Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal writes in his most recent column that I am the early architect of an “ugly” (The American Heritage definition is “morally reprehensible;” “repulsive;” and “offensive”) narrative. As you might imagine, I dispute that charge. Mr. Rauch is normally a careful and civil writer and thinker; in this case, he fell short of his usual standards—both in his substantive analysis and in his reckless use of an adjective.
There is a deeper issue wrapped up in all of this: Mr. Rauch, who is something of a centrist, is attempting to set ground rules in the Iraq debate that make it virtually impossible for antiwar critics to draw reasonable conclusions from the policies antiwar advocates are championing. Assume for a moment that the policies a person is advocating would lead to genocide and embolden an enemy. If that were in fact the case—and surely in some instances it is the case—is that something that cannot now be said as part of public discourse? That is unfortunately what Mr. Rauch is arguing. His appeal to civic comity would actually short-circuit what should be an honest and rigorous debate.
What Jon Rauch is attempting won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried.