The Right, the Left and the Ugly: Fear and Loathing in White America
This essay, by Black Agenda Report writer, Glen Ford, addresses a discussion that has been taking place among participants in the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations (N.A.). Socialist Viewpoint editors, who are also antiwar activists and participants in the N.A., agree with Ford’s ideas below. —Editors, Socialist Viewpoint
When President George Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first, unsuccessfully, attempted to ram a bank bailout bill through the U.S. House in late September 2008, only one-third of Republicans and three-fifths of Democrats voted for the measure. The Congressional Black Caucus was opposed, 21 to 18, with the more progressive CBC members mostly voting No. Former presidential candidate Representative Dennis Kucinich asked, “Is this the U.S. Congress or the board of directors at Goldman Sachs?” Two-thirds of the GOP Caucus bucked their president.
Were we witnessing a left-right convergence—or two fundamentally opposed camps intersecting at a certain point in time on the way to very different destinations?
Republican Representative Ron Paul has long opposed war for “empire,” and any government that is big enough to bail out anything. The two-time presidential candidate is welcomed in many leftist anti-war circles and is an icon among fellow libertarians on the Right.
Does Paul personify the possibilities of left-right collaboration in a more broadly based peace movement? Or is his core constituency beyond the pale—so far to the Right they just appear Left?
In Washington on February 20, under the auspices of Voters for Peace, a one-day “Across the Political Spectrum Conference Against War and Militarism” explored the possibilities of a Left-Right and in-between anti-war movement. Prime conference mover Kevin Zeese, executive director of Voters for Peace, laid out his position in an article circulated a month earlier:
“The vast majority of Americans widely opposes war and wants the U.S. to focus its resources at home. Their initial reaction to wars and escalations, before the corporate media spin propagandizes them in a different direction, is to oppose war. But, these views are not reflected in the body politic and certainly not in the DC discourse on war. Rather than anti-war opposition being broad-based, it has been narrow. It is a leftish movement that does not include Middle America or conservatives who also see the tremendous waste of the bloated military budget and the militarism of U.S. foreign policy.”
True—and it is a significantly non-white movement, as well. But does this mean that the “leftish” and darker denizens of the movement drive away their fellow Americans—or could it be that nationalism and racism (i.e., white nationalism) is the stronger political current among “Middle Americans” and “conservatives,” trumping their weaker anti-war and egalitarian impulses every time?
The 30 or so conference participants reflected the diversity of thought Kevin Zeese envisioned for a “broader” movement, although not in race—there were only two Blacks in attendance. Ralph Nader and The Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, for example, balanced out Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute and the American Conservative Defense Alliance, and George D. O’Neill, Jr., a former chairman of the Rockford Institute and 1992 supporter of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign.
What quickly emerged is that the right wing of this prototype of a larger anti-war movement is culturally repulsed by language that is redolent of the Sixties, a time, we were informed, that is replete with negative associations for conservatives who might otherwise engage in anti-war activities. “Peace” is out, banned. So is “imperialism.” “If we used these words,” said one conservative, “we will be called ‘traitors.’” After some discussion around the huge conference table, it was decided that “empire” is acceptable terminology.
Another word, “redemptive,” floated favorably around the room. A strong tendency among the gathering sought to redeem the values of a bygone (or imagined) time when an agrarian and more egalitarian ethos thrived in America. But the term creeped me out, a reminder of the fire, bullet and lash Redemption movement that “redeemed” southern states from Reconstruction-era governments, plunging Blacks into non-personhood for a century.
Ralph Nader spoke over lunch. The topic: “What does it take to stop a criminal war of aggression?” (I wondered if all of the words in that sentence were acceptable to “Middle American” conservatives, and rather doubted it.) Nader thinks it will require an anti-war budget of “about $70 million a year,” until the newly solvent movement “catches on…and people realize that they have to pay for it themselves.” In the interim, “We have never had more older, progressive billionaires” who could underwrite the endeavor, people like speculator George Soros, who “came out against the war in 2003.” Nader’s new book, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, examines the idea in fictional form. The prospective sugar daddies include Warren Buffett and Ted Turner, as well as Soros, which makes one wonder about the definition of “progressive,” and why these gentlemen haven’t yet taken the initiative. Could it be that they also find words like “peace” and “imperialism” repugnant? Or maybe it’s because they don’t want to energize millions of non-billionaires who might agitate in unwanted directions?
There was a sickening brown-shirt stench in the Washington air. On the day of the Right-Left conference, the Conservative PAC (CPAC) fascist-fest was reaching its crescendo across town. Ron Paul had just won a plurality in the CPAC straw poll. Paul attributed that to “the young people [who] are sick and tired of what is being dumped on them politically and economically.”
Is it a good thing that young right-wingers prefer Paul? Don’t fascist movements also attract and need young people? What part of Paul’s anti-government message really resonates with CPAC “youth”? How many also cheered for nullificationists and state’s-righters? Is it really the socially tolerant “Left’s” fault that these people don’t show up at anti-war events? Who is hatin’ on whom?
A number of Right-Left attendees took issue with my assertion that Tea Partiers are “white nationalists” to the core. Ralph Nader reminded them that people who take their cues from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh should not be shocked at being called racists. Whether the Tea Party sympathizers in the room believed that they, themselves, were racists or not (few racists do), they were obviously quite tolerant of bigoted behavior. Yet the Left is blamed for the anti-war movement’s “narrow” base, and urged to tone down its vocabulary.
Clearly, the Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, of which I am a member, is anathema to many of the whites on the Right (and lots in the “middle”) to whom the Right-Left conference directed its appeal. But that’s too damn bad. African Americans, by and large, have no problem with the word “imperialism,” which is generally understood as “internationally organized white folks lording it over colored peoples.” Peace is very cool in Black America—cooler than anyplace else in the country—and the Sixties was a time of righteous struggle and rebirth.
Black people who know their history also feel little nostalgia for the Populist Party of the late 1800s—an iconic reference at the conference. Although white Populists, in their southern incarnation, initially supported Black voting and civil rights and collaborated with Black Republicans in putting together Fusion tickets and governments, they ultimately folded into the White Terror-backed Democratic Party. Tom Watson, the Georgia politician who was southern Populism’s best known proponent, devolved into a raging white supremacist, supporter of the Ku Klux Klan and inciter of the mob that lynched Leo Frank in 1915. He died an archetypal southern Democratic U.S. senator, spewing racist bile against a helpless and abandoned people.
It is through this prism that contemporary white “populism” on the Right is best observed. It is a good thing that Representative Ron Paul opposes U.S. wars for “empire”—whatever his reasons. It is also a good thing that he fights against bailouts and ceaselessly strives to slay the dragon of the Federal Reserve—again, for his own reasons. But pretending that Ron Paul and the Black is Back Coalition are in the same “movement” is ridiculous. And if “conservatives” and “Middle Americans” (a euphemism for a certain kind of white people) do not join the “leftish” ranks at anti-war demonstrations in significant numbers, it’s mostly because of their own prejudices, fears and loathings, and the shallowness of their commitment to peace.
—blackagendareport.com, March 10, 2010