I recall one of my very first posts here at Obsidian Wings. It was shortly after the Abu Ghraib story broke, and I said something like: "The Republicans have brought shame on this country." And Moe (I miss Moe!) got very angry; if I recall correctly, his response began: I am a Republican... Now, I thought then that my post pretty clearly referred to the leadership of the Republican Party, especially since Moe and other rank-and-file Republicans were obviously not responsible for Abu Ghraib, and I didn't exactly see the point of objecting to it. Nonetheless, it was his site, so I apologized and all was well.
Sometime around the time I was asked to join the site, I decided that I had been wrong, and that Moe's rule (no generalizations about 'the right', 'the left', etc.) was a very good one. It avoided all sorts of pointless arguments, for one thing. It also seemed to me that making such generalizations was a form of intellectual laziness: when I was tempted to make them, I was not going to the trouble of actually figuring out who I was talking about, and it was therefore much easier for me to imagine stereotypical versions of my opponents than it would be if I had to actually say: I am talking about Sebastian or Von or Moe. I had always tried to avoid those stereotypes, but Moe's rule forced me to.
This is all a preamble to the following question: when people talk about "the Left", who, exactly, do they have in mind? I have no idea. And I suspect that the idea that there is something called 'the Left' which is large enough to be worth talking about is often simply a figment of the various writers' imaginations, and that they can only believe this 'Left' to be a real, significant group because they do not force themselves to identify who they are talking about more precisely. If they were precise, they would (I think) have to conclude either that 'the Left' is a tiny group of people, or that much of what they say about it is not true. But because they are not, they can say all sorts of things about it without ever running the risk of being proved wrong.
Exhibit A: Instapundit's long post on the left from a few days ago. Here we learn that Ward Churchill is the 'very image' of the left. I find this odd, since I am on the left, and I have never heard of him. He sounds like a jerk. I'd bet that if I felt like it, I could probably Google around and find some obscure conservative academic who was just as vile. But so what? Why would that show anything except that the world contains idiots on both sides?
The answer, of course, is that Ward churchill isn't just any old leftist; he's the Left's very image, the embodiment of everything about it. How do we know this? Well:
"When Ted Kennedy can make an absurd and borderline-traitorous speech on the war, when Michael Moore shares a VIP box with the last Democratic President but one, when Barbara Boxer endorses a Democratic consultant/blogger whose view of American casualties in Iraq is "screw 'em," well, this is the authentic face of the Left. Or what remains of it.
There was a time when the Left opposed fascism and supported democracy, when it wasn't a seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy. That day is long past, and the moral and intellectual decay of the Left is far gone."
For the record, I read Kennedy's speech when Charles posted on it, and while I didn't think it was the best speech ever and I thought its timing was lousy, I cannot imagine what in it could possibly justify the term 'borderline-traitorous'. (If anyone can show me which part of it could conceivably justify a law professor making this extremely serious charge, please let me know.) I have never really understood why it matters who Michael Moore shared a box with. Barbara Boxer did not 'endorse' kos, and kos, for his part, did not say what he said about American casualties in Iraq, but about mercenaries. Moreover, he explained why he said what he did, and while I thought he was wrong, I understood it a lot better after his explanation. (For those who missed it, his explanation involved having grown up in a country where mercenaries were fighting a dirty war. So the fact that it was not about US casualties generally, but about mercenaries in particular, matters if you want to understand that episode.) Which is all to say: I find two of Instapundit's "factual" reasons seriously misleading, and the third (Moore's seating) laughable as some sort of barometer of the state of the left.
But that paragraph is a lot better than the next one. Who, exactly, is "a seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy"? Would that be, oh, me and Edward? Katherine maybe? I will leave myself out of the picture for now, and just say that when Instapundit reaches Edward's and Katherine's level of moral and intellectual decay, he will be a very lucky man.
This, of course, is the point at which someone will say: oh, but Instapundit didn't mean Edward and Katherine. Of course Edward and Katherine are perfectly reasonable and decent people. He meant Michael Moore and Ward Churchill and other
influential political figures people. -- This is why I think it's really important to explain who, exactly, you're talking about. When I use the term 'the left', which I usually try not to, I tend to mean, roughly, people who are clearly Democrats. Likewise, I use 'the right' to refer to people who are clearly Republicans, and 'the center' to refer to people who are not firmly in either party. (Unless, of course, they are clearly in some party to the left of the Democrats or to the right of the Republicans.) As I use the term, 'the left' is a large group of people. If this 'left', or most of it, were ""a seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy", that would be really important. But Instapundit must, I think, have something a lot narrower in mind. What is it? It's awfully hard to say.
And that fact makes it impossible to challenge Instapundit's claims. If I were to offer any counterexamples at all and say: look, here's X, who is clearly on the left but not a seething mass of whatnot, he could just say: oh, they aren't really on the left. Or: they are atypical in some way. Why? Because since he never bothered to give any content to 'the Left' in the first place, he can define and redefine it at will, and can therefore make any claim he wants to come out true, since there is always someone who does whatever idiotic thing he wants to say that 'the Left' does, and if need be he can shrink his definition of 'the Left' to that one person. (This, I think, is why he's so confident that he knows what 'the face of the Left' looks like: the left, as he uses that term, is a creature of his imagination, so of course it looks however he says it does, just as what Robert Ludlum tells us about his characters is always true.)
