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ROSS TERRILL

The trouble with liberals

DEMOCRACY IS FRIEND to the common man and authoritarianism is a crutch for millionaires with a villa in Italy -- right? Maybe no longer. Lady Liberty has acquired a new dancing partner. Politics in both Europe and the United States have unhitched the left from its trusted partner, democracy. American liberals now often spurn blue collar opinion that is democracy's fuel. They mostly reject global idealism that is liberty's post-communism vocation. This has allowed a Republican president to make democracy his cause. On the dance floor of the 21st century, the right embraces Lady Liberty.

In the late 19th century, the birth of the Labor Party in the UK, and social democratic parties in Germany and elsewhere, were seen by trade unions as a logical extension of democracy. The moderate left was in the vanguard of democracy's advance, first in the struggle for parliaments, then in the extension of voting to every adult and the use of power to legislate for workers' advance.

Suffragettes were on the left in England. Left-wing civil rights activists in the United States pushed the black vote in the South. Voices for democracy and decolonization around the world were mostly left of center. Meanwhile, not a few conservatives were lukewarm about democracy, in Europe out of lingering aristocratic snobbery, and in the United States because of low interest in global freedom.

Today is another story. For example, the liberals' petulant talk of "going to Canada " after Senator John Kerry lost the presidential election in November did not suggest belief in democracy. The New York Times urged "postponement" of last month's triumphant election in Iraq because Al Qaeda made threats against it. Faith in the power of elections? Liberal media sent scores of reporters to Switzerland to cover the chatterings of the Davos Forum, an unelected seminar with not a democratic bone in its body.

"The Democrats are the minority party in Congress, " said Senator Edward Kennedy, "but we speak for a majority of the American people." Don't the winners of an election have a better -- if imperfect -- right to speak for a majority of the American people than the losers? Not so to a left whose eyes bulge with self-entitlement and whose pale hand is estranged from physical labor.

In foreign policy, Kerry has not approved a major projection of American military power abroad since Vietnam. The Democratic Party seems against President Bush's words: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."

Sometimes there are good reasons for this prudence, but the change of voice is stark.

Why has the historic switch of partners occurred? The left of center parties embraced identity politics from the 1970s. Gays, minorities, women, and others were cultivated as building blocks for a progressive edifice. But the "rights" of blocs cut against democratic principles. The individual going to the ballot box does not want to be taken for granted in deference to identity blocs.   Continued...

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