Bizarro World: The New Left is now the Tea Party

Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks. – David Brooks New York Times Columnist

First of all I want to apologize to all of those people from the peace movement, civil rights movement, and the other groups from the sixties who fought and died for long denied social change in America for this article from David Brooks. Obviously while so many Americans were actually trying to grapple with a social system that they felt no longer represented who they were Mr. Brooks was too young to know what was going on. I have a real hard time taking anyone seriously who writes about a period of history that they did not actually participate in. To me most post-history is either conjecture or an attempt at a mulligan for those who are promoting their own agendas.

At no time has this fact become more true as it is now during the current period in our history when we are about to be bombarded by the “memoirs” of the disgraced Bush officials and their apologists. The three poster children for this period of selective amnesia ought to be Cheney, Rove, and now Brooks. If this column weren’t so dangerous it would almost be laughable. The reason that this column is dangerous is that it attempts to give legitimacy to the tea-partiers as neo-hippies taking on “the man” and “the system”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tea-partiers began as astro-turf bankrolled by the defeat health-care lobbyist and no amount of cover from the right will legitimize them.

What Mr. Brooks fails to realize is that there are profound differences between what the tea-partiers are protesting and the protests of the “new left”. Has he forgotten that there was actually a war going on in Southeast Asia that was taking the lives, dreams, and family members of hundreds of thousands of Americans? Has also forgotten that blacks were living under the crushing oppression of Jim Crow while their civil rights were being denied in all areas of America? Has he forgotten that many blacks were still being lynched, sent to prison, and beaten for trying to express the rights that he and his friends take for granted? His attempts to equate the tea-partiers exploits to those of people who were willing to risk life, limb, and future for a true cause is not just disingenuous, it’s an insult to the memory of all of the slain civil rights workers and anti-war protesters.

To be fair many people may actually believe that President Obama is a foreign-born citizen and is not legitimately President. There also may be those who truly believe that he is leading the country towards socialism through a government take-over of healthcare. There may be those who truly believe that the federal budget was balanced prior to his taking office, that the country was at full-employment, and our economy was flying right along until President Obama’s coup took over in January of 2009. The truth is that we know that the “paranoia” of the sixties radicals was well founded by the release of so many FBI documents and internal government memos. To compare their legitimate fears to those of a bunch of folks many of whom who have some form of government healthcare today who believe that healthcare reform is a government plot to create death panels is unconscionable.

Actually, I am quite pleased that the Republicans are trying to recruit the tea-party folks it will give them a taste of what Democrats go through daily when you have a big tent. When you allow every voice to be heard you are liable to hear some things you weren’t expecting and for a party where everything is scripted right up to the candidates voting record for the next 10 years this could be a little disheartening. I agree the tea-partiers are radical and theatrical but to compare corporate mouthpiece Dick Armey to Saul Alinsky who spent his life trying to improve the lives of those less-fortunate is a stretch even for Brooks.

"Negroes were being lynched regularly in the South as the first stirrings of black opposition began to be felt, and many of the white civil rights organizers and labor agitators who had started to work with them were tarred, feathered, castrated -- or killed. Most Southern politicians were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had no compunction about boasting of it” – Saul Alinsky

For David Brooks to try and give credence to the “straw” and “boogie” men of the tea-partiers as being similar to the new left is criminal. Mr. Brooks, I don’t know where you got your research of the sixties and seventies but you might leave that history to those who were actually there. Another small difference between the two that continually gets ignored by the mainstream media is during the protests of the new left all races were represented because the issues being addressed affected all the people in the country. Where is the “melting pot” with the tea-party movement? If the issues they are protesting actually affected us all like the injustices of racism or the destruction of a senseless war where are the rest of the folks? Are minorities not concerned with losing their freedoms in a communist takeover?

