How I abandoned my leftist illusions and returned to my political roots.
That crashing, piercing sound you hear is the fall of my Leftist House of Mirrors. A worldview that purported moral truths, cloaked itself in the language of arcane academia, venerated its doubtlessly dedicated, sincere intellectual stalwarts and activists – Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Benjamin Spock, Howard Zinn, Edward Said -- and preyed upon alienated young idealists who like me were in search of a workable Utopia, proved a chimera of monumental proportions. That my Leftist House of Mirrors produced an illusion on such a massive scale is now evidenced by the reaction of the Left’s priestly class to the horrific Islamo-Fascist act of mass murder on September 11, 2001.
The Leftist response to that wickedness bordered on the anemic at best, collaboration with evil at worst. That what’s left of the Left would hesitate in condemning this monstrous act; that it would even countenance the rubbish of “chickens coming home to roost” or as Chomsky quipped, “a nasty response to U.S. nastiness around the world,” unequivocally betrays a hatred of the United States, democracy, indeed even Western civilization, that is as equal parts lethal as it is irrational.
My Leftist House of Mirrors began to crack less than a decade ago. But first, a tour de force of the development of my political Weltanschauung.
The Path Thus Followed
Like millions of Baby Boomers and first wave Generation-Xers, I grew up with TV, Life, National Geographic, Time, and Newsweek. As a first generation American of Cuban parents, I grew up in a conservative household that reflected Cuban exile politics. As a six-year-old, I experienced schoolyard bullying and learned to hate it. I developed an early affinity for the “oppressed.” At age seven, I was made aware of JFK’s “betrayal” at the Bay of Pigs. As an eight-year old, TV brought Tet, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, urban race riots, and that awful mess in Chicago into my family’s living room. At age nine, My Lai was not just another funny-sounding name. By ten, I heard about places called Cambodia and Kent State, and by fourteen, Watergate, though incomprehensible, was a household word.
My earliest politics were thus marked by the Cuban exile experience, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. And I was “odd man out” in school: most of my teachers (a surprising number of them young men) and classmates (mimicking their parents, of course) were decidedly liberal and outspoken critics of the Vietnam War. I was branded the “war monger” and even my elementary school librarian would flinch when I inquired about the cool books on tanks, military aircraft, and of course, war.
In 1976, disgust with the Vietnam-Nixon-Watergate-CIA scandals led me to support the candidacy of James Earl Carter. On a personal level, I re-evaluated my earlier convictions and found them wanting. I had been insensitive to others’ opinions, too quick to brand and dismiss my opposites as “commies” and so forth. My formative political years led me straight into the liberal camp with its calls for tolerance, reason, anti-militarism, and an effective, activist government.
By the time I was twenty, I was an ardent skeptic of American foreign policy, an avid reader of the then-liberal New Republic, a supporter of Senator Edward Kennedy’s candidacy for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Presidency, and a staunch opponent of the religious right exemplified by the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. I spent the next five years immersed in college as a political science and history major, and frustrated in the seemingly hopeless incompetence of the Democratic Party’s efforts to derail the Reagan onslaught. Walter Mondale’s pathetic candidacy led me into the ranks of the nonvoting disillusioned Democrats in 1984.
Enter Radical Campus Activism
A turning point was reached in 1985 when I became a college political activist, replete with the typical “required” reading curricula that included Chomsky, Zinn, Said, Michael Parenti, et al. Though I swung leftward towards “Democratic Socialism,” elements of my liberal skeptic past kept me from falling off the deep end. I never became a counter-culture Luddite or black-clad, black flag waving anarchist. A few of my friends opted to join Gus Hall’s CPUSA or Marlene Dixon’s personality cult. But we all worked together in one way or another against US intervention in Central America and the South African Apartheid system. And by accepting our more radical Left-wing brethren, we foolishly ignored an old Turkish proverb: “When the ax first appeared in the woods, the trees said to each other, ‘well, at least the handle is one of us.’” Suddenly, everything America did and stood for was subjected to ruthless criticism tinged with an intense hatred of the American “government” (“we don’t hate the American people, just their government” a then and still familiar utterance of the Left). The US was wrong in Cuba, Central and Latin America, Africa – especially Angola -- Asia, the Middle East, even outer space with malicious Pentagon conspiratorial plans for “militarizing” the Cosmos. My anti-American activism continued into my graduate years and also helped generate a tutoring job with wealthy members of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family who admired my criticism of and opposition to American policies in the Middle East.
