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Thursday, February 04, 2010


The false equivalence of left and right

Cenk Uygur, a popular columnist on Huffington Post and elsewhere, wrote a column the other day on "How Bipartisanship Hurts the Country." What really annoyed me was this:
The reality is so-called bipartisanship is the worst possible thing for the American people.

Why do I say that? Is it because I'm a radical who believes the best solutions are always found at the extremes of the political spectrum? Nothing could be further from the truth; I think generally speaking you find clowns and madmen at the end of a political spectrum (see Glenn Beck).
This kind of false equivalence of the left and right (or the extreme left and the extreme right) is hardly unique to Uygur; I've heard it from Jon Stewart many times, and others as well. It annoys me every time.

Call me biased, because as an "extreme leftist" I have a dog in the hunt, but the idea that there are "clowns and madmen" on the left is simply false. There is plenty to criticize about socialists - they're impractical, don't believe in compromise, they "worship dictators" (a frequent criticism), "socialism doesn't work because people are greedy," whatever. But you will search high and low to find writing on the left which is not coherent, fact-based, and grounded in reality.

Compare that to the Daily Kos-commissioned poll of "self-identified Republicans" published two days ago. Not the views of real nutjobs like Glenn Beck, but "average Republicans" (although I'm sure many will argue they are all "real nutjobs"). What did that poll show? 63% think Barack Obama is a socialist! 42% believe he wasn't born in the United States, with another 22% "not sure." 21% think "ACORN stole the 2008 election," with another 55% "not sure."

Compare that to the left. There is a small (but vocal) "9-11 truth" movement, parts of which hew to perfectly reasonable views like "the government knows more than its telling" while others are, in my view, hold more untenable positions and might justifiably be viewed as "clowns and madmen." However, there is no part of the "organized left" which holds such views - not any of the parties (PSL, WW, CP, SP, SLP, SWP, RCP, etc.) nor any of the organizations (ANSWER, World Can't Wait, Code Pink, UfPJ, etc.). And of course many "9-11 truthers" are right-wing as well. A small number of people on the left (e.g., Alexander Cockburn at CounterPunch) don't accept the reality of the human causes of global climate change, but I don't believe there are any who deny the very reality of climate change.

Past issues like this we come to questions like "Hugo Chavez - 'dictator' or leading Venezuela in the right direction to improve the lives of the people?" "Fidel Castro - vicious dictator or the greatest political leader of the 20th century?" "Single-payer health care - 'government takeover' of health-care and the end of freedom as we know it leading to death panels for Grandma, or the only possible way to get good health care for everyone at the lowest possible cost?" You can have different positions on issues like these, but taking the second position in each case hardly makes you a "clown or a madman."

The truth is plain to anyone who cares to be objective about it. Left-wing websites (this one, Lenin's Tomb, PSLWeb, just to name a few popular ones) are filled with serious articles analyzing the events of the day. Right-wing TV shows and websites are filled with paranoia and utter nonsense. People like Uygur and Stewart employ false equivalence between the two so they can stay safely in the "middle," free from criticism from the "establishment." Both are welcome to disagree with the need for socialism, or the views of the left in general. Neither are welcome to equate such views with the utter lunacy of the right. You cannot possibly come up with anyone on the left who remotely compares to the likes of Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, et al.

P.S. - Note to "9-11 truthers" - please don't use the comments to refight this fight. We know where you stand. Nothing you say is going to change my opinion of you and, it seems, vice-versa.

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