"Since the 1960s, with few exceptions, on the greatest questions of good and evil, the Left has either been neutral toward or actively supported evil. The Left could not identify communism as evil; has been neutral toward or actually supported the anti-democratic pro-terrorist Palestinians against the liberal democracy called Israel; and has found it impossible to support the war for democracy and against an Arab/Muslim enemy in Iraq as evil as any fascist the Left ever claimed to hate.
There were intellectually and morally honest arguments against going to war in Iraq. But once the war began, a moral person could not oppose it. No moral person could hope for, let alone act on behalf of, a victory for the Arab/Islamic fascists. Just ask yourself but two questions: If America wins, will there be an increase or decrease in goodness in Iraq and in the world? And then ask what would happen if the Al Qaeda/Zarqawi/Baathists win.
It brings me no pleasure to describe opponents of the Iraqi war as "worth nothing." I know otherwise fine, decent people who oppose the war. So I sincerely apologize for the insult.
But to the Left in general, as opposed to individually good people who side with the Left, I have no apologies. It is the Left -- in America, in Europe and around the world -- that should do all the apologizing: to the men, women and children of Iraq and elsewhere for not coming to their support against those who would crush them.
That most Democratic Party leaders, union leaders, gay leaders, feminists, professors, editorial writers and news reporters have called for an American withdrawal and labeled this most moral of wars "immoral" is a permanent stain on their reputations. (...)
Leftists do so for the same reason they admired Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung and condemned American arms as the greatest threat to world peace during and after the Cold War. The Left "does not know the difference between good and evil." And that is why it is worth nothing."
First, a note to my conservative readers: if you are ever inclined to think that "since the 1960s, with few exceptions, on the greatest questions of good and evil, the Left has either been neutral toward or actively supported evil", it's worth taking a minute to think about how bizarre that seems to those of us on the left who actually lived through the period in question. During the 1980s, for instance, a lot of people on the left were very upset about the fact that our country was supporting death squads in Central America. For many of us, this had nothing to do with supporting communism; it had to do with opposing death squads. During the 1990s, many of us supported intervention in Rwanda and Kosovo. In both cases we were ridiculed by people on the right for thinking that the US should be the world's policeman (actually, most of the people I knew didn't want us to be anything of the kind); for getting all bent out of shape about Guatemalan peasants and baby seals; and so on and so forth. Having spent those decades being caricatured as excessively concerned with the world's distant and impoverished millions (billions?), it is very strange to learn that in reality, the problem with me at that time was that I was insufficiently concerned with evil.
As to the substance of Prager's article: I won't go through his claims in detail. (I would like to see evidence for the claim that "most Democratic Party leaders, union leaders, gay leaders, feminists, professors, editorial writers and news reporters have called for an American withdrawal", the closest thing to a verifiable claim that he makes.) But note that according to Prager, 'the Left' not only hopes that America loses the war in Iraq but has actually tried to bring this about; has called for an American withdrawal; admires Mao; and does not know the difference between good and evil; and ask yourself how many people these claims are actually true of. As far as I'm concerned, 'the Left' he is talking about is either incredibly small, in which case he should have used a more restrictive term (like 'the lunatic fringe of the left'), or a figment of his imagination.
Near the beginning of his article, Prager says that "since I was an adolescent, I have been preoccupied with evil: specifically, why people engage in it and why other people refuse to acknowledge its existence." Oddly enough, I share this preoccupation, which explains my choice of career. One of the conclusions I have come to is that it is wrong to make serious accusations against other people without clear evidence. Possibly Prager doesn't think that the things he says about 'the Left' constitute serious accusations. They are certainly very serious to me, as serious as Instapundit's charge of borderline treason against Ted Kennedy. Possibly he thinks these are serious charges, but that it's perfectly acceptable to make serious charges against other people without any evidence at all. In either case I would question his moral seriousness, and thus his authority to write on his chosen topic.
What seems to me more likely, however, is that, like Instapundit, he is writing about a 'Left' that exists in his imagination, and that he can characterize any way he wants. In that case he wouldn't need evidence: since he's talking about something he has made up, a character in his psychodrama, he can say anything about it he wants and always be right. The trouble is, of course, that some people might take him to be referring to actual people. And that would be a serious mistake.
I have picked on Instapundit and Prager because they were the pieces that set me off. But I wouldn't have bothered if this sort of thing were restricted to them. It's not: large chunks of the Limbaugh oeuvre, for instance, are devoted to this very theme. (In passing: the mere existence of Rush Limbaugh, not to mention Michael Savage et al, makes Instapundit's claim that "the right has done a better job of muzzling and marginalizing its idiots" very funny.) And it's wrong.