Kookiness on the Left

Much attention has rightly been focussed on the irrational aspects of right-wing protesters, especially those whose irrationality is rooted in racism. But, the Left has its irrationalities as well and some of them are on full display these days.

The most obvious was the sad spectacle of the rostrum at the United Nations hosting the likes of Maommar Qaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both of them known murderers and tyrants. I have never trusted Qaddafi: He spells his name with a "Q" and it is not followed by a "u" so we’ve known all along he was playing by a different set of rules. Seriously, I am all for the spectacle at the UN insofar as it shows the whole world how crazy they are: Qaddaafi droned on for more than an hour and one-half! But, there is no denying that such tyrants at that stage diminish the institution of the UN. More importantly, these appearances at the UN confer a degree of legitimacy upon these cranks, at least for their domestic audiences and while Libya’s internal politics are a mystery, the rise of a democracy movement in Iran is one of the few pieces of good news from a part of the world where good news is infrequent. Those opposed to Ahmadinejad may not be swayed by his appearance before the world body, but many who are unsure about him may find his appearance a reason to accept his undoubtedly illegitimate re-election.


Reading accounts of the meetings of the Big Three during World War II, especially the meetings towards the end of the war at Yalta and Potsdam, it is striking how much importance the United States government placed in the creation of the UN. Difficult issues such as the boundaries of Poland and the holding of free elections in Eastern Europe were postponed until a peace conference that never happened and to the UN. Needless to say, the tyranny that descended upon Eastern Europe was ended not by the UN, but by the internal rot of a system built upon lies that finally collapsed of its own weight. But, in 1945, the organization was the vehicle for the hopes of a war-weary world, hopes that war would never again darken the entire planet as it had twice within thirty years time.

It is difficult to assess the value of the UN. Certainly, it is a place where the business of diplomacy goes on around the clock, which has its usefulness in keeping difficulties from becoming crises. The UN usefully promotes a variety of humane programs in the poorer regions of the world: anything that transfers wealth from the self-indulgent West to the neglected South deserves a prima facie nod of approval. But, just as certainly, the UN has not lived up to its promise of a new order in international relations and it never will. That is one liberal dream that can now be consigned to the realm of fantasy and our expectations of the organization should reflect that fact.

Another instance of liberal irrationality is the subject of E. J. Dionne’s column this morning. Dionne writes about the opposition of non-profit groups to a proposal to limit the value of charitable deductions for high-income earners. When the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011 (and why don’t we repeal them tomorrow) the top marginal rate will return to 39.6 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent. The proposal Dionne supports would allow the rich (the top rate applies only to those making more than $370,000 per annum), to continue to deduct whatever charitable contributions they make, but at the value of the lower 35 percent rate. This proposal would raise $90 billion over ten years, money that Dionne thinks should go to pay for health care reform.

Of course, non-profit groups, including many leftie groups, are up in arms, worried that this 4.5 cent change will cause all manner of havoc in the world of charitable giving, a claim that has no historical resonance. What is worse, as Dionne argues, is the narrowness of vision, the NIMBY aspect of the reaction to the proposal. He writes, "If even groups whose very mission is public-spirited can’t take an exceedingly modest risk to extend health coverage, how can we expect anybody else to pay a little more for a moral imperative?" Congress should do the right thing and pass this proposal.

Finally, I caught glimpses of Larry King’s interview with Michael Moore last night. Moore is releasing a new film next month called "Capitalism: A Love Story." Moore is not untalented, but he peddles a variety of leftie paranoia that does nothing to further the important debates in which our country is engaged. I do not think his influence is as pernicious as, say, the John Birch Society, but it is pernicious nonetheless. Don’t feed the craziness by paying to see his new flick.

So, craziness has no ideological provenance and it can flourish on both left and right. Both camps must police their own, for their own sake as well as for the sake of the commonwealth: if either side considers kookiness not as an "outlier" but as "the base," their subsequent modus operandi will be sketchy and unhealthy. So far, Obama has pitched to the center on virtually every issue unlike his predecessor whose politics was built on expanding the base. Obama’s politics does not contain the promise of ending polarization: the kooks we shall always have with us. But, Obama’s centrist approach does have the potential for a political realignment because politics change at the center not at the fringe. The best thing conservatives can do is to call out their own crazies and disassociate themselves from the craziness. And, those of us on the Center-Left need to do the same.

