Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whatever happened to the American Left?

Just listened to an NPR “Talk of the Nation” piece entitled “Whatever Happened to the American Left?”

The premise was that the right has, over a period of decades, come to dominate the political discourse through greater message discipline, building better “movement” infrastructure and the development of bully pulpits including talk radio, the Internet and niche magazines. It was all interesting and the analysis was fine — as far as it went.

But it missed what I consider to be the biggest reason that the left is on its heels, despite putting Barack Obama in the White House in a landslide in 2008. That reason is cultural: the left has allowed itself to be perceived as effete, elitist and anti-patriotic. That’s a caricature, of course, but many on the left seem unable to stop sharpening the pencil that draws it.

Two local cases in point:

Back in 2004, I was having a conversation with a local Democratic Party activist who must have assumed we were of like mind because we both disliked George W. Bush and opposed the Iraq war. This woman fulminated against all the “flag wavers,” essentially depicting patriotic Americans as dupes and rubes. I said, “I hate to tell you this, but I have a flag pole in my front yard and I fly the American flag every day.”

“But… but…” she spluttered, “You read books!”

No kidding. She really said that.

More recently, my friend Jack McGowan gave a beautiful, heartfelt invocation during the Sisters Folk Festival’s community show on Sunday, September 11, remembering the attacks of 10 years before and his experience as a member of Oregon’s Flight for Freedom, which went to New York City to show solidarity with that wounded metropolis. He closed with the third stanza of “America the Beautiful”: Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears.

Later, someone expressed to me some mild discomfort at the patriotic tenor of Jack’s words. Huh?

The American Left has alienated itself from its natural work-for-a-living constituency because it has allowed itself to be portrayed as anti-American. And that, I’m afraid, is because some on the left are anti-American. Too bad, because America needs a genuine progressive voice to continue to ensure that the blessings of liberty are extended to all its citizens, to promote the access to opportunity and the principle of the common weal that are essential to making the pursuit of happiness more than a chimera for the vast bulk of our population.

Back in ’04, Howard Dean said his party needed to be talking to the guy with the Confederate flag on his pickup truck bumper. He was right. Of course he got so much crap for it that he climbed down. By 2008, candidate Obama was talking to a San Francisco fundraising crowd about folks bitterly clinging to guns and religion.

Well, if you’re trying to come across as an elitist snob, that’s a pretty good job of it. That’s how the left has ceded the field to the likes of W — a blueblood born-on-third-base aristocrat posing as some kind of regular guy. It’s pathetic and ridiculous.

I’ve seen this before. I went to college in Santa Cruz and my girlfriend at the time went to Berkeley, so I was exposed to plenty of idiots who claimed to speak for “the people” yet obviously despised them. Until those kinds of voices are marginalized, until the American Left embraces the “American” part of that moniker, there will never again be a successful progressive movement in this country. Who wants to work with people who look down on them?

And until there are real countervailing sources of power, the looters will continue to pillage a once-great nation.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Well said Jim! The Left no longer is interested in debating the issues honestly and openly. They simply call you racist or a religious zealot if you disagree with them.

    I whish there were more like Dennis Kucinich & Prof LaMont Hill who can make an intelligent, passionate case for their beliefs without labeling someone who disagrees as an idiot.

    There used to be lots of room for differing view points in America. Tip Oneil & Reagan found a way to disagree and still have respect for each other. We really do need someone who can deliver on Obama's promise of 'hope and change.'

  2. Jim,

    Being un-Republican is not the same thing as being un-American. Your post is deeply offensive to patriotic Americans like myself who can point to many, many examples of behavior from Republican office holders, celebrities and media outlets that explain why people have the reactions you cite.

    Because many of us remember the Jingoism that has pulled us into unnecessary wars, and the flag waving associated with that jingoism, does not make us un-American. How dare you accuse the woman you speak of as being un-American! Her surprise that you read books and wave a flag is also rooted in another fine tradition of the same folks who used flag waving to promote their jingoistic agenda: i.e. extreme anti-science, anti education and anti-intellectual philosophy that has gripped the modern republican party. You combine this Flag waving with the pervasive anti-intellectualism of the modern right, and her comments are a lot more understandable.

