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8 Things I Wish I’d Known (or Remembered) When I Was a Leftist
Posted By Kathy Shaidle On October 17, 2010 @ 6:00 pm In Email,Feature,Top Twenty | 19 Comments
In my own defense:
a) I was drunk the whole time, and
b) I was never a socialist or a communist. My anarchist/libertarian gang were 1980s “Neither East nor West” peaceniks who believed America and the USSR were equally bad. We made fun of the communists at demonstrations, quoting SCTV “3CP1″ catchphrases at them.
Like many folks I’ve met since, on and off line, I feel like the “Left” left me. On September 11, I realized that my best friend since high school, my half-sister, my colleagues at work and everyone on my listserves automatically sided with the terrorists instead of America.
I still hate big government, regulations and bureaucracies, and love free speech, liberty and trouble making.
Today, that makes me a Tea Partier. Unlike ex-socialists, as a temperamental anarchist, I at least had a familiar-seeming place to run to after 9/11: the libertarian right. I feel sorry for former communists who don’t have another totalitarian sect to run to. (Oh, wait…)
Anyway, here’s some stuff I wish I’d known a little sooner. And some stuff I knew all along, but tried to forget:
It was 1985 or so.
As I wrote about in my latest book (cough), sometimes the peace group I belonged to met in the living room of our cheap, uninsulated apartment. We stored the old hand-crank Gestetner in our back room, the coldest one, uninhabitable even by brave noble young anarchists like ourselves. Hell, even the most working class among us (me) had grownup with reliable heat, paid for by mom and dad.
So we lived mostly in the front room, huddled over big mugs of tea and eating box after box of Kraft Dinner.
One night when I was eating, Ronald Reagan was too.
The news was on and he was at some state dinner, up on the dais, listening to a guy at the microphone. He held a forkful of food to his mouth, put it in and started chewing.
That’s the exact moment I stopped hating Ronald Reagan.
You see: everyone knew that Ronald Reagan (or “Raygun”) was going to blow up the world! I owned punk rock albums with his face, disfigured, on the cover. I’d been chanting “Ronald Reagan/he’s no good/send him back to Hollywood” pretty much every weekend for, what, five years at that point? People made dart boards with his face on it, burned him in effigy, put on Ronald Reagan Halloween masks and did goofy street theater at our demos.
My then-boyfriend was sitting right beside me, muttering something, smoking my cigarettes again. Could he tell?
I just stared straight ahead, trying to keep my bearings as the bizarre sensation of Not Hating Ronald Reagan rushed through me like a shot of whatever that was the dentist gave me once.
Great. What was I going to do now??
That night, I saw Ronald Reagan — for the first time ever, I’m ashamed to say — as a human being, just like me, who ate and breathed and loved people and had people who loved him.
It’s too late to say I’m sorry, but not to say that he was right about a lot of things and I was wrong.
Being Canadian, the Montreal Massacre and Not A Love Story kept me “feminist” longer than I otherwise would have been. But even then, my feminism was always the frowned upon, old fashioned “Great Women of History” variety, as opposed to the collectivist “sisterhood/victim-hood” kind that ran the women’s movement, then and now. I was raised by nuns, not to mention by a single mom who refused to go on welfare.
But I’d taken a women’s studies elective in college, and was suitably outraged by what I learned. Too bad so much of it turned out to be wrong.
Oh, and that guy from the Montreal Massacre? We never heard his real, Muslim name after the initial news reports.
A friend of mine who lives in the city swears that one of those local radio news reports featured a female witness who said the killer had shouted something in a language she didn’t understand, some words beginning with “a.” My friend has tried, unsuccessfully, to track down the broadcast in the archives. No luck…
#6 Michael Moore is a liar
Hell, I may still have my copy of Mother Jones from Moore’s very brief stint as editor. (He got fired.)
Yeah, I fell for it. Roger and Me came along at the perfect time and was nigh on irresistible. Moore couldn’t have known that one day, something called the internet would come along and make it possible for us to fact check his claims.
For example: the entire premise of Roger and Me is that Moore can’t get an interview with the head of GM, Roger Smith. Sort of a “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” conceit. Great idea.
Too bad Moore got two interviews with Smith — but left the footage on the cutting room floor. (Because otherwise, his whole premise is junk.) That’s why the GM reps in the film are so exasperated when Moore seems to be making a fairly reasonable request “just to talk to the guy.” Moore had already talked to him.
The Left’s own feelings about Moore eventually became as annoying to me as Moore himself. It was common to hear them say, after Moore’s fabrications eventually gained mainstream traction, “Well, he’s lying for a good cause.”
My (former) best friend actually looked me in the eye and deadpanned, “Oh, please — he was never that important anyhow” — while her complete collection of Moore’s books DVDs sat on a shelf behind her.
I know it’s become a cliche, but that was just one of the many times — before I finally split off with everyone for good — that I felt like Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wondering what happened to all his friends.
Toronto prides itself on its “diversity.” As of this year, 52% of the city’s population is non-white, and a strong progressive streak runs through the centers of power in municiple politics, academe, the vast network of non-profits and of course, the media.
