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Tough on Lefties

By Frank Gruber

Last week, after I made fun of the Santa Monica City Council's foray into foreign policy, my wife accused me of being tougher on lefties than on conservatives.

Maybe she's right. I am critical of people who call themselves progressive, but whose actions don't 100 percent fit my view of what progressive politics is or should be.

Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm wrong. But in any case, why should I be hard on people who think they are doing good for the world, just because, for instance, they trivialize important issues -- as they did last week with war and peace?

The reason is that I'm tired of losing elections.

I'm 50 years old. Until I was sixteen and watching the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on TV I assumed that Democrats would always control Congress and that a Democrat would always be President.

But then the Democratic Party self-destructed. Over a real issue, I'll admit, Vietnam, and after five years of assassinations and national turmoil, but since then Democrats have had a difficult time relating to the American electorate.

In 2004, when I turn 52, of the 36 years since 1968, the Democrats will have occupied the White House only twelve.

It's still inconceivable to me that Republicans control even one House of Congress -- but now their control of both has become the norm.

Come on, guys, let's get this show on the road -- I may only have 25 or 30 good years left.

Spare me the whining about the 2000 election. Sure Gore won it, but it should never have come down to 500 votes in Florida. The real disaster was that in 1994, in the midst of peace and prosperity, our idiot savant Democratic President -- still revered in many quarters -- managed to lose control of Congress before the new Democratic era had barely begun.

Over the issue of health care! Our issue!

I'm still shaking my head.

By the way, after two years of Bush the younger, are we in agreement that there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans? Hello, are we? Already I can see the "true left" sitting out the 2004 election because John Kerry won't pour red paint on the capitol steps and chant, "No Blood for Oil."

What is most galling about the electoral fiasco is that culturally America has moved so far in the direction the left wanted it to go. Five decades after the Blacklist, America -- the people, not just the laws -- are more tolerant, have fewer sexual hang-ups, have more respect for and give more protection to free speech and civil liberties than Lenny Bruce could have dreamed of.

I know, I know, it's all at risk because of Bush and his judicial appointments, but we also know that the crabbed and intolerant thinking of Bush's nominees -- not to mention that of his Attorney General -- is out of sync with the culture at large.

Get this: in San Diego -- San Diego! -- they just elected a Jewish lesbian District Attorney!

Even as the right builds its political fortress in Washington, they are doomed to fight a losing rear-guard action against the expansion of personal freedoms throughout the culture.

But how come, when the culture has gone our way, we leftists can't elect a government?

A couple weeks ago a friend forwarded me a speech the playwright Tony Kushner gave at an anti-war rally. Much of the speech consisted of calling George W. Bush names and equating the possible war in Iraq with the aggressions of Hitler and Mussolini.

Here's a sample quote:

"Most people, when they hear 'This Fratboy Plutocrat Blood-Grizzled schmuck of an inarticulate Rancher from Crawford Texas' say WAR WAR WAR, have a better idea, an answer, and now, all over the world, people are making sure that Bush, even Bush, hears their idea. And their idea, OUR idea, our answer to his WAR WAR WAR is PEACE PEACE PEACE."

I was appalled -- as I am with much of the anti-war rhetoric I hear. (And if I had a dollar for every useless "how stupid is Bush" joke I get by email I'd be rich enough to appreciate Bush's good points.)

What's the purpose of this kind of rhetoric?

Polls show that about two-thirds of Americans agree with Bush that it would be okay to invade Iraq, and that about 55 percent of Americans think he is doing a good job.

But they also show that a good 60 percent of Americans -- presumably including the one-third who don't think war is a good idea in any case -- don't think we should invade Iraq without United Nations approval.

What does this mean? It means that American opinion is not monolithic and Americans are open to argument.

If one's purpose truly is to stop the war, presumably by persuading the American people that war is not a good idea, does it makes sense, given that Americans tend to like Bush, or certainly, in these post 9/11 days, that they desire their president to succeed, to make insulting the President -- and for that matter, attacking the whole of America's role in the world -- your primary rhetorical gambit?

What's the purpose -- to score points for wit among left-wing friends, or to persuade the rest of the country that you have a better idea?

When Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown floats an anti-war resolution before City Council designed to make him look like a good "progressive," and doesn't even know what his resolution means, then if he is a representative of the left, why should anyone take the left seriously?

Especially when, after 9/11, Americans have a legitimate worry about security.

These days, the left must not forget, as it sometimes did during the later years of the Cold War, that there are bad people out there. Yes, it was both stupid and wrong for the U.S. to support right-wing regimes and subvert populist and leftist and democratic nationalist regimes in the fight against Communism, but if you don't believe it was good that the wall came down, then what planet are you on?

It's not enough only to criticize the U.S. for the excesses of its policies -- the left has to articulate alternative policies that will deal with the bad guys so that Americans believe that the left cares about the security of Americans. Those alternatives exist, but "PEACE PEACE PEACE" is not enough.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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