    The right in this country has been so adept at dog whistle politics for so long, that they have poisoned public displays of genuine patriotism: the republican party tried to rebrand the American flag as the Republican flag and part of the process for doing that was to accuse all who disagree with them of being un-American. This is where your gentlemen’s mild discomfort comes from, not from some basic unAmericanness. Again how dare you accuse people of being un-American? You owe both of these individuals an apology.

    Again, don’t confuse being un-Republican with being un-American.

  3. Anonymous:

    Point of clarification: I was not accusing the people involved in my two examples of being un-American. I simply find their sensibilities — their attitude that overt displays of patriotism are kinda icky — mystifying. If you think the flag’s been hijacked, why not claim it back? It’s my flag, too. I take the “liberty and justice for all” thing seriously.

    However… there ARE plenty of folks on the left who think their own country is the root of all evil in the world. I used to live among them. If progressives allow their voice to be the loudest voice from the left (or even to be caricatured as such by playing into the hands of the likes of Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart), they’ll never get anywhere. You know: “If you go carryin’ pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”

    The NPR piece was not a screed against the left; it was an attempt by people on the left to understand where it all went off track. My two cents is that the left moved away from a substantial part of its constituency. Call them Reagan Democrats; remember them? The left lost those people because they felt their cultural values and identity — including their fundamental patriotism — were not respected. The right has been able to exploit that for 30 years. I think the guests on the “Talk of the Nation” piece miss that or underestimate its significance. Your mileage may vary.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  4. Jim,

    My two cents is that your examples are weak and that the idea that the Left is anti-american is an idea that is almost entirely fabricated by the right. I can come up with just as many examples of anti-american behavior and words from the right, like Rick Perry proposing secession from the union or Timothy McVey blowing up the Federal building in Oklahoma city. But i would not accuse the Right of being un-american because of that.

    This is what your critique of the left amounts to: guilt by accusation. I don't buy it. This idea that the left is un-american is part of the right wing message machine an d nothing more.

    I don't believe that "Reagan Democrats" are swayed very much by these culture war issues. If you look at how they have voted, it pretty much is predicted by the state of the economy and not much else. In recession, vote the bastards out. That is how Reagan, Clinton and Obama were elected.

    Finally, it is true that the republicans have developed and refined a unified, lockstep highly disciplined talking points only political message delivery apparatus. It is also true that the Democrats have not. I think we will see that the Republicans highly evolved highly engineered message delivery system is becoming less and less effective. Not because they are not as pervasive and disciplined as before, if anything they are more on both counts, but because what they say and what reality is are drifting farther and farther apart.

  5. Jim,

    One additional thought: You ask if I think the flag is being hijacked, why not claim it back? The answer is that it isn't anyone's to claim or hijack. It is precisely this civil war, fight-for-the-flag dynamic that the Republicans have created that is so destructive. By doing this they have made it a symbol of division, not unity.

    But perhaps I shouldn't express thoughts like this lest i be cast as anti-american.

  6. Oh, my.

    Those who feel it is "they" who being somehow disparaged are "offended".


    And "they" just couldn't wait to wail about the Republicans and the right-wingers and offer how much "they" wave and love the flag and on and on and on.

    Years ago, while attending the Defense Language School in Monterey, California, I went to a gun show in San Jose.

    Along with me was a teacher who'd gotten tired of the liberal prattle and had gone off to fight in Rhodesia with its government forces then returned home. His girlfriend at the time lived in Santa Cruz, and self-identified herself as a marxist whose parents were card carrying communists.

    The entire trip she chatted us up with how great the American liberal Left was, how wrong everyone else was unless they were "on the Left", and then proceeded her buy herself a Ruger Mini 14 rifle and some accessories for it.

    Before I dropped my friend off, and his Leftie girlfriend, I offered if she thought she'd have been able to spend the day being as radically critical of a government in say, Nicaragua (at the time) and then, in the same country, being able to buy a firearm to "buff up" her revolutionary self-image.

    No response. I guess she may have been "offended" by my question.

    For God's Sake please stop being "offended" whether on either side of a balanced central approach to Life, Government, and Justice/Compassion.

    Buncha soft-handed, sheltered little brats is what you remind me of otherwise.

    "Offended", indeed!

  7. Anon 4.20,

    So your point is that I should be happy that I am accused of being anti-american and just grin happily about it?

