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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals Should Read Their Job Description

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With the prospect of a second Bush administration fundamentally altering the nature of our political system, news media are overloaded with debates about what the American liberal establishment should do next. And well they should be. The issues are far more pressing than what it would take to get a Democrat elected to the White House in four years -- and far more time-sensitive than presidential primary campaigns starting in two years. Politically active liberals have to cut back their hand-wringing and channel their anguish and energies by acting immediately.

The crucial place to start is for politicians, journalists and others to simply carry out their jobs properly -- which many should have been doing but have not over the past four years. If Democrats in Congress had fought for their own positions on most issues instead of blindly approving the Bush agenda, and journalists had conducted the real investigations they should have at the time, the Kerry campaign would not have had to waste precious time, energy and money making arguments for cases that should have been taken for granted (i.e. that Iraq and al-Qaida were not connected and a hundred other points such as who benefits from tax cuts). Or, in John Kerry's case, make excuses for having voted for authorization to go to war.

That's why, in these times, Howard Dean would have made a better presidential candidate -- something to which few in the liberal establishment wanted to listen. Because in public he was relatively honest, which is the most important thing at the end of the day. If Dean had had to give a concession speech on Nov. 3 and made John Edward's point -- in the tradition of Senator Ted Kennedy -- that the fight goes on, his words would have been far more convincing because his credibility was never questioned.

The Kerry campaign would have had a far better headstart if the liberal political and media establishment had not made crippling compromises in the mistaken belief that they would make them more popular, which is the beginning of the end for liberalism. So instead of all the talk now about whether they should move to the right, left, or occupy the Clintonian middle, Democrats and their allies should first understand that they simply have to do what is in their job descriptions. Talk about strategies should come later (or at least not dominate the agenda right now).

But even simply doing one's job would require politicians to act more boldly than just doing what they believe will bring them more votes; and require mainstream media to report on more than what they think will bring them larger audiences. Both have to be much more critical than they have been. Unfortunately, I suspect that requires a fundamental shift in this country's real values from essentially bending to the rules of market economics and once again unashamedly taking up the mantle of just social causes. That is where our society today is most different from those of West European countries, which also have large and crusading conservative movements.

In our pop culture-dominated society, image is everything. The presidential campaign hinged not on issues -- such as torturing Iraqis and damaging our economy -- but on haircuts and swagger. In that atmosphere, simply talking about total defeat and a split liberal establishment now makes it a reality for most Americans. The conservatives understand that -- witness their sunny optimism in the face of so much failure -- because they have profited so handsomely and done so much to contribute to the process, thanks partly to the liberal establishment's caving. Democrats will never win the image battle, not least because their hearts are not in it. Instead, they must work on redefining the terms of political discourse.

Democrats do not have to stoop to Republican smear tactics, as some have suggested. But they do have to learn from their opponents' successes by aggressively fighting for the issues in which they believe. That is no compromise of liberal values. (Who knows, perhaps Bush can even be impeached in the next few years.)

The crucial issues confronting the country on the domestic front are legion: from the possible appointment of up to three Supreme Court justices, to the overhaul of the Social Security and income tax systems, our record deficit, the further deterioration of the environment and protecting the Constitution's delimitation of the separation of church and state (and from a gay-marriage ban amendment).

In foreign policy, we must address the root causes of fundamentalist terrorism, daily deaths in the war in Iraq, the estrangement of our allies, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and nuclear threats -- from loose nukes in an increasingly aggressive Russia to the development of weapons programs in Iran and North Korea.

In the short term, devoting energy to concentrating on individual tasks in addition to trying to tackle the general question of a united strategy will do more to salve the wounds our dashed hopes have inflicted. But it will also help shore up our spirits in the longer-term: by contributing to the effectiveness of what is increasingly crucial for our democracy -- civil society, a critical press, local initiatives -- in the face of the threats posed to it by the Republican establishment.

By each person doing his job -- fighting the good fight every day and on every issue -- members of the liberal establishment would not only start to compensate for their weakened positions in the crucial battles that will take place in the next four years and define 21st-century America. It would also help position a Democratic candidate, whoever it may be, to win in 2008.

Gregory Feifer, a former staff reporter who now lives in New York, contributed this piece to The Moscow Times. His book, "Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames" (with Victor Cherkashin), will be published in January.