of producers of college apparel (no sweatshirts from sweatshops), and continues to cover black leadership and celebrity protests against the conduct of the New York City police in the Diallo shooting. What’s going on?

One possibility is left/right ideological drift on the issue of intervention abroad. This is nicely framed by a recent article by Charles Krauthammer in the New Republic and yesterday’s book excerpt by Tom Friedman in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine . Krauthammer’s piece is a manifesto for the new-right isolationism: Absent a supervening global power, international relations is a Hobbesian war of all against all, and the only governing principle for a nation-state should be self-interest. He denounces the Clinton administration for naive belief in international institutions and the power of legal treaties to constrain behavior, and dismisses humanitarian empathy and the protection of human rights as bases for the use of force. Friedman, on the other hand, makes the case for internationalism, including a case for preventing “innocent civilians [from] being slaughtered in Europe” if it can be done at “reasonable cost,” although he hadn’t factored the current air war into that equation at press time.

Hence the curious absence of war protestors: Liberals are now pro-intervention and conservative pacifists are unlikely to take to the streets (it’s not their style). Of course, it’s not a simple left/right matter. Friedman usefully points out that there are, on international economic issues, both left and right isolationists (Gephardt and Perot) and both left and right globalists (Clinton and Gingrich). Same goes for use of force, natch. But at least to some extent, both sides are caught out of role here.

Apart from Yugoslavia (apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln …), we might talk about various other recent stories: a Michigan jury’s first conviction of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, suggesting that many draw a strong intuitive distinction between assisted suicide (his previous four acquittals or mistrials) and active euthanasia (this case of an injection broadcast on CBS); today’s Dale Maharidge Op-Ed in the New York Times pointing out that the California population may already be less than a majority white; or today’s Safire column urging liberals to oppose state-run lotteries as regressive taxation schemes (imagine if all those SuperLotto players had invested their money in the stock market instead …)

Hope you’re catching up on your messages and have dodged the Melissa e-mail virus.

All best,