How far left was I? So far left my beloved uncle was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in a Communist country. When I returned to his Slovak village to buy him a mass card, the priest refused to sell me one. So far left that a self-identified terrorist proposed marriage to me. So far left I was a two-time Peace Corps volunteer and I have a degree from UC Berkeley. So far left that my Teamster mother used to tell anyone who would listen that she voted for Gus Hall, Communist Party chairman, for president. I wore a button saying “Eat the Rich.” To me it wasn’t a metaphor.
I voted Republican in the last presidential election.
Below are the top ten reasons I am no longer a leftist. This is not a rigorous comparison of theories. This list is idiosyncratic, impressionistic, and intuitive. It’s an accounting of the milestones on my herky-jerky journey.
In the late 1990s I was reading Anatomy of the Spirit, a then recent bestseller by Caroline Myss.
Myss described having lunch with a woman named Mary. A man approached Mary and asked her if she were free to do a favor for him on June 8th. No, Mary replied, I absolutely cannot do anything on June 8th because June 8th is my incest survivors’ meeting and we never let each other down! They have suffered so much already! I would never betray incest survivors!
Myss was flabbergasted. Mary could have simply said “Yes” or “No.”
Reading this anecdote, I felt that I was confronting the signature essence of my social life among leftists. We rushed to cast everyone in one of three roles: victim, victimizer, or champion of the oppressed. We lived our lives in a constant state of outraged indignation. I did not want to live that way anymore. I wanted to cultivate a disposition of gratitude. I wanted to see others, not as victims or victimizers, but as potential friends, as loved creations of God. I wanted to understand the point of view of people with whom I disagreed without immediately demonizing them as enemy oppressors.
I recently attended a training session for professors on a college campus. The presenter was a new hire in a tenure-track position. He opened his talk by telling us that he had received an invitation to share a festive meal with the president of the university. I found this to be an enviable occurrence and I did not understand why he appeared dramatically aggrieved. The invitation had been addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. X.” Professor X was a bachelor. He felt slighted. Perhaps the person who had addressed his envelope had disrespected him because he is a member of a minority group.
Rolling his eyes, Prof. X went on to say that he was wary of accepting a position on this lowly commuter campus, with its working-class student body. The disconnect between leftists’ announced value of championing the poor and the leftist practice of expressing snobbery for them stung me. Already vulnerable students would be taught by a professor who regarded association with them as a burden, a failure, and a stigma.
Barack Obama is president. Kim and Kanye and Brad and Angelina are members of multiracial households. One might think that professors finally have cause to teach their students to be proud of America for overcoming racism. Not so fast, Professor X warned. His talk was on microaggression, defined as slights that prove that America is still racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist, that is, discriminatory against handicapped people.
Professor X projected a series of photographs onto a large screen. In one, commuters in business suits, carrying briefcases, mounted a flight of stairs. This photo was an act of microaggression. After all, Professor X reminded us, handicapped people can’t climb stairs.
I appreciate Professor X’s desire to champion the downtrodden, but identifying a photograph of commuters on stairs as an act of microaggression and evidence that America is still an oppressive hegemon struck me as someone going out of his way to live his life in a state of high dudgeon. On the other hand, Prof. X could have chosen to speak of his own working-class students with more respect.
Yes, there is a time and a place when it is absolutely necessary for a person to cultivate awareness of his own pain, or of others’ pain. Doctors instruct patients to do this — “Locate the pain exactly; calculate where the pain falls on a scale of one to ten; assess whether the pain is sharp, dull, fleeting, or constant.” But doctors do this for a reason. They want the patient to heal, and to move beyond the pain. In the left, I found a desire to be in pain constantly, so as always to have something to protest, from one’s history of incest to the inability of handicapped people to mount flights of stairs.
9) Selective Outrage
I was a graduate student. Female genital mutilation came up in class. I stated, without ornamentation, that it is wrong.
A fellow graduate student, one who was fully funded and is now a comfortably tenured professor, sneered at me. “You are so intolerant. Clitoredectomy is just another culture’s rite of passage. You Catholics have confirmation.”
When Mitt Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, he mentioned that, as Massachusetts governor, he proactively sought out female candidates for top jobs. He had, he said, “binders full of women.” He meant, of course, that he stored resumes of promising female job candidates in three-ring binders.
Op-ed pieces, Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon posts erupted in a feeding frenzy, savaging Romney and the Republican Party for their “war on women.”
I was an active leftist for decades. I never witnessed significant leftist outrage over clitoredectomy, child marriage, honor killing, sharia-inspired rape laws, stoning, or acid attacks. Nothing. Zip. Crickets. I’m not saying that that outrage does not exist. I’m saying I never saw it.