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9 years 4 months ago
Obama, a centrist?  That's like calling America magazine centrist.  The only people who believe that are the denizens of America's offices.
9 years 4 months ago
Why reduce yourself to being left or right or centre left or centre right?.The world is too complex for such rigidity that does not have a binding principle.The human person is greater than these categories.
9 years 4 months ago
Your premise is that the political left has as much kookiness as the right, but your proofs are woefully lacking.
How are the appearances of Qadaffi and Ahmadinejad at the UN relevant?  The UN decides who speaks.  UN decisions are not the responsibility or the fault of the American left.  Whether they are tyrants or not is beside the point (I agree, they are tyrants), but they are also heads of state and entitled to speak on their government's behalf at the UN.
Your second example is also extremely weak.  So non-profits and a columnist have different views of an esoteric issue ot tax law.  Is that equal to birthers, death panels, and gun carrying protesters?
Ok, Mike Moore has radical views, I'll give you that.  But there is a certain intellectualism to his views that does not equate to the anti-intellectualism of the know-nothings.
You seem to imply that because there are persons who hold very liberal views that offsets those with very conservative views.  That may be true, but it doesn't follow that the bizarre behavior of the anti-government crowd-he's a Nazi, he's a socialist, he's a Muslim, etc has a counterpart on the left.
I also saw another post suggesting that the 5% on the radical left doesn't equate to the 30% on the radical right.
9 years 4 months ago
Dear Michael,
I'm relieved to hear you call out your own (even if it's in guarded terms), but my question for you (and for the editors of America) is this: why do you write in this blog? I take the title of ''In all things'' to be in reference to the Jesuits belief in finding God ''in all things.'' So far as I can tell, your blog entries are about uncovering what's wrong, evil, or ''kooky'' in all things. I'll admit you get me riled up, and I often have to resist writing more than I say (so I'm not judging you for your anger or your opinions), and I fail to make comments about finding God in all things, but in a blog that's supposed to be about the joy and love to be found in God's creation, I find nothing more than finger-pointing and hatred in your entries.
So, why here? Why this blog?
9 years 4 months ago
In what universe is Muamar Qadaffy a lefty?  Radical Islam is a right wing authoritarian phenomenon.  There is nothing leftist about it.
9 years 4 months ago
The attempt to be humorous falls flat and is disrespectful
of those who come from cultural and linguistic traditions in which
''q'' is NOT  followed by
''u.'' Your unnecessary throwaway line ''I have never trusted
Qaddafi: He spells his name with a ''Q'' and it is not followed by a
''u'' so we’ve known all along he was playing by a different set of
rules.''-manages to disregard words and names rendered in English from
Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Inuktitut, to name a few. The implication of
untrustworthiness on such an uncritical basis is not merited and can be
considered offensive. Carefulness with language in an age marked by plurality
and globalization would seem a reasonable request of an author in a Catholic
9 years 3 months ago
Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) is a personality and ideological variable studied in political, social and personality psychology.  It is defined by three attitudinal and behavioral clusters which correlate together:
1) Authoritarian Submission - a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
2) Authoritarian aggression - a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
3) Conventionalism - a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.
Dictatorships require people who are by nature submissive to authority, aggressive against anyone who challenges their leader/ideology, and easily lead because they are unquestioning of their leader.  Dictatorships must have Right-Wing Authoritarian followers in order to exist.
There have been a number of attempts to identify "left-wing authoritarians."  These would be people who submit to leftist authorities, are highly conventional to liberal viewpoints, and are aggressive to people who oppose left-wing ideology.  These attempts have failed because measures of autoritarianism always correlate to the right.  Following 60+ years of research testing hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, psychologists now believe that authoritarianism is a right-wing phenomenon.
Sorry, Diana, but rightwingers aren't such great thinkers.  They embrace dictators when they are told that doing so IS liberty and freedom.  They know what is best for them only when they are told what is best for them.  They are highly desireable followers.  Ask any dictator.
Heard this recently: Conservatives/Republicans hate to be told what to do, but love to be told what to think.
9 years 4 months ago
Obie Homlen and Michael Bindner, I agree with both of your comments.
Dictatorships are inherently right wing because dictatorships rely upon and are fueled by Right Wing Authoritarian followers in order to exist.  Someone can be a "leftist dictator" ideologically, but that dictatorship is still a right wing phenomenon.  No Right Wing Authoritarian followers, no dictatorship. 
Mr. Winters, John Stangle is right.  You really should see "Sicko" regardless of your opinion of Michael Moore.
9 years 3 months ago
The Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party, familiarly known as the Nazis, promoted universal healthcare and government control of industry.  These are what would currently be described as left-wing concepts. 
At least, they are more in line with Obama's policy than with what right-wing people would propose.
Fascism is similar to Nazism, without, perhaps, the bigotry.  The term fascism is derived from the the "fasces" or bundle of sticks which represented Roman authority (the same root word leads to "faggot", which also means a bundle of sticks), and the point is that one stick is easily broken, but there is strength in unity.  It was undoubtedly not meant this way in ancient times, but it is symbolically kind of a precursor to communism, trade unions, and "Yes We Can".
