I originally set out to write about my surprise at the Left's outrage over former leftist David Horowitz and his new website, Discover The Network, which lists the many individuals, groups and issues that make up the Left. The leftist denunciations of the site and Horowitz only breed more attention.
Today, I realized that on April 12, it had been sixteen years since an inspiration of mine, activist Abbie Hoffman, killed himself during a deep depressive slump. Though I didn't find myself attracted to the Left until my teens, Steal This Book was one of the first books I read on the subject (I bought it as a gift to myself for my 17th birthday, thank you.)
So, my quandry was how do I express my annoyance at my fellow leftists for getting upset over a website, and how do I honor someone whom I believe was the quintessential man of the left?
Well, first, by admitting that Horowitz has a point on we leftists. Yes, charge heresy, but he is right on some points. One may disagree with his turn to Reagan conservatism and his stance on many issues, but in a recent round of debates with academic leftists over Discover The Network, which have appeared on Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine, Horowitz has brought home the point that today's Left is more characterized by what it opposes, rather than what it is for.
As hard as it is to admit a good point from an opponent, civility demands it. Yes, we leftists have become a dour sort, making certain that our language and our actions (or lack thereof) toe a line that doesn't cast judgment, isn't racist/sexist/homophobic and doesn't, by any means, concede the other side may have a point.
A case in point is the Iraq war. There is much to criticize about the war, such as President Bush's stubborn refusal to work through the United Nations before going to war, the horrors of Abu Gharib, and the ever-changing reasons U.S. troops were over there in the first place (Al Qaeda links one day, illusory weapons of mass destruction the next.) What we on the left should be loudly cheering, however, is the capture and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who kept his people under his boot, and horribly tortured and killed anybody who dared oppose him. The Left should be drowning out the Right with cheers that this man is no longer a threat to anyone.
The Left, a diverse lot by any means, refuses to celebrate because Hussein was captured by troops under the command of a conservative, Christian president. Again, it seems we are trapped by what we oppose, and we haven't been very good at telling people how we would do it better.
Conservatives have been great at that. Historically, economic and social conservatives rarely had a kind word to say about each other, but the cause of anti-Communism rallied them together from the time Communism took power in Russia and its demise in the early 1990s. Today, economic and social conservatives have a common bond in George W. Bush.
Which brings me to my recognition of the late, great Abbie Hoffman. In a speech he made only a few years before his death, Abbie described the Left as "three people in a phone booth, with two conspiring to throw the third one out because the third one is a revisionist."
Abbie hated factionalism. He accused the Left of expecting people to become "instant saints," with no prejudices, no flaws. Though his politics may have ranged from far left in the 1960s to much more moderate toward the end of his life, Abbie was animated by the idea that disparate groups of people, black and white, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, could be brought together if they focused on a single issue. Yes, the vegan, yoga-posing lesbian could probably stand to be in the same room with the middle-aged, cigar-smoking, meat-eating homophobic construction worker if they both opposed the purchase of pristine forest land by a developer.
This approach worked for Abbie for many years. His organizing victories, one in New York State against the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to make the St. Lawrence River a passage for huge commercial tankers, and another in Bucks County, Pennsylvania against a pumping station for a nuclear power plant there united both the wealthy and the middle class in a common cause. That is what the Left should symbolize.
Did Abbie demand people toe a party line? Certainly not; that's not American. He realized that people carried prejudices, were sometimes unreasonable and certainly feared that which was unfamiliar. But bring people together, and get them to agree to forgive each other's faults and concentrate on the issue at hand, not only do they have a chance of winning, but they probably will walk away knowing a little more about each other, shattering the myths and prejudices they grew up with.
The modern Left would do well to remember Abbie Hoffman and his legacy: that humor, perseverance, and an ability to deal with people on their level is the way to make great social change.