Whatever happened to the American left?

Michael Kazin in the New York Times:

The Tea Party is thus just the latest version of a movement that has been evolving for over half a century, longer than any comparable effort on the liberal or radical left. Conservatives have rarely celebrated a landslide win on the scale of Proposition 13, but their argument about the evils of big government has, by and large, carried the day. President Obama’s inability to solve the nation’s economic woes has only reinforced the right’s ideological advantage.

If activists on the left want to alter this reality, they will have to figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice for the age of the Internet and relentless geographic mobility. During the last election, many hoped that the organizing around Barack Obama’s presidential campaign would do just that. Yet, since taking office, Mr. Obama has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction.

Instead, the left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions — unions, women’s groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press — in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.

Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.

A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.

4 thoughts on “Whatever happened to the American left?

  1. The only reason that the Left had any success in the 60’s was because it was radicalized. Is today’s Left radical? Not violent, radical. Not so much. Much of it is fat and comfortably numb these days. Damn Hippies.

  2. …as always, and as in the sixties, the left has been co-opted—-or soon will be. If Barry wins a second term—-which is the likely scenario—–whatever radicalization that may have come about will be appeased and co-opted through his lame duck administration. The left will be sitting ducks for a far right kill in ’16. Mark it down……,.

  3. What will stop Obama from taking out the leftists? If he’s reelected he has no voters to answer to and he sure doesn’t have many Dem Party principles he’s shown any loyalty to. He’s been pretty ham handed in reacting to Lt. Choi.

    And there’s that assassination of American citizens on his say-so executive power he’s taken unto himself. He’s pretty enthusiastic about that….

    And all those early morning searches of “dangerous” lefties in Chicago (yes, Barry’s now home town) and Minneapolis, the grand juries, etc.

    Organized group actions are beginning; this will not please Obama. Dear FSM, it’s what, now 33% unemployment for new entrants into the job market? That is a stunning number. As more and more and more young people see no jobs, no way to independence, no future, watch out, Corporatists and Powers That Be.

  4. This isn’t intended to be sarcastic at all but just a request for Susie or others to answer – what does he mean by organization? organization by whom? to do what? how? I’ve just never been associated with anything like that so I just wonder how it works, if anyone can point me in the right direction.

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