The left’s selective outrage convinced me that much canonical, left-wing feminism is not so much support for women, as it is a protest against Western, heterosexual men. It’s an “I hate” phenomenon, rather than an “I love” phenomenon.
8.) It’s the thought that counts
My favorite bumper sticker in ultra-liberal Berkeley, California: “Think Globally; Screw up Locally.” In other words, “Love Humanity but Hate People.”
It was past midnight, back in the 1980s, in Kathmandu, Nepal. A group of Peace Corps volunteers were drinking moonshine at the Momo Cave. A pretty girl with long blond hair took out her guitar and sang these lyrics, which I remember by heart from that night:
“If you want your dream to be,
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings greater ends.
Heartfelt work grows purely.”
I just googled these lyrics, thirty years later, and discovered that they are Donovan’s San Damiano song, inspired by the life of St. Francis.
Listening to this song that night in the Momo Cave, I thought, that’s what we leftists do wrong. That’s what we’ve got to get right.
We focused so hard on our good intentions. Before our deployment overseas, Peace Corps vetted us for our idealism and “tolerance,” not for our competence or accomplishments. We all wanted to save the world. What depressingly little we did accomplish was often erased with the next drought, landslide, or insurrection.
Peace Corps did not focus on the “small beginnings” necessary to accomplish its grandiose goals. Schools rarely ran, girls and low caste children did not attend, and widespread corruption guaranteed that all students received passing grades. Those students who did learn had no jobs where they could apply their skills, and if they rose above their station, the hereditary big men would sabotage them. Thanks to cultural relativism, we were forbidden to object to rampant sexism or the caste system. “Only intolerant oppressors judge others’ cultures.”
I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity. For them, I pumped cold water from a well and washed lice out of homeless people’s clothing. The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had. The sisters focused on the small things, as their founder, Mother Teresa, advised, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Delousing homeless people’s clothing was one of my few concrete accomplishments.
Back in 1975, after Hillary Rodham had followed Bill Clinton to Arkansas, she helped create the state’s first rape crisis hotline. She had her eye on the big picture. What was Hillary like in her one-on-one encounters?
Hillary served as the attorney to a 41-year-old, one of two men accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. The girl, a virgin before the assault, was in a coma for five days afterward. She was injured so badly she was told she’d never have children. In 2014, she is 52 years old, and she has never had children, nor has she married. She reports that she was afraid of men after the rape.
A taped interview with Clinton has recently emerged; on it Clinton makes clear that she thought her client was guilty, and she chuckles when reporting that she was able to set him free. In a recent interview, the victim said that Hillary Clinton “took me through Hell” and “lied like a dog.” “I think she wants to be a role model… but I don’t think she’s a role model at all,” the woman said. “If she had have been, she would have helped me at the time, being a 12-year-old girl who was raped by two guys.”
Hillary had her eye on the all-caps resume bullet point: FOUNDS RAPE HOTLINE.
Hillary’s chuckles when reminiscing about her legal victory suggest that, in her assessment, her contribution to the ruination of the life of a rape victim is of relatively negligible import.
7) Leftists hate my people.
I’m a working-class Bohunk. A hundred years ago, leftists loved us. We worked lousy jobs, company thugs shot us when we went on strike, and leftists saw our discontent as fuel for their fire.
Karl Marx promised the workers’ paradise through an inevitable revolution of the proletariat. The proletariat is an industrial working class — think blue-collar people working in mines, mills, and factories: exactly what immigrants like my parents were doing.
Polish-Americans participated significantly in a great victory, Flint, Michigan’s 1937 sit-down strike. Italian-Americans produced Sacco and Vanzetti. Gus Hall was a son of Finnish immigrants.
In the end, though, we didn’t show up for the Marxist happily ever after. We believed in God and we were often devout Catholics. Leftists wanted us to slough off our ethnic identities and join in the international proletarian brotherhood — “Workers of the world, unite!” But we clung to ethnic distinctiveness. Future generations lost their ancestral ties, but they didn’t adopt the IWW flag; they flew the stars and stripes. “Property is theft” is a communist motto, but no one is more house-proud than a first generation Pole who has escaped landless peasantry and secured his suburban nest.
Leftists felt that we jilted them at the altar. Leftists turned on us. This isn’t just ancient history. In 2004, What’s the Matter with Kansas? spent eighteen weeks on the bestseller lists. The premise of the book: working people are too stupid to know what’s good for them, and so they vote conservative when they should be voting left. In England, the book was titled, What’s the Matter with America?