Not right wing.
In fact the fascist also supported universal healthcare and the economic "Third Way", which was neither capitalism, with private ownership and control of industry, nor communism, with government ownership of industry, but private ownership and government control.
Which is where we're going now, with our markedly left-wing President. 
So, yes, the only way you can see Nazis and Fascists as right wing is to completely redefine the usual meanings of the terms.  They were left-wing, at least as the terms are used today.
9 years 3 months ago
The Third Reich-Naziism; The Italian Fascists-all left wingers?  Just not factual; unless you say left is right and right is left.  THis entire discussion could benefit by knowing some history and political science that goes back further than 1945. 
9 years 4 months ago
You say, "And, those of us on the Center-Left need to do the same." Well, then watch your back; my impression is that those on the side get thrown into the center - right under the bus. Not knowing much about politics or even how the government works, still I have the impression that Obama doesn't so much empower; rather he seems to be a tool of those in power. That's how he seems to have gotten there and how he seems headed to stay there. Maybe that is how they all do it?
However, the main thust of your article seems to be about Michael Moore who I suspect you detest more for his physiognomy or snak selections than for his movie revelations  which didn't you once brag you have never paid a dime to see. Please see "Sicko", at least.
9 years 4 months ago
I presume Christine mcCallum is commenting from the (far) right.
Clearly in this day there are enormous extremes and kookiness.
What's really problematic is the virulence and vitriol  that accompany it and the difficulty of finding real civil discussion moving towards comporomise - and the common good.
9 years 4 months ago
Remarkably, a more active discussion about this post is on Commonweal's dotCommonweal blog:
9 years 3 months ago
I think putting Ahmadinejad and Qaddafi on a U.S.-specific and linear left/right political  spectrum clouds more truth than it exposes.  Throwing all these figures together without much substantive or constructive discussion does little more than provide the occasional for the author to situation himself in the ''rational middle.''  It seems self-serving.  Qaddafi...Ahmadinejad...E.J. Dionne...Michael Moore???  Talk about all over the map.  And throwing all these issues together in such an equalizing fashion (a common centrist approach) does very little for the people who are on the underside of the conservative/pro status-quo racism that the author rightly cites as ''irrationality'' at the start of this blog.  These equalized concerns are not equal, especially in the U.S.-specific context that this blog is framed in.  The US was not and does not remain constructed on Ahmadinejad and Qaddafi´s ''leftist craziness''...it does however remain constructed on structrual racism...economically, politically, culturally, and legally.  And for those who experience this as a daily reality, it is not ''leftie paranoia'' so much as the RATIONAL fear and argumentation that accompanies struggling (in cooperation with God´s will) to survive one more day within systems constructed upon various forms of irrational oppression and exclusion. 
9 years 3 months ago
Dictatorship is inherently left-wing.  Right-wing is about liberty, that is, individual freedom.  Left-wing is about the government telling you what you can and cannot do, because the government knows better than you do what is good for you. 
So to correct Michele Loughlin's deeply misleading post, someone can be a ''rightist dictator'' ideologically, but that dictatorship is still a left wing phenomenon.
The right-wing belief that individuals can know what is best for them, and have a right to act freely among their brothers and sisters so long as they are not impinging upong the rights of others, reflects the concept that God is to be found in all things. 
God is ''found'' in individual citizens who must be free to act as His agents according to their own consciences, and in governments which avoid restricting the freedom of citizens-beyond the need to protect the rights of weaker citizens.
9 years 3 months ago
Hi Michelle!
People in general aren't such great thinkers.
I think the left wing would be all happy campers if it were true that the right wing ("Conservatives/Republicans") loved to be told what to think.  Indeed they seem to assume that *everybody* hates to be told what to do, but loves to be told what to think. 
At least they keep telling us what to think.
You will note that people who "hate to be told what to do" are not "right wing authoritarians" under your point #1 (authoritarian submission).
Who *does* fit your "right-wing authoritarian" profile?  Well, people who think that everybody should think alike and do what they're told.  People who think everyone should eat a lowfat diet, drive a little car, and embrace "diversity" without respecting individuals. 
People who think everyone should stop smoking and lose weight, whether they like it or not.
People with a "general aggressiveness directed against deviants" from the politically correct new norms-those who refuse to go along with the enlightened new flow.  Mr. Obama highlighted rural Pennsylvanians (such as myself) in this deviant category-you know, those of us who cling to our guns and religion.
People who have "a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are
perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities"-that is, again, the politically correct group. 
These are left-wing concepts, whatever you choose to call them.
The reason you can't come up with any "left-wing authoritarians" is because you've already misnamed them as "right-wing authoritarians".
Good thinking is tough, but in the long run, more satisfying than believing what everyone else around you says.  Not easier, but more satisfying.
9 years 3 months ago
I should perhaps also note that Michele's entire argument supporting her concept of RWA is a direct appeal to authority, asking me to accept a "convention" based on sixty-some years of research by psychologists.  In fact, that these people can come to such conventions despite so much research leads me to suspect that they don't know how to conduct research.


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