Upon returning to America from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I continued my “activism” as a high school social studies teacher, introducing bewildered students to Chomsky, and often relying on James E. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, the now quintessential anti-American history textbook, replacing Zinn’s undocumented, cumbersome A People’s History of the United States. As a college student, I had been a willing victim of educational malpractice. Now, as a high school teacher, I occasionally engaged in educational malpractice and subjected unwitting adolescents to the Chomskian-Zinnian-Loewenian worldview.
Cracks in the Mirror
The Leftist Weltanschauung began to crack around eight years ago. I was disturbed by the growing Stalinist nature of the Political Correctness movement, the rise to respectability in academia of post-modernist rubbish, radical lesbian-feminist separatism, “victimhood” studies, and Afro-centrism. The crash and burn of the so-called “Socialist Alternative” beginning in 1989, the continued disclosures of Soviet, East German, and other communist regimes’ abuses, the subsequent insufferable excuses offered by the Left, and the meek reaction of the Left to Saddam Hussein’s megalomaniac personality, homicidal actions, and expansionist policies, added more cracks to the mirrors.
But these mirrors of illusions proved resilient. I pushed on, even to the extent of immersing myself in that most miserable and unrewarding of all Leftist causes – the Palestinian Cause. So deep did I fall into the illusion that enough rational Palestinian political leaders existed to pull off a viable, “democratic” Palestinian state, that I compromised my teaching position at a Jewish day school by publicly supporting the Palestinians’ right to resist with violence. And though I qualified my position by stating that only Israeli soldiers were legitimate targets, and only under combat conditions, the damage was done. I alienated several Jewish friends, was placed on “paid leave” from the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy and told my contract would not be renewed, lost the respect of many in the community, and was dismissed as an extremist crank by many, including an editor at the Miami Herald. Nevertheless, I clung on to my fifteen-year-old worldview, afraid to acknowledge that I had been adrift from age twenty-five to forty, an uncomfortable admission for anyone approaching middle age to make. Few take delight in admitting they are wrong, especially when that “wrong” involves nearly half of one’s lifespan.
Clinging tightly to The Nation, Tikkun, F.A.I.R.’s Extra, and the latest works of Chomsky, Norman G. Finkelstein, Alexander Cockburn, and Said, I sought reassurance that my Leftist ideals had escaped the Utopian thinking of lesser minds. I was steeled in the notion -- what later proved an illusion -- that rationalism was the basis of my idealism. However, there was one troubling, recurring weakness about the Left that kept reappearing like termites, eating away at my wooden edifice of arguments and premises: The Left offered no solutions. The Leftist critics of America and the West sit in the most comfortable seat known to all – the seat of the critical critic, the cynic who destroys all but from the rubble offers no constructive alternatives. The Left tears but never builds. A colleague and friend consistently reminded me of this dilemma, saying “Mike, notice the difference between a Thomas Paine and a James Madison – it is easier to tear at something but the more difficult task lies in making a government.” We on the Left needed more Madison and less Paine. We hammered and chipped away at America, but unlike Jean-Antoine Houdon, we created detritus instead of magnificent sculptures.
My Leftist House of Mirrors Comes Crashing Down
By late August of 2001, I became increasingly convinced that no rational solution could arise in Israel-Palestine precisely because disorganization, disunity, terror, and corruption marked the Palestinian political community’s primary achievements. The emergence of religious fanatics, in this case Islamo-Fascists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, among the Palestinian youth spells the death knell of a rational and just peace. But nothing prepared me for the devastation of nearly all of my political and philosophical underpinnings like the horrifying dust and soot-filled crash of the World Trade Center and the equally horrific apologias proffered by the Left for this most despicable act.
From the moment the second plane struck the South Tower, the Left was falling over itself to rationalize this mass murder. Ventriloquists for and mind readers of Osama bin Laden came out of the woodwork:
· Anti-war protesters launched arguably history’s first “preemptive” peace march, with demonstrations from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Among the protest signs were these beauties: “No War, But the Class War” and “Stop US and UK Imperialism.” Youths chanted “One, two, three, four, we don’t want the f***ing US war.” Not one bomb had been dropped on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but already the American Left was ready to obstruct and demoralize.
· Sam Husseini, director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, D.C., wrote:
“The fascists like Bid-Laden could not get volunteers to stuff envelopes if Israel had withdrawn from Jerusalem like it was supposed to--and the US stopped the sanctions and the bombing on Iraq.”
