The anti-establishment Establishment

Carl Remick carlremick at
Tue Aug 15 18:35:22 PDT 2000

[From the current NY Press]

Right-Wing Sleight of Hand

By Andrey Slivka

Last week witnessed a pair of interesting political developments. First, Al Gore–that "lesser of two evils" whose ultimate "progressive" political virtue remains an article of liberal faith, and the man whom New York City liberals will by and large choose this November over the truly progressive Ralph Nader–named as his vice-presidential candidate an Orthodox Jew. Joseph Lieberman is a public moralist who, were the media more inclined toward candor, would be identified as the member of the religious right he is.

Meanwhile, Patrick Buchanan–a borderline Hitler apologist, etc.–chose as his runningmate a black woman from Los Angeles named Ezola Foster, a former teacher.

In a more reasonable world these facts would have some effect on our political discourse, and opinion makers–like even the most stubborn Ptolemaians confronted by Copernicus–would adjust their cosmologies accordingly. Seeing Buchanan embrace a black woman, commentators might allow that the Buchanan movement doesn’t merely express that rotten impulse that, every good New Yorker is aware, undergirds Middle America. It might also express the understandable, if crudely expressed, insecurity of that multiracial–not, evidently, just white–working class, whom liberals began to ignore a generation ago.

Conversely, watching Gore fetishize a religioso might prompt observers to allow that the Vice President isn’t quite the force for progressive virtue that The New York Times, with increasing desperation, labors to convince us he is. Meditation upon these facts might help well-heeled liberals–as always, a stumbling block on the road to a meaningful politics–shed the delusion that the political landscape can be defined by Democratic virtue on the one hand and Republican evil on the other.

What’s eternally amazing, though, is how liberals’ attitudes seem impervious to the energies of the real world. For those of us who support Ralph Nader, and who distrust Clintonite "liberals" as much as we do conservatives, this is frustrating. After eight years of the Clintonites’ presiding over a conservative retrenchment that no Republican could have gotten away with–complete with eroded civil liberties, an intensified Drug War, great military violence–it’s still somehow possible for Gore to maintain his credibility as an alternative to George W. Bush. He maintains it, unfortunately, to Nader’s occlusion.

Someday a student of ideology will write a book explaining how the Clintonites managed, in the face of all reason, to monopolize political virtue, despite the corruption, the violence, the authoritarianism, the sheer brutal conservatism of their reign. One thing is for sure, though. The book will in large measure address the self-image of Clinton’s defining upper-class constituent–that baby boom bourgeois bohemian whose folkways David Brooks defined in his recent book. For we’ve entered an era in which something unprecedented has come to pass: the cultural signifiers that define "leftism"–and evoke the political virtue that is still associated with the word "leftism"–are identical to the signifiers that define the upper class. True leftists–that is, those who would militate against establishments, whatever they may be–are faced with an Establishment that, craftily, refuses to declare itself as such. This isn’t a question of co-optation, but rather of the ascension to power of a certain generation and class so confident of its virtue that anything it does, whether executing retarded men, bombing foreign civilians, slashing welfare rolls, cheating in the stock market or committing perjury, is "progressive."

That’s a devastatingly effective bit of political prophylaxis–we now labor under the first "anti-Establishment" president in American history. And it’s why the left, if it wants to be effective, should stop worrying so much about the Patrick Buchanans of the world and instead start militating against the so-called "left."



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