During my days as a peacenik, “gender parity” was a priority: we had to have one woman take the bullhorn at rallies for every male speaker, and arranging that was never easy. As for race — well, we were a lily white bunch, let me tell you.
In the 25 years or so that I’ve lived here, the two most multicultural events I’ve ever attended in Toronto were:
#4 Humor isn’t enough
Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y’know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y’know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.
Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.
Isaac Davis: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.
Don’t get the wrong idea: the gang I hung out with had no more time for political correctness than the average NewsReal Blog reader. It smacked of Maoism and Orwellian thought crime. We wanted fewer rules, not more of them. When PC started creeping into our lives, we thought we could mock it into submission.
So when an earnest young girl objected to the name of the group’s “Women’s Caucus” because “‘caucus’ had the word ‘cock’ in it,” we literally rolled around on the floor laughing.
That was back in the 1980s, and as I don’t need to tell you, political correctness has gotten worse, not better. Yes, some of us joke about it, but we do so in whispers around the office coffeemaker, lest we risk our jobs. How’s that been working out?
I wish I’d known sooner that more than humor was needed to fight a lot of evils, political correctness being one of them, radical Islam being another. That’s because our opponents are humorless and are therefore impervious to ridicule. Our jokes are simply more evidence of our decadence and ignorance, as far as they are concerned.
Naturally I trotted off to the annual peace rally at City Hall every August, to commemorate the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Paper cranes floating in the reflecting pool. Candles. A moment of silence. The whole bit.
What you have to know about Toronto’s City Hall is that the giant public square out front has a “peace garden.” It features an eternal flame and an exterior designed to look like a bombed out Japanese house.
When I met the guy I ended up marrying, on one of our first dates he quipped that he wanted to move the Churchill statue right into the “peace garden,” so it would look like he was, shall we say, urinating on the eternal flame. That was over 12 years ago. I balked. I figured “nuking Japan was a horrible thing” was a pretty unimpeachable view to hold.
But my husband is a WW2 buff; that’s how I learned about the atrocities the Japanese carried out against soldiers and civilians, and that those two bombs saved half a million American lives that would have been lost in a drawn out land invasion with a fanatical enemy made up of brainwashed pagan suicide bombers who thought Americans were literally devils. (Cough.)
I knew all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I’d never heard of Nanking.
Until I met my husband, I’d also never heard of the most decorated American unit of the war. If you haven’t heard of them either, I hope you’ll check them out.
#2 Lots of progressive heroes were jerks
Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals is a seminal book in the formation of many young conservatives because it reveals (with a glee unmatched only by its pop trash counterpart, Hollywood Babylon) the truly disgusting lives of some of the left’s great heroes, from Rousseau to Sartre.
Today we also know that Sacco & Vanzetti were guilty, as were the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. There really were Communist agents in the State Department. Rachel Carson made stuff up. The Kennedys were jerks. Hollywood lied about the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Many of the most iconic images and “facts” about the Vietnam War have been twisted beyond recognition.
Basically, it hurts to learn that “everything you think you know about the last 100 years is wrong.”
But it’s liberating too — as long as you don’t try to go it alone. I’m a loner by temperament, but can attest to the fact that meeting like-minded people has buffered the bitterness I’d have felt otherwise.
I’m still ticked off that I wasted my most physically and mentally energetic years on nonsense. (I contracted a crippling chronic illness shortly after I left the Left, and was bedridden for a while. By the time I went into remission, my twenties were over.)
However, I did learn a lot of things (about how the Left thinks, and how “social change” “works”) that have stood me in good stead.
Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book has sound advice buying shotguns, for example. And if you ever need a tee-shirt tie-dyed, you can always call me.
1# The world doesn’t need me to “save” it
If you grew up hearing about Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Bhopal and thalidomide — and watching Omega Man and Soylent Green — you got the message: scientific progress was dangerous. Innocent human beings were at constant risk of death due to some ever-looming catastrophe.
However, surviving all those scares gave me a healthy suspicion whenever 60 Minutes exposed the latest “danger in your medicine cabinet” or Time put the next world-ending scenario on its cover. I’m old enough to remember nuclear winter and global cooling and the population bomb and the millennium bug and any number of mass panics that amounted to nothing.
These were the same experts who assured us that the Soviet Union was all set to last another fifty years, just weeks before the Berlin Wall came down.
What I’ve learned is that bad stuff will happen. But — as per 9/11 — you probably can’t imagine what it is in advance. And it’s usually the opposite of whatever the experts are telling you.
Some of history’s greatest villains were convinced they were “making the world a better place.” When I was on the Left, I was driven more by my own personal neuroses and demons than by real concern about “the human race.” I know my comrades were, too. Looking back, I see what a bunch of screwed up individuals we were, and can’t believe we thought we knew what was best for the planet.
I hope the kids wasting their time at Media Matters or handing out leaflets for the Socialist Workers’ Party come to their senses sooner than I did.
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