· Barbara Ehrenreich lugubriously lamented in the Village Voice:
“What is so heartbreaking to me as a feminist is that the strongest response to corporate globalization and U.S. military domination is based on such a violent and misogynist ideology.”
· Oliver Stone recently ranted incoherently during an HBO Films-sponsored panel discussion, at Alice Tully Hall, in New York City:
“There's been conglomeration under six principal princes—they're kings, they're barons!—and these six companies have control of the world” [a reference to corporations like Fox and AOL Time Warner]…"Michael Eisner decides, 'I can't make a movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.—they'll be rioting at the gates of Disneyland!' That's bulls***! But that's what the new world order is …They control culture, they control ideas. And I think the revolt of September 11th was about 'F**k you! F**k your order—
"The new world order is about order and control,” he said. "This attack was pure chaos, and chaos is energy. All great changes have come from people or events that were initially misunderstood, and seemed frightening, like madmen. Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Gates. I think, I think . . . I think many things.” He explained how the World Bank, McDonald's, and the studios' response to the threat of a Writers Guild strike last year were all manifestations of the new global conspiracy of order.” (Tad Friend, “Oliver Stone’s Chaos Theory,” The New Yorker, Issue of 2001-10-22)
· One of the worst remarks, made several months prior to September 11, came from none other than the master himself, Noam Chomsky:
“The huge slaughter. . . in East Timor is (at least) comparable to the terrible atrocities that can plausibly be attributed to Milosevic in the earlier wars in Yugoslavia, and responsibility is far easier to assign, with no complicating factors. If proponents of the "repetition of Bosnia” thesis intend it seriously, they should certainly have been calling for the bombing of Jakarta -- indeed Washington and London -- in early 1999 so as not to allow in East Timor a repetition of the crimes that Indonesia, the U.S., and the UK, had perpetrated there for a quarter-century. And when the new generation of leaders refused to pursue this honorable course, they should have been leading honest citizens to do so themselves, perhaps joining the Bin Laden network. These conclusions follow straightforwardly, if we assume that the thesis is intended as something more than apologetics for state violence.” (Noam Chomsky, A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West. London: Verso, 2000, pp. 38-39).
· Hebe Pastor de Bonafini, the president of Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and a highly visible critic of the former right-wing dictatorship, blurted out in a public forum at the “People’s University” in Havana, Cuba this drivel:
“’When the attack happened I was in Cuba, visiting my daughter, and I felt happiness,’ de Bonafini said. ‘It didn't hurt me at all, because, as I always say in my speeches, our [dead] children will be avenged the day that the people, any people, are happy.’
‘And I felt that many peoples were happy at that moment,’ she said. ‘I felt that there were men and women who were very courageous . . . who prepared for this and donated their lives for us . . . So I made a toast for my children, I made a toast for the many dead, I made a toast against the blockade [of Cuba], against everything that came to mind.’” (Andres Oppenheimer, “Some Rights Groups Have Misguided Agendas,” The Miami Herald, Sunday, October 14, 2001).
· The Nation’s Jonathan Schell, calling America’s fight against terrorism “A Phony War,” wrote in the October 22, 2001 issue of The Nation:
“Is the world of 2001 set on a course that will cost tens of millions of lives, or more? The men with the box cutters cannot by themselves bring it off. But an enraged, blind superpower could manage it… [it] could transform the local catastrophe in New York and Washington into a global one.”
· Katha Pollitt, also from The Nation, reacted to her daughter’s suggestion that they should fly the American flag:
“Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war… I’ve never been one to blame the United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World, but it is a fact that our government supported militant Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979.” (Emphasis added on the perfunctory Leftist ‘but”)
· Israel Shamir, a garden variety anti-Jewish bigot and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has ingratiated himself to various pro-Palestinian groups by casting about as a “Russian-Israeli” writer living in Jaffa, wrote perhaps the most ridiculously maudlin, melodramatic words in “A Yiddishe Medina” (September 20, 2001):
“The great slaughter of innocents is imminent. Very soon, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of our brothers by Adam and Eve will be strafed, napalmed, and nuked. Boys and girls, unborn babes and old men will be brought to the altar of Vengeance and ritually slaughtered by the High Priest of that God, President George W. Bush. The time is aptly chosen, and it is hardly a coincidence. The ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, are called the Days of Trepidation, all the way to the tenth day, Yom HaDin, the Doomsday.”
