The Left Left Me and It Will Not Come Back

By Kirk Jing ‘14

We’ve heard it again and again this election cycle. “Obama needs to fire up his base again.” A peculiar feeling strikes me whenever I hear pundits echo that sentiment.

A latte-sipping son of Berkeley (California) and daily hummus-eater ($3 at FoCo), I exclusively watch foreign films, express interest in cultures I am clueless about, have never watched a televised sport from start to end, and have never tinkered with and will probably never own a car. Marx? Bakunin? Stirner? Gramsci? Of course I’ve read them. The Constitution? The Bible? Never. For the greater good over life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve certainly never ever seen any part of “fly-over country” or the “heartland”. All this makes me suspect that when Glenn Beck chalks up “perfidious plots of the liberal elite,” it is to me that he alludes.

To a certain extent, I may be. I am generally supportive of legalized abortion and euthanasia. In its present form, I think affirmative action is justifiable and that we overreacted to the 9/11 attacks, both at home and abroad. Although I have slowly grown far too lazy to work myself up to gleefully dictate other people’s lifestyles for them, I don’t really “get” the gun culture. I think US immigration restrictions are dangerous, think the death penalty is ridiculous, and am alarmed by the “incarceration culture”. I don’t doubt anthropogenic climate change, think it’s a shame that the Equal Rights Amendment failed, and evaluate marijuana decriminalization as a good idea. And I thought a stimulus was the right response to a recession and believe that the 2008 passage of TARP and actions by the Federal Reserve over the past two years will be vindicated by history as an example of American governance at its best (so no, I’m clearly not a libertarian).

And despite all of that, this fall, I’ll be praying (in a figurative multicultural-secular manner, of course), for a Speaker Boehner and a Majority Leader McConnell. Although I admit my inner psuedoironic-hipster did like to observe people’s disbelief if they asked me for my preferences in 2008 and I gave an intentionally contrarian answer, that didn’t really mean anything substantive. So what happened?

I started to bristle during the healthcare fight when Democrats and media personalities had the temerity to smear the public expression of various political concerns (that I admit as valid, even if I don’t actually share most of them) as mere manifestations of racism, and then predictably place the blame for the perceived deterioration of our political discourse’s civility on everyone else. Even though I didn’t actually oppose the vast majority of the (still-unread by Congress) pages in the healthcare bill, the hypocrisy of the attack on a movement that did. Made me wonder if I was next. How would my motives be impugned? What group of society would I be judged as viscerally hating if I expressed such a disagreement? I had always bought into historical materialism to some extent, but to see others do the same was a sobering experience.

It caused me to question my belief that “oh, people only hold different views because of their economic background, class incentives, cultural background, et cetera.” Could not people disagree with someone because their free will led them to a different opinion? That seemed like a revolutionarily conservative idea. I don’t actually completely buy the idea myself. I still happen to think the motivation for people’s beliefs is more nuanced than either paradigm, but it was still an interesting notion to consider. And whenever I heard a columnist (or Obama) claim public opposition existed only because of “right-wing misinformation,” personal economic difficulties, or of course, racism, as if someone couldn’t simply just disagree with them, it gave me pause.

If beliefs were only motivated by primal emotions and socioeconomic factors, why bother selling the actual merits of a policy? I wasn’t thrilled by how every public policy had to be instead justified on the basis of hatred or distrust for a specific group in society, and a desire to punish them, whether it be “the rich,” “fat-cat bankers,” or whatever. Here Democrats were, with a healthcare bill whose constituent policies were actually popular, doomed by a determination to only try to appeal to most base of emotions.  Once again, it was thanks to the unwashed masses that we weren’t having “intellectual discourse.”

