In this special feature of Frontpage Symposium, we are honored to host a panel of former members of the political faith who have joined us to discuss their intellectual journeys. We are privileged to be joined by:
Tammy Bruce, America's openly gay, pro-choice, pro-death penalty, gun-owning and voted-for-Reagan feminist. She hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and is the author of the New York Times bestselling The Death of Right and Wrong. As the former president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW and Left-wing insider, Ms. Bruce witnessed the Democratic party and so-called progressive elite move away from advocating for individual liberty and towards politically-correct conformity. Her forthcoming book, The New American Revolution, focuses on the power and importance of Individualism. It hits bookstores this fall;
Phyllis Chesler, a left-wing Zionist in childhood, a member of Hashomer Hatzair in the 1940s and 1950s, and also a member of Ain Harod. She formed a Fair Play for Cuba Committee in 1958-1959 in her first year at college and was active in the Civil Rights, anti-war, and feminist movements beginning in 1962-63. She also assisted the victims of violence in a variety of ways from 1968-2000. Her last book was The New Anti-Semitism, and her new book, The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom. Both document what she sees as the academic Left's toxic departure from independent thinking into ideological and totalitarian thinking. She left the Left because of what she saw as its unbalanced and irrational hatred of America and its indifference to Islamic gender apartheid, terrorism and Jew-hatred;
Dr. Paul Kamolnick, a current associate professor of sociology at East Tennessee State University. Dr. Kamolnick's decisive break with the Left occurred during his sustained reanalysis of Marx's original theoretical works and his finding that the centerpiece of Marx’s criticism of capitalist market relationships--the alienation paradigm, and the labor theory of value--was fatally flawed. The Left's response to September 11 also decisively reoriented Dr. Kamolnick’s thinking. His just-released book, The Just Meritocracy: IQ, Class Mobility, and American Social Policy (Praeger Publishers, 2005), represents his most significant attempt to expose the theoretical/practical failure of Leftwing analysis of class inequality.
John R. Bradley, a British journalist who writes on the Middle East and the author of the recently published Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. During the last few years, he has radically rethought his left-wing political stances, which he first adopted as an adolescent during the 1984-5 miner's strike in the UK;
Keith Thompson, a northern California author and independent journalist who worked as a staff assistant to U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum and was a McGovern delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention, at the time the youngest delegate ever to a political convention. His recent San Francisco Chronicle article “Leaving the Left” chronicles the stages by which he came to acknowledge that the Left-driven liberalism of today is now at odds with the classical liberal spirit of freedom, equal opportunity, and the dignity of the individual over the group;
Michael Lopez-Calderon, a public high school teacher and former Leftist who began having “second thoughts” about the Left as early as 1996. September 11, 2001 and the subsequent reaction of the American Left convinced him of the dangerously utopian, anti-American, and anti-Western nature of all Left-wing politics and ideologies. Teaching in a predominantly liberal school in one of the bluest counties in America, he says he keeps his sanity by working on his website, Michael Calderon’s Call.
FP: Dr. Paul Kamolnick, Tammy Bruce, Phyllis Chesler, John Bradley, Keith Thompson and Michael Lopez-Calderon, welcome to this special edition of Frontpage Symposium. Our first round, entitled “Beginnings,” will explore the beginning of your intellectual odysseys, a time during which you were believers.
FP: Mr. Bradley, let’s begin with you. Tell us what originally brought you to the leftwing mindset. On what assumptions did you assume this political disposition? Tell us elements of your character and personality – and perhaps some personal complexes – that molded your political faith. For instance, many believers are attracted to the faith because it gives them a social life (real and imagined), others like to identify with supposed victims to convince themselves that they too are victims, etc. Kindly share with us your psychology at the time.
Bradley: My first encounter with the radical Left was in 1984. I was a very impressionable 14-year-old, and the British miners' strike – an historic event that really represented the crushing of the Left in the UK – was at its height. Like all young people, I was searching for answers, and for direction – and perhaps, too, for a way to rebel.
I lived in the Midlands, the central geographical region of England. There were a lot of mining communities there. I can remember really hating Margaret Thatcher. But I am also aware that I didn't actually have a clue what she represented. She just came to be this monster figure for me, almost overnight.
