Here And Sphere: What To Do About The Left?
Aug 19, 2017 05:54AM
● By Mike Freedberg
Senator Kamala Harris of California : very Left but evidently not left enough for the purists’ identity politics and speech code utopias.
The American Left of today is flawed, maybe fatally. It came about as a reaction, a negation, of the American “right” Tea Party movement. But “what you are against” is not a political programme. Voters want to know what you are for; only once you have shown that you promote policies that voters can support do you acquire the legitimacy to be credibly “against.”
This has always been true of our politics in the mainstream, and though the practitioners of reactive activism do not see it — or do not care — it is true of them too.
The activist Left had it pretty good this week. It confronted nazis, white nationalists, KKKers, bigots of all kinds and suffered injury and one death, and almost every American stood n the Left’s side because the opponent was as disgusting as it gets.
Nor was there any validity whatsoever to comparisons attempted, by some, between the Left’s anger and the idiocy of the bigots. However we may critique the Left — as I will do in this column — at least its evident agenda has some basis in fact., while the grievances of the torch army are chimeras. If the Left’s talk were groundless, it wouldn’t be worth talking about at all.
So what ARE we to do about the Left ?
Because some of its grievances do need to be addressed — for example, the continuing prevalence of skin color judgments, vote suppression, income imbalance, attacks upon women’s rights to control their own bodies — the Left has a part to play in reforming our nation’s social and economic habits. Politicians on the Left address these urgencies well and responsibly. I know of few who speak without thinking, or who waste our time with digressions into speech codes and Southern history shaming. Minimum wage laws should indeed be raised up. Women everywhere should have liberal access to birth control medicine and pregnancy decisions. The right to vote must be safeguarded vigorously and access to voting made easier. And yes, the South should free itself from beautifying the dark failures in its history. These are goals that every reformer either agrees with or can appreciate. The Left has all the opportunity any political movement could ask for.
All that is needed is for the Left to acquire some political discipline; to restrain its utopian addiction; and to not by its actions alienate voters who are trying to decide which movement has the wiser agenda and the greater maturity to see it accomplished by the compromises that are the only way a diverse democracy can progress without stoking contention that prevents accomplishment and can even set us back.
Will this be done ?
Much of tghe answer comes from how the media treats movements of reform. The owners of media want to attract attention (my Mother the Hearst newsgal used to say “we’re in the business of selling newspapers”), and outrage attracts much more attention than patient gruntwork. Thus instead of writing about ordinary political campaigns assembled in the usual manner, we see stories about anarchists attacking people with pepper spray, or about the taking down of statues of people dead over 100 years, or about the blocking of highways by Black Lives Matter activists.
Seeing such stories, one wonders if the media do not want reforms to happen. Maybe so, but one also wonders, seeing such stories, what bright bulb intelligence thought that blocking highways, or pepper spraying right wing jerks, or taking down statues, or shouting down speakers at college campuses, would win the public’s hearts and minds.
Nor is it very smart of the Left’s purists-in-a-hurry to excoriate its political leaders — potential presidents — as has been seen on twitter these past several weeks.
These are the actions of a very very few, but when publicized by the media, they quickly become the symbols of an entire movement and so render that movement anathema to most.
You would think that responsible leaders of Left-inspired reform would know this and would insist that such grandstanding stop now. I assure you that these leaders of the Left know the danger. They see that the more outrageous the miscues of Mr. Trump, the more outraged the responses by their own followers. They understand backlash. And if the incompetence and depravity of Mr. trump are far too egregious for him to be saved even by backlash, Mr. Trump is fast becoming a political irrelevance. The five points victory of Karen Handel in a Georgia Congressional district that Hillary Clinton almost won should make it clear that the voters are not going automatically to elect Democrats in contests against normal Republicans simply because they don’t like Mr. Trump.
The suburban Atlanta voters who decided to elect Karen Handel rather than Jon Ossoff want to hear what t.he Left’s activists are FOR, not just what they are against. And they aren’t much interested in exchanging the far right’s ugly intolerance for speech bans and identity utopias.
Will the Left rein in its iconoclasts and street actors and propose an agenda a majority of voters can support ? It has the chance to do so. we shall see if it gets its house in order — or not.
(Mike Freedberg is a longtime political activist in Massachusetts and the publisher of the Here and Sphere Blog.)