Tales of the Departed
Excellent guest editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle from Keith Thompson, who describes why he feels alienated from and has departed, the American cultural and political left.
I grew up in a northwest Ohio town where conservative was a polite term for reactionary. When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of Mississippi "sweltering in the heat of oppression," he could have been describing my community, where blacks knew to keep their heads down, and animosity toward Catholics and Jews was unapologetic. Liberal and conservative, like left and right, wouldn't be part of my lexicon for a while, but when King proclaimed, "I have a dream," I instinctively cast my lot with those I later found out were liberals (then synonymous with "the left" and "progressive thought")....Much more, of course. As you can see, this isn't some milquetoast, fair weather leftist, either.
I began my activist career championing the 1968 presidential candidacies of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, because both promised to end America's misadventure in Vietnam. I marched for peace and farm worker justice, lobbied for women's right to choose and environmental protections, signed up with George McGovern in 1972 and got elected as the youngest delegate ever to a Democratic convention....
A turning point came at a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan's use of the word "evil" had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.
When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find "evil'" too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport.
My progressive companions had a point. It was rude to bring a word like "gulag" to the dinner table.
I look back on that experience as the beginning of my departure from a left already well on its way to losing its bearings. Two decades later, I watched with astonishment as leading left intellectuals launched a telethon- like body count of civilian deaths caused by American soldiers in Afghanistan. Their premise was straightforward, almost giddily so: When the number of civilian Afghani deaths surpassed the carnage of Sept. 11, the war would be unjust, irrespective of other considerations.
This is not to say that Thompson is becoming a Republican, only that he has no home anymore. It's a cautionary tale to the folks of the left -- the Mike Moores, the Hollywood left, MoveOn.org, etc. -- who are running the very real risk of destroying their party and weakening the country.