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12 Steps for Reformed Leftists By: Gail Penniman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 21, 2005


The first step in any successful recovery program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, is to admit that there is a problem. For a leftist, then, stepping out of denial is the beginning of a journey toward clearer thinking and political sanity. I approach this topic with only a hint of humor, because I myself am a recovered leftist, with over 25 years of sobriety. Was I drunk on left-wing propaganda? Yes, and I became a user at a very tender age – as a child, in fact, in the home of my parents, who schooled me in the ways of communism and socialism.

I believe this topic is extremely important at this juncture, because the far left is finding itself on the wrong side of history yet again and many of its members are lost at sea. I try to imagine myself, had I not awakened to the wrongness of my ideology, trying to survive both the re-election of George W. Bush and the successful Iraqi election. I would be beside myself with anger and disappointment. My index fingers would be in utter fatigue from non-stop pointing to assign blame. I might even threaten to move out of the country, as my brother and his wife are doing!

I feel sad for leftists because they are stuck in their addiction. Strong wording? I think not, because I was there. Leftist ideology is a powerful and cunning potion, and if it gets into the mind at a young enough age, it can be extremely difficult to kick. Let me explain.

I was brought up in the 1950s and ’60s in a suburb of New York City by two World War II veterans whose own parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. My mother’s father took her to Communist Party meetings when she was a youngster, and my parents attended camps in upstate New York where young “reds” congregated, and where they met. As a child I read the works of Howard Fast and the periodical entitled The National Guardian. By the age of twelve, I was completely indoctrinated into the Communist mind-set and openly debated my seventh-grade social studies teacher on U.S. policy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I was convinced of the evils of capitalism and believed that if the West would just not interfere, the Soviet Union would become a workers’ paradise (an old rant still mouthed today by many, including my mother and my son’s college history professor). My mother took me to various demonstrations before I left for college, at which time I involved myself in activist work against the Vietnam War, to my everlasting shame.

There is no way for a “cradle” conservative to imagine the pain that a recovering leftist goes through when the veil is finally lifted. The second step in official 12-step programs is belief in a higher power, believing that your higher power can restore you. In recovering from leftist thinking, this step is not a requirement, but for me it was essential. In fact, during my 30th year I experienced a spiritual awakening that initiated many changes in values, which in turn brought me to my first conservative action step: voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980. To borrow Michael Medved’s term, I had become a “theo-con.”

Belief in a higher power is not always the starting place for a leftist in recovery. For some, it is intellectual honesty. Most recently, the Iraqi election came under attack from the far left in the United States and abroad. British Prime Minister Tony Blair rightly opined that anyone believing in liberty and self-rule could not possibly oppose the election. But leftists were able to do so because of intellectual dishonesty and their belief in ends-justify-the-means politics. Since a successful election in Iraq means a victory for the hated Bush and a vindication of the military, the left must oppose it.

But in opposing Iraqi self-rule, the left must abandon one of its core positions: freedom from tyranny for the oppressed. Those on the left cannot have it both ways, and in continually trying to do so, they expose themselves as the intellectually bankrupt people they really are. Leftists ready to recover must use what recovering alcoholics call rigorous honesty to rid themselves of the habit of “dual think.” The fourth step in AA is a fearless moral inventory, and the folks on the far left who dare to take a fearless intellectual inventory will realize that their dual-think positions are untenable.

It can be frightening for a person to walk away from a lifetime of strongly held beliefs and into new ways of thinking. Family and close friends may misunderstand and even reject you. This happens. It is similar in many respects to what happens to individuals who leave a cult; they find themselves ostracized, ridiculed or marginalized. It is best not to engage in too many political discussions until you are sure of what you now stand for, how to defend your new positions, and who you can trust. Reading magazine articles and books to develop a knowledge base is essential.

I was in recovery for over 20 years when I read David Horowitz’s “Radical Son,” which documents his life journey from “red diaper baby” to leftist activist to highly regarded conservative scholar. It was not until I read this book that I realized that I was not alone in my “conversion” and how deeply angry I was at having been so brainwashed as a child. I now regard the politicizing of young children as a form of child abuse. This realization enabled me to deal with my anger and to begin to grow beyond it.

The 12th step in the AA program is to carry the message of recovery to others. It is a marvelous step because in doing so, you cement the fact that you have finally arrived at some place of clarity and are strong enough to spread the message. To all those whose beliefs have been shaken by recent events, to all those whose ideological houses have been built on sand: Take heart, because there is hope if you will bravely admit that you were in the wrong and move to the right. As Dennis Prager says, it is okay to be wrong; it is not okay to stay that way.



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