Brittany Klein and I both began on the left but spent the last 10 years identified with conservatives because of our stance on social issues. What happened during our “ten years on the right” is a complex story which we will tell one day. We compiled a book together, Jephthah’s Daughters, which laid out the case for a child’s right to a mother and father. That book came out in 2015 and got us labeled as right-wing fanatics. But for March 15, 2022, we busied ourselves with the task of diagnosing the left, the political camp where both of us began our political consciousness.
Two major defections from the left stand out as prompts for the discussion: Glenn Greenwald, whose Twitter and substack feeds attest to his conviction that the political left has lost itself in crass authoritarianism; and Bill Maher, whose famous takedowns of conservatives have not died but have come to coexist in his HBO soliloquies with increasingly bitter lamentations about the left’s growing extremism. There are many, however, who seem to be J-K-Rowling their way, if not to the right, at least away from the safe compounds of leftist orthodoxy.
Perhaps these are isolated anecdotes. But perhaps they are not. If we are witnessing a deeper trend, it will signify a massive, perhaps twice or thrice in a lifetime, political realignment.
When Brittany and I talk about our youths on the left, we can’t help but feel nostalgic. There was something valuable about belonging to the political camp that championed free speech, opposed repressive puritanism, checked the power of corporations, and critiqued the sins of the military-industrial complex. We can even appreciate that once upon a time the left bore the classy honor of championing racial minorities and sexual misfits who were mistreated or devalued by mainstream society.
The war in Ukraine has perhaps brought into clearer focus what we already witnessed about the left’s degeneration. Or maybe it’s just that now many people are realizing that something has gone terribly wrong with the left. Certainly the vibrancy of the antiwar movement in 2002 makes for a stark and sobering contrast against the left’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I will never forget the adrenaline of twenty years ago, when Colin Powell was appearing before the United Nations making the case for the United States to invade Iraq. Two girls named Rebecca, both white liberal undergrads, crossed my path at SUNY Buffalo back then. They were idealistic and convicted that they might be able to change something for the better. The three of us got together and planned a Books Not Bombs conference on the university campus. We had modules in different classrooms and held a rally in the main plaza by Capen Hall.
My wife and I worked with a host of other people to raise money for buses to New York City and Washington to march against the war, on February 15 and March 15 of 2003. The energy in our camp was utopian. We marched through shoulder-to-shoulder clouds to shout for peace, never imagining a time when all the comrades around us would, twenty years later, be calling for anyone who doubted the Biden administration’s position on Ukraine to be investigated, placed on trial for treason, and arrested.
But here we are.
Historians may argue the point but I believe quite strongly that the antiwar movement made Barack Obama’s presidency possible. Ergo, it was the reaction to the invasion of Iraq that carved out the political left we know today. No other issue felt as compelling and invigorating during the 2000s as resistance to a war that we knew was pure human tragedy. While there was no Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok or Instagram then, we had many mainstream liberal sites that provided consistent news to undercut the warmongering on mainstream media channels like CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.
There was Democracy Now! We had Mother Jones, Salon, Atlantic Monthly, as well as countless primordial but still readable blogs in those early days. I was editor in chief of the graduate students’ newspaper and ran countless editorials critiquing the Bush administration’s rush to war. As the war dragged on and Americans saw the horrors of Abu Ghraib, then slowly realized that there were no WMDs, everyone who withstood peer pressure to oppose the war in 2002 became a hero by 2006. In this turbulent time were born the big careers of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Cenk Uygur, and countless other commentators. Most importantly, Moveon.org, a website that I knew foremost as an organizing hub for people to oppose the wars in the Middle East, transitioned at some point to a Democratic Party operation headquarters. Barack Obama gained the upper hand against Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the 2008 Democratic primaries largely because of the Moveon constituency. That base threw their weight to Obama for one standout reason. Obama claimed to have given a speech opposing the war in Iraq. Clinton and Biden, both senators in 2002, voted to authorize the invasion.
The importance of the antiwar movement to the formation of today’s world cannot be over-emphasized. I stepped away from the left with the rise of Barack Obama because I did not like his choice of Biden as a running mate. It appeared likely that Obama was going to favor the identity politics of the Democratic Party for cynical reasons, at the expense of the Party’s base of antiwar and pro-worker policies. My gut instincts at the time were vindicated quickly as Obama did everything possible to advance abortion, the LGBT lobby, and superficial racial pep talks, while feeding the war machine with his escalation in Afghanistan and NATO’s war in North Africa, combined with Obama’s unseemly alliance with corporate America on Obamacare and in the rotten stimulus of 2009.
By the time of Romney’s race against Obama, I was already a committed Republican and writing for American Thinker. There was nothing wrong with being part of the GOP because the Ron Paul wing had taken antiwar activism away from the left. Obama’s selling out to corporations showed me that the Democrats were no longer the antiwar party and were never going to be the worker’s party again, so the only real distinction between Democrats and Republicans rested on the social issues: faith, religious liberty, sexuality, gender, and abortion. Those issues mattered to me more and more because I was now a middle-aged father trying to bring my wife and children to the Lord, and I felt God calling me to bear witness for His laws on personal conduct in the public square. That’s why I ended up Republican and labeled “conservative” by 2012. In reality nothing had changed about my beliefs except their position relative to the unraveling left.
