Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Dear The Left: A Breakup Letter, by E. A. Hanks

BYE?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.

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.

66 Comments / Post A Comment

PinkPundit (#155)

Was that supposed to make sense?

ericdeamer (#945)

I didn't understand it either.

Rod T (#33)

"I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." – Will Rogers

davidwatts (#72)

I am hard-pressed to think of a more disorganized and fearful group of people. And I used to work in the music industry!

This second graph makes my comment less pithy, but I think their big problem is 1) imagining a person who disagrees with them, 2) assuming that person is in fact EVERY person, and 3) spending all their energy working to convince and/or trick that person. Who cares! Let that person go fuck themselves.

belltolls (#184)

It's a marathon, not a sprint. And don't be a baby.

Dickdogfood (#650)

Yeah, this is sort of the political blogger version of "UGH, I am SO SICK of Vampire Weekend now."

I am so sick of the DISCO PANT ad.

Gef, Toe shoe girl is annoying me to no end, even more than fat naked black lace girl.

floatingredcouch (#3,079)

I am SO SICK of people that use the phrase "I'm over it"

Bittersweet (#765)

OMG, kitten, if I see toe shoe girl one more time I'll hurl my monitor out the window. Wrong on too many levels.

Nice essay. You're young. You're despondent. Chin up, crazy wild sex might help.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

My schedule is all full of brooding, weeping, drinking, and writing despondent essays. For crazy wild sex I'll have to clear up at least an afternoon.

Ron Obvious (#351)

Good letter, but I don't think "The Left" you're breaking up with has a whole lot to do with the collapse of the Democratic Party. I blame the party's "moderates," including President Obama, who have no backbone to stand up for what's right. They're too beholden to corporations and lobbyists and they're cowards. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the last great Democratic President this country has seen. The fact that he was as mean as a badger had a whole hell of a lot to do with why he got civil rights legislation and other progressive measures through Congress.

Rw (#1,458)

Or too beholden to the fickle nature of their constituents, The American People, I think you're mostly right but I think we've been heaping blame where a good portion of it doesn't belong. I Blame Us.

Ron Obvious (#351)

Yeah, you're right. God knows, most of the people I interact with on a daily basis are allergic to basic reasoning.

You know, Nixon's original campaign slogan for '68 was "Keep a Dick in the White House."

Peter Feld (#79)

and in '72 it was "Don't change Dicks in the middle of a screw."

spanish bombs (#562)

I would agree that the Democrats are not very Left.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Partially correct. It was Bananarama, but they were singing "Cruel Summer."

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

–Batman! "The Left" is full of smug, hypocritical blowhards too!

–Quick! To the whine-machine! We have to break up with this ridiculous abstraction before it's too late!

Dickdogfood (#650)

I think I may need one of those Venn diagrams to understand how Hanks' The Left maps onto The Democrats. Or…uh…vice versa?

The read I got was "I just want the baby boomers to go back to being hippies again."

La Cieca (#1,110)

What are you, 12?

The article says he's 27, but that doesn't explain how he knows who Bananarama is.

oudemia (#177)

Their cover of the Sex Pistols' "No Feelings" isn't to be missed.

FeyBoohoozer (#410)

ummm, well, it was okay. but you know…….."The Left" isn't the Democratic party. this is why I don't read the harpington post; too many centrists who think they're leftists. no. you're not.

oudemia (#177)

Also: Martha Coakley can barely be called a "liberal," much less a member of "The Left." Failing to seat "a liberal" in Teddy K's seat is a problem, but it's a problem that started the day after the September primary.

The events brought you "apathy", eh?

I don't think you know what that word means.

Well done.

Hey, just 5 and 2/3 more of these articles, and he's getting that fat $60! I see a young go-getter with a drive to produce!

oudemia (#177)

She not he! Gef makes me feel unsafe.

