There was one thing more than any other that turned this New York, liberal, Jewish, Columbia University graduate student from modern liberalism. It was its use of moral equivalence to avoid confronting evil during the Cold War.
There was a time when liberalism was identified with anti-Communism; the liberal-led Korean and Vietnam Wars were examples. But the Vietnam War led liberals into the arms of the left, which had been morally confused about communism since its inception and had become essentially pacifist following the carnage of World War I.
After the Vietnam War, even liberals who continued to describe communism as evil were labeled "right-wingers" and "Cold Warriors." And the United States, with its moral flaws, was often likened to the Soviet Union. I recall asking the pre-eminent liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in a public forum in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, if he would say that the United States was a morally superior society to that of the Soviet Union. He would not.
Little has changed regarding the Left's inability to identify and confront evil. And its moral equation of good guys and bad guys was made evident again in recent weeks by hosts on three major liberal networks -- ABC, NPR and PBS.
First, on May 25, PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim Somali writer and activist for human, especially women's, rights in Islamic countries. After mentioning American Muslim terrorists Maj. Nidal Hasan (who murdered 13 and injured 30 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood) and Faisal Shahzad (who attempted to murder hundreds in Times Square), this dialogue ensued:
Ali: "Somehow, the idea got into their (Hasan's and Shahzad's) minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter."
Smiley: "But Christians do that every single day in this country."
Ali: "Do they blow people up?"
Smiley: "Yes. Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that's what Columbine is -- I could do this all day long. There are so many more examples of Christians -- and I happen to be a Christian.
"There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work."
Then, on Aug. 22, Michel Martin, host of NPR's "Tell Me More," in discussing whether the Islamic Center and mosque planned for near ground zero should be moved, said this on CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Howard Kurtz:
"Should anybody move a Catholic church? Did anybody move a Christian church after Timothy McVeigh, who adhered to a cultic white supremacist cultic version of Christianity, bombed (the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City)?"
And third, on Aug. 26, ABC "20/20" anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted this to his nearly one million followers:
"To all my christian brothers and sisters, especially catholics -- before u condemn muslims for violence, remember the crusades....study them."
I have known Smiley since the 1980s when we both worked at the same radio station in Los Angeles. He is smart, and he is a gentleman who has accorded me great respect both on his television show and off air.
How, then, does such a man equate Muslims who murder in the name of Islam with Americans who "murder every day," none one of whom commit their murders in the name of Christianity?
How does Martin equate the thousands of Islamic terrorists around the world, all of whom are devout Muslims, with a single American -- one who, in any case, professed no religion, let alone Christianity?
And how does Cuomo claim that Christians cannot condemn Muslims for violence because of the Christian Crusades?
First of all, the Crusades occurred a thousand years ago. One might as well argue that Jews cannot condemn Christian and secular anti-Semitic violence because Jews destroyed Canaanite communities 3,200 years ago.
Second, it is hardly a defense of Muslims to have to go back a thousand years to find comparable Christian conduct.
Third, even then there is little moral equivalence. The Crusades were waged in order to recapture lands that had been Christian for centuries until Muslim armies attacked them and destroyed most Christian communities in the Middle East. (Some Crusaders also massacred whole Jewish communities in Germany on the way to the Holy Land, and that was a grotesque evil -- which Church officials condemned at the time.) As the dean of Western Islamic scholars, Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis, has written, "The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad -- a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war."
So how did Smiley, Martin and Cuomo make such morally egregious statements?
The answer is not that these are bad people, let alone that they are not repulsed by terrorist violence.
The answer is leftism, the way of looking at the world that permeates high schools, universities, news and entertainment media. Those indoctrinated by leftist thinking become largely incapable of accurate moral judgments: They regarded America and the Soviet Union as morally similar. And today, they claim that people they call "extremists" within Christianity (who are they?) and Islamist terrorists and their supporters pose equal threats to America and the world.
That is how bright and decent people become moral relativists and thereby undermine the battles against the greatest evils -- communist totalitarianism in its time and Islamic totalitarianism in ours.
The only solution is to keep exposing leftist moral confusion. One problem, however, is that in countries without talk radio, an equivalent to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, conservative columnists and a vigorous anti-left political party, this is largely impossible.
The other major problem is that the media that dominate American life have little problem, indeed largely concur, with the foolish and dangerous comments made by their mainstream media colleagues. That is why these comments, worthy of universal moral condemnation, were ignored by the mainstream (i.e., leftwing) media. Instead, they directed mind-numbing attention and waves of opprobrium toward Dr. Laura.
Those who don't fight real evils fight imaginary ones.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”