Where’s the Left of Me?

Why are all the radicals on the right today?

My argument is that we have two problems in Washington: One is hyperpartisanship, as a Washington Post article details. Because of the disastrous reverberations of redistricting and exacerbated by a serious economic and cultural gap between the affluent and the rest, we have districts that are basically untouchable and impervious to consensus or compromise. They are so overwhelmingly Blue or insuperably Red that a politician has only to fear a more ideologically pigheaded attack in a primary, and is therefore free to spin merrily off the axis of political common sense.

The second problem is radicalism—and this problem of radicalism isn’t evenly distributed in both parties. Radicalism has shifted from left to right, such that the lion’s share of “radical subversives,” who used to be Communists or the Weatherman, are now in the right-wing tent.

Almost universally, the media uses “hyperpartisanship” and “radicalism” interchangeably. They’re not the same thing.

Radicalism is a belief that meaningful change cannot be achieved within existing political or economic institutions. For example, left radicals historically have had disregard for liberals who try to seek gradual, ameliorative change within a capitalist system or within its political handmaiden, while leaving those structures intact.

By this basic definition, the right has some radical factions, including tea party representatives in the current Congress who don’t feel that they can execute or respect the law—the Affordable Care Act—or work to change that law through elections, or within the established protocols of a government that they despise, in any case. So they try, in radical spirit, to subvert those structures.

Some abortion foes are radical subversives, even guerillas, for their cause. They believe that their cause is so righteous that they can’t imagine compromise through the political process, or trade offs; for example, allowing some abortions, or, now, even birth control.

At heart, radicals are political in spirit but not political creatures. They’re not interested in politics as most Americans construe the term.

We think that left radicals exist in meaningful, congealed form because the media is rhetorically addicted to the lazy whimsy of a world partitioned into “Both Sides.” If they want to make a point about right wing radical tactics, they’ll bend over backwards to implicate the Democrats, too.

I tell my son that this “both sides” thinking is an example of how Bad Rhetoric Kills. There are rarely only two sides, tidily opposed, and with scientific research, for example, there are no sides at all, only better and worse research. The sane consensus view of 99% of scientists on a topic in no way constitutes one side, equally and reasonably balanced against an unsubstantiated opinion on the “other side.”

But the media seems to have no other metaphor in their quiver. They don’t think of spectra, facets, prisms, a continuum, the helix, circles, triangles, matrices, Venn diagrams or any other explanatory framing device, geometric or otherwise, except a scale balanced with an equal quantity (usually of nonsense) from “both sides.”

And when it comes to radicalism today, as opposed to hyperpartisanship, there aren’t two sides. Where are the left radicals?


The country must be teeming with them, given how often talking heads gesture at this thing called “the left” or talk about “both sides” being “extreme.” I just can’t find them.

Are they under my bed? As the World War I poster used to warn, is my bathroom breeding Bolsheviks?

I don’t hear the left radicals calling for general strikes. These left radicals aren’t doing radical, lefty things like the tea party to protest Citizens United, defend abortion rights, or Head Start.

Where are the 30 left radicals who can and will take over the Democratic party one day—when the tables are turned—and, like the tea party, hold the government hostage until we get a single payer health care system, or a serious, $13.00 an hour living wage?

The “left radicals” are an army of straw men, conjured as an object of derision by the right or by talking heads who aren’t sure what they mean when they use the term left but feel they should use it anyway.

Please don’t retort that the left radicals are sitting in the White House.

Obama barely qualifies as a liberal. Mostly his education agenda, to pick one agenda among many, is what one astute editorial calls a case of “venture philanthropy,” a way to support Bill Gates’ corporate-educational vision, and he gets so much support from Wall St. and corporate America, in the neo-liberal fashion, that you’d have to sort of wonder if perhaps his policies are quite favorable to them.

As for Obamacare? I understand how viscerally radicals oppose the idea of being forced to buy coverage—but a market-driven, voucher health insurance initiative, conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation, that sends business to private, for-profit health insurance providers doesn’t constitute a radical system.

A socialist or arguably radical solution might have been a single payer system, which would have upended the private, for-profit health care system in a truly radical spirit of changing the institution. But Obama abandoned and bargained away that solution before negotiations even began.

Sure, you could point to the carnivalesque, wispy Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago as an example of left radicalism, although I wouldn’t make that argument, because I could never figure out what it was asking for, although had I known, most likely I would have supported them. Occupy Wall Street now exists most vibrantly and consequentially as something that professors add to their syllabi, a quirky moment to overestimate, over-analyze, and over-react to.  

In any case, you can’t seriously argue that Occupy Wall Street achieved what the tea party has managed to do for its brand of right radicalism.

However, it may be that on the state levels we’re seeing a stirring of left radicalism.

Progressives in North Carolina, for example, are trying hard to combat the extreme conservative agenda, and their tactics are getting more militant. We saw protests in Wisconsin against the attack on unions.  We’ll see if these state-level moments develop.

Hyperpartisanship is indeed evenly distributed to “both sides,” and a function of the truly disastrous, bitter fruit of redistricting. But radicalism isn’t. These days it’s a right-wing thing.

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