    Lets not forget how how this post started. Jim accused the left/progressive faction of this country of harboring anti-Americans. Because I am a patriotic American and a progressive "leftie", I take deep offense to that.

    It has been all to easy for you on the right to dismiss those who you disagree with as anti-American. When we strongly object to that you dismiss it as a small insult, we shouldn't be so sensitive. Well I guess that means you don't put much value on Patriotism do you. because it is not as small insult it is a huge insult and it causes huge offense.

    By the way, anecdotes about college girls from the 60's prove nothing except some young lady made a big impression on you.

  8. Yep, that be the case.

    Hard to forget a card carrying, rifle toting marxist/leftist she-cur like that one.

    But you clearly missed the point anyhow so...

    Go dry your red,white, and blue eyes ya poor offended little thing. You'll get over it.

    Reminds me of an old Special Forces, Vietnam era -

    "For those who have never fought for it, Freedom has a special flavor the protected will never know."

    The "protected" can afford to be easily "offended".

    There is seldom any meaningul backlash for whining in public, at least on these shores.

    Can't say the same for other places, though.

    Those who do the protecting seem to earn a thicker skin and a better sense of humor along the way.

    Comes with learning how to live cautiously as well as free.

    Just seems to be the nature of things.

    At least that's what history tells me.

  9. Oh I get it.. you have to be military to be a patriot. Well that is a big load of B.S.

  10. Jim,

    The last several exchanges reflect, in my honest opinion, exactly what has happened to the American Left.

    Which was your original question, I believe.

    Leftists in America, from their leadership down to the grassroots, today base all of their arguments and anything else they have to say in the depth of their emotional angst.

    And when challenged they wither and cry "I'm offended!" or "I'm a patriot, too!" or, in this case, "Well, that is a big load of BS."

    Frankly, and I've noted this before when listening, or observing, or seeking intelligent interaction with Leftists, it is waaaaay too easy to pinch their lower lips and lead them into a state of weepy histrionics.

    Fun to watch and listen to, though. They get all hurt and offended, fluff up like a startled blowfish, start hypervenilating, waving their hands, eyes rolling...

    And in the end the best they seem to come up with is "That's a load of BS!", or they spin around and storm off talking to themselves, or they just stop all activity and stare at you...lights are on but no one's home anymore.

    Now that's my experience with American Leftists. I've spent some time talking with Latin American Leftists/Marxists and those are both challenging and interesting discussions.

    Okay, okay. Most of them were former guerrillas from places like Honduras, Chili, El Salvador. They were para-military and had duked it out on the battlefields for what they believed. They were not "the Protected" but, in their own views rather "the Protectors".

    In the end no one shrilled "That's B.S.!". Instead we exchanged due respect, thanked each other for coming together as former enemies and now veterans of our conflicts, and "conjunto" expressed hope that peace and justice might indeed continue to have a chance in this here world of ours.

    Trite allegations of "flag hi-jacking" and the creating of false enemies (i.e. Democrats vr Republicans) is the stuff wars are made of. As one well known and now retired Salvadoran guerrilla commander shared with me, "They have to make us hate each other in order to get us to kill each other."

    Finally, no, one does not have to have been or be "military" to be a patriot.

    The Vietnam Veterans Against the War were, in their view, sincere patriots. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War are likewise sincere in their motives and objectives. Veterans for Peace, very active in Oregon, cannot be said by those who have visited with them to be "un-patriotic".

    Again, "For those who have fought for it, Freedom has a special flavor the Protected will never know."

    Protected, soft, privileged, unscathed American Leftists (and Rightists) are, in my opinion, "vanilla patriots". The reader is invited to make of that what you (no doubt) will.

    But for me make my patriotism Red, White, and Blue, please.

    For those who don't recall what these colors represent please note the following from the book "Our Flag".

    White represents purity and innocence; red represents hardiness and valor; and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

    No vanilla in that description of the flag's representation of America.


    dulcis amor patriae.

  11. Even after the long tedious explanation, it is still a load of B.S.

  12. Anon 8.06,

    So much easier to hurl insults than to cite facts, isn't it. Glad yo didn't have to strain yourself.

  13. the above exchange just validates what Jim's point was to begin with.