Crud, you're right. I would say I was confused by the initials-as-first-name, but let's chalk it up as totally unconsciously chauvanist. So much for all those consciousness-raising seminars that came with the Tasteful & Expensive Education.

oudemia (#177)

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.

Yeah, you've sure rid yourself of the purer-than-thou impulse.

brad (#1,678)

i thought rahm was supposed to this brass-balled killer who would beat the fuck out of his opponents and strike the Fear into conservative democrats. it's the aloofness that's surprising me. it's the image of being above it all that is actually disappointing me. there are times that require some ass-kicking. and all we get so far is a newly-empowered joe lieberman and a pay-off to ben nelson?

oudemia (#177)

Rahm is an asshole, but he's always been a half-a-blue-dog-dem asshole. Maybe more than half.

brad (#1,678)

this rings true.

is there a way i can view these comments without being reminded of the topic to which they are attached?

crookedE (#1,817)

Yep. If only Dennis Kucinich was a raging asshole, instead of a sweet little vegan. Don't get me wrong, he can get pretty fired up, but I think he is too kind to do the kind of damage we need from them.

garge (#736)

I wish 1. he had a mean face and 2. were more pragmatic (and maybe 3., kept the whole alien bit to himself)

Natan (#1,967)

Harold Ford paragraphs.

deepomega (#1,720)

Political activism is all masturbation. Live it learn it love it.

Protip: Nobody has ever changed their mind because of a protest rally.

Rw (#1,458)

Truth ringing in my ears, except the last point. Apparently according to some old white people it was necessary to see Black folks getting sprayed with hoses and beat down on the tee vee before enough non-colored people cared enough to see equal rights as more than a niche issue, or in English, to get their collective heads out of their respective asses.

How about "nobody has ever changed their mind because of a giant papier-mache' protest-puppet"? I'm pretty sure that's a truism.

deepomega (#1,720)

Should have added "since 1970". My bad!

Magister (#1,444)

You know, we sang the same song as Marine One took off after the Clinton Inaugural. The more things go, the more they remain the same.

Hamilton (#122)

I liked the HuffPo kicker!

HiredGoons (#603)

I'm just going to put it out there that I love electric Bob Dylan.

Matt (#26)

Street-Legal is perpetually underrated.

earlydinner (#1,816)

You know that's not what sex is, right?

shostakobitch (#1,692)

I'm 27 too. You should try never voting or talking about politics at all. That way you'll only get disillusioned with your sordid white-collar lifestyle instead of some fat millionaire straining his sclerotic arteries to seem relevant on C-SPAN 2.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"So much talking! So much feeling! And yet… nothing…"

missdelite (#625)

Idealism is for amateurs. Growing up = learning how to play the game.

wiilliiaamm (#225)

You got it right kid. I admire that you are challenging the narrative that demands fealty to morally corrupt political parties.

Your generation may very well see the end of the political system as we know it…that rotting stench you smell is coming from within.

Anarchy and demogoguery are not that far off in the distance. It is the inevitable course if history does indeed repeat itself.

Bittersweet (#765)

Funny, people have been predicting the end of the Republic since about the time it was founded. I'm hopeful that if we can weather a civil war, we can make it through the decline and fall of the current (incredibly corrupt) party system.

GetMetsmerized (#3,096)

I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the worst pieces of political writing I've read in a while. Glenn Greenwald already blew up this blame the "Left" nonsense today, so I'll just link to that:

Nothing changed because the system is rigged to serve the rich and powerful people and interests that own it. Perhaps if we had an actual Left in this country (and MoveOn doesn't count), things would be different.

deepomega (#1,720)

But doesn't the virulent (public!) backlash against the, say, healthcare plan, demonstrate that this is built on some really bizarre premises? E.g. either the demographics and political leanings of the whole country need to slide left, or politicians should just tell voters to fuck themselves? And then get voted out?

