A revolution conducted by people who have only a group identity can only replace one monolith of power with another, one misery with another, perpetuating the cycle of domination and oppression. In solitude, the individual becomes most human, which is to say, most spiritual. -Curtis White, 'The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation,' Harper's Magazine, April 2006.
Dear The Left,
It's interesting that you couldn't keep Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat. I'm taking it for granted that you understand that I don't mean "interesting" at all, but rather "detestable."
This latest event brings me to new levels of apathy, in part because it confirms my suspicion that you cannot accomplish your most reasonable and expected responsibility: empowering the political party that most closely matches your platform. You couldn't ensure that Senator Kennedy's replacement is a liberal Democrat? Enjoy the tar pits of irrelevancy.
I don't think this one race serves as a marker on What Americans Really Think Of Health Care Reform, or even What Americans Think Of Obama, two subjects I couldn't care less about-not to say I don't care passionately about health care or Obama. Or Americans.
But it seems to be this fallacy, this mirage of What Americans Really Think is all you seem to want to talk about these days. More precisely, the past ten years.
Which is to say, we're over. Yep, sorry. We're through.
It's not even that I don't agree with you, because I do, on all the big ones, at least: Teddy Kennedy's legacy, gays, abortion, endless wars for the profit of private companies, drowning polar bears, the works. I'm not running off to declare nonsense as truth like, "Health Care Will Kill Us All!" or anything like that.
But, you know what? I don't think you're good for me. Or for America, for that matter.
There was a moment, after the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President (the one you take credit for) when there was an in-coming wave of people singing.
As the noise got closer, those words made famous by Bananarama became clear and rang out, golden over the Mall: "Na Na Na / Na Na Na / Hey Hey Hey / Goodbye!"
Countless people were waving up at the sky, and when I craned my neck back I could see Marine One was taking the previous President away, forever. His time was done.
I started to wave and sing too, but before I could really give it my best, I burst into tears, The Left. You would have been proud.
When I looked up to try to chip off the frozen snot and salt water from my face, I noticed something: the 100 people in my immediate vicinity were also crying.
And I don't mean quiet, private, attractive tears.
People were sobbing, really going for it. There was more choking and heaving than a seventh grade girl's bathroom.
I caught an evanescent understanding of the meaning of catharsis.
It's not a pleasant, tidy emotional process, wherein one gets closure by having neat conversations that make you feel okay-it's the violent purging of the cancer that's been pulsating wetly in your guts for eight years.
I'm 27 years old. George W. Bush was elected my last year of high school and was re-elected my last year of college. The burgeoning of my political consciousness is entirely connected to his presidency.
I marched in protest against his war, I handed out flyers against his policies, I argued against his platforms, I volunteered against his campaign, and I mocked everything about him that I could-which, you know, was quite a lot.
But I standing on the National Mall, crying in the arms of that stranger from Georgia, I realized that the anger I had for President Bush gave me was nothing in comparison with the rage I felt for The Left.
I'll recover from my first dance with Sturm und Drang, hopefully with a skosh more wisdom and bucket loads less ego, but I'll never get over my complete and utter disillusionment with the Left.
DailyKos and MoveOn and CodePink and yes, that other one, too. Grand-standing Congresspeople, bandana-ed prostesters and pontificating talking heads.
So much talking! So much feeling! And yet… nothing changed!
One can't get mad at an incontinent dog for pissing all over your nice carpet-but one can get mad at the person who doesn't put the dog outside to begin with.
So I choose not to get mad at George W. Bush (well, maybe a little). Rather, I choose to ask my self questions like:
Where was the Left in: the build-up to Iraq? The decimation of protective legislation for the environment? The steady beating-back of womens' rights?
Every time things got bad-and things got bad!-you seemed to lose power, rather than gain it.
When you should have had the gravitas of, I don't know, people who have irrefutable facts on their side (no WMDs, actual physical manifestations of climate change, gay people clearly performing as exceptional parents) you had the persuasiveness of a newly converted 15-year-old vegetarian: You guys, like, meat is murder. Thanksgiving is a celebration of murder, like, on so many levels, you don't even know.
You know what I think it is, The Left? I think you stopped focusing on actually stopping evil from happening, and started focusing on convincing people who would never agree with you that it was evil.
You stopped talking about the War, and started talking about how Fox was talking about the War. You focused so much attention on beating Fox! All of your energy was spent on seeing who could win the spin war, and suddenly we were all shouting "You're wrong! You're wrong! You're wrong!" together, to the point where we were just as hysterical and terrified as the other side! Probably even more!
Seriously, The Left, Keith Olbermann's impassioned rhetoric from the gaping wound of Ground Zero might have been a soothing balm seven years ago, but imagine what could have actually been accomplished if MSNBC had resisted standing up for The Left and simply just told the truth-without the grandiose indignation?
But this wouldn't be a good break-up letter if I didn't tell that it's not you, it's me.
And I guess that's true, in a way. When things were good with us, they were so good, right?
Remember the time we got run over by horses on that march in New York? Or that time we drove through the night to D.C., only to turn our backs on the inaugural parade, and then turn around and come home? We were dumb kids, in love with hating.
How about that time we chanted Cat Stevens songs outside the Federal Building on National Women's Day? I'm not lying when I say that's the deepest anyone's ever gone with me.
And yet here I go, changing everything between us. If I'm being honest, our relationship was all about placating my ego. All of it: the marches, the sit-ins, the phone trees, the whole shebang.
It was about glorifying my personal beliefs, and convincing myself that I was more against the war, more for gay rights, more serious about securing abortion rights, than anyone else.
If you think about it, it was pretty nifty thinking: It'll look like I'm selflessly placing myself in harm's way to make a point about how fucked up things are! Then everyone will know how serious I am, how serious I take things. Everyone will be super-impressed.
The only word I can think to describe it is masturbatory. My relationship with The Left was masturbatory.
Perhaps you're wondering where all this came from. I guess I owe an explanation, at least that much.
I had a realization-the sort of realization that happens when you get a window into how indulgent and celebratory you are of your own ignorance and privilege.
I have this friend who is gay who goes to places around the country most gay people flee from-maybe because they want more of a community, maybe because they want more people to bang and/or date, or maybe because they get harassed and they're afraid of getting the shit kicked out of them or worse.
Anyway, for work she has to go to the places in America that I (straight, white, bougie and now formerly lefty), would never go. And just by going, and doing her job, and being herself, whether the people she meets know she's gay or not, she does more for gay rights than I could ever do with the best sit-in in the history of sit-ins, or with the most informative flyer ever, or with the most fervent letter to my Senator.
And it's not because she's gay and I'm not. It's because she's not talking about making a choice to change America, she's just doing the right thing: being who she is and expecting everyone to respect it, and if they don't then they can totally eat it.
And that's why I'm taking this post-Kennedy moment to break up with you, The Left. I don't want to talk about how I want America to change. I want the inevitable changes that mark American's great march toward freedom for everyone to be manifested by my individual actions-by everyone's individual actions. What's the point in being a voice in a crowd that's screaming so loudly that no one has any idea what everyone's saying? (Even if it's a crowd I agree with!)
Someone who comes to mind, The Left, is Bob Dylan. (See, I told you we'd still agree on things!)
You know what you're like? You're like the people who booed him when he went electric. You're the pouting kid demanding more "protest songs," when they're all protest songs,
And who the hell boos Obam-I mean, Bob Dylan-anyway?
E.A. Hanks even used to work for the Huffington Post.