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The media are vulnerable

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12/08/2004

Having watched Hannity-Colmes on December 6, it is apparent that their guest Tom Woods (whose book is holding at number 10 on Amazon) exposed the vulnerability of the left-liberal-neocon establishment to well designed historical criticism from the right. It is not just that Tom did well, although he certainly did, defending his politically incorrect comments about Lincoln and FDR with both verve and erudition. Far more important is the way he rolled over his hosts by answering their conventional questions about the American past with devastating thoroughness.

Hannity and Colmes were being confronted by a highly defensible understanding of American history that they had not likely encountered up until that moment. It was almost embarrassing listening to Colmes try to defend FDR’s New Deal measures by bringing up the improved employment figures for 1944-- relative to what those figures had been at the outset of Roosevelt’s administration. Since Tom had shown in his book how weak America’s economic recovery had been in the thirties, Colmes cited figures from the height of World War Two, when millions of Americans were working for the government, to prove his point about the New Deal pulling us out of the Depression. Tom was likewise effective in questioning Colmes on the nature of his "liberalism," seeing that "liberals" continue at least intermittently to present themselves as defenders of the "individual." He was thereby exposing liberal hypocrisy in claiming to represent the legacy of Jefferson and American liberty while advocating monolithic state power. 

The real problem responding to these answers is that those who provide them do not embrace the received paradigm of American history that our schools and media propagate. Unlike liberals and neocons, libertarian and paleo critics challenge the essentially leftist historical narrative based on the progress of American "democracy." This progress supposedly depended on "Great presidents," who pursued vast social agendas and often equally vast plans to restructure other societies. What separates the two leftist camps is utterly trivial, e.g., whether or not Bush this year should give a tax break to families earning over $100,000 a year. But what unites them, the view of progress achieved through state social policy and state-expanding heroes and resourceful reformist judges, allows standard liberals and neocons to operate within the same conceptual box.

The effect of Tom’s counter-history is to raise doubts about this box, and the way the establishment responds is typically by keeping troublemakers out of the conversation. The reason we are told is that those who make unacceptable noises are being morally insensitive, don’t believe in democracy, and/or are fascists in camouflage. The reaction of the Claremont Institute to Tom DiLorenzo’s critical study of Lincoln exemplified all three approaches. Once it became clear that the disciples of Harry Jaffa were not going to win the scholarly war, they dumped the usual sludge on their adversary. In my view, they had no choice. They’re simply not going to win on the facts; nor are they going to abandon the historical icons they and their leftist debating partners now share. What may, however, distinguish the other Tom’s approach from mine or DiLorenzo’s is an amiable manner that can be used to hide the ammunition being unleashed. But that is the only difference! And if neocons decide to talk history with paleos, they’re going to have to do better than allowing themselves to be pelted with the facts or to imitate the atrocious manners of Charles Krauthammr and the Claremont Institute by inflicting the “f’ word on their opponents.

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