Sunday, March 04, 2007


Liberals: The Next Generation, Part One

Much like musical taste, political viewpoints are largely formed in our teens and twenties, and even as our worldview evolves, those early years tend to remain its foundation.

Like me, Time Magazine's Joe Klein is a Phase 1 Boomer, born between roughly 1946 and 1955. For those of our generation, the Sixties is our cultural and political touchstone, with JFK's New Frontier, his assassination, Vietnam and the anti-war movement being some of the most profound influences on our lives. (My first political act was putting a JFK bumper sticker on my bike at the age of 10.)

In response to Klein's rather silly list of attributes of left-wing extremists, Kevin Drum -- whose 1958 birthdate marks him as a Phase Two Boomer (born roughly between 1956 and 1964)-- has written a remarkably insightful post critiquing the Sixties-influenced worldview of many Phase 1'ers:

[S]ince I became politically aware during the 70s and early 80s (a decade later than Klein), I have at least a little bit of appreciation for what's driving him. For somebody with a moderate temperament, some of the excesses of that era are bound to leave scars. In my case, though, I was only aware during that period, not active. Like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late 90s. So for me the ghosts of school busing are just that: ghosts.

This paragraph immediately reminded me of some of the other excesses. Even though I was skeptical about the Vietnam War in my teens and turned against it completely in my early twenties following the release of the Pentagon Papers, Yippie-style stunts like Chicago 1968, or levitating the Pentagon, or throwing fake blood on a "fascist" made me cringe. To this day, I have never attended an anti-war rally, largely because they tend to be run by a cadre of the most extreme of the extreme, even though the rank and file marchers are mostly left-of-center liberals and the more moderate segments of the left.

Perhaps I don't have the scars that Klein sports because, instead of being offended personally by the excesses of the extreme left circa 1966-1980, I just cringed, rolled my eyes and moved on. And by the end of the Seventies, the extremist left had imploded and was pretty much dead...and still is.

Despite all its noise and theatrics, the extreme left has had very little electoral influence, even at the height of its popularity during the late Sixties and early Seventies. In its simplistic worldview, both major parties were just two wings of the Evil Capitalist Party, and thus should be avoided at all costs in order to remain pure. So they either didn't participate in electoral politics -- remember the buttons that said, "Don't vote -- it only encourages them"? -- or cocooned themselves in very marginal parties like the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party.

So, I never really considered the extremist left a threat to the moderate liberal values I cherished, like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, right to a trial by jury, etc., etc. No, the extremist left was, and is, silly, tiny, powerless and irrelevant.

And maybe that's part of the reason why I agree more with Phase 2 Boomer Drum rather than my fellow Phase 1'er at Time. Even though Joe Klein and I probably share a moderate temperment, he was deeply scarred by the extreme left while I was somewhat immune to their antics. When Klein sees a guy with a "Free Mumia" sign, he probably gets agitated and angry because Mumia was so clearly guilty; me, I just roll my eyes and move on. And his list of the attributes of left-wing extremists is silly not because such folks don't exist but because they don't have any real political power and have been almost completely marginalized for at least a quarter-century.

By the beginning of the Eighties, we had a far more dangerous extremist threat on our horizon: the authoritarian New Right. Unlike the extremist left, which disdained the Democrats as "sellouts," the extremist right's agenda included the takeover of the Republican Party, and by the late Eighties they had pretty much achieved that goal.

In Part 2 of this post, I'll talk some more about generational differences in response to the rise of the authoritarian New Right.

UPDATE: Joe Klein has now posted a companion list of the attributes of right-wing extremists. While his left-wing list denoted attributes possessed almost exclusively by anarchist commune members or obscure college profs a la Ward Churchill, this new right-wing list could apply to a significant portion, maybe even the majority, of Bush regime officials and Republican members of Congress, as well as almost the entire staff of Fox "News."

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