Culture Wars/Current Controversies

2 decades of left turns

By Ryan Cooper, The Week

Leftists are stronger than they have been since the 1940s. But it might not last.

This article is part of The Week‘s 20th anniversary section, looking back at how the world has changed since our first issue was published in April 2001.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) took one of the bravest stands in the history of American politics when she was the only person in Congress to vote against the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force passed after 9/11. She argued that it gave the Bush administration dangerously sweeping authority to wage indefinite war basically anywhere they felt like. Despite the fact that it was a mere protest vote, Lee was deluged with death threats for months afterward. Not even Bernie Sanders, then a member of the House, joined her.

Today, Lee looks not only courageous but sensible and realistic. The war in Afghanistan has been lost — after 20 years of pointless slaughter and trillions of dollars wasted, the Taliban rule the country once more. Lee’s prediction about endless war turned out to be completely true as well. Today the U.S. is involved in multiple brushfire conflicts, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11, that use the 2001 AUMF as a legal fig leaf.

Back in 2001, Lee was one of a tiny handful of members of Congress that could be said to be on the left. Today, things are different. There is quite a large caucus of progressives within the Democratic Party with similar politics to hers, and even a handful of self-identified socialists to her left. Despite his previous record as a sellout centrist, President Biden has turned out to be the most left-wing president since Lyndon Johnson at least (though that isn’t saying much).

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