As a young liberal from northwest Ohio in the 1960s, Keith Thompson was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words to become active in what was then called "progresssive" politics. But now, he says in a striking essay in the San Francisco Chronicle, "I walk away from... the political philosophy that for more than three decades has shaped my character and consciousness, my sense of self and community, even my sense of cosmos."
An estrangement had been growing for Thompson since "a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan’s use of the word "evil" had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.
When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find "evil’" too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport."
Another decisive moment, he says, happened after Sept. 11, when "I watched with astonishment as leading left intellectuals launched a telethon- like body count of civilian deaths caused by American soldiers in Afghanistan. Their premise was straightforward, almost giddily so: When the number of civilian Afghani deaths surpassed the carnage of Sept. 11, the war would be unjust, irrespective of other considerations.
Stated simply: The force wielded by democracies in self-defense was declared morally equivalent to the nihilistic aggression perpetuated by Muslim fanatics."
The final break occured on the day of Iraq’s first free elections: "I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq’s democratic experiment might yet implode." As a liberal, he had to leave the cultural Left because of its fundamental hostility to freedom, which is summed up in its terrible response to the courage of American soldiers in defeating tyranny and of ordinary Iraqis in defying terror.
There is still a long road ahead in places like Iraq, but Thompson’s piece brings to mind a passage from another essay, this one written in 1787. The Federalist says everything Thompson has learned and we must not forget, especially on this Memorial Day:
"From the disorders that disfigure the annals of those republics, the advocates of despotism have drawn arguments, not only against the forms of republican government, but against the very principles of civil liberty... They have indulged themselves in malicious exultation over its friends and partizans. Happily for mankind, stupendous fabrics reared on the basis of liberty, which have flourished for ages, have in a few glorious instances refuted their gloomy sophisms. And, I trust, America will be the broad and solid foundation of other edifices not less magnificent, which will be equally permanent monuments of their errors."