Column: The true face of ‘radical’ politics

  • Steve Nelson

For the Valley News
Published: 5/15/2022 6:07:00 AM
Modified: 5/15/2022 6:05:12 AM

A recent Diane Ravitch blog post about the draft Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a ruling nearly certain to overturn Roe v. Wade, generated a rousing debate. At issue was whether Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch committed perjury during their confirmation hearings.

A fair review of the testimony reveals that they did not. All three were somewhat evasive, declining to say they would vote to overturn but also declining to characterize Roe as “super precedent.” To the contrary, any casual court observer knew that they were picked, in large part, because they were nearly certain to vote to overturn Roe when the opportunity arose.

A more interesting sidebar to this debate came from several conservative readers who offered the familiar litany of accusations about the “radical” left wing. This stalking horse is a near constant in today’s partisan landscape, including in many letters to the Valley News Forum.

Rebutting these accusations may not inspire scintillating prose, but rebut I must.

Far too many Democrats, office holders, candidates and pundits fall for the “deeply divided nation” narrative. A common characterization is that the “right” has moved further right and the “left” has shifted further left, thus leaving an irreconcilable chasm in the middle. This false equivalence pervades political rhetoric and is utter nonsense. There is indeed a deep chasm, but it is solely the province of a thoroughly corrupt Republican Party and the immoral media celebrities who traffic in distortions and sensationalism.

The excesses on the political right are self-evident. Republicans continue to bow before the twice-impeached Donald Trump out of cynical self-interest, despite the fact that he is arguably guilty of tax fraud, election fraud, sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice and a record of lying that is a national embarrassment. Voting rights are being weakened through restrictions and gerrymandering, seeking to sustain minority rule. Climate change denial threatens life on Earth. Republicans claim that “caravans” of dangerous immigrants are overwhelming our borders. I could go on.

But what is the “radical” leftist equivalent? There is none. The things offered as emblematic of “leftist” are manufactured out of thin air or extrapolated from political rhetoric that has no basis in policy or proposal.

Here are a few things described as “radical” by conservatives:

■The Paris Climate Accord: Joined by 192 parties plus the European Union.

■Objections to a ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim nations.

■Support for children of immigrants.

■Accurate portrayals of racism in American history.

■Opening the military to transgender men and women.

■Universal health care.

■Subsidized child care.

■Family leave.

■Alternative energy.

■Universal preschool.

There are legitimate political and ideological differences to be honestly debated around these issues, but to mischaracterize any of these things as “radical” is intentionally inflammatory.

Often “radical”is interchanged with “socialist,” a term intended to ring emotional alarm bells.

The National Geographic Society defines socialism as “a political and economic system in which property and the means of production are owned in common, typically controlled by the state or government. Socialism is based on the idea that common or public ownership of resources and means of production leads to a more equal society.”

The United States has no such system nor has anyone, including Bernie Sanders or other progressives, ever proposed such a system.

There are fringe groups, historically and currently, that may merit the characterization: extreme activists like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front; anti-fascists (i.e. antifa); anarchists; the Weather Underground; and the Black Panthers.

But these groups, however one feels about their ideology or methodology, have or had no political power or representation. The Black Panthers, for example, had 2,000 members at its peak in 1968.

There are also social phenomena that the political right likes to characterize as “radical,” like so-called cancel culture and critical race theory. But these things, however one views them, are not advanced by legislators or the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party, by contrast, has become the far right. Members of Congress aided and abetted an attempted insurrection, and they are continuing to falsely claim voter fraud. Several members carry weapons into the Capitol while the former president suggested shooting protestors. And Republicans around the nation are banning books and subverting democracy by empowering arbitrary reversal of election results.

There is no substantial “radical” leftist movement in the United States. Republicans advance this false idea in order to justify their own repressive campaign to roll back a century of social progress.

We are indeed a nation divided, but it is only one side that wields the cleaver.

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