The American Left's Silly Victim Complex
"Apocalypse Now", Jill Greenberg
The biggest problem with modern American liberalism may be the word itself. Thereâs just something about the word, liberal, something about the way it sounds â it just hits the ear wrong. If it were an animal it would be something squirming and hairless, something that burrows maybe, with no eyes and too many legs. No child would bring home a wounded liberal and ask to keep it as a pet. More likely he would step on it, or maybe tie it to a bottle-rocket and shoot it over the railroad tracks.
The word has a chilling effect even on the people who basically agree with most of what it stands for. I myself cringe, involuntarily as it were, every time someone calls me a liberal in public. And Iâm not the only one. When I called around for this article about the problems of American liberalism to various colleagues who inhabit the same world that I do â iconoclastic columnists and journalists whoâve had bylines in places like The Nation â they almost universally recoiled in horror from the topic, not wanting to be explicitly linked in public with the idea of the American left.
âFuck that,â responded one, when I asked if he wanted to be quoted in this piece. âIâd rather talk about my genital warts. Iâd rather show you pictures of my genital warts, as a matter of fact.â
âUgh. Not sure I want to go there,â read one e-mail.
âI really wish I wasnât associated with the left,â sighed a third.
When the people who are the public voice of a political class are afraid to even wear the party colors in public, thatâs a bad sign, and itâs worth asking what the reasons are.
A lot of it, surely, has to do with the relentless abuse liberalism takes in the right-wing media, on Fox and afternoon radio, and amid the Townhall.com network of newspaper invective-hurlers. The same dynamic that makes the junior high school kid fear the word âfagâ surely has many of us frightened of the word âliberal.â Mike Savage says liberalism is a mental disorder, Sean Hannity equates liberals with terrorists, Ann Coulter says that âliberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole.â These people have a broad, monolithic audience whose impassioned opinions are increasingly entrenched. In the pseudo-Orwellian political landscape that is modern America, to self-identify as a liberal is almost tantamount to thoughtcrime, a dangerous admission that carries with it the very real risk of instantly and permanently alienating a good half of the population, in particular most of middle America. That reason alone makes it, in a way, wrong and cowardly to abandon liberalism and liberals. If Ann Coulter wants to call all of us fags, well, then, fine, Iâm a fag. For the sake of that fight, Iâll stay a liberal till the end of time. But between you and me, between all of us on that side of things, liberalism needs to be fixed.
At a time when someone should be organizing forcefully against the war in Iraq and engaging middle America on the alarming issue of big-business occupation of the Washington power process, the American left has turned into a skittish, hysterical old lady, one who defiantly insists on living in the past, is easily mesmerized by half-baked pseudo-intellectual nonsense, and quick to run from anything like real conflict or responsibility.
It shies away from hardcore economic issues but howls endlessly about anything that sounds like a free-speech controversy, shrieking about the notorious bugbears of the post-9/11 âpolice stateâ (the Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness, CARNIVORE, etc.) in a way that reveals unmistakably, to those who are paying close attention, a not-so-secret desire to be relevant and threatening enough to warrant the extralegal attention of the FBI. It sells scads of Che t-shirts ($20 at the International ANSWER online store) and has a perfected a high-handed tone of moralistic finger-wagging, but its organizational capacity is almost nil. It says a lot, but does very little.
The sad truth is that if the FBI really is following anyone on the American left, it is engaging in a huge waste of time and personnel. No matter what it claims for a self-image, in reality itâs the saddest collection of cowering, ineffectual ninnies ever assembled under one banner on Godâs green earth. And its ugly little secret is that it really doesnât mind being in the position itâs in â politically irrelevant and permanently relegated to the sidelines, tucked into its cozy little cottage industry of polysyllabic, ivory tower criticism. When you get right down to it, the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West side cocktail party for the college-graduate class.
And we all know it. The question is, when will we finally admit it?
Hereâs the real problem with American liberalism: there is no such thing, not really. What we call American liberalism is really a kind of genetic mutant, a Frankensteinâs monster of incongruous parts â a fat, affluent, overeducated New York/Washington head crudely screwed onto the withering corpse of the vanishing middle-American manufacturing class. These days the Roosevelt stratum of rich East Coasters are still liberals, but the industrial middle class that the New Deal helped create is almost all gone. In 1965, manufacturing jobs still made up 53 percent of the US economy; that number was down to nine percent in 2004, and no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs.
Thus, the people who are the public voice of American liberalism rarely have any real connection to the ordinary working people whose interests they putatively champion. They tend instead to be well-off, college-educated yuppies from California or the East Coast, and hard as they try to worry about food stamps or veteransâ rights or securing federal assistance for heating oil bills, they invariably gravitate instead to things that actually matter to them â like the slick Al Gore documentary on global warming, or the âAll Things Consideredâ interview on NPR with the British author of Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. They havenât yet come up with something to replace the synergy of patrician and middle-class interests that the New Deal represented.
Bernie Sanders, the new Senator from Vermont and one of the few American politicians in history to have survived publicly admitting to being a socialist, agrees that this peculiar demographic schism is a fundamental problem for the American political opposition.
âUnfortunately, today, when you talk about the âAmerican left,ââ he says, âas often as not youâre talking about wealthy folks who are concerned about the environment (which is enormously important) who are concerned about womenâs rights (which are enormously important) and who are concerned about gay rights (which are enormously important).
âBut youâre not really referring to millions of workers who have lost their jobs because of disastrous trade agreements,â he says. âYouâre not talking about waitresses who are working for four bucks an hour.â As often as not, he says, youâre talking about âsophisticated people who have money.â
David Sirota, author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government â and How We Can Take it Back, is a guy who frequently appears on television news programs defending the âleftâ in TVâs typical Crossfire-style left-right rock-âem-sock-âem format. Like a lot of people who make their living in this world, heâs sometimes frustrated with the lack of discipline and purpose in American liberalism. And like Sanders, he worries that there is a wide chasm between the people who speak for the left and sponsor left-leaning political organizations, and the actual people they supposedly represent.
âPerhaps what the real issue is that the left is not really a grassroots movement,â he says. âYou have this donor/elite class, and then you have the public . . . You have these zillionaires who are supposedly funding the progressive movement. At some point that gets to be a problem.â
Sanders agrees, saying that âwhere the money comes fromâ is definitely one of the reasons that the so-called liberals in Washington â i.e. the Democrats â tend not to get too heavily into financial issues that affect ordinary people. This basically regressive electoral formula has been a staple of the Democratic Party ever since the Walter Mondale fiasco in the mid-eighties prompted a few shrewd Washington insiders to create the notorious âpro-businessâ political formula of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to end the partyâs dependence upon labor money by announcing a new willingness to sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street. Once the DLCâs financial strategy helped get Bill Clinton elected, no one in Washington ever again bothered to question the wisdom of the political compromises it required.
Within a decade, the process was automatic â Citibank gives money to Tom Daschle, Tom Daschle crafts the hideous Bankruptcy Bill, and suddenly the Midwestern union member who was laid off in the wake of Democrat-passed NAFTA canât even declare bankruptcy to get out from the credit card debt he incurred in his unemployment. He will now probably suck eggs for the rest of his life, paying off credit card debt year after year at a snailâs pace while working as a non-union butcher in a Wal-Mart in Butte. Royally screwed twice by the Democratic Party he voted for, he will almost certainly decide to vote Republican the first time he opens up the door to find four pimply college students wearing I READ BANNED BOOKS t-shirts taking up a collection to agitate for dolphin-safe tuna.
But money and campaign contributions arenât the only reason âliberalâ politicians screw their voters.
more at: http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/71...m_Complex.html