While Bill Maher has a point that the left has gotten extreme and crazy – it really has – the story of the left’s evolution is, of course, much more complicated. Today’s Democrats came to power based on the specific stances of the antiwar movement of 2002. We were against the USA Patriot Act, against the encroachment on civil liberties, against questioning people’s patriotism based on differences, against ethnic demonization, against warmongering, against crippling other countries’ citizens through sanctions, against economic imperialism, against war profiteering, against corporate collusion, and against, of course, using our military might to escalate wars overseas.
If not for these specific positions of the antiwar left of the early 2000s, the Democrats would have never gained the traction necessary to win back Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Nothing of the Obama era, including the unlikely ascendancy of Joe Biden, would have ever happened.
And now, firmly seated in power, the left has completely betrayed every single one of those positions. So-called “liberals” are demanding that the government monitor citizens and work with tech companies to de-platform and bar them from the public square. Now some liberals are even calling for dissidents like Tulsi Gabbard, a fellow Democrat, to be investigated, dispossessed, and possibly arrested, for being a “Russian asset.”
Now the left is throwing around the ugly terms “treason,” “traitor,” and “un-American,” as if liberal Hollywood has not billed fifties McCarthyism (a walk in the park compared to today’s cancel culture) as a world-historical trauma en par with the Inquisition or sack of Carthage.
The left’s lockstep demonization of Russia has reached new heights. I had an early taste of the anti-Russian fervor of the Obama era left in 2014, when the Human Rights Campaign sent a press release to over a million members highlighting my name and insinuating that I was involved with anti-homosexual hate groups in Russia. This was right about when Russia passed a law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors, something that in retrospect should not have seemed so terrible given that Western liberals were pushing to criminalize the promotion of heterosexuality to minors via “conversion therapy.” It was frightening back then to be labeled as a pro-Russian “exporter of hate,” especially because the anti-Russian rhetoric kept escalating into the 2020s.
Now, of course, we have seen the insanity of Netflix pulling back on a production of Anna Karenina because Tolstoy was Russian and it just isn’t acceptable to endorse any Russian living or dead in light of the invasion of the Ukraine. Liberals who have long lectured us about the evils of interning Japanese Americans are calling for Russian students to be blocked from universities, Russian artists to be canceled from venues, Russian athletes to be banned from athletics, Russian property be seized, and Russian citizens be unilaterally cut off from credit card services, goods, and services.
Twenty years ago, I stood with the left in fighting against any demonization of Arabs, Muslims, or Middle Eastern peoples while the United States was invading Iraq. I am at a loss to explain how we got from that place two decades ago to the Russian-bashing left-wing bullying of today.
And what happened to the left’s opposition to warmongering? Amid the whirlwind of heated anti-Russian rhetoric, liberals throw out ideas of no-fly zones, provision of weapons and backup to anti-Russian combatants, and the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO. NATO led an intervention in Libya in 2011 that killed civilians and wrought serious devastation. Since Obama was president at the time, the American left never felt the need to pursue accountability for that. It is perfectly reasonable given this history that Russia would not want a military league with that record butting against her borders, armed and funded by a nation whose leaders have demonized Russia for the last eight years over the LGBT issue. Yet the left knowingly pushes for these escalations, despite the global risks. They have become the party of warmongering that they built themselves by opposing.
Finally, the left has linked itself to corporate corruption and yellow journalism that I could have never anticipated. Everyone who followed the 2020 impeachment knows that Joe Biden’s family had financial conflicts of interest with the energy industry in Ukraine. The entire impeachment hinged on Trump pushing Ukrainian officials to investigate that. In 2002, every link between the Bush/Cheney cabal and energy industries in Iraq and Afghanistan was exhaustively catalogued and mapped out, to ten degrees of separation if necessary, by the left. Yet today, the left remains deafeningly silent on the obvious corporate corruption that plagues the Ukrainian situation.
And then, worst of all, the secrets and lies. The left hated war propaganda back in the day. Now, the left tries to erase our memory of Biden voting for the invasion of Iraq, something that would critically undermine his moral high ground against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Much of the left has agreed to cover up neo-Nazi nationalist powers in Ukraine had to discourage anyone from taking Putin’s “de-nazification” rationales seriously. And of course most recently, the denials about biodefense laboratories continue even as evidence mounts that these biolab claims were not fringe conspiracy theories but grounded inferences from documented facts on the ground.
Worst of all, the left has become the imperialist party in the West. No longer seeking to check the abuse of Western power over other parts of the world, the left has relished the global hegemony that the Obama era gave it. So now, the rest of the world must be de-gendered, financially controlled, and disciplined by the United States government and allies that accept total submission to American power.
I suggest you listen to the whole podcast between Brittany and me. We reach the conclusion that the left has indeed already ceased to exist as it once did. It exists now as a narcissistic mockery of itself. But that doesn’t make the left any less dangerous or powerful.
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