Being “in the center” is usually considered desirable in American public life. “Middle-of-the-road” carries with it images of the tolerance, decency, and reasonableness that Americans admire. But where is “the center” these days? Well, that depends on where you think the poles of the argument are.
Take, for example, a Washington Post story on the director of the United States Information Agency, Charles Z. Wick. The article noted that Mr. Wick had managed to get the USIA’s budget raised from just under $458 million in 1981 to $837 million today, with $959 million budgeted for fiscal 1987. “These hefty increases,” wrote the Post‘s John Goshko, “have stirred concern about whether the administration is using the money to promote its hard-line, anti-communist views….”
And what might those be? “Many of the Wick-era initiatives [at USIA] have clearly had rightist overtones,” Goshko continued. Among the culprits: “Project Truth, a campaign to counter Soviet disinformation; a companion ‘semantic corruption’ drive against communist misuses of such words as ‘liberation’ and ‘peace’; the production of ‘Let Poland Be Poland,’ an expensive television attempt to focus attention on the Polish people’s plight under the communist crackdown; and pursuit of Reagan’s Project Democracy to give financial aid to groups seeking to foster democracy in other countries.”
Countering Soviet disinformation, challenging the USSR’s Orwellian corruption of language, supporting Lech Walesa, and helping fellow democrats abroad— these are activities with “clearly … rightist overtones?” If that’s the case, then maybe we should all be “rightists,” whatever that means. But why should blunting totalitarianism and supporting democrats be “right wing” or any other wing? Are acquiescing in the debasement of language and turning one’s back on the Duartes and Walesas of this world the new indices of liberalism?
We know lots of liberals who would be revolted by Mr. Goshko’s implication that only “rightists” care about challenging communism for the sake of peace and freedom. But the real issue here isn’t left versus right; it’s whether anti-anticommunism will remain the tony thing in American public life. That particular hangover of the Vietnam era dies very hard, it seems. Its internment will continue to be unnecessarily delayed for so long as important newspapers such as the Washington Post describe resistance to communism and the active promotion of democratic values and institutions as exercises to be held in suspicion because of their “rightist overtones.”
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.