Liberals should also be defined by how they viewed the attacks after the initial shock and national unity wore off. Six days after Sept. 11 on ABC, "comedian" Bill Maher said the terrorists weren't cowards like we were, "lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away." Ten days after the attacks, an ABC special featured historian Richard Rhodes proclaiming that "These acts didn't come out of nowhere. People are suffering in the world, seeing their children die of preventable disease and of malnutrition." Within two weeks, ABC had banned its reporters from wearing of flag pins on television and "Nightline" had already turned predictably to sending a reporter into a Berkeley classroom as the majority of the class agreed that violence only breeds more violence.
That doesn't mean fuzzy liberal talking points shouldn't have been on the news. It does mean that liberalism was already on public display in its emphasis on avoiding war and defeating our mortal enemies by empathetic negotiation and foreign aid packages.
Karl Rove, therefore, was correct in his assessment. Still, Newsweek's Washington Bureau Chief, Daniel Klaidman warned that Rove is trying to create "the sort of Republican fantasy of a liberal." But these views of liberalism are not fantasies. They are a reality etched in the historical record. These liberals constitute a large part of the Democratic base and have defined this party. Just as they have defined the liberal media.
Add this question: How precisely did supposedly hawkish President Clinton fight his war on terror, if he waged one? Indicting Osama bin Laden in Manhattan hardly stopped Americans from dying at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists in our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania or aboard the U.S.S. Cole. He lobbed a few cruise missiles, timed precisely to distract attention from his testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case, and then stopped as quickly as he started. This means Mrs. Clinton should think twice before taking offense at indictment quips.
It's also fascinating to see what the liberal-media summation of the Rove speech left out. Rove cited a pundit who declared liberalism is in great risk of becoming irrelevant, of "getting defined, as conservatism once was, entirely in negative terms." That pundit is Paul Starr, editor of the liberal American Prospect magazine. Try finding any mention of Paul Starr in all the anti-Rove hubbub.
Rove and Starr don't agree on much, but they agree that the mantle of idealism and optimism and activism is moving to the right, while the mantle of cynicism and pessimism and defensiveness shifts left. Cynical, pessimistic and on the defensive. Come to think of it, that's also a great description of the liberal media flailing against Republican control of Washington.