I think part of the problem here is that the democratic congress is giving off an air of "we know what is best, thank you very much." Yes, they're compromising/pragmatizing on a lot of health care issues, but there is no amount of public displeasure that would result in the health care bill not getting passed. And that's kind of bothersome to political minorities and independents!

paco (#2,190)

This piece was retarded. Where are you going, young E.A. Hanks, now that you've broken up with "the Left"?

"You're the pouting kid demanding more "'protest songs,' when they're all protest songs . . . ."

Who's the "pouting kid" here? Grow up.

bradluen (#1,384)

"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."

So you're going to contribute to society by going to places most white bougies flee from? Individual acts of gentrification as a means of change — not a masturbatory idea at all.

(i liked the article btw but it's too easy to make fun of)

lexalexander (#2,960)

Uh, dude, the person you're breakin' up with ain't the one who cheated. Just sayin'.

sitakali (#3,105)

Considering what you think "the Left" is, what is the Green Party? Communist? Your description of "the Left" comprises only moderate/centrist politics. Your complaints about the Democrats are valid, but I find the label you chose to be quite insulting to those who actually believe in progressive, leftist politics. In fact, the very idea of painting the Democratic Party as leftist is despicable, considering their puppy-like eagerness to be patted on the head by the most conservative douchebags in America.

But then, knowing you're an ex-HuffPoster, I suppose you think being a "true" liberal means believing every word that comes out of Deepak Chopra's mouth, and using crystal healing to cure scarlet fever.

Scum (#1,847)

Hanks, we've only just met, but it feels like i've hated you my whole life.

gaytheist (#929)

Last week I was begging my parents to stop bickering, now this.

Scott (#1,636)

Give the tagline of the Awl, I don't really understand the decision to run this. Because of the writer's last name?

Also, did she hire Dan Brown to ghostwrite?

I don't like Tom Hanks?!

ihasasad (#480)

I can see where she's coming from.
The Left needs to stop dicking around and get a move on already.

The Right started at square one a very long time ago and have control through religion, fear and the fluffy dream of becoming rich one day.

The Left showed signs of organization at the grassroots level in getting Obama elected. Then that action turned into a bunch of lip service. The Left got their panties in a wad when The Right started spewing the same old shit they've always spewed instead of moving on with their work. The Left allowed The Right to dictate The Left's actions.

What is The Left doing at the local level? Is The Left running for Mayor? City Council? County Commission? Is The Left attending meetings and asking questions and getting involved?

I live near a small town of less than 200 and spoke with the Mayor there. He said that he's tired of 'Atlanta Politics' and is getting on board with a woman out in MS who is gathering support for small communities like his so that they will have a voice in DC. She's building a lobby that will eventually make change.

If there are activities like this going on involving The Left, I'd like to hear about it. I don't want fn petitions or articles or emails that tell me that my 5 bucks will give us an edge.

Has The Left made progress in their home town? Give me a blue print on how you did it. What were the pitfalls? What worked really well? What was a waste of time?

And don't knock the woman for being in awe of her friend. Action like that takes guts and a firm belief in one's self and that is something to be proud of.

Natan (#1,967)

This isn't worse than most stuff on this blog. It's just that the author never talked to any of you in the comments at Gawker.

lawyergay (#220)

Hey EA Hanks: I hear ya. Loud and clear re: the frustration and, ultimately, the embarrassment of being associated with such ineffectiveness. Indignation that doesn't ultimately fuel some kind of constructive behavior, even if it's calling some shit-ass politician who sucks to get him or her not to vote for something despicable, is masturbatory.

But what about the good ones, like Russ Feingold or Bernie Sanders? There's a terrific progressive challenger to the wretched Jane "I'm the best Republican in the Democratic Party" Harman in (CA-36) named Marcy Winograd. Check her out:

I suppose I'm wondering if your beef is with the "Left" or the Democratic Party. I have totally broken up with the Democratic Party, and it was it, not I, who fucked up that relationship. I'm still hopeful about progressives.

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