What Radical Left?

radical_leftI like Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed today in The Union, “Radical left and right are squeezing out the middle.”

Why do I like it? Not because I agree with all of it, or even most of it, but because it seems to be an honest list of what he believes, what he’s for and what he’s against, and that’s a subject of interest to a lot of people in our community who are often perplexed about the connection between what he believes and what appears in The Union. Of course, he continues to insist that there’s little connection between what he or anyone else at The Union believes — say, politically — and what appears in its pages.

I’ll leave it to others who are more skilled and who pay more attention to The Union than I do to assess that sunny claim. (Update: See Jeff Pelline on this very subject, here).

But I will say this, based on my modest experience: whether or not the editor’s beliefs govern the content of The Union, it’s clear they have a profound effect on the style with which that content is presented. Think of the now infamous mine vandalism story that appeared above the fold on the front page, as if it were today’s news … some five years or so after it actually occurred.

Who made that decision? And why?

Still, reading today’s Op-Ed, I felt some sympathy. I don’t like the whacko screamers either. I think they are a threat to what’s left of our democracy. I also feel myself — though a liberal/progressive — to be in the middle (because — while more people self-identify as conservatives than as liberals — polling clearly shows that most people agree with the positions that are traditionally considered liberal: universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq, taxing the rich, etc.).

Chew on that confusion!

I could argue in detail with many of Jeff Ackerman’s beliefs: I oppose the death penalty as public policy, but not as my rightful response to mortal threat. I’d go even further. My objection to the death penalty is not based on some sentimental bleeding heart fantasy that everyone is ultimately reformable. No, sorry folks, there are evil people out there whose immediate demise would be a tremendous boon to all of us.

The problem is that many supporters of the death penalty — like Jeff Ackerman — are also forever whining about how government can’t do anything right.

It’s deeply ironic that I — on the other hand — feel that government (the embodiment of We The People) often does many things right, but when it comes to the death penalty, it must do it perfectly, or else I won’t suport it. In my frame of values, the entire system of the death penalty is not worth the wrongful death of even one innocent person. Think of someone you love.

I have to admit, finally, that I only read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed today because of the title (so, good choice of title!), in particular, the reference to the “radical left.” I thought, “Who the hell is the radical left?”

Maybe this reflects my age but as far as I know, the radical left — Trotsky, Lenin, Stalin, Groucho Marx, Che Gueverra — were all completely discredited sometime around the middle of the twentieth century.

Well, and to show you how confusing that get’s, the thumbnail I found of Che Gueverra to accompany this blog post, now that I look at it more carefully, could well be Benicio Del Toro!

Is Benicio “far left?” Give me a break!

Seriously, there is no viable far left in American politics any longer (you have to go to evil Europe to find that).

It’s only because we’re still living in the fading afterglow — like some sickening nuclear radiation that has rotted our brains — of the most radical far right administration in American history, that we allow our conservative commentators to get away with referring to someone as centrist as Obama as “far left.” I heard Monica Crowley say exactly that recently about Obama … Obama, who has gathered around him a stable of conventionally corporate types such as Geithner, Summers and Bernanke.

Most of the screaming and violence lately has come from the far right, which is still well and thriving in our political culture.

For conservatives to locate themselves in the mythical “middle,” it’s necessary for them to posit a “far left.”

That’s what Ackerman does in this Op-Ed, and that’s its chief weakness.

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7 Responses to “What Radical Left?”
  1. Steve Frisch says:

    As a young man growing up in the 60’s I romanticized the American Left. It was great story. In a nation that never truly adopted a leftist philosophy, the American Left hung out there, from early utopians and biblical communists like the Oneida Colony and New Harmony, to Tom Hayden, challenging, cajoling and providing an alternative vision of America.

    But American has never really embraced leftism. When Europe went through a series of revolutionary phases from 1848 to 1917, the US struggled to define a labor movement and build what was really an intellectual left, and academic left. Even in the depth of the depression leftism never became a serious contender. FDR actually was partly motivated by a desire to save capitalism from the challenge of the left.

    That’s why I romanticized the left, they were like the Cubs. They were there proving that underdogs can survive 100 years without winning anything.

    Face it, the United States is actually a centrist country, where liberalism has been defined by conservatives as being slightly left of center.