I had spent years railing against “the man.” Misery (or more accurately, scarcity), existed because corporate puppetmasters (of government) “exploited the people.”  And that we would clear up every problem (once again, scarcity) by sweeping the puppetmasters away. After all, that was all I had been taught. But I started asking who this “man” really was. And I started off with who was teaching me. Across our schools, government, and media, a single world-view predominates. And that view is remarkably similar to mine. If the “establishment” really adhered to one ideological creed, it would be comprised of people essentially brought up like me. Even in corporate America, that worldview had a presence. There was no monolithic corporate cabal directing American politics. For every Richard Scaife, there was a George Soros. The anti-corporate hate that had once so outraged me started to seem all a bit pointless.

Those experiences probably only primed me. A single irritating belief and lack of corporate bogeyman a party switch do not make. It’s probably customary to parrot the Reagan quote, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left me.” But I’m no Reagan. (And as much as almost every Republican candidate pretends to be, neither are they.) Nor am I the other great demographic of historical party-switchers, a Dixiecrat.

I’m obviously not an ideological conservative. Yet, in the political struggles to follow, I will, for all intents and purposes, be lumped with them, perhaps as an “ insane extremist,” a “reactionary racist,” an “ignorant teabagger,” or something else entirely. But it is not a party that has left me. It is an entire political movement, because American leftists are now rather peculiar.

Abroad, I see leftist Liberal Democrats working with Tories to restore fiscal discipline, and leftist Socialist parties in Greece, Spain, and Portugal singlehandedly pushing through gut-wrenching austerity packages to stave off even worse consequences. I see another leftist Democratic Party (Japan), whose Prime Minister has just beaten back a challenge from a faction of the party nonplussed about spending cuts.

And here in America, we have leftist Democrats who slam anyone who suggests budget tweaks (that pale next to foreign austerity) to accomplish the same here. Even the normally irreproachable Europeans have been irking the Obama Administration with their austerity.

The “Roadmap for America” is now ammunition for one of the biggest Democratic talking points this fall: “defending” bankrupt entitlement programs from Republicans, a talking point that will create a chilling effect on future entitlement spending reform.

When I sat through matriculation, I wondered what kind of country we will burden the ’64s with. People, myself included, plunged into “culture wars” when we assumed the result would be a better world for our progeny to inherit. That assumption is now debatable. I would rather leave a prosperous world, even if it had to be populated by politicians with a disdain for my lifestyle. And as such, I roll my eyes when Democrat operatives try to shift the narrative to social wedge issues by highlighting admittedly bizarre but comparatively irrelevant cultural views held by some of their opponents (Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell come to mind).

What do I fear? An increasingly impoverished nation bankrupted by trying to pay the entitlements of an exponentially growing class of retirees by taxing a shrinking and increasingly poorly educated (go NEA go!) workforce, burdened by an ever more restrictive regulatory regime that turns America into a fly-over country for business and innovation. The Democratic Party that once worked with business is dead. A party that once argued it would best promote prosperity is now led by a President who peppers every speech with various invectives against business. “New Democrat” is practically a slur among “progressive” circles now.

And that’s why the Left will never come back. Our future prosperity is more precarious than it ever has been, and they have merely taken it as an excuse to hunker into anti-growth extremism. Businesses, entrepreneurs, and typical voters (like me) historically aligned with the Democratic Party are jumping ship.

But I don’t think Republican rule in the Aughts left anyone, let alone me, happy. And the Tea Party’s obsession with deifying early American history (among other views) perplexes me. But whenever I see Democrats campaigning on Sharron Angle’s “plan to destroy Social Security,” or Paul Ryan’s more reasonable “plot to destroy Medicare,” I reconsider. Of course, some Republicans cynically use Medicare as a campaign point, but today I see Republicans being ultimately torn towards the right direction by one movement, and Democrats being dragged by another movement and its complementary special interests (public employee unions?) into a sinkhole. The former is pulled toward critical reforms, the latter pushed to defend the broken and soon-to-be disastrous status quo. So I’ve got to say, it’s kind of nice on this side, and it’ll only get comfier. Anyone else care to join me?