A cursory survey of the above Leftist responses – by no means atypical -- to mass murder by Islamo-Fascists, by the worst collection of murderous religious fanatics since “the Wahhabis fell upon the city of Qarbala in 1801 and killed 2,000 ordinary citizens in the streets” reveals an ingrained contempt for American civilization in some, and a weakness in the face of such religious Nazism in others. My former Leftist brethren are so traumatized by the Vietnam War, so tantalized by the numerous colorful personalities that opposed that war that they are now guilty of what NPR’s Scott Simon likened to the errors of military planners:
“[The pacifist Left commits] the same mistake as generals: They prepare for the last war, not the next one. Many of the peace activists I have seen trying to rouse opposition to today's war against terrorism remind me of a Halloween parade. They put on old, familiar-looking protest masks--against American imperialism, oppression and violence--that bear no resemblance to the real demons haunting us now” (Scott Simon, “Even Pacifists Must Support This War,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001).
I was so disappointed, indeed stunned, by the meek reaction of so many on the Left to an act of mass murder that demanded more than the no-brainer “I’m against the terrorism of the WTC attack.” Here was an assault on a city that represents everything the Left supposedly espouses: A modern, liberal, chic, multicultural, multiracial cosmopolitan city built by a constant flow of immigrants from all corners of the world. You want women smashing through the corporate glass ceiling? Go to New York. You want ethnic enclaves contributing mightily to a great city? Go to New York. Want an atmosphere of embracing gay and lesbian politics, culture, and community? Go to New York. Want a city with great cultural, educational, and intellectual resources? Go to New York. Want a dynamic center of market capitalism? Go to New York.
New York’s World Trade Towers hosted a premier restaurant, “Windows on the World” on the 108th floor, but the city could just as correctly be called “The World’s Window on Itself.” The Islamist-Nazi religious fanatics attacked the greatest city on earth, one of the most important physical beacons of Enlightenment liberal democracy, second only to the U.S. Constitution. And the best the Left could offer in protest was a flatulent sound so meek that it was drowned out by a single ant’s footsteps.
I am not pulling a Whittaker Chambers or James Burnham. I know the criticism leveled at “True Believers,” about how it is fairly easy and logical for Trots and Maoists to switch over and become rabid reactionaries. The totalitarian mindset is malleable, so long as the new form retains the old totalitarian properties. However, I never ventured into Maoism, Marxism-Leninism, or Trotskyism. I did open the door to the Left and invited it into my liberal dwelling. Flirtations with “Scandinavian Socialism” I freely admit to; it was but another mirror erected in my Leftist House of Mirrors. And therein laid the folly of this agenda: A Utopian scheme will always lead to failure and that failure feeds a pernicious defeatism and cynicism that leads one to blame everything except the obvious source of the defeat.
I am returning to my roots as a liberal skeptic in possession of a Weltanschauung deeply rooted in the Scottish-English-American Enlightenment. Constitutional government is my wellspring and no greater one exists than the Constitution of the United States of America. Carl Sagan once said that “writing was man’s greatest invention,” and he would have been remiss not to include the “Law” as a portion of that human genius. Accountable government, deliberation, the law, regularly scheduled elections, tolerance, and the separation of Church from State. These are the great accomplishments of America. And to cite John Stuart Mill, accomplishments so worth defending that his admonition to the wretched cowards of his era could well be used against today’s moral relativists, US-born America-hating ingrates, and anti-American “peace” activists:
“A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the existing of better men than himself.
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse … A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their own free choice – is often the means of their regeneration.”
I will remain an ever-hostile foe of all fundamentalisms, especially religious ones, in the best tradition of a Thomas Paine or Christopher Hitchens. I will embrace a John Ralston Saul, author of The Unconscious Civilization, a James Madison, the Federalist Papers, the words of Abraham Lincoln, and the U.S. Constitution over anything that Chomsky et al. have to say. Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens opined about Chomsky et al. in the October 8, 2001 online version of The Nation:
“I have no hesitation in describing this mentality, carefully and without heat, as soft on crime and soft on fascism. No political coalition is possible with such people and, I'm thankful to say, no political coalition with them is now necessary. It no longer matters what they think.”
That slight, tingling sound you hear is the final shard of glass from my Leftist House of Mirrors hitting the ground. For the first time in nearly two decades, I see the world no longer distorted by the reflections of Leftist illusions.
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