Not long ago, I subjected you to a column about Arianna Huffington and David Brock, two former right-wingers who now say that they were, well, Blinded By the Right (Brock’s title) and have become pretty ardent opponents of the right. Brock’s book argues that there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, and that he should know – he was a part of it.
‘Now, you may find a left-wing columnist or commentator who has recently seen the light and proclaimed himself a convert to the vision of Tom Delay and Trent Lott,’ I wrote in that column. ‘I can’t think of one. If you do, send me their names, which I pledge to report.’
Some e-mails arrived, but just a few.
Michael Dokupil: ‘If there was ever an equivalent to David Brock it is Tammy Bruce’s new book, The New Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds. She is a pro-choice, lesbian activist, and former head of the LA chapter of NOW. I think that you owe it to your readers to at least point out that it exists. Per Amazon: ‘From rigid speech codes on college campuses to the knee-jerk use of such labels as ‘racist,’ ‘homophobic,’ and ‘hateful’ in an attempt to socially ostracize people with opposing viewpoints, speaking one’s mind today has become increasingly dangerous. What makes this book’s thesis especially powerful is that the author is a progressive . . .”
☞ Well, but I largely agree with Tammy Bruce. I think it’s terrible when a speaker is shouted down, and I think political correctness is a scary thing . . . although political politeness and sensitivity make a lot of sense. But the point is, according to Amazon, Tammy Bruce is still a progressive. She hasn’t renounced a woman’s right to choose and my guess is she doesn’t favor drilling in our national parks over promoting hybrid cars. So it doesn’t sound to me as if, having been an outspoken progressive, she has now switched to being an outspoken conservative. Yet that’s just what – in reverse – Arianna Huffington and David Brock have done. (Incidentally, for those who agree political correctness can be carried too far, check out a good nonprofit group called FIRE.)
Michael Axelrod: ‘There have been a number of people switching from the Left to the Right. I don’t know what you mean by ‘recently,’ but here are a few that come to mind: David Horowitz. He was one of the founding editors of the ultra-left Ramparts Magazine in the 1960’s. Now he is a Bush supporter. His parents were communists, and he freely admits to being a ‘red diaper baby.’ Ronald Radosh. Another RDP who has converted to the right. Author of several books on communism and the American Left. Bernard Goldberg, author of Bias. He might not realize it (yet), but he has made the crossover from being a Liberal to a Conservative. Eldridge Cleaver. Author of Soul on Ice. Black Panther 1960’s radical left revolutionary. Became a Conservative and supporter of Ronald Reagan. Michael Novak. Not recent, but certainly a convert. The whole New York Neocon crowd are all ex-liberals. The above are just a few that occur to me, there are lots more.’
☞ Well, yes, but by this standard, I guess I, too, have moved significantly to the right. As has, for that matter, much of the Democratic Party (and all of its leadership).
For one thing, times have changed. There is less need now for the sort of radical protest that led, in 1965, to passage of the Voting Rights Act (not to say we’re where we need to be on race – or even on voting rights – but we’ve clearly come a long way) or that fueled the anti-war movement. In the Sixties, the left was all against ‘the war’ (and rightly so, in my view). In 2002, much of the left is all for it (again, rightly so).
For another thing, we’ve learned from experience. There’s no shame in that. Quite the contrary, I think. (And we’re not the only ones. The Bush team seems to have learned, for example, that butting out of the Mid-East peace process, wasn’t such a good idea, after all, and is now, thankfully, butting back in.) We now know, having tried it, that programs like welfare can have terrible unintended consequences (while others, like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps and, for that matter, the GI Bill and the Marshall Plan and the S.E.C. and Fanny Mae, to name just a few, can work rather well). Many traditional liberals have come to embrace the importance of market economics and free trade and fiscal prudence, while retaining their concern for the ‘little guy’ (known in an earlier era, I believe, as ‘the meek’) and for the environment.
It’s a balance. Conservatives care about these things, too, but place the fulcrum further to the right. If the continuum runs from cradle-to-grave nanny state save-the-snail-darter-at-any-cost at the left edge to sink-or-swim no-government-except-for-the-military-and-the-police-to-protect-what-we-got at the right, my view is that the Democratic leadership has by now found a pretty good balance in the middle, while the Republican leadership has bumped up against the wall.
Which is a too-long way of saying that 1970’s left-to-right conversions don’t count! At least not as counterpoints to Arianna Huffington and David Brock. These were folks who just a few years ago attacked the Clinton administration mercilessly, both on personal grounds and ideologically. And now, in effect, they are saying they were wrong.
To me, the counterpoint would be someone who’d been a strong voice on the left or center-left – an Anna Quindlen or a Paul Krugman or a Frank Rich or a Michael Kinsley or an Eleanor Clift – doing an about face.
Have you heard one of them – or anyone like them – saying, ‘I was wrong! I now see that Jesse Helms and Trent Lott and Tom DeLay have the right vision for our fragile world. Of course we need to drill in ANWAR and slash alternative-energy research. Of course we need to preserve the gun show loophole. Of course our top priority should be tax cuts for the top 1%.’
I have not seen columns like that.