Twilight of the Yenta Left?

Written by Andrey Slivka on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

It was possible. The site
was the P.S. 321 assembly hall, crammed standing room only with locals–and
with what locals. It’s impossible not to love Park Slope, and one of the
reasons it’s lovable is because nothing can kill it: not this economy,
apparently; not changing demographics; not the Age of Irony. No. Whatever happens,
the Slope manages still to throb with the fruity, charged earnestness
that defines your typical Ad Hoc Students’ Committee meeting at your typical
liberal arts college. Grave turtlenecked intellectuals jostling inward, hanging
into the windows–they’ve got to be a part of this–make a stand,
you know–some glum and bunioned sympathetic faculty member slouches sallowly
near the podium, waiting to speak…the screeching of a backfeeding speaker…serious,
longhaired preppies with old tweed jackets and Chuck Taylors. Or else–dude,
Ginsberg’s reading…or Nader’s speaking…you goin’?…
Everyone’s going…caught up in history…the electricity of events–

Park Slope’s still
like that.

Ralph Nader wasn’t
speaking in Brooklyn last week, but the event was still good. It was a sort
of debate between Ronnie Dugger, the Naderite who’s associated with the
Texas Observer and the Alliance for Democracy; and Catherine Abate, the
former New York state senator and Gore partisan. Good? Actually, in its small
way, it was a resonant event, both for what actually happened and for its implication
that fine things are going on in politics these days. It made clear that Nader’s
presence isn’t only good for the national political scene, but potentially
cleansing for the left, in that it might reform it.

Dugger, arguing for why
Park Slope’s voters should vote for Nader, wiped the floor with Abate,
who was charged with defending Gore. Abate: "He has championed women, children,
families throughout his career"; "the most powerful issue to describe
the difference between Gore and Bush is the Supreme Court"; "we will
no longer have choice–a woman will no longer have the right to choose";
"Al Gore is fighting for working families, people who are working day in
and day out"; "he believes in government." Etc.

To such cant, Dugger–a
portly, soft-spoken, unaffected man–responded casually, quietly. "For
good citizens," he said, "casting your vote shouldn’t make you
sick." He said: "We must have a nonviolent electoral rebellion, or
we lose our country." He also read a list of Naderite political goals and
positions that appear on neither Gore’s nor Bush’s platform, among
them national health insurance; a $10 minimum wage; increased solar power and
fuel efficiency standards; an end to logging in national forests and to capital
punishment; same-day voter registration; increased corporate taxes; an end to
the war on drugs.

There were, inevitably,
objectionable items on the list. But more important, if you’ve followed
the "left" in this country over the years, was what wasn’t
on the list. There was no mention of the racialist policies the promulgation
of which has defined the "left" for decades, and damaged it, and made
it a morally foul mandarin movement that could only be, in good conscience,
contested and attacked. Nor was there the usual fetishization of the privilege
to abort pregnancies. Nor was there reiterated the tedious left position on
cultural issues. Nor did anyone engage in the smarmy upper-middle-class campus
game of glorifying guys who go out and murder cops. The focus stayed on economic
issues and issues of practical governance–issues that might even be of
interest to Americans.

Which is another way of
saying that the issues dear to the hearts of boutique liberals–the middle-aged,
upper-middle-class urbanites (hello Zabar’s!) who slithered out a generation
and more ago from the campuses to hijack the American left and transmogrify
it into a mechanism of mandarin-class aggression against the middle- and working-class
Americans they despised (for many years one couldn’t hear about someone’s
grandmother getting mugged in Long Island City without expecting the Village
to run a cover story about how much she deserved it)–were either
downplayed or ignored.

One got the sense in Brooklyn
that, with a little discipline, there might emerge a real, valid, moral left
after all. That the crowd welcomed Dugger, and was openly skeptical of Abate
(during the question period, one woman was hissed when, after expressing her
admiration for Nader, she claimed still to be voting for Gore), testified to
that. So did the fact that this past Friday night’s Nader rally at Madison
Square Garden filled the place with 13,000 to 15,000 people.

Danger sign: an elderly
woman at the Park Slope event arose and, apropos of something, spoke unto the
assembled phrases like, "I am somebody who came out of the New Left, I
consider myself a radical," and, "…dreams come true, because those
dreams have to be embodied in a new body politic." In other words, meaningless
things that testified less to any ideas on her part as to how Americans should
live than to her own poetic self-conception. She was the Ghost of Christmas
Past, the representative of the old, self-indulgent, self-centered, narcissistic,
upper-middle-class boutique Yenta Left come to test the faith of the assembled.

Note to Greens and Naderites:
Save yourselves. Purge her. Send her packing. Lock the door the next time she
shows up. Do the right thing. Keep yourselves honest.