We became the left’s boogeyman: Joe Six-pack, Joe Hardhat. Though we’d been in the U.S. for a few short decades when the demonization began, leftists, in the academy, in media, and in casual speech, blamed working-class ethnics for American crimes, including racism and the “imperialist” war in Vietnam. See films like The Deer Hunter. Watch Archie Bunker on “All in the Family.” Listen to a few of the Polack jokes that elitists pelted me with whenever I introduced myself at UC Berkeley.
Leftists freely label poor whites as “redneck,” “white trash,” “trailer trash,” and “hillbilly.” At the same time that leftists toss around these racist and classist slurs, they are so sanctimonious they forbid anyone to pronounce the N word when reading Mark Twain aloud. President Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville succinctly summed up leftist contempt for poor whites in his memorable quote, “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”
The left’s visceral hatred of poor whites overflowed like a broken sewer when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in 2008. It would be impossible, and disturbing, to attempt to identify the single most offensive comment that leftists lobbed at Palin. One can report that attacks on Palin were so egregious that leftists themselves publicly begged that they cease; after all, they gave the left a bad name. The Reclusive Leftist blogged in 2009 that it was a “major shock” to discover “the extent to which so many self-described liberals actually despise working people.” The Reclusive Leftist focuses on Vanity Fair journalist Henry Rollins. Rollins recommends that leftists “hate-fuck conservative women” and denounces Palin as a “small town hickoid” who can be bought off with a coupon to a meal at a chain restaurant.
Smearing us is not enough. Liberal policies sabotage us. Affirmative action benefits recipients by color, not by income. Even this limited focus fails. In his 2004 Yale University Press study, Thomas Sowell insists that affirmative action helps only wealthier African Americans. Poor blacks do not benefit. In 2009, Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford demonstrated that poor, white Christians are underrepresented on elite college campuses. Leftists add insult to injury. A blue-collar white kid, who feels lost and friendless on the alien terrain of a university campus, a campus he has to leave immediately after class so he can get to his fulltime job at MacDonald’s, must accept that he is a recipient of “white privilege” – if he wants to get good grades in mandatory classes on racism.
The left is still looking for its proletariat. It supports mass immigration for this reason. Harvard’s George Borjas, himself a Cuban immigrant, has been called “America’s leading immigration economist.” Borjas points out that mass immigration from Latin America has sabotaged America’s working poor.
It’s more than a little bit weird that leftists, who describe themselves as the voice of the worker, select workers as their hated other of choice, and targets of their failed social engineering.
6) I believe in God.
Read Marx and discover a mythology that is irreconcilable with any other narrative, including the Bible. Hang out in leftist internet environments, and you will discover a toxic bath of irrational hatred for the Judeo-Christian tradition. You will discover an alternate vocabulary in which Jesus is a “dead Jew on a stick” or a “zombie” and any belief is an arbitrary sham, the equivalent of a recently invented “flying spaghetti monster.” You will discover historical revisionism that posits Nazism as a Christian denomination. You will discover a rejection of the Judeo-Christian foundation of Western Civilization and American concepts of individual rights and law. You will discover a nihilist void, the kind of vacuum of meaning that nature abhors and that, all too often, history fills with the worst totalitarian nightmares, the rough beast that slouches toward Bethlehem.
5 & 4) Straw men and “In order to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.”
It astounds me now to reflect on it, but never, in all my years of leftist activism, did I ever hear anyone articulate accurately the position of anyone to our right. In fact, I did not even know those positions when I was a leftist.
“Truth is that which serves the party.” The capital-R revolution was such a good, it could eliminate all that was bad, that manipulating facts was not even a venial sin; it was a good. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. One of those eggs was objective truth.
Ron Kuby is a left-wing radio talk show host on New York’s WABC. He plays the straw man card hourly. If someone phones in to question affirmative action – shouldn’t such programs benefit recipients by income, rather than by skin color? – Kuby opens the fire hydrant. He is shrill. He is bombastic. He accuses the caller of being a member of the KKK. He paints graphic word pictures of the horrors of lynching and the death of Emmett Till and asks, “And you support that?”
Well of course THE CALLER did not support that, but it is easier to orchestrate a mob in a familiar rendition of righteous rage against a sensationalized straw man than it is to produce a reasoned argument against a reasonable opponent.
On June 16, 2014, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank published a column alleging that a peaceful Muslim was nearly verbally lynched by violent Islamophobes at a Heritage Foundation-hosted panel. What Milbank described was despicable. Unfortunately for Milbank and the Washington Post‘s credibility, someone filmed the event and posted the film on YouTube. Panel discussants, including Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel, made important points in a courteous manner. Saba Ahmed, the peaceful Muslim, is a “family friend” of a bombing plotter who expressed a specific desire to murder children. It soon became clear that Milbank was, as one blogger put it, “making stuff up.”
