When Ronald Reagan delivered his "evil empire" speech about the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis debunked the speech, saying that the notion of evil was not a proper metaphor in our modern, sophisticated world.
In a recent interview on the occasion of his retirement from 50 years of column writing, Lewis was asked by a Times editor about the lessons of Sept. 11. "It's not safe for us to allow evil to fester somewhere else," he said.
One of the truths about column writing is that your words can sometimes come back to haunt you. That's what happens when you can have opinions on everything but are not required to take responsibility for anything.
Anthony Lewis represents an old liberal school that fervently believes Man is perfectible. Lewis, and others of like mind, think it's only a matter of getting the combination right and humanity can unlock peace on earth and good will toward men. But reality got in his way.
"Have you changed your views on anything significant?" Lewis was asked in the Dec. 16 interview.
"The most disappointing fact of life in the 20th century was that, contrary to my expectations, after the Holocaust, the century continued to be riddled with the extraordinary ability of human beings to hate others because they look different," he replied.
Not exactly. It wasn't looks alone that lead to such hate; it was conflicting ideologies. That's why the United States needed not only a strong resolve against its enemies, but also a strong national defense, which Lewis regularly opposed. He was a bitter opponent of Reagan's defense buildup, but if Reagan had listened to Lewis, the Soviet Union might still exist and millions in Eastern Europe would remain under communism instead of breathing free for the first time in six decades.
In what may be the ultimate declaration of blind faith in the face of facts, Lewis is was asked in the Times interview if he'd changed his views on socialism. "I'm still for it. But it doesn't work," he responded.
More than any other statement, this one defines a diehard liberal. A liberal continues to believe in ideas and programs even when they have proven they do not work.
Lewis was a frequent critic of Israel. He proposed a "can't we all get along" philosophy when it was clear that Israel's enemies did not want to get along. "But of course human beings don't get along. That's very disappointing," Lewis commented in the Times. Yes, it is, but thousands of years of human history have proved that. Why has Lewis just learned the lesson? About the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasser Arafat, Lewis noted in the interview: "it is a corrupt, lawless, authoritarian system that doesn't give anybody much hope."
Lewis had hope for the PA for many years as he regularly criticized Israel for not going the "extra mile" in its efforts to make peace with Arafat.
Liberalism is a pessimistic faith because it never sees the potential in Man, just his flaws. Rather than focusing on ways to free people so they can elevate themselves, liberalism instead concentrates on ways to subsidize people in their current misery. Liberalism is embarrassed by success and prosperity because independent and free people do not need liberals --and above all, liberals need to be needed. Otherwise, they'd have to find real work instead of careers in politics, entertainment, class warfare (the only kind of war in which they believe) and, yes (and here I might be guilty of self-incrimination), column writing.
Lewis noted in his exit interview that he was "not willing to give up on rationality. "I really believe it. Look, why have I been writing columns rather than jumping off the George Washington Bridge?" It's an intriguing question.
Anthony Lewis may be retiring from writing columns but he's going to teach at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he will impart to mushy young minds the liberal doctrines that even he now questions. Students would do well to read the Times interview and to take his views with the proverbial grain of salt.