    Consequently America has no Che Gueverra, we settle for a hollywood image of revolution, which is probably more in tune with the basic nature of a continent that is just beginning to face the concept of limits, which Europe has had to to deal with for centuries.

  2. Don Pelton says:


    Thanks for your interesting and thoughtful reminiscence-history.

    Growing up in the forties/fifties/sixties/seventies/eighties — I’m still working on it — I too had a brief infatuation with what I imagined the left to be, mostly in the sixties, when the campus radicals seemed to have admirable spine. And I still admire the Liberation Theology movement of South America, with its incredible fidelity to Christ’s teaching as a social mission.

    But my admiration was from a distance: By that time I was a young father and was beginning to drift to the middle in the usual way that parents often do after a few years of changing diapers and gently caring for those young and tender bodies and souls.

    On the other hand, I never forgot my father’s career as a railway postal clerk, sorting mail on the train from Oakland, California to Lovelock, Nevada during all the years of my young life. He was a bright man who always wanted to be a chemist but who — as a husband and a father of three young children during the Depression — kept faith with his family by going every day to that civil service job he felt lucky to have in those years. But he always complained that when the Republicans were in power, he’d never get a raise.

    That one little comment — which I heard repeatedly from him over the years — had a more profound influence on my politics than all the other events of my life and times. He finally retired from that job feeling like a failure in life. I always equated Republicans with injustice and class war, and still see it that way.

    It’s all about loving my father, you see, who didn’t love himself as much as he deserved. I’m still trying to fix that (and didn’t realize it until I wrote it just now!)

    I’m glad America had no Che Gueverra, but I’m also glad that it did have a Michael Harrington, possibly our only homegrown and widely respected socialist, and often wished that his ideas had prevailed here. I’ve never forgotten a statement that he made in his book, “The Other America,” to the effect that in America — unlike Europe at that time — it was impossible to live “decently poor,” an idea he returned to repeatedly.

    He said that although in Europe it was possible to live decently poor, the American economy was like a raging stream in which you had to be engaged in a constant exhausting struggle to swim upstream, or else you were washed away. That’s an image I’ve never forgotten, and — with the increasing inequality in our society since Reagan’s ascension — it may be truer now than ever.

    Yes, America is a centrist country. Some recent writers have said it’s a “center-right” country, but that’s an artifact of the conservative domination of a now over-concentrated corporate-media complex. Polling shows the majority of Americans unwilling to self-identify as liberals — a word propagandized into a pejorative — while at the same time embracing mostly liberal/progressive positions and policies: Social Security, Medicare, more taxes on the wealthy, etc, etc, etc.

    I’m surprised to find myself — in the coming twilight of my life (I’m 67) — more in fear and doubt about the fate of our experiment in democracy than ever before. In fact, I never really took seriously the idea that our system is an ongoing experiment until Bush was elected, and I began to understand for the first time how fragile are the things that I always considered just as secure as the daily course of the sun in the sky.

    I wish our society were more socialistic … kinder, really. Just kinder. Not so mean-spirited.

    Americans are by and large a kind people.

    But a lot of us are angry too, and getting angrier.

    I’ll probably go to my grave in doubt about the outcome of history’s most noble experiment.

  3. Don Pelton says:

    By the way, it’s a fact that if you go to images.google.com, you can find the same thumbnail photo I used in this original post whether you enter “che gueverra” or whether you enter “benicio del toro.” At the time I first found it, I thought it was actually Che Gueverra.

    Of course, what the larger meaning is of this is a complete mystery to me.

    It probably has no larger meaning, which is what makes it fun!

  4. Don Pelton says:

    OK, I think this is it!

    The “Far Left” in the US is as real as that photo of … “Che Gueverra!”

    Like Steve said in the first place … “a hollywood image of revolution.”

  5. steve frsich says:

    Hey, maybe Van Jones is our Che Gueverra!

  6. Don Pelton says:

    So, what’s the flap about Van Jones? Is it because of this “truther” petition?


    If so, that’ unfortunate.

    I read part of his book, “Green Collar Economy,” and listened to some of his speeches, and I thought he made sense.

  7. depelton says:

    I did a bit of an in-depth on Van Jones, here. It’s not as simple as it appears.

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