  14. Please explain how the exchange validates Jim's point? Looks to me like it refutes Jim's point.

  15. As if on cue for this blog, Herman Cain and Newt Gingridge announce on Sunday morning talk shows that all those who are protesting corporate greed in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are un-American. Once again confusing un-Republican with un-American.

    My prediction is that the republican toadies of corporate America will only ramp up the chant of "anit-American" as these protests spread.

    Glad you are able to participate in this slander, Jim.

  16. Oh,Anonymous:

    You musta "missed" this part...

    "America needs a genuine progressive voice to continue to ensure that the blessings of liberty are extended to all its citizens, to promote the access to opportunity and the principle of the common weal that are essential to making the pursuit of happiness more than a chimera for the vast bulk of our population."

    I think that aligns pretty well with the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street protests...

    "...until there are real countervailing sources of power, the looters will continue to pillage a once-great nation."

    Hmmm... wonder what 1 percent I'm talking about here...

    You persist in simultaneously wildly missing and making my point. Neat trick, that. Since you are obviously an articulate and intelligent person, I have to assume it's deliberate. What are you getting out of it?

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  17. Jim,

    The point you are missing from me is that the valid points you make are completely lost because of the slander you have wrapped them in.

    You have prefaced all you have said with "...some on the left are anti-American". Yet you have no example of a leader from the modern progressive movement or stance of the modern movement that supports your claim.

    Your individual anecdotes do not constitute proof of anything except proof of your own bias.

    I am not "wildly missing" your point. Your point has been contaminated by a lie.

  18. Jim,

    What I don't understand and it really amazes me, is how good, hard working middle and upper middle class people are willing to give their votes to the Republicans. Simply put, if you are worth less than $50 million dollars, you are not ever going to get anything from the Republicans. They appeal to people with a social agenda, abortion, religion in schools, guns, anti-gay marriage, etc... but since 1980, they've done absolutely nothing about any of those issues... they talk about family values and American values, but in reality, all they do is talk about it. That's what they do with their right hand, with their left hand, the Republicans have executed an agenda of tax loopholes, deregulation and spending that has benefited the same $50+ millionaires. Look at the actual record. They took us off the gold standard, produced massive deficits for over 40 years, 2 un-winnable wars, raped the environment, made it possible to be a billionaire and pay no taxes, an unreadable, self-destructive tax code and a Wall Street bailout that was unprecedented, unnecessary and unfair. You actually have to take the time to look at the votes to see what the hell is going on with this party.

    To make matters worse, the actual actions of the Republicans actually has worsened the lives of everyone other then those same millionaires.

    I find it amazing that good, smart people that I know, people with moderate or slightly more than moderate means, give their vote so passionately to a party that turns around and slaps them with it.

    I think it's due to the aspirant nature of some people. "If we vote like rich people, perhaps someday we will be rich too". If you actually look at what's been and being done to these people by the Republican party, they might change their tune.

    I have no reason to support the Koch brothers agenda, I am not an oil and gas billionaire. I don't steal natural resources from the federal government. I need safe schools, streets and drinking water.

    Oh and by the way, as the largest employer in the US, the government creates lots of jobs. Without projects like Manhattan, Apollo, WPA and Several hundred tech initiatives, we would not have the microchip, nuclear and hydro power or all of these tiny, wonderful computers that we use for your blog. Government made these possible, and those governments were lead by, dare I say it, Democrats!!!!

    I'm tired of lies veiled in truth and I'm tired of liars. Wake up, unless you're really, really rich, and if you vote republican, the Republicans are screwing you.

  19. For someone of Andy's self-perceived intelligence to blame all of America's woes on the Republicans, is quite laughable. Both sides of the aisle are equally responsible. Both the Democrats, and Republicans, have had the ability to change things for the better at one time or another, and have chosen not to do so.

    Followers of both parties have taken advantage of, and been hurt by, the shenanigans of the other. To say that you'll receive no benefit from laws put in place by Republicans unless you're worth more than $50 million, is hogwash.

    Both parties are responsible for the building of dams, cutting of trees, over fishing of streams and oceans, and the almost obscene consumption of petroleum based products. To suggest that the environment has been raped by any single group of Americans is absurd.

    And unless you've never benefitted from an IRA, 401K, Sub S Corp., College Savings Plan, Child Tax Credit, Mortgage Interest Credit, Gift Tax exemption (need I go on?), you are a hypocrite... at best.

