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Soon after I'd complained in this space about the Democratic Party and its move to the far-left reaches of the political spectrum, I ran across a copy of the Feb. 13 issue of The Nation with a cover story titled "The New Face of the Campus Left." It confirmed some of my worst fears about how left-wingers view themselves and the world around them.
I had noted in my earlier article that there have been calls of late for the Democrats to revisit the era of the Cold-War liberals, and take a tip or two from their old playbook. I said that nothing would make me happier, but I argued that it would never materialize - that the left was feeling too frantic about President Bush's escapades, especially the Iraq war, and that after the 2000 election, leftists were feeling disenfranchised and nothing would get them to move into the center, let alone shift right.
After reading The Nation article, I think things are worse than I imagined. It might be described as a prime example of what historian Richard Hofstadter identified as the paranoia of the left.
According to Sam Graham-Felsen: "The assumption that America's campuses are impenetrable bastions of liberalism - where left-leaning faculty predominate, progressive student activism flourishes and conservatism is fiercely marginalized - still rules the day. But in reality, since the 1970s the conservative movement has become the dominant political force on many American campuses. The sea change is not simply a reflection of some students' increasingly right-wing views. Each year, conservative groups pour more than $35 million into hundreds of college campuses. They pay for right-wing speakers, underwrite scores of student papers, provide free leadership training and cushy internships, and equip thousands of new activists and talking points, discipline and missionary zeal."
Either this is complete delusion or spoiled grapes about having to share the stage every so often with a competing view. Doubtless, today's campuses are not like in the 1960s, when any contrary idea was merely shouted down by the throngs. It's true that the right has organized and has lots of money behind it.
But the picture, as painted by Graham-Felsen, seems skewed at best.
What bothers the author most is that progressive kids can't seem to get on the same page - that they have competing issues to pedal, and that when the conservative kids are effective, they're very effective. Progressive organizers think the left kids should learn from the tactics of the right, and embrace certain pragmatic techniques rather than forever fomenting revolution.
Asks Graham-Felsen: "What will it mean for the progressive movement in the long run if cries for a new society are replaced by calls for incremental improvements? Is the future of the progressive movement better off in the hands of young pragmatists or young visionaries?" I fear that the left's in need of a whole lot of maintenance.