Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When The Left Aids Its Enemies Why Should It Expect To Win?

Note: This piece is an answer to some people who questioned some of the points in this post, one of the first I did. This response was written for Echidne of the Snakes and first posted there last Saturday. I hope it clarifies some of the earlier piece.

It isn't free speech that I deny for fascists and Nazis, I believe that everyone has that as a matter of their having been born, "are endowed by their creator...", this piece is about the response of leftists, particularly the free speech absolutists such as Nat Hentoff to it.

The left has no obligation to do anything that could politically benefit our enemies. Not one thing. Our resources are very limited. We are always making choices in what we have the time and money to do. I don't follow their activities as much as I used to but I know that the state chapter of the ACLU here only took on a small number of cases due to lack of resources.

Fascists, Nazis and the right in the United States all explicitly work to deny people rights as innate as their right to free speech, they have huge resources at their disposal. I say that their advocacy for the abridgement and destruction of other peoples' and groups' rights, with increasing support on the Supreme Court, places their rights outside the area of our concern.

The pose of absolutism, re Skokie, has a politically damaging effect on the left. The Phelps citation was made because the issue was coming up and I imagined the self-defeating words coming out of the mouths of our defenders of the first amendment in support of people who would take away every one of my rights, likely including that to life itself. If my rights and my life mean less to a free speech absolutist than the rights of fascists who would rob me of them, then what other stand am I to take? Why should members of any group targeted by fascists sit quietly while they are aided by leftists?

In doing this I am far more generous than either group, fascists or absolutists. I only call for the deferment of the Phelps’ ability to make their hateful demonstration until it won’t impinge on the rights of people who have no choice about burying their dead, their right to speak would reman intact. If the fascists got their way someone would lose all of their rights and there would be no ACLU to file so much as an amicus brief.

The rumored plans for the Phelps to come to my home state of Maine to assert what we all know they assert at that time also influenced the writing of this. Just the threat had the family of a dead serviceman, his entire community and my state in termoil. Then the Phelps announced that they wouldn't be coming afterall. They got massive attention for themselves , the goal of a demonstration, afterall, without even bothering to show up. The family and community got a kind of pain no decent person would not try to prevent.

I hope no one missed that the piece didn’t call for leftists to take anyones speech rights away nor for the government to do it. We, dear fellow leftists, are not a court of law, we are not a legislative or executive branch, we are not even an unpaid government consultant we are not under any obligation to be even handed in OUR activities. We aren't now. We pick and choose as a matter of the most basic necessity. Let’s choose more intelligently is all I’m asking.

If someone doesn’t like the tone, I kind of get worked up about people who advocate stripping me of my rights and killing me.

We are always making choices in what we have the time and money to do.

While I suspect I am more of a "free speech absolutist" than you (and is Nat Hentoff even a lefty as you kinda imply?), this is a very important point that some on the left need to realize. And it isn't just a matter of wise allocation of resources or even demonstrating to the electorate that we can allocate resources wisely or that we will stand up to bullies, whether at home or abroad.

Politically, we are judged by our priorities. There are many people who are de facto liberals but who vote GOP or at least stay home rather than voting Dem -- not because they disagree with us on any issues, but because they don't like our priorities. Unlike what concern trolls, et al, seem to think, it isn't that they disagree with our social liberalism but that they just don't trust social liberals as people who will focus on their concerns.

The concern trolls, the media whores, etc., act as if people vote by checklist in the same way people buy computers (whether even that would be a good idea is debatable -- if people voted "rationally" you'd get Microsoft Word style candidates with tons of "features" but no real functionality) and thus conclude that our lack of success with Joe and Jane Sixpack "moderates" means we need to move to the right, e.g., on social and cultural issues, while left wing reactionaries react and become absolutists on said issues and their priority.

But in reality, abandoning the good fight for social justice is the last thing we should do (in the words of the Rabbis, "there is no bread without Torah"). Yet, we do need to prioritize economic justice, not only because it is necessary to social justice ("there is no Torah without bread") and because when people are "full", so to speak, they are less likely to begrudge the rights of others (we all hope, at least) -- Archie Bunker wouldn't be longing to return to a racist past if "guys like [him still] had it made" -- but also because people judge us by our priorities and, quite wrongly IMHO given the tight connection between economic justice and social justice (e.g. and more on topic, a vigorous free speech and press is necessary to prevent famine, cf. Sen), don't trust those who prioritize social liberalism.

But try getting those (right and left for that matter) who want to purify our society to understand that sometimes it's necessary to make sure people are full before making sure they are moral ("there is no Torah without bread" or for that matter, cf. Deutero and Tritero Isaiah) ... it's almost as hard is getting concern trolls, DLC-leaning wonks, etc., to understand (who are e.g. paid to misunderstand) how and why people vote the way they do.
I've got to go to bed, can't see these little letters anymore. I can see your statement about Hentoff. I think he's what could be called the near left.

I like what Katha Pollit wrote about him quite a few years back but I'm nodding off too much to do it justice I'll have to try again tomorrow.

Thank you, alberich.
Thank you for commenting on my blog -- it was getting kinda lonely there.

I was starting to write a comment on Hentoff, but it got out of hand. I guess for now, we'll both defer to, well, if this were an Atrios post, it would be merely a link saying "What Katha Said" (perhaps with an explanation tacked on after enough people complained in the comments).
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