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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Post-Manifesto

So — I write an essay called Leaving the Left, and what happens? Several hundred responses, from far and wide. It is hard to describe the richness and, let me say, the beauty of the vast majority of the responses that showed up in my in-box today. The predominant theme: Welcome Home. "We left the light on for you," said one writer. Because the piece got picked up by several right-of-center online publications, it's not surprising that my musings got a decided thumbs-up. Here's what surprised me, and what I find heartening: A large number of self-described SF Bay Area readers (more than 200 at last count) said I had given voice to their largely unexpressed doubts about what the left has become. Frankly, I expected a lot of hostile responses from the San Francisco left. Accordingly, I braced myself. To the contrary, here's a passage that's representative of what I heard from people who described themselves as actively engaged with left, liberal or progressive politics: "Just because I disagree with the conduct of the Iraq war and oppose private Social Security accounts doesn’t require me to cheer a liberal-left agenda that’s clueless about the differences between the nihilism of Al Qaeda and the appropriate force of American self-defense. Bravo for saying what so many of us are thinking…" That theme was repeated over and over. Quick overview:
"I may not like all of Bush's judicial nominees; I don't think there needs to be a constitutional amendment on gay marriage; I don't want drilling in the Arctic ... But ... I hate the academic left's politically correct posturing; I can't take another day of gender-feminist male bashing; if the GOP had the guts to condemn David Duke, why can't the Democrats manage to send the same message to Al Sharpton?"
If you're familiar with the resentment-driven politics of San Francisco's hard left, you will probably be as amazed as I was that I received a mere handful of hateful ("compassionate") messages. Five or six angry correspondants insisted I had sold out to the radical, extreme right wing of the Republican Party. I emphatically disagree. Still, I am decidedly grateful for the suitcases of cash that arrived during the day from Rupert Murdoch and Ken Starr. Several writers who liked the thrust of my essay wondered how I "stayed on the left for so long." Excellent question, given that I described the left's mocking of the Iraqi elections as my breaking point. Where was I in the '90s and '80s? When I left politics in the 1980s to commit willful acts of journalism, I wrote more than a few stories about creative people making positive changes in their communities. Gradually (and I must say in hindsight inevitably), the destructive effects of political correctness and social engineering began to be the focus of my writing. For instance, I wrote a story about public schools that expel 6-year-olds for using theit thumbs and index fingers as "guns," thus violating co-called "zero-tolerance" rules toward "violence." I remember how hard it was to take an "objective" perspective toward such mind-numbing social stupidity. It occurred to me that everything that needed to be said, could be said in an opinion column. Now, I'm a blogger. So, yes. The left's refusal to celebrate the Iraqi people's quest for self-determination was pivotal in itself, but also because it became the occasion for me to look hard and think clearly about larger themes at the heart of my work. Being the father of a young son likewise has had a slow and steady effect of getting me to clarify what kind of culture I want him to grow up in. And, of course: September 11. It's not exactly that it "changed everything." Rather, it brought everything that mattered into clearer relief. Back to the present: If you liked what I wrote, please know there's more to come. On the other hand, if you hated what I wrote, please know there's more to come. There was a time when being a ‘liberal’ was all about championing a larger sense of self and its place in a larger context of community. If we’re serious about self-government, we’ve got to have selves worthy of governing — yes? That's a question I'll be exploring at some length in future posts. Well - it's late. I'm more than a little brain dead from staring at the computer for such a long spell. I'll say so long for now, with many thanks to everyone everyone who took the time to write. Including the person who suggested there is probably good reason for me to be concerned about the species lineage of one or both of my parents. I paraphrase, but that's pretty much the gist.