A Leftist’s Lament

Lillian B. Rubin, writing in Dissent, laments the inability of the left to reach the “masses” (those recalcitrant Reagan Democrats):

I don’t take a backseat to anyone in my anger at the right, especially the radical religious right and its neocon partners. Their ideological inflexibility, the way they manipulate the facts to fit their preconceptions and sell their falsehoods to the American public, is both outrageous and frightening. But my concern here is to examine the political behavior of the millions of other Americans-those working-class and lower-middle-class women and men who are not driven by ideological rigor, who are not convinced that they speak the word of God, yet who listen appreciatively to the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, and Bill O’Reillys as they rail against us as “liberal elites” who have lost touch with the people, and who went to the polls in our recent presidential election and voted accordingly. Why do they subscribe to a politics that in [Thomas] Frank’s words, “strangles their own life chances?”

She then goes on manipulate facts and manufacture falsehoods:

Why, in the face of exploding deficits, a war that has become increasingly unpopular, a three-year-long recession, millions of jobs lost and not replaced, a public education system that’s a national disgrace, prescription drugs made by American manufacturers that cost half or less in neighboring Canada, and a health-care system that’s the most expensive in the world yet fails to provide the most elementary care for tens of millions of Americans, why-when we’re on the people’s side of all these issues-don’t they listen to us?

Perhaps, Lillian, it’s because “they” are not always fooled by leftist rhetoric:

  • The left hates deficits only because they’ve been fueled by tax cuts rather than spending on leftist programs.
  • The recession — hardly unique or deep by historic standards — began in Clinton’s administration, though he’s not to be blamed for that. Recessions happen.
  • Public education is a disgrace because it’s public education, but the left won’t let parents take their tax money and spend it at private schools.
  • The creation of new “miracle” drugs depends on the prospect of earning sufficient profits to fund the necessary research. Reimportation therefore undermines advances in healthcare.
  • There’s much more to healthcare than drug prices, and America’s healthcare system is the best. Even Americans without health insurance have access to that system through emergency rooms, State and municipal public-assistance programs, and the support of charitable organizations.

The left is uncomfortable with facts, because facts get in the way of the left’s agenda, which is to remake the world to its liking. Thus, instead of blaming the “masses” for siding with what she calls “the right,” Rubin blames “the right”:

There’s much to do in the coming years to build a set of institutions that can begin to compete with the highly organized, enormously well-funded network of newspapers, periodicals, think tanks, publishing houses, and television and radio stations the right already has in place. But no institutions will save us until we find the way to reframe the debate so that it’s on our terms, not theirs. That means opening up discussion among ourselves to debate and develop positions and strategies that, while honoring our own beliefs and values, enable us to build bridges across which we can speak to those who now see us as an alien other.

It’s not enough to speak in another voice, however. We must learn to listen as well, to develop a third ear so that we can hear beneath their rage to the anguish it’s covering up. Only then will we find our way into the hearts and minds of those Americans who have been seduced and exploited by the radical right into “strangling their own life chances.” Only then will we be able to stop asking, “Why don’t they listen to us?”

Because “they” often intuit the facts, which the left ignores studiously, and because “they” often see through the left’s smug, elitist condescension. That’s why.

Rubin’s lament gives me renewed hope for the future of America.