Liberals are not the Left

Ron Jacobs at Dissident Voice.

Despite the current media-induced confusion, liberals are not leftists. This misconception is not only embarrassing to those of us who are genuinely leftist in our politics, it is also discrediting the Left.

Discrediting the Left? The Left has been mostly snoozing lately, apparently deeply focused on most anything but the current economic crisis. It seems to be doing a fine job of making itself irrelevant.

From the New York Times to FOX News, the portrayal of the US Democratic party and Barack Obama as leftist is creating a perception in the US populace that leftists are ineffective politicos who have no principles they won’t modify. Of course, the Left has not done that great of a job explaining the situation in any other way, thereby leaving the way open for the misconceptions put forth by the media to appear as truth.

Too true. The Left has done little to explain itself. Why is this? The Left is generally quite vocal but not so much lately. Instead, it’s dispirited and seemingly adrift, like it doesn’t really get the current economic crisis or what do do about – beyond affirming capitalism is bad, that is. Meanwhile the really hardball investigative reporting on the economic crisis is being done mostly by financial blogs like Zero Hedge and Naked Capitalism (to name a few) or journalists like Taibbi who have no particular political slant. Where are the Izzy Stone‘s of our time?

Another major problem isn’t so much that the hard Left has overly flexible principles, but rather they are too inflexible. The ANSWER Coalition did build major anti-Iraq war protests but the powers behind it (hardcore Marxist ideologues from Worker’s World, then PSL) refused to let moderates have any leadership in the process, filling the rallies with speakers most would consider extreme leftists which thus alienated centrists. This virtually insured the marches would never get mainstream support. By doing so they did the antiwar movement a huge disservice. (Of course, their primary motive was to recruit for the party, not build an antiwar movement.) Inflexible ideology tied to events that happened long ago is a primary reason the Left is so ineffective now.

Jacobs continues, explaining that a primary difference between liberals and lefties is their views about capitalism.

In short, leftists understand that capitalism is a fundamental source of social inequalities, while liberals tend to believe that, if capitalism cannot cure those inequities, it can surely help lessen them. This belief exists despite the historical empirical evidence that the opposite is true.

Well, liberals could certainly produce evidence bolstering their belief too. This whole “the death of capitalism is inevitable because Marx said so” meme has so far just been wishful thinking. Capitalism can cheerfully re-invent itself in a second and has more lives than a litter of kittens. And the last time I checked, there were major social inequalities in the USSR and China too. The problem seems less which economic system it is and more that there are authoritarian buttheads at the top looting the system. That’s what somehow needs to be changed.

Liberals fear the end of capitalism and therefore will not support those who desire to undermine it. This is why they supported the Cold War. It is why they support the establishment of a client state in Iraq and why they support the expansion of the US war in Afghanistan. It is why they support a health care bill that is not single payer but supportive of the insurance industry.

Oh come on. Influential liberal blogs like Crooks and Liars, Firedoglake, and Kos fought hard for single payer. And lots of liberals strongly opposed the wars. Saying that liberals are Bad and lefties are Good is a false dichotomy that serves little purpose.

Instead, we need to find common ground where we can. And refrain from playing Lefter Than Thou.

Michael Berube discusses many of these same issues in The Left At War (with itself)

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