THE BATTLE IS JOINED. For years, I've been arguing that what the left needs to do is wage all-out war not just on particular problems or Republican screw-ups, but on conservatism itself. As I wrote on this very web site way back in 2005:

Unlike liberals, conservatives don't simply criticize specific candidates or pieces of legislation, they attack their opponents' entire ideological worldview. Tune into Rush Limbaugh or any of his imitators, and what you'll hear is little more than an extended discourse on the evils of liberalism, in which specific events are merely evidence that the real problem is liberal ideology. Liberals may write best-selling books about why George W. Bush is a terrible president, but conservatives write best-selling books about why liberalism is a pox on our nation (talk radio hate-monger Michael Savage, for instance, titled his latest book Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder).

Indeed, large portions of the conservative movement can be understood as an effort to crush liberalism in all its manifestations. Conservatives understand that their main enemy is not a law, government program, or social condition they don't like. Their main enemy is a competing ideology, and that is what they spend their time fighting.

In contrast, liberals spend very little time talking about conservatism. They talk about their opposition to President Bush or the policies proposed by the Republican Congress, but they don't offer a critique of conservatism itself. When was the last time you saw a book-length polemic against conservatism? Liberals have failed to understand that a sustained critique of the other side's ideology not only defines your opponents, it helps to define you by what you are against.

As a consequence, while there are "movement conservatives," there are no "movement liberals" for the simple reason that there is no coherent entity we could call the "liberal movement." Instead, there are a dozen liberal movements -- a pro-choice movement, an environmental movement, a labor movement, and so on. Whether cause or consequence, the conservative campaign against liberalism has been accompanied by a sharpening of conservative identity, not only in the public mind but in the hearts of conservatives themselves.

But just two years later, there is much more of something we could call "the progressive movement" than there was before, and a deeper understanding that the problem is conservatism itself. We have efforts like Rick Perlstein's excellent blog, and now Greg Anrig has come out with just the kind of book I was talking out. It's called The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing. Anrig discusses it over at TPM Cafe. Although I haven't read the book yet, I endorse it wholeheartedly!

--Paul Waldman

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