Although my parents had always voted for the right-wing Conservative Party, of which Thatcher was the leader at the time, my older brother was a member of the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), a Trotskyite organization. As I joined him on the picket lines and went to the rallies, I fell in more and more with that crowd – started reading the pamphlets, books, weekly newspaper and so on the Party produced.
And you are right: it was for us a blind faith, completely black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. We knew all the answers (every single one of them!), as though they had been revealed from a higher being; and everyone else was simply stupid – not least the great mass of workers, who would one day wake up to that fact, of course, and finally recognize the SWP as their saviors.
What I find most odd, looking back, is that I didn't see myself as a victim at all – I mean, not only of the SWP, but even of society. I didn't have the sense that I was fighting on my behalf. No: I saw everyone else as a victim, and myself as savior – one of the chosen
Viewing everyone else as a victim gave me a sense of superiority, I suppose. Joining the SWP was a way of rebelling against my parents. I was using the great masses as my excuse to make myself feel good, to give my life a sense of direction and meaning. It took me years to cast off the shackles of that sense of superiority – of a failure to recognize the world's nuances and complexities and differing points of view, not to mention my own limitations and hypocrisies.
FP: Thank you Mr. Bradley. There is nothing odd at all, my friend, that you saw others as victims and yourself as their savior. Members of the faith always see themselves as social redeemers -- and therefore selflessly appoint themselves for this noble duty.
I raise the issue of believers seeing themselves as victims because it is interwoven in this phenomenon. Some are ridden with guilt that they are not victims and compensate by championing supposed victims (of capitalism of course). But there is also the ingredient of believers needing to identify themselves as victims and, in so doing, associating themselves with their imaginary community of victims. This creates their social life, which fills the void of what is their true-life alienation and loneliness in their own society. This is why it is often so excruciating for leftists to even consider the notion of changing their minds – because it means losing what they consider to be their social life. Hopefully the other panelists will comment on this ingredient of the believer’s mindset.
Michael Lopez-Calderon, your turn. Tell us about your beginnings and how and when you first start inhaling the vapors of the political faith.
Lopez-Calderon: I came of political age in the maelstrom of the mid-seventies when Watergate, “The Fall of Saigon,” and the subsequent disclosures of our intelligence community’s abuse of power cascaded one right after the other. By the late seventies, I was disillusioned with the America of my elders. Their vision of America as well as the version portrayed in the Hollywood films I had seen and what I had been taught in school simply did not comport with the facts on the ground as I saw them. Like untold millions of youths, I entered college without an understanding of the fundamentals of Western civilization that went beyond the silly rote memorization of a high school education. While I had accepted the premises of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, and agreed with portions of the antiwar movement, I was a confused liberal just before I entered college. Thus I was left wide open for the Siren calls of the ideological left. However, I am not going to plead victim here. My move into the left was of my own choosing.
The Sandinista triumph of July 19, 1979 inspired my leap of faith into the socialist camp. The networks had –there were only three then—presented the Sandinista’s march into Managua in all of its glory. Armed youths and their revolutionary prophets had carried the day. And I naively thought the Sandinistas had ushered in a nonsectarian leftist revolution that would transcend the totalitarian qualities of prior social revolutions.
FP: Keith Thompson?
Thompson: I wasn’t drawn to political activism for ideological reasons, or because I experienced myself as a victim, or because I wanted to impress girls. Simply stated, I was an idealist who wanted to make a better world. I grew up in a northwest Ohio community where the Ku Klux Klan had been active many decades earlier. Though my parents instilled in their kids contempt for bigotry, still we lived in a town where racism, anti-Catholic prejudice and anti-Semitism were part of the social fabric.
I was 10 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr., told America it was time to make good on the nation’s bad check to black people. Watching that powerful speech on TV was the birth of my political consciousness. I quickly fell in love with current events and therefore quickly figured out that “liberals” represented positive change, whereas “conservatives” were apologists for the framework of norms, rules, taboos, and consensual notions of “the truth” that represented the reactionary culture of my hometown.
Thanks to Walter Cronkite and his correspondents, I learned about Americans standing up for free speech in Berkeley and sitting in for voting rights at Alabama lunch counters. I was drawn to the early inspiration of feminism, in the spirit of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s nineteenth century call for legal and civic equality for women. At age 14, I supported Bobby Kennedy for president. I don’t think I was even aware of “the left” at that time. But there were plenty of John Birchers around.
FP: Mr. Thompson, let me get back to you for a moment. To be sure, one can understand your reflexive and negative reaction to the Birchers, racists and anti-Semites, etc. Your stance may have very well just been personal and you, of course, took the right one, obviously, in those specific contexts.
But while you might allege that you were not attracted to “political activism for ideological reasons,” it remains a question what exactly that means. Let me ask: at what time (i.e. seconds, hours, days, months) after you became political did ideology begin to play a central role in your political vision? You were not ideological but you were an idealist who wanted to make a better world? I am not sure if I am missing something here, but please define for us an idealist with no ideology.
Thompson: The common root of ideology and idealism is ideas. By calling on America to live up to her founding ideas, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was profoundly ideological. In the same sense, civil rights activists who practiced civil disobedience did so as ideologues for justice and as idealists for equality. It’s safe to say Sheriff Bull Connor defended his core ideals when he sent police officers with attack dogs and firefighters with high-pressure water hoses against civil rights activists. My youthful idealism/ideology supported King and opposed Connor.
But ideology and idealism can be powerful blinders that filter out unwelcome perceptions. For instance, in the late 1970s when the civil rights establishment shifted from King’s commitment to equal opportunity for individuals toward enforced equal outcomes for groups, I convinced myself that the shift was one of degree, not of kind. I rationalized: “True, group preferences patronize their intended beneficiaries and discriminate on the basis of color. But it’s just a temporary way to balance the historic scales. The proponents mean well…and don’t forget the racism of your hometown.” In retrospect, my ideology was at odds with the principles I espoused: equal justice for all, period. This became strikingly clear to me during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, when so-called progressives I once identified with adopted a “by any means necessary” strategy to destroy a conservative black man for refusing to conform to the left-wing party line.
FP: Ok, thank you Mr. Thompson. Dr. Paul Kamolnick, tell us about your beginnings.
Kamolnick: I have yet to fully understand the several causes that led me to become an activist, and over the course of ten years of university education, an orthodox Marxist, then Marxist-Leninist. Like Keith Thompson, I sense a deep undercurrent of youthful idealism and a desire to make the world a happy and fair place. He and I share what is likely a permanent feature of human experience, i.e. childhood idealist innocence eventually steeled by unvarnished facts about human motives and human prospects.
I was raised in a household by two loving working-class Brooklyn, NY transplants who decided to abandon the wintry north for sunny skies, cheap real estate, and job prospects. My parents were basically apolitical and I remember no overt political activity, discussion, or concern. Unlike John Bradley, I did not experience the picket-line or a brother's affiliation in the SWP, but acquired Marxism in the university. I ended up self-selecting a few key Leftwing professors in sociology, political theory, and political philosophy, and began a very long journey investigating in detail the intellectual and ethical foundations of Marx's theory.
My love affair, and present theoretical/ethical dissent has first and foremost been an intellectual conviction, not a practical necessity. Marxism provided a master key to the problem of human oppression, and the apparently unassailable logic of Marx's labor theory of exploitation led me to identify fully with all implications, theoretical and practical. Finally, I cannot dismiss the likelihood of temperamental traits, in addition to mere youthful ones, since many persons my age had no such love affair.
FP: Thank you Dr. Kamolnick, Ms. Bruce, your beginnings in the faith?
Bruce: I joined NOW in my 20s because it seemed the right thing to do. I was attracted to the idea of women working together to improve women’s lives. At that time, around 1983-1984, I was a “paper” member. Interestingly, I wasn’t very interested at all in activism or politics at that point in my life.
The early and mid 80s were also the beginning of the abortion wars. While, thankfully, I’ve never had to make that decision, even as an “apolitical” woman, I’ve always felt strongly about abortion rights, simply within the framework of being able to live our lives on our own terms. The tipping point for me was on that issue—I remember the moment of my conversion like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my West Hollywood apartment in 1988 and watching CNN (that tells you how long ago it really was!) and watched their coverage of Operation Rescue blocking women’s health care centers in New York. I sat up from the couch and determined at that point that writing checks would no longer be enough and vowed to become personally active. In the event that group of bullies were to ever come to Los Angeles, I pledged I would be there.
They did, I was, and one year later I became the president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW. For me, this initial plunge had less to do with politics than it did with my own self-interest. But then again, narcissism is what the Left counts on.
FP: Thank you Ms. Bruce, can you kindly expand on what you mean that the Left counts of narcissism?
