Why the Left Won't Stop the Wars

Penetrating critique of what the Left is really about by Anthony Gregory.
A straw poll from August 2009, half a year into Obama’s reign, said it all. Stanley Greenberg polled attendees to the Netroots Nation gathering of progressive bloggers, giving them a list of political issues and asking which two “progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most.” Byron York reported:

The winner was passing comprehensive health care reform, with 60 percent, and number two was passing “green energy policies that address environmental concerns,” with 22 percent. Tied for eighth place, named by just eight percent of respondents, was “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Then Greenberg asked which one of those issues “do you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently?” The winner was health care reform, with 23 percent, and second place was “working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections,” with 16 percent. In 11th place – at the very bottom of the list – was “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Just one percent of Netroots Nations attendees listed that as their most important personal priority.

In 2004 and 2005, progressives condemned Bush as a war criminal, called his invasion of Iraq an illegal war of aggression, and spoke openly of impeachment. They sounded like Bush’s war was their biggest political priority – more significant than domestic spending programs, regulation, abortion and other traditional hot buttons. By Obama’s first summer in office, only one out of a hundred progressive bloggers in this sample spent most of their time trying to stop America’s criminal wars.

This was a small cross section of the left, but it speaks to a general trend. Certainly under Democratic administrations, issues other than war become pressing. A charitable interpretation is that the left is fatigued from years of protest and the political dynamics discussed above push war to the background. A less charitable view is that they don’t actually hate war nearly as much as they pretended to, that they used it opportunistically as a partisan club against Republicans. An even more cynical guess is that they are every bit as self-centered and materialistic as they claim the rest of us are, and in exchange for health care subsidies and stimulus handouts, they are willing to look the other way as peasants are blown to bits in their name.

There are plenty of exceptions to this and hundreds, even thousands of left-liberal writers, lawyers, intellectuals, journalists and scholars who tend toward a much more radical, anti-partisan approach. A tiny minority of principled leftists oppose war vehemently and give it proper weight.

Every one of the specific reasons the left has softened on war, and fails to stand up to its president, relates to one general overriding factor: The left loves and trusts the state. The state is the protector of the poor and the environment. It tempers the predation of big business, keeps racism and sexism at bay, and educates children better than their parents could. It keeps guns out of the hands of criminals, keeps unsafe chemicals, tainted water and impure drugs at a distance, and, yes, it protects us from foreign threats to our liberty and upholds human rights abroad. If the state can do all this, why not push the world toward harmony and peace through the application of military force?

Does the left hate war? Many of them do not. Many of them do, but not sufficiently. There are other things they seem to hate more: Republicans, conservatives, the free market, the prospect of giving up their domestic priorities or living without the state’s protection. To turn against the state fundamentally is worse than to turn against a mother or father or maybe even a child. The state is the head of the leftists’ family, and so, when the partisan dynamics are right, the political points can be scored, and the liberal state will come away from it looking all the better for the cameras, the left sighs in confusion, shrugs its shoulders in resignation, or even cheers in ecstasy as its beloved institution destroys millions of human beings and enlists a whole generation in the worst of all barbarities.

Am I being too hard on the left? I’d love for them to prove me wrong. End the wars.

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