One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide. – Saul Alinsky

On Demonstrations, Hijackers and the Descent of the Fire

"Sometimes the altar must be laid in one place so the fire can descend in another"

(Probably C.S. Lewis, lost in memory)

I've been reading the posts on the recent DC demonstration, and want to talk about a few things, based on a fair portion of a life on the left and attendance at many similar occasions.

Often we say that a tactic -- in this case mass demonstrations -- is good or bad, dated or not based on an assumption that there is a  knowable causal relationship between the things we do and the things we observe later.

In micro that's true ... a thrown rock breaks the window, and sometimes leads to arrests.  But when the players expand to the tens of thousands, and the timeframe to years and decades, arguing whether the demonstrations, even in aggregate, caused a particular result or will cause a desired result in the future (or the contrary) seems to me an exercise in

"it happened afterwards, therefore it happened because of"

-- a well known logical trap for the unwary.

There's more...

Henry Wallace and the Century of Fear

Over the past week, the work that we've done together on this blog on the New Left turned into a short essay that sparked a rather heated conversation over at TPMCafe.  I don't believe the netroots is a political movement, I believe there is a new progressive movement, a 'Forward Left', and that we are one bridging public space for it.  Even posing the question of we think of ourselves, though, and how we describe our ideology, seems to tickle a sensitive spot that makes it difficult to discuss our past.

There are two parallel conversations that bear on this conversation.  One is the most important institutional legacy of the New Left - the labor movement.  It's not well-understood, even among well-educated and likeable fellows like Ed Kilgore, just how reactionary labor was prior to the 1980s.  I recently spoke with several experienced union organizers who came into labor in the 1970s, and we discussed this.  The trade union leaders of the 1960s and 1970s owed their careers to the McCarthyite purges of their left wing rivals in the late 1940s.  In the 1930s, Communists and sympathizers organized huge new industrial unions, but these people were purged after the 1948 Henry Wallace electoral debacle (Wallace was FDR's VP before Truman, and ran for President under the 'progressive party' label on a peace platform).  The left-wing faction of labor recognized the problem of race, and had they remained in positions of power in labor, would have approached the youth surge in the 1960s very differently.  But they didn't, and so labor turned towards a more business-oriented guild model of operation, basically a sort of industrial extortion of corporate interests to elevate some workers at the expense of others.  As a result, instead of allies, the New Left faced a wall of implacably pro-war conservative labor leaders, and rejected them.

As the 1960s came to a close, the movement that existed fell apart.  The end of the draft and the election of Nixon removed the pressure and demoralized a leadership bent on revolutionary change.  As such, the exhaust fumes of the New Left in the early 1970s went in a number of different directions.  Some members went into politics and academia, many dropped out of public life altogether, but a subgroup went in the labor movement.  After thirty years of organizing, these left-wing organizers are now in charge.

It's very difficult to conceive of a new progressive movement that can succeed that doesn't encompass this enormous and powerfully progressive chunk of American politics.  Fortunately, because of these New Lefters who stuck with it, we don't have to.  Labor has become steadily more progressive over the last forty years, even as it has shrunk in size.  It didn't have to be this way.  The anticommunist hysteria didn't have to purge the left from labor and from American society at large.  The New Left didn't have to come into politics facing an alliance of liberals and labor supporting a war in Vietnam and slow movement on desegregation.  Taft-Hartley didn't just destroy the possibility of organizing workers (reversing FDR's legislation), it institutionalized anti-Communism among labor leaders.  That legislation was the consequence of the debates of the 1940s, the ones Peter Beinart loves - a devastated left-wing and a labor movement that would no longer speak for working America.  

The purges of the left in the late 1940s and early 1950s need to be better understood than they are.  Sure we mouth revulsion of McCarthyite tactics, but the silencing of the left in all parts of American culture at that time goes a long way towards explaining our current predicament.

The lack of an institutional left for thirty years answers a question, an important question, that Glenn Greenwald is floating.  He summarized a theme that flows underneath a lot of our discourse, the trivialization of war.