  20. Republicans drove this country into a ditch with their ridiculous economic, foreign policy and social theories.

    Their tax cutting and deregulation only economic theory got us the worst down turn since the great depression which was the last itme they were allowed to run the show.

    Their macho-blood-for-oil foreign policy got us 4,000 dead Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention 2 trillion dollars of debt to finance those wars. Oh the let us be attacked on 911: 3,000 more dead Americans.

    Republicans are a complete disaster. Wake up America. Smell the pile they left us.

  21. Lift your head up to the skies, and take a deep breath. I don't want you choking on that big gulp of Kool-Aid you just drank.

  22. There is no factual basis for any of the vitriol that is exclusively against Republicans or Democrats that is widespread in our society. Both parties are guilty of almost all of the complaints that people are currently expressing. Obama had a mandate and large majorities in the House and Senate; he could have done almost anything. What did he do? He kept fighting the wars he blamed the Republicans for starting; he kept open the prison he promised to close. There are many other examples of promises made to get elected that were not kept when the lobbyists came calling. He could have changed the tax code to get more from the very wealthy, but he didn't. I wonder why? One of his biggest supporters was George Soros. Look him up; he's as bad for this country as the Koch brothers. Both try to buy politicians to advance their agenda that may not be what we want. They, in effect, nullify our vote.

    This country is doomed if there is not a viable third party soon that is based on a commitment to take the money out of politics. Follow the money.

    Those of you upset with the Wall Street greed and corruption need only to look at where Wall Street spends its political action dollars; they are essentially equally split between Republicans and Democrats. The same is true in most every other large politically active corporation, union, trade organization, foundation, and wealthy individuals. The professional politicians that control our government are supported by both sides on virtually every issue of importance. It's the dance they do and it will continue as long as there is a majority of people that continue to believe my side is all right and your side is all wrong. The current breed of politician, Republican or Democrat, is hoping you will continue to be so stupid.

    Our professional politicians are very similar to the best of our magician illusionists; they get us to fighting with each other which diverts our attention away from what they are really doing; which is creating a lifetime of wealth and prosperity for themselves at our expense and at the expense of our country.

  23. Just because the the democrats are bad, doesn't mean that the republicans arent worse.... Much worse.

    We gave them the helm of the ship of state, and they ran us aground.

    Because the democrats don't have good answers doesn't mean that we should trust the same people who wrecked us simply because they oppose the democrats. We should never let them run country ever again. Those who were on watch and allowed 911 to happen should be tried for treason and dereliction of duty. Those who were in power when wall street robbed 3trillion dollars from us in the housing and market crash should be jailed for the theft and fraud they committed.

    These are they people the republican party defend.

  24. "Just because the the democrats are bad, doesn't mean that the republicans arent worse.... Much worse..."


    A delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence.[1] Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological (the result of an illness or illness process).

  25. Re: Last Anonymous comment: Let's try to be a little more substantive, eh?

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  26. Jim:

    I know it's your blog but seriously ! Is your skin that thin to cull what you do in response ?

  27. Anon 4:38 —

    I have no idea what you just said. Care to elaborate?

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  28. Jim,

    Here is something substantive for you. Check this link interesting reading on how Republicans have got nuthin. http://news.yahoo.com/studies-challenge-wisdom-gop-candidates-plans-124434243.html

  29. Left, right, left...left..left, Left,right, left...your left...your left...your military left!

    That's where the left belongs.

    On a military parade field.

    Oh, and as for the "99 percent" - the "Occupy Our Time" crew hijacked that from the American Motorcycle Association.

    Back in the 50s, after the Holister motorcycle riot, the AMA offered the troublemakers only represented 1 percent of the overall motorcycling community.

    The remaining 99% were law-abiding citizens who simply enjoyed bikes, riding, and sporting events.

    With that in mind, and in the Spirit of U2, I hereby take back the 99% as law abiding citizens and assign the remaining 1% to the junior outlaws of the Occupy camping community.

    Left, left, your left-right-left!

  30. Anon 4.51 AM

    Looks like you bought into the Banking Industry smear campaign against the Occupy Wall Street movement.

    Check this


    Chug Chug Chug that banking Kool Aide mmmmmmm.