Friday, December 26, 2008

What Progressives Mean when They Want you to Rage Against the Machine

Why is it that the strange little world of leftism always look like the last days of Rome?

The probable appointment of Caroline Kennedy, the 51-year-old daughter of former President John Kennedy, to fill Secretary-of-State nominee Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat is both laughable and yet a parable for our bankrupt times.

Consider aristocratic entitlement. Ms. Kennedy apparently spends a great deal of her time divided between her Park Avenue Upper-East-Side Manhattan townhouse and her hereditary estate on Martha's Vineyard. She has had no real experience with the ordinary lives of New Yorkers, either a few dozen blocks away in Harlem (despite a sudden ad hoc lunch last week with the Rev. Sharpton at a soul food diner) or the state's rural towns to the north.
Hope and Change alert!
Ms. Kennedy is about as undiverse as one could imagine. She was educated at exclusively private schools among those of her like race and class. Her financial security is due to either inheritance or marriage; there is no evidence of a self-employed stellar legal or business career. But there is plenty of evidence that Ms. Kennedy reflects the current Democratic Party's obsession with celebrity and Hollywood-like imagery--as we see from the recent politicking of everyone from Oprah to Sean Penn, the Senate run of comedian Al Franken, and the messianic cult that surrounds Barack Obama, from his vero possumus Latin seal to his mass rallies with Greek temple backdrops.
Why the mocking tone? Clair Berlinski sums it up quite nicely in her recent book review of Bernard-Henri Lévy's "Left in Dark Times". We watch and we watch the left, waiting for them to have what I like to call a BHL moment where the ideology of the left can be put in a context where it can say something about what it purports to want to advance. They have a lot to say about the fate and comfort of the individual - but the question is as always when they paln to show it in some sensible action or even live by it themselves?
Lévy rightly scorns the relativist who has “nothing against the stoning adulterous women in Afghanistan. Nothing against mutilating the genitals of young girls;” he rightly acknowledges that the Left was blind to the evils of Stalinism and a host of other evils as well.
But he is largely alone in this, and something of an iconoclast. Sadder still he is taken by those on the left not for what he says about the lack of leadership in the face of illiberalism and the human misery that it brings, to be an opportunist playing both sides of the street. One wonders what the Caroline Kennedys of this world perceive in those matters at all. Nonetheless:
But Lévy cannot bring himself simply to reject and renounce the Left. Like a battered wife who insists from her hospital bed that she cannot leave her husband because he sends her such exquisite roses, Lévy’s beautiful memories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King prevent him, too, from petitioning for divorce. No, he argues, the Left is still the place for the pure of heart; it must only remember what it stands for, to wit, the instinct to support the Dreyfuses of the world, the “good memory of antifascism,” the lessons of anticolonialism and antitotalitarianism. This is well-meant, vaporous and empty. We remain with the question: Is it the Left or the Right that supports the Dreyfuses of the world and opposes colonialism, fascism and totalitarianism?
Berlinski though does well to describe that thing I call that Levy-esque realization.
I read these sections to a Turkish friend (I live in Istanbul) of half-formed but vaguely Leftish political sensibilities, prone, like most Turks, to believing the worst of America and raised in a climate where the proposition “Israel is the world’s worst nation” is taken as a self-evident statement on the order of “the Armenians had it coming.” When I came to the passages in which Lévy denounces the moral disgrace, the appalling apologetics, the sheer imbecility of a Left that would dismiss the suffering of the persecuted of Darfur on the grounds that to admit it might encourage the Americans—the Empire—to intervene, I saw something in his eyes that I had not seen before: a visceral and emotional understanding.

Though that viceral reaction is still just a matter of mood, and not yet a mature emotion or philosophy, it's the beginning of some more genuine relationship with what the left convinces itself is a force behind their views, and not just another evasive explanation of why their class of socially adept elite should be concidered the dramatized heroes trying to profiteer from class warfare.

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