In our political discourse, there just no longer is a strong presumption against war. In fact, it's almost as though there is a reverse presumption -- that we should proceed to wage wars on whatever countries we dislike or which are defying our orders in some way unless someone can find compelling reasons not to. The burden is now on those who would like not to engage in a series of endless wars to demonstrate why we should not.

The reason that America treats war so cavalierly is because of McCarthy's anticommunist purges.  The Progressive Party of 1948 lost at the polls for opposing the draft, calling for desegregation, and arguing that the Truman Doctrine would usher in a 'century of fear' (how close that sounds to Bruce Schneier's 'Security Theater' concept, or the idea of video-game wars!).  Others can make the case that the Wallacites were naive, but it was the vicious repudiation of that group, the refusal to acknowledge that an anti-imperialist worldview was legitimate, that set the stage for what we have to deal with now.  It wasn't just big forces that crushed the left of the time, it was specific tactics by both parties deployed against networks of people who then could no longer argue against warfare as the first choice among many.  These people were stopped from speaking, and so we are where we are today.

WWII was seen as 'the good war', but since then, American has convincingly won only the first Iraq war and the war in the Balkans.  Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all damaged American security, with Korea at best a stalemate.  The Cold War looked like a 'victory', although judging by Russia's recent actions that's not so clear anymore.  But there's been more - the war on drugs, the war on poverty, and the war on terror (even the Cola wars).  The post-WWII era has seen liberal wars, conservative wars, even commercial wars.  It has truly been the century of fear, a bipartisan consensus for aggressive action without consideration of consequence.  That period is coming to an end.  Realists are depressed over the fact that our military-industrial complex is no longer capable of winning wars, and so is looking for new strategies to engage the world with an America constrained by severe resource and fiscal bottlenecks.  They are going to find natural allies with us, a new progressive movement tired of the McCarthyite tactics of everyone from AIPAC to the DLC to entire Republican edifice.  

There's more...

The New Progressive Movement

I have a piece over at TPMCafe about the new progressive movement. 

The most puzzling part of what's going on right now is the question of race.  If this is a progressive movement, where is the coordination across racial lines?  My suspicion is that identity liberals, overwhelmingly but not exclusively white, are representing their political selves on the internet because our feelings of betrayal are relatively new.  We're the ones who are seeing reactionary forces up close and personal for the first time, and are outraged as a result.  African-Americans by contrast were much less shocked by the 2000 election, 9/11, and the Iraq War, seeing the aggressive and dishonest power plays as an extension of the racism that is a part of their daily lives.  They already went 90%+ for Gore, it was identity liberals that voted for Nader.  Because we felt betrayed, we changed our behavior.  African-Americans didn't feel betrayed because they didn't have misplaced faith to begin with.

There's a slow convergence happening, though, and it's most obvious today on Martin Luther King Day.  I met hip hop activist and net neutrality proponent Davey D in Memphis at the Media Reform Conference, and he's an opinion leader among black activists and artists.  For him, net neutrality is an extension of a fight over black radio, which has been hit hard by media consolidation and contributed to a depoliticization of African-Americans.  Black media tends to be quite progressive, in fact, though there is a strong corporate element that has taken over large parts of it (BET and RadioOne spring to mind).

Today, both DaveyD and DailyKos posted fiery antiwar speeches by MLK.  It's that kind of in sync thinking that suggests that bridges can and should be built.  I'm curious to understand if Katrina, which was met with an ineffective political response, will be the same spark that the Iraq War was for us, the all-too-silent moment when we realized that change was going to happen, and it would either happen to us or we would be the change agent.

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Open Thread and Poll (Do you have health insurance)

Ever since I started working on understanding the 1960s, I've been learning lots of neat stuff about movements in general.  I have a question about blog readers' economic circumstances and whether you have health care insurance.

I have always had health care insurance, but it's expensive and difficult to procure.  It is one of my biggest worries.  But I have it.  Friends of mine don't.

What is your situation? (Bumped -- Jonathan)

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