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Old Line

Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And the Rest of Us Too)
By Mona Charen
(Sentinel, 269 pp., $25.95)
Click here to buy this book

The path to social unrest in America has been paved with liberal intentions. Rising crime rates? Those would be the result of the indulgent sentencing of leftist courts. Racial friction? Clearly the outgrowth of liberal condescension combined with the "divisive, mendacious, and inflammatory rhetoric [of] Democrats." Broken families? Well, if only the left didn't look so approvingly at every "slutty pop star who chooses to have both her children out of wedlock with different fathers." Then divorce rates would surely plummet.

Welcome to Mona Charen's world. The core assumption of her new book, Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And the Rest of Us Too), is that "the ideas that took root in the 1960s were uniformly self-indulgent, childish, anti-intellectual, irresponsible, and destructive." This premise sustains her through a polemical, unmeasured reconsideration of the last five decades of American social history. Welfare, public education, and women's rights are dutifully trotted out as examples of liberal subversion, while conservatives earn kudos for cleaning up the mess with tough love and zero tolerance. At every turn Charen elides the intricacies of ideological differences, allowing her to assert liberals' moral turpitude cleanly and without complication.

Charen's exaggerations and simplifications would not be quite as tiresome if they were novel. But they are not. She falls back on the same blank aphorisms and down-home doubletalk that these days pass for argument among a certain genre of right-wing commentators. She dismisses the entire welfare system by noting that "compassion without respect is patronizing." The Great Society boils down to "a vast social engineering project." Affirmative action, which, bear in mind is backed by a large majority of African Americans, is a Democratic ploy to make "millions of blacks feel victimized and oppressed." For strawmen, Charen rounds up the usual suspects: Michael Moore, Bob Herbert, John Kerry, the Clintons. Then there are her broader soft targets, which are just as inventive--feminists, Hollywood, women's magazines, college professors, family therapists.

Is there a single original thought in this book? Charen sidles up to one with her argument that liberals coasted on their rhetorical brilliance to push through the major social reforms of the '60s and '70s; they are "masters at cloaking themselves in the rhetoric of child welfare" as well as "race hustlers" and "provocateurs" who launch "inflammatory charges" at the plainspoken right. This is the only possible explanation, Charen concludes, for how the left duped Americans into supporting its policies for so long. She does not explain whether the nation has finally woken up to this trickery or whether we liberals have just lost our touch. Oh well. At least she knows we mean well.

Keelin McDonell is a writer for The New Republic.