Milbank slanders anyone who might attempt analysis of jihad, a force that is currently cited in the murder of innocents — including Muslims — from Nigeria to the Philippines. The leftist strategy of slandering those who speak uncomfortable facts suppresses discourse and has a devastating impact on confrontations with truth in journalism and on college campuses.
2 & 3) It doesn’t work. Other approaches work better.
I went to hear David Horowitz speak in 2004. My intention was to heckle him. Horowitz said something that interrupted my flow of thought. He pointed out that Camden, Paterson, and Newark had decades of Democratic leadership.
I grew up among “Greatest Generation” Americans who had helped build these cities. One older woman told me, “As soon as I got my weekly paycheck, I rushed to Main Ave in Paterson, and my entire paycheck ended up on my back, in a new outfit.” In the 1950s and 60s, my parents and my friends’ parents fled deadly violence in Newark and Paterson.
Within a few short decades, Paterson, Camden, and Newark devolved into unlivable slums, with shooting deaths, drug deals, and garbage-strewn streets. The pain that New Jerseyans express about these failed cities is our state’s open wound.
I live in Paterson. I teach its young. My students are hogtied by ignorance. I find myself speaking to young people born in the U.S. in a truncated pidgin I would use with a train station chai wallah in Calcutta.
Many of my students lack awareness of a lot more than vocabulary. They don’t know about believing in themselves, or stick-to-itiveness. They don’t realize that the people who exercise power over them have faced and overcome obstacles. I know they don’t know these things because they tell me. One student confessed that when she realized that one of her teachers had overcome setbacks it changed her own life.
My students do know — because they have been taught this — that America is run by all-powerful racists who will never let them win. My students know — because they have been drilled in this — that the only way they can get ahead is to locate and cultivate those few white liberals who will pity them and scatter crumbs on their supplicant, bowed heads and into their outstretched palms. My students have learned to focus on the worst thing that ever happened to them, assume that it happened because America is unjust, and to recite that story, dirge-like, to whomever is in charge, from the welfare board to college professors, and to await receipt of largesse.
As Shelby Steele so brilliantly points out in his book White Guilt, the star of the sob story my students tell in exchange for favors is very much not the black aid recipient. The star of this story, still, just as before the Civil Rights Movement that was meant to change who got to take the lead in American productions, was the white man. The generous white liberal still gets top billing.
In Dominque La Pierre’s 1985 novel City of Joy, a young American doctor, Max Loeb, confesses that serving the poor in a slum has changed his mind forever about what might actually improve their lot. “In a slum an exploiter is better than a Santa Claus… An exploiter forces you to react, whereas a Santa Claus demobilizes you.”
That one stray comment from David Horowitz, a man I regarded as the enemy, sparked the slow but steady realization that my ideals, the ideals I had lived by all my life, were poisoning my students and Paterson, my city.
After I realized that our approaches don’t work, I started reading about other approaches. I had another Aha! moment while listening to a two minute twenty-three second YouTube video of Milton Friedman responding to Phil Donahue’s castigation of greed. The only rational response to Friedman is “My God, he’s right.”
If hate were the only reason, I’d stop being a leftist for this reason alone.
Almost twenty years ago, when I could not conceive of ever being anything but a leftist, I joined a left-wing online discussion forum.
Before that I’d had twenty years of face-to-face participation in leftist politics: marching, organizing, socializing.
In this online forum, suddenly my only contact with others was the words those others typed onto a screen. That limited and focused means of contact revealed something.
If you took all the words typed into the forum every day and arranged them according to what part of speech they were, you’d quickly notice that nouns expressing the emotions of anger, aggression, and disgust, and verbs speaking of destruction, punishing, and wreaking vengeance, outnumbered any other class of words.
One topic thread was entitled “What do you view as disgusting about modern America?” The thread was begun in 2002. Almost eight thousand posts later, the thread was still going strong in June, 2014.
Those posting messages in this left-wing forumpublicly announced that they did what they did every day, from voting to attending a rally to planning a life, because they wanted to destroy something, and because they hated someone, rather than because they wanted to build something, or because they loved someone. You went to an anti-war rally because you hated Bush, not because you loved peace. Thus, when Obama bombed, you didn’t hold any anti-war rally, because you didn’t hate Obama.
I experienced powerful cognitive dissonance when I recognized the hate. The rightest of my right-wing acquaintances — I had no right-wing friends — expressed nothing like this. My right-wing acquaintances talked about loving: God, their family, their community. I’m not saying that the right-wingers I knew were better people; I don’t know that they were. I’m speaking here, merely, about language.