Bruce: Narcissism, while frequently thought of as “self-love,” is in fact the opposite. It is self-obsession based on victimhood and paranoia. Narcissism is actually the belief that everything that happens, happens because of you, or revolves around you. As an example, feminist narcissists see the pro-life movement as being against women, or as a jihad against women, as opposed to an expression of those peoples’ concern for life. The issues for narcissists, whether they be feminist, gay or black, is always about them, surrounding them, or about how the opposition is out to get them. Paranoia is a key factor in narcissism and easy to exploit.
The Left’s organizing relies on selling the line that everyone who disagrees with the leftist status quo is a hater of some sort; those who disagree with leftist policy are not dealt with as serious people who have a different opinion on the issues. That would then require arguments based on reason. Instead, leftist leadership casts their opposition as haters who live every moment planning to eradicate the gay, woman or black. When your base is primarily narcissistic that’s an easy line to sell, remains emotional devoid of reason, and makes people easy to condition and control. Leftist politics, like a vicious circle, rely on the damaged as footsoldiers, while the most damaged, the “Malignant Narcissist,” as I explain in The Death of Right and Wrong, move into positions of power and leadership, furthering the cultural and political destruction of our culture and of the left in general.
FP: Thank you Ms. Bruce, this is fascinating.
I have always noticed when talking to leftists that they create fantasy victims in the world and then carry themselves with great indignation about their supposed concern for these victims -- on the assumption that these mythical victims actually have something directly to do with themselves. I have always sensed some kind of profound emotional and psychological illness here. But one thing is for sure: no amount of facts that challenge the leftist’s viewpoint will shake him, since his priority always has more to do with his perception of his self-image and identity than with the actual reality at hand.
During my doctorate in history, I spent year after year arguing with many of my colleagues about the Cold War. They insisted the U.S. was the bad guy in it. I was the heretic for thinking Stalinism had something to do with it. In any case, when the Soviet archives were opened and many of the disclosures proved, beyond reasonable doubt, myriad of the things I had argued, I approached my colleagues with the evidence. They shrugged their shoulders, rolled their eyes, and made smug and demeaning comments about how “Glazov was involved in necrophilia and chasing old ghosts.” And these were historians! And they went on as proud as ever, convinced as ever of their cause, and simply just moving on to new agendas and battles.
Hopefully our panel will give some insight into this leftist charade. It is also interesting that Ms. Bruce refers to gays, women and blacks as being the central life-force of the Left’s agenda. Today, in our Terror War, our enemy is comprised of the most fascistic gay-hating, women-hating and minority-hating despots. Yet the Left has reached out in solidarity to this enemy and refuses to mouth one word of criticism about the persecution of groups that are supposedly sacred to its mission.
I hope that the panelists can comment on some of these themes.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, let’s move over to you. Yours is a fascinating story indeed. You started off as a “leftwing Zionist.” I can’t grasp for the life of me how leftism would logically come together with Zionism. It’s like oil and water isn’t it? Tell us about your beginnings.
Chesler: My family was working-class, non-political, and religious in Borough Park, Brooklyn. My earliest rebellion and redemption was that of socialist-mystical secular Zionism which envisioned the liberation of the Jewish people and their living harmoniously in agricultural bliss with their Semitic cousins or half-siblings (Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Phoenicians). Thus, as I write in my new book, in 1961, I (unsurprisingly but unwisely) married a westernized Afghan-Muslim, was held against my will in Kabul, escaped--and found that my feminism had been forged in that most dangerous and beautiful land.
Forever after, I could see gender Apartheid everywhere. As a Jew, I was always concerned with the suffering of others--and while I agree with the earlier analysis that this victim-identification can be both megalomaniac, narcissistic, and ultimately irrational, rigid, totalitarian, I also still believe that trying to help others, to repair the injustice in the world, is an ethical choice.
Civil rights inspired me as did the anti-War movement. That was where the "action" seemed to be, both morally and socially. (I agree that many ideologues are seeking Total Institutions and Ideal families; perhaps I was too). Feminism had my name written all over it. I have written in several books (especially Letters to a Young Woman Feminist and Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman) about how women have internalized the same sexist beliefs and values as men and are, in addition, particularly competitive towards others women whom they also slander and shun. This was also, but not exclusively true, among feminists.
I will wait for the next segment to discuss how my second thoughts started.
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