Thanks to the Radical Chic I realized I was a liberal, not a member of the far left. And my journey away from the far left began when I was eighteen.
I married my ex-husband when I was seventeen. I was impressed by his erudition - relative to the high schoolers I hung out with and my family. My ex-husband wrote poetry then. But over the course of our brief marriage he gradually went from an artsy/hippie guy who cared mainly about vegetarian organic food to a far-left anarchist dedicated to legalizing marijuana.
I hadn't really thought too much about the distinction between liberals and the far-left at that point. Just getting away from Catholic church and the vaguely right-leaning politics of my parents was a big break for me. But as my ex began to think of himself as some kind of anarchist revolutionary I began to become disenchanted with him, and by the time I was nineteen our marriage was over.
Being an anarchist revolutionary my ex was not too interested in holding down a regular job, and drifted around Philadelphia. He did work briefly in the restaurant attached to the Friends Center (aka "Quaker Kremlin") and various other short-term and part time jobs.
Around that time I discovered he was staying on the second floor of an abandoned house in West Philadelphia (courtesy of Kathy Chang) with holes in the floor, and had allowed our two-year old daughter to stay with him there. After that incident I didn't trust him with our daughter's welfare anymore, and decided he couldn't share custody until she was old enough to watch out for herself. So he stopped giving me child support.
While this revolutionary was refusing to support his child, his child was being supported by me, working various crap jobs and at one point by the United States government through Aid to Families with Dependent Children (aka "welfare"). And for years we got food stamps. By the time my daughter was old enough to stay with her father (usually during summer vacation) I was able to get fairly well-paying jobs and stopped needing food stamps.
I never took my ex-husband's revolutionary politics very seriously. He was in touch with the Yippies who had their headquarters at 9 Bleeker Street until they were driven out by the market, but mostly he hung out with a West Philly group that included Kathy Chang and Sandy McCrosky, later a Nation magazine copy editor, seen here with my ex and Kathy Chang. McCrosky's Nation site bio mentions he has a by-line in Overthrow which was the new name given to the Yipster Times.
Most Nation contributors have college credentials - often from Ivy League colleges - and careers as journalists in media more mainstream than the Yipster Times but I can see the similarities in their world view with that of the ragtag group my ex-husband ran with, and it's best summed up by Gene Lyons' response to Doug Henwood's attacks on Hillary Clinton:
So let me add that almost everything he wrote about the Clintons in Arkansas reflects sheer incomprehension. Mostly, it's what Joe Conason and I call "naive cynicism," in which a reporter innocent of basic political realities presumes corruption.
For example, he accuses Bill Clinton of a cynical ploy "aimed at distancing himself from traditional liberal politics" by not calling for repeal of Arkansas's right-to-work law. Shockingly, Clinton also failed to call for abolishing Razorback football and duck hunting season.
Henwood alleges that Clinton "went light on environmental enforcement," covering the state in "chicken feces." Would it help to know that until Clinton wrestled the timber industry and Farm Bureau to the ground in 1985, Arkansas environmental agencies had virtually no enforcement powers?
Elsewhere, Henwood alleges that the Clintons schemed to earn the enmity of teacher unions. In vain, alas. But he left out town hall meetings Hillary held with educators and parents in all 75 Arkansas counties back in 1983 in support of her husband's educational reforms.
No matter. Her efforts were pointless anyway, Henwood thinks, because real advances "would require a wholesale overhaul of the political economy ... and the Clintons weren't about to take that on."
Ah, yes. Wholesale overhaul. If only Hillary had been willing to wave her magic wand, wiping away 200 years of history, abolishing the legislature and converting Arkansas into Connecticut.
But, you know, the witch is too selfish for that.This is the attitude that many Hillary defenders have gotten from the fans of Bernie Sanders - this notion that if you face political realities you are corrupt. Which is why Henwood suggested that Brad DeLong was a lying patronage-seeker for saying good things about Clinton. Like my ex-husband and his gang, Henwood and his Radical Chic brigade are suspicious of anybody who is not a hard-core ideologue. And will always assume bad faith. They are all victims of naive cynicism.
And like Bernie Sanders they are happy to float big ideas about peace and anti-hierarchy and all that jazz, but not so big on the basics like where does the money come from, how does it get distributed and who gets what. Which is why James Surowieki wrote an article in the New Yorker entitled The Many Problems with Bernie Sanders' Health Care Plan which critiqued Sanders on pragmatic grounds.
...The point isn’t that a single-payer system is a bad idea, per se, nor even that it’s wholly unrealistic from a political perspective. Rather, it’s that Sanders needs to be more forthright and detailed about what his plan would entail, and specifically about the fact that it would require major and often unwelcome changes not just for businesses that many people dislike, such as insurance and drug companies, but also for doctors and hospitals, which are generally popular. And he should acknowledge that the single-payer model would, in some cases, mean big and potentially controversial changes for patients, too. Moving to a single-payer system would be a tumultuous experience, and it’s a proposal worthy of a great deal of open debate. Sanders can certainly make a case that such a transition would be beneficial, given the enormous amount of waste and inefficiency in our current system. But he needs to stop pretending that it would be easy.And when I posted a link to Surowieki's article on Facebook an old lefty anthropologist had a shit-fit and called the New Yorker, Surowieki, Krugman and everybody else who questioned Sanders a bunch of running dogs of capitalism in so many words - and specifically said to me:
Why not just concede that a really equitable system alarms you! The way you toss around the term "far-lefties" makes me deeply suspicious of what your endgame is. Certainly not equity or you'd be less angry!
And I could easily see my ex-husband or Doug Henwood making the same kind of accusation. That's how the Radical Chic approaches criticism of their heroes. As Krugman said:
...if you’re a progressive who not only supports Sanders but is furious with anyone skeptical about his insurgency, someone who considers Mike Konczal a minion and me a corrupt crook, you might want to ask why Barack Obama is saying essentially the same things as the progressive Bernie skeptics. And you might want to think hard about why you’re not just sure that you’re right, but sure that anyone who disagrees must be evil.
But far-lefties don't like Obama either - they are bitterly disappointed in him because they thought he would be the same as they believe Sanders to be now - an idealized far-left father figure who is going to make all their political dreams come true without compromise.
More in Part 4.
More in Part 4.