In Heads in the Sand Matthew Yglesias points out something that has been lurking in the back of my mind for years. The far left in the U.S. is essentially powerless, yet politicians on both sides obsess over it’s influence. Republicans, of course, attack it relentlessly as a danger to the republic; but Democrats, too, distance themselves from being too far left. But in terms of actual power there’s just nothing there. Writes Yglesias:
“The United States, from its beginning has been distinguished from the world’s other liberal democracies by the absence of a substantial left-wing political movement. The U.S. lacks, and has always lacked, a Socialist Party and hard left political views are essentially restricted to a small number of intellectuals, influential nowhere outside college campuses.”
Yes, Dennis Kucinich runs for president; and Noam Chomsky teaches on a campus somewhere. In college towns around the country left wing intellectuals sometimes get elected to city councils and stir things up. But when have any of these people ever exercised any real power at the national level?
Yet the political discussion in the US is obsessed with purging the perceived threat posed by the left. Particularly after 9/11 the discussion seemed to focus almost exclusively on the left: “What if these peaceniks successfully prevent a forceful response to bin Laden”. Every Democrat with any influence at all on the national stage was at pains to demonstrate his or her complete contempt for the left. Hillary and other leading Democrats likely voted for the Iraq War largely out of fear of being labeled a far-left sympathizer.
It continues to this day. If Obama or any other national figure in the Democratic Party becomes associated in any way with someone on the far left they are expected to immediately renounce and denounce the person.
Not so on the right. The GOP is hip deep in wingnut preachers who think God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish homosexuals, or who think the the US is rightly advancing the Prophecy of the Apocalypse by the presence of its military in Iraq. As for intellectuals on the right, the wingnuts are hardly confined to college campuses. Consider the case of Laurie Mylroie.
Mylroie (PhD., Harvard; long-time scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in DC) is the author of numerous books claiming that Saddam was behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The matter has been investigated thoroughly. No one else believes it, but she still does. In short, she’s way out of the mainstream in much the same way someone advocating Marxism at Berkeley is.
But here’s the deal: instead of toiling away in academic obscurity, she’s highly influential. People with real power, people who are actually making war and peace decisions in the US government are listening to her. Their names appear on her book jackets:
- James Woolsey – former CIA director
- Paul Wolfowitz – former assistant secretary of defense
- Richard Perle – former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Council
The US launched an unnecessary war in Iraq almost certainly due to the influence of people way WAY out of mainstream opinion in the US—people on the right.
Yet, the American public continues to fret over the malign influence of the left. Its frickin’ weird.