Left Imagination

February 12, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

At a fairly fast clip, the American Left is splitting into pieces, in no small part due to a failure of imagination.

Two splits are happening at once.  First, to whatever degree African-Americans were integrated into the Left community, they have gone.  With the election of Obama, the Democratic Party has moved left in its willingness to empower minorities of color.  Having deeply satisfied a large constituency, that constituency is not at this time willing to push Obama on social justice issues, trusting that he will not disappoint.  There was always a disconnect between social justice and foreign policy in the Black community.  African-Americans for the most part did not heavily protest the Iraq War.  The disconnect has grown wider as they see evidence that they’re being heard.

A second split has increased the chasm between the hard Left and the center Left.  There has always been the disagreement between strategy, tactics and perspective.  The disagreement is growing wider.  The far Left focuses more on U.S. behavior overseas, where differences between the parties have been relatively small.  The center Left places more attention on domestic issues, where Democrats show growing differences from Republicans, with increasing large differences such as positions on abortion and minority empowerment.  The center Left at this time is behaving as if placing pressure on Obama is tantamount to betrayal.  They don’t want Left expressions of encouragement to behave in specific ways to be interpreted as disappointment or dismay.

The hard Left is feeling isolated.  This is not unusual.  Former allies are pulling away, leaving an abandoned hard core focusing on the many ways that Obama will disappoint.

The hard Left is lacking imagination.  The hard Left is horrible at having hope.

For decades, the Right has shown the world how to step into or create a societal situation that demands a complete bottom-up re-evaluation and reconstruction and then do those things that feel right.  This is Naomi Klein’s description of the shock doctrine.  The contemporary Left has never shown that kind of imagination.  The Right profited from nonaccountability, little regulation and no transparency while accomplishing its goals.  The Left now has an opportunity to sow horizontal communication, transparency and diversity in ways only experienced on the web.

Which is where the hard Left will find its allies.

Obama gained the presidency for several reasons, not the least of which was an intuition for how to use the Internet, email, cell phones and social networking to motivate people to walk the streets, contribute money and have conversations.  Obama out-lefted the Left, using democratizing tools that empower those at the bottom of society’s hierarchy of haves and have-nots.  It is these people, the new-tech-using young that are natural allies of the Left.

The second group of allies is the former middle class.  Obama ran talking to the middle class.  His second term he’ll be speaking to the unemployed and underemployed.  These will be people with time on their hands.  The new technologies are most empowering to those that will take the time to work the networks.  Soon, there will be a large class of people with time.  Through their cell phones and computers, those people will be organizing.

The third group will be globalists.  These are people whose perspectives will have evolved to view national boundaries as anachronisms.  Americans will be seeking international solutions to a variety of problems, including financial regulations, environmental regulation enforcement and military spending.  These folks are natural allies to the Left.

The young, the downwardly mobile and the global will be allying to join the old Left to change the world.  There is a question whether the old Left has the imagination to recognize allies if they’re not carrying signs in the streets.  It’s difficult to say.  If the hard Left weren’t feeling isolated, it might not be able to recognize itself.


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