PART 3—KAZIN’S STRANGE SUGGESTION: “How do we account for the relative silence of the left?”
In Sunday's New York Times, Michael Kazin weirdly asked that plainly ridiculous question. Despite the nation’s economic woes, despite the vast rise in inequality, we on the left “have failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession,” Kazin improbably said.
Why would Kazin say such things about us, the good pure brilliant smart decent folk of the American left? We’re not sure, but he kept it up all through his lengthy essay. As he continued, he even seemed to say that folk on the right have been kicking our perfect pure butts in the nation’s messaging wars:
“Instead, the Tea Party rebellion…has compelled politicians from both parties to slash federal spending and defeat proposals to tax the rich and hold financiers accountable for their misdeeds,” the professor continued—weirdly suggesting that we on the left might need to improve our game!
According to Kazin, most of the juice has been on the right as the nation tries to deal with its economic miseries. Hence his plainly ridiculous question: “How do we account for the relative silence of the left?”
Kazin attempts to answer that question in his essay. Yesterday, we reviewed one major part of his answer (click here). But sure enough! Due to the fact that Kazin is white, his insidious electoral racism was sure to emerge in the course of his effort! And sure enough! As he neared the end of Sunday’s piece, he began to pretend that those on the left may have done some things imperfectly. As he started this part of his piece, his obvious electoral racism plainly began to emerge:
KAZIN (9/25/11): If activists on the left want to alter this reality, they will have to figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice for the age of the Internet and relentless geographic mobility. During the last election, many hoped that the organizing around Barack Obama's presidential campaign would do just that. Yet, since taking office, Mr. Obama has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction.The left has to “figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice,” but Obama “has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction!” Plainly, Kazin would never say such a thing about a sitting white president!
OK, we’ve had some fun. For now, let’s put the snark to the side. For those who care to consider the possibility that we on the left might step up our game, Kazin makes some fleeting suggestions at the end of his essay. We think those suggestions are well worth discussing, although his remarks are brief.
How have progressives won in the past? In the past, progressives have “seldom bet their future on politicians,” Kazin says. Instead, progressives have “fashioned their own institutions,” which have driven the discourse along.
In this, Kazin makes an excellent point. Liberals and progressives can’t expect a politician, even a sitting president, to create miraculous new understandings among the American people. Whether it’s President Clinton or President Obama, a president marches to political war with the economic understandings the public already has. In Kazin’s view, the left has tended to drop the ball in this area over the past forty years. During that period, liberals have “focused on rights for minority groups and women more than addressing continuing inequalities of wealth,” he says. There have been large successes in these areas. (Just look how well Herman Cain is doing!) But the right has tended to fill the vacuum concerning the way the economy works.
What explains our relative silence in that area? What have we on the left perhaps been doing in a slightly imperfect fashion?
We know, we know! In a highly tribalized culture, it’s against the rules to ask such questions—to suggest that one’s own tribe may have failed in some manner. Within our burgeoning pseudo-liberal political world, our multimillionaire cable leaders encourage us to mock The Other. Every night, we’re trained to laugh at how stupid Those People are. (You know? The ones who are kicking our asses?) We must never note the sheer stupidity on vivid display within our own tribe. Criticizing one's own tribe is a break with every known rule!
But as he finished Sunday’s essay, Kazin made a strange suggestion. He suggested that we on the left should take a good look at ourselves!
For our money, this part of his essay could have been expanded—and Kazin did expand on these ideas in a recent interview. But here are the brief suggestions with which he ended Sunday’s piece. We’ll highlight two of his statements:
KAZIN: [T]he left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions—unions, women's groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press—in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.Say what? Current liberal institutions “cater mostly to a professional middle class?” And we on the left need to fashion “a reconnection with ordinary Americans?”
Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.
A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.
Impossible! Aren’t they the very people we very much like to mock?
What is Kazin talking about? And why is he saying these things about Us? For our money, Kazin has more to say on these topics. Luckily, he said some of those things right here, in a recent interview conducted for Salon.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine some of the ways we on the left—brace yourselves!—may be failing to move the ball. Warning! In his interview, Kazin discusses possible errors being made by us on the left!
We know—the notion is strange on its face! Where do they find the very strange folk who are willing to make such claims?
Tomorrow: Possible errors