Monday, May 27, 2002

Does it strike you that the endless conservative condemnations of all things "liberal" that fill our airwaves and editorial pages have devolved into something amazingly like those silly magazine lists of "What's Hot" and "What's Not?"

Anything a pundit or braying talk radio host personally finds objectionable -- from ill-conceived lawsuits to questionable pre-adolescent fashion choices -- gets slapped with the "liberal" label and becomes gist for the "culture war."

A lot of what irritates them really is just commercial culture. You can lay it at the door of market capitalism perhaps, but an honest man would have a hard time making any connection to the policies of FDR.

A lot more of it, or course, is simple human foolishness; as likely to be indulged in by Republicans as Democrats. And, despite conservatives' fondest hopes, unlikely to be eradicated by fiddles with the school curriculum or changes in the tax code.

Liberalism, as a genuine force in our politics and expression of our culture, died a long time ago. And I mean that literally; with the assassinations of Kennedy, King, and Kennedy. Its gravestone can be found in Washington, where it memorializes the names of our Viet Nam dead.

There wasn't much that was "liberal" about the New Left. As the quick defection of so many of its former leaders to the ranks of today's "Neo-Cons" makes clear. Nor was there much about the New Left that had real influence in the broader culture. The hippies of the Sixties are now all in recovery, worrying over their 401Ks and/or filling the ranks of a 30-year old Evangelical revival. Rock and Roll had an impact, but it had nothing to do with politics. You can be a conservative, a defense hawk, and an investment banker, and still be a Grateful Dead fan.

To see everything about modern America and its current circumstances -- social, political and economic -- in terms of a simplistic conflict between the political Right and the political Left is, it seems to me, to not see it at all.

by esme


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