Peter Beinart has been at The New Republic since 1999, where he is a journalist and editor-at-large. He is also a contributor to Time magazine and writes a monthly column for the Washington Post. Beinart graduated in 1993 from Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Political Union. In 1995, he received his MA in international relations from Oxford University, which he attended on a Rhodes Scholarship. Critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war and its aftermath, Beinart was nonetheless a vocal supporter of the war itself, defending that position on the PBS show Buying The War, with Bill Moyers. However, in Beinart's book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals-and Only Liberals-Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), which he expanded from an essay as a guest scholar at The Brookings Institution, he renounced his position, claiming that if he'd known then what he knows now about the capitulation of the War on Terror, he wouldn't have supported it in the first place. Beinart is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Question: What is your biggest critique of the Republican Party?
Peter Beinart: My strongest critique of the Republicans today is that they do not recognize that America . . . when Americans are economically insecure, Americans are less free. The Republican party talks a great deal about individual and personal freedom. They see it as their mission to promote the freedom of Americans. And they believe that the best way for Americans to be as free as possible is for government to be as limited . . . as small as possible; for government to do as little as possible. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I think that people are most free when government provides certain public goods that people cannot provide for themselves, which in fact then allow them to take advantage of their God-given talents. So if people . . . If we don’t . . . If people don’t have decent healthcare; if we have a broken healthcare system in which many Americans have no healthcare at all, and other Americans are trapped in dead-end jobs and afraid to leave those jobs to go back to school, or to take . . . or to start a business because they fear losing their healthcare, they are in fact less free to actualize the kind of lives that they want to live. If we have a government that ignores the threat of global warming and the possibility . . . the threat it poses to the United States, that infringes on the . . . long-term on the freedom of Americans. And if we have a government that does not take the . . . that puts hacks in critical positions of public authority as the Bush administration did when it came to FEMA, that we find ourselves in a situation in New Orleans in which Americans are radically unfree. The people of New Orleans are literally imprisoned in their city and imprisoned in the Superdome because the government is not providing them the public goods which they can’t provide for themselves, which in fact allow them to be safe and to be free. I think that the Republicans . . . party biggest problem is that they don’t recognize that the deterioration of the American welfare state in a globalized age has actually meant that American . . . not just that Americans are more economically insecure, but that Americans have become less free to act . . . to make of themselves what they will; that freedom paradoxically requires some degree of security; that people who are . . . who are . . . who don’t feel economically secure are people who, in fact, are less free to take risks. If you believe in risk taking as Republicans claim they do, then you have to start rebuilding the American welfare state so Americans have some greater degree of economic security.
Recorded on: 9/12/07