In 1995 I developed a crippling illness. I couldn’t work, lost my life savings, and traveled through three states, from surgery to surgery.
A left-wing friend, Pete, sent me emails raging against Republicans like George Bush, whom he referred to as “Bushitler.” The Republicans were to blame because they opposed socialized medicine. In fact it’s not at all certain that socialized medicine would have helped; the condition I had is not common and there was no guaranteed treatment.
I visited online discussion forums for others with the same affliction. One of my fellow sufferers, who identified himself as a successful corporate executive in New Jersey, publicly announced that the symptoms were so hideous, and his helpless slide into poverty was so much not what his wife had bargained for when she married him, that he planned to take his own life. He stopped posting after that announcement, though I responded to his post and requested a reply. It is possible that he committed suicide, exactly as he said he would — car exhaust in the garage. I suddenly realized that my “eat the rich” lapel button was a sin premised on a lie.
In any case, at the time I was diagnosed, Bush wasn’t president; Clinton was. And, as I pointed out to Pete, his unceasing and vehement expressions of hatred against Republicans did nothing for me.
I had a friend, a nun, Mary Montgomery, one of the Sisters of Providence, who took me out to lunch every six months or so, and gave me twenty-dollar Target gift cards on Christmas. Her gestures to support someone, rather than expressions of hate against someone — even though these gestures were miniscule and did nothing to restore me to health — meant a great deal to me.
Recently, I was trying to explain this aspect of why I stopped being a leftist to a left-wing friend, Julie. She replied, “No, I’m not an unpleasant person. I try to be nice to everybody.”
“Julie,” I said, “You are an active member of the Occupy Movement. You could spend your days teaching children to read, or visiting the elderly in nursing homes, or organizing cleanup crews in a garbage-strewn slum. You don’t. You spend your time protestingand trying to destroy something — capitalism.”
“Yes, but I’m very nice about it,” she insisted. “I always protest with a smile.”
Pete is now a Facebook friend and his feed overflows with the anger that I’m sure he assesses as righteous. He protests against homophobic Christians, American imperialists, and Monsanto. I don’t know if Pete ever donates to an organization he believes in, or a person suffering from a disease, or if he ever says comforting things to afflicted intimates. I know he hates.
I do have right-wing friends now and they do get angry and they do express that anger. But when I encounter unhinged, stratospheric vituperation, when I encounter detailed revenge fantasies in scatological and sadistic language, I know I’ve stumbled upon a left-wing website.
Given that the left prides itself on being the liberator of women, homosexuals, and on being “sex positive,” one of the weirder and most obvious aspects of left-wing hate is how often, and how virulently, it is expressed in terms that are misogynist, homophobic, and in the distinctive anti-sex voice of a sexually frustrated high-school misfit. Haters are aware enough of how uncool it would be to use a slur like “fag,” so they sprinkle their discourse with terms indicating anal rape like “butt hurt.” Leftists taunt right-wingers as “tea baggers.” The implication is that the target of their slur is either a woman or a gay man being orally penetrated by a man, and is, therefore, inferior, and despicable.
Misogynist speech has a long tradition on the left. In 1964, Stokely Carmichael said that the only position for women in the Civil Rights Movement was “prone.” Carmichael’s misogyny is all the more outrageous given the very real role of women like Rosa Parks, Viola Liuzzo, and Fannie Lou Hamer.
In 2012 atheist bloggers Jennifer McCreight and Natalie Reed exposed the degree to which misogyny dominates the New Atheist movement. McCreight quoted a prominent atheist’s reply to a woman critic. “I will make you a rape victim if you don’t fuck off… I think we should give the guy who raped you a medal. I hope you fucking drown in rape semen, you ugly, mean-spirited cow… Is that kind of like the way that rapists dick went in your pussy? Or did he use your asshole… I’m going to rape you with my fist.”
A high-profile example of leftist invective was delivered by MSNBC’s Martin Bashir in late 2013. Bashir said, on air and in a rehearsed performance, not as part of a moment’s loss of control, something so vile about Sarah Palin that I won’t repeat it here. Extreme as it is, Bashir’s comment is fairly representative of a good percentage of what I read on left-wing websites.
I could say as much about a truly frightening phenomenon, left-wing anti-Semitism, but I’ll leave the topic to others better qualified. I can say that when I first encountered it, at a PLO fundraising party in Marin County, I felt as if I had time-traveled to pre-war Berlin.
I needed to leave the left, I realized, when I decided that I wanted to spend time with people building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved.