Democratic Underground  

The New Radical Left (And the Folks Who Fuel It)
November 12, 2002
Maureen Farrell

They say people become more conservative with age. Until recently, that seemed so. For the legions of us who came of age as the left became a cartoon, a rightward shift was inevitable. We grew to distrust all of it: long overdue advances in civil rights were accompanied by open season on anything white and male; the women's movement was hijacked by champions of unwed childlessness; and valid opposition to the Vietnam War gave way to factions shamelessly spitting upon soldiers. It was distasteful and disgraceful and we gravitated towards the center.

Nevertheless, what was real and honorable about the left stayed with us, always. We didn't understand why universal medical care was so scary, for example, particularly considering America's runaway corporate welfare. We weren't sure how helping the less fortunate became so threatening, since taxpayers blindly fund a defense budget of nearly $400 billion per year. We also wondered why people were up in arms over welfare to single mothers, but not over the $2.3 trillion the Pentagon misplaced. "Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed," Dwight D. Eisenhower once said. Would Ike be "too liberal" these days, too?

We thought we were just average citizens, with average concerns, until we woke up to find ourselves part of the radical left. We're not sure how it happened, mind you. In fact, we didn't even realize it until a chorus of pundits started steering us a certain way. When MSNBC's Lester Holt happily explained how daisy cutters work, for example, we were filled with queasiness in lieu of national pride. We believed Scott Ritter was telling the truth, no matter how often Paula Zahn warned us not to. And despite the president's assurances he'd like to avoid war, we trusted Newsday's observation that his administration "appeared to be purposely setting the bar too high for Hussein to comply."

Chants about "blaming America first" aside, we have always been uncomfortable with our legacy of coups d'etats and assassinations -- and of replacing democratically-elected leaders with tyrants of our own. We'd prefer to spend that money and energy aggressively seeking alternative energy, so babies need not die in our names. And we can't ignore the role we've played in creating problems named bin Laden, Hussein, Noreiga and Pinochet; or inconsistencies in official stories; or hidden agendas, regardless how often we're chided by "the liberal media elite."

Citing others' misgivings over everything from Wellstone's death to 9/11 to JFK's murder, for example, Ron Rosenbaum recently joined Nicholas Kristof in describing ways the left has gone off track. Certainly, Wellstone's death could have been "one of those things"; Condoleezza "no one would think of flying planes into buildings" Rice might have suffered from memory lapses; and despite suggestions otherwise, Lee Harvey Oswald may have acted alone. Rosenbaum's absolute certainty regarding all of this is disarming, however, especially to those of us who have still have questions -- and realize, once again, that there will never be honest investigations into any of it. Ever. How can we not be "dumbed down" when it's taboo to even question? Do they not see it, too?

We're told to forget or ignore history and are asked to not even ask. Questions regarding the 2000 election are met with "get over it;" Greg Palast's report about 91,000 voters wrongly purged from Florida rolls goes largely ignored; and an independent investigation into 911 looks as if will be stonewalled into oblivion. Will we ever hear another word about Wellstone's crash? We are foolish even in the asking. How can we expect journalists to pressure officials for answers, when they're too busy telling us to look the other way?

Unlike those in the sixties who took cues from members of their own generation, we unlikely radicals rely largely upon our elders. "Remember every question is legitimate." Helen Thomas recently said. Every question is legitimate? Imagine that.

When Thomas explained the difference between this president and others she's covered, we were grateful that someone, somewhere was saying something. "I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war," she said, adding, "it's bombs away for Iraq and on our civil liberties if Bush and his cronies get their way."

Then, too, Jimmy Breslin's recent comparison of Bobby Kennedy's campaign to the 2002 election gave us a glimpse of what we've lost. "I don't think that anybody today can understand the sheer thrill of a campaign that was based on uncomplicated good," he wrote. "Vote for the guy and you could stop people from getting killed. Your own vote could save a life! Vote for the guy and you could get a roof for somebody in Brooklyn and food for children in Mississippi. People got so excited they couldn't sleep. ... Nobody wanted war. People weren't crazy ... and poverty [wasn't] ended by throwing more of the poor into the streets."

Though we want to feel as if we're rooting for "uncomplicated good," we hold our noses each election and vote for more taxation without representation. When corporations are calling the shots, progressives are at a distinctive disadvantage, as veteran journalist Bill Moyers pointed more than a decade ago. And now, following the 2002 election, we can once again count upon Moyers to address our concerns. While self-proclaimed liberal Chris Matthews giddily hosts right-wing pundits like Bob Dornan heralding in "the beginning of the end of liberalism," Moyers chronicles the dark times we foresee. Confronting threats to the environment and to government transparency and to a woman's right to choose, he openly wonders how working people willingly voted against their own interests. "If you liked the Supreme Court that put George W. Bush in the White House, you will swoon over what's coming," Moyers explained. Does that underscore why Chris Matthews delightedly characterized G. Gordon Liddy, Pat Buchanan and Dornan as "whooping it up" over what's ahead?

It would seem so. Because while the Regressive Right is often given a forum, the Progressive Left is not. When 20 antiwar congressmen recently held a press conference before the Iraq resolution vote, the media didn't cover it, as the congressmen were "out of the mainstream." We're not talking Noam Chomsky or Robert Fisk, here, we're discussing U.S congressmen. Nonetheless, Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman Dennis Kucinich was reelected with 74% of the vote, vice chairman Barbara Lee captured 81% in her district, Major Owens received 86%, Bernie Sanders, 65%, Peter DeFazio 64%, Nancy Pelosi 80% and Jesse Jackson, Jr. nabbed 86% of the vote. And remember Congressman Jim McDermott, who was demonized for visiting Baghdad and for (rightfully) saying Bush would mislead America in order to go to war? 74% of the voters in his district voted for him again. Needles to say, if McDermott had lost, you would have heard braying nationwide.

But none of this signals it's time to start singing "Power to the People" just yet. It's important to remember that the seismic shift that's occurred in parts of the country is very real. Democrat governor Roy Barnes, for example, lost his bid for reelection for having the gall to remove the Confederate symbol from Georgia's state flag, and though he lost three limbs serving in Vietnam, Max Cleland lost his bid after being attacked for a lack of patriotism, because he held out for an inclusion of worker's rights for Homeland Security employees. President Bush, Karl Rove and Ralph Reed orchestrated much of this -- and we can't help but wonder of Jesus Christ were elected to office, how quickly the Religious Right would be calling for His head.

Given this, it looks as if we're in for the fight of our lives. And we are going to have to rely on old mentors even more. For generations, enlightened writers have been, to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, our "guardians of peace and justice." This was "before the dark times, before the Empire," mind you. But luckily, while some journalists are telling us to close our mouths and close our minds, as we face the darkest times in recent memory; we still have some old standbys to offer us light.

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