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Cutting through the guff

A cartoonist examines the hidden liberal in everyone

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Wake Up... You're Liberal! How we can take America back from the Right
By Ted Rall
Soft Skull Press, 315 pp., $15.95
Despite the passing of our 40th president, the Reagan Revolution rolls on. In many ways, the United States seems to be GOP country. Where, observers of the political map may wonder, are the liberals? Has the Left wandered into the wilderness and fallen off a cliff?

Not to worry, the award-winning cartoonist and commentator Ted Rall argues in his new book. Liberals are everywhere, he says, they're just hard to see through the cloud cover of contorted discourse that has shaded policy debates ever since the Gipper reigned in the Oval Office. Rall believes that millions of people may have been tricked by the Right into voting against their values and interests. But their values and interests, he contends, are nothing if not liberal.

"I know: it sure doesn't feel like we live in a liberal country," Rall acknowledges. Yet he makes a good case that, with a few exceptions, "Americans are a nation of liberals living in a society defined by liberal values enforced by a likeminded legal system funded by a progressive tax structure with socialist roots. The truth is, American citizenship and a belief in liberal principles are so intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable."

If this is true, how then can liberals cash in on all that latent political capital and seize the debate (and the federal government) back from the Bush administration? "The obvious, because it is the easiest, solution to the current crisis of American democracy is the reconstitution of a strong, viable American Left grouped within an effective Democratic Party," Rall argues.

Rall knows that this is a hard sell to progressives who long ago became disillusioned with the Clinton-era New Democrats. But the strength of the party's underdog base remains, he says, and it's ripe for expansion. "The revitalized party should find inspiration from the most appealing facets of conservatism and libertarianism, facets that are also going unaddressed by the GOP--both to win and because those portions of the rightist impulse are kissing cousins to classic liberalism," he writes.

By way of example, Rall points out that both libertarians and some conservatives have blanched at the PATRIOT Act and other recent laws that threaten civil liberties; it's time to bring such Americans into the liberal fold, he says. The Democrats could lay claim to a different definition of patriotism and return to being "the voice of the average American"--and win back the White House in the process.

To do so, Rall suggests, liberals are going to have to learn some lessons from their enemies. With so much at stake, he writes, it's time to play dirty--which is to say that it's time to call extreme right-wingers and corporate lackeys what they are, and not take Al Gore's unfruitful path of "staying positive." Rall spends a whole chapter explaining why "conservatism is un-American," and why liberals should speak up about it. Another chapter, "The Case for Dirty Politics," argues that when liberals find themselves up against a "ferocious and unprincipled" right-wing political machine, there are plenty of ways to channel their rage into equally scathing critiques and thereby build the ranks of pissed-off liberals. "Anger, we have learned, is a potent motivator," he writes.

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