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Left, Right & Hijacking the Moral High Ground

Posted by Rick · May 29th, 2005 · 2 Comments

Oh for the days of old, when I could blog to my heart’s content. There’s so much I want to comment on these days, but I find little time for even an article or two a week right now. And — wouldn’t you know it — when I finally decide I can remain silent no longer, I end up with is something that looks like another Balaam’s Ass post.

But that’s not all it is. It’s an explanation of what the Republican Party is really about and a recognition that there are more than two colors in the world. The political spectrum is not limited to “us” against “them.”

What I ended up with, then, is one-part Balaam’s Ass and one-part that is just well, political commentary about asses.

Peter Sean Bradley has been talking about days of old as well. He appears to think that “the Left” is stuck in those old days. I find this particularly ironic since, in my opinion, I’m what used to be “slightly left of center,” but is increasingly labeled “Radical Left” these days. That is, when people like me aren’t being described as hate-mongerers because we believe the gap between rich and poor is growing, and that this is wrong; because we believe that the War in Iraq was immoral, that we were tricked into it for reasons that had nothing to do with “freeing the Iraqi people” until All the President’s Men realized what a powerful meme that was; that we believe world opinion counts for something; that we believe health care and education are important and not — as the governor of California thinks — that nurses and teachers are special interest groups.

But, more importantly, people like me aren’t all all that much like me. Perhaps one reason “the Right” gleefully notes that “the Left” appears to be in a shambles is that there is no monolithic left.

Mr. Bradley’s argument is focused on an article by Keith Thompson, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. The article is interesting because it describes — and this appears to be the reason both for the title and content of Mr. Bradley’s article — Mr. Thompson’s break with “the left.” (Mr. Thompson doesn’t capitalize the term.) Among Mr. Thompson’s complaints:

Susan Sontag cleared her throat for the “courage” of the al Qaeda pilots. Norman Mailer pronounced the dead of Sept. 11 comparable to “automobile statistics.” The events of that day were likely premeditated by the White House, Gore Vidal insinuated. Noam Chomsky insisted that al Qaeda at its most atrocious generated no terror greater than American foreign policy on a mediocre day. — Keith Thompson, Leaving the left I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives — people who once championed solidarity (May 22, 2005) San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com.

Now, if that were what the Left was all about, I couldn’t be considered Left at all. About the closest I could come is that I think the Bush Administration might have been able to do something to stave off what happened at the World Trade Center, if they had wanted to do so. But at the time, no one knew how to turn Al Queda into the War To Free Iraqi Oil Bring Democracy To The Iraqis. Large numbers of Americans do not want to believe — and I don’t blame them one bit — that our leaders would start a war just for oil and munitions profits, but I believe there’s plenty of evidence to make that case, so perhaps that’s enough to make me a hate-mongering leftist.

And, after all, there has to be some way to make me a hate-mongerer. Because I’m clearly neither a supporter of George Bush or of the Republican Party. And these days, not being a supporter of George Bush and Republican policies is ipso facto proof that you are evil, or at least a supporter of evil (and isn’t that the same thing?). They have, after all, put God back in the Whitehouse. It’s just a little unclear whether that means they put Bush in the Whitehouse, or some other God.

Personally, I think they mean the former, because the God in the Whitehouse appears to have more in common with Hieronymous Bosch than the New Testament. I mean, seriously, when was the last time someone from the “christian” element in control of the Whitehouse talked to anyone about the Sermon on the Mount, or, particularly, that portion of it known as the Beatitudes?

The truth is, though, that while the Right may be becoming increasingly monolithic, the left is variegated. The Left is something more like an Impressionist painting.

Characteristic of impressionist painting are visible brushstrokes, light colors, open composition, emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, and unusual visual angles. — Impressionism (May 24, 2005) Wikipedia (last visited May 29, 2005).

The “vision” of the Impressionists “seemed strange and unfinished to their viewing public.” (Impressionism, supra.) Furthermore, their focus was an “emphasis…on overall effect rather than upon details.” (Ibid.)

Similarly, many of us who cannot side with Bush and the Republican Party cannot do so because we are focused on openness instead of secret governments. We’re concerned about the changing quality of life — changing in a way that seems to us not to bode well for the ordinary lives of ordinary Americans. We’re perhaps seeing things from an angle that is not available to the average individual indoctrinated by the Right. Our vision seems, to those on the Right, strange.

And those on the Left who are like me will readily admit that our vision is unfinished. Our vision, after all, calls for something closer to the utopianism of the central portion of the Sermon on the Mount reproduced in Matthew 5:2-12.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Let me throw in a disclaimer here: I am not a Christian. Nor do I wish to be. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view, my own beliefs are more closely aligned with some atheistic form of Judaism. I have studied neither Humanism nor Reconstructionist Judaism deeply, but from what I’ve seen, some mix of them perhaps comes closest to my own point of view. I do, however, read both the Jewish and Christian Bibles frequently, relying upon the Jewish Publication Society’s version of the Tanakh, as well as the Zondervan Bible Study Library on my computer, with its nine English versions of the Christian Bible, as well as Greek and Hebrew versions, both of which I have some minimal ability to understand. But this is one reason why I refer to some of my more religious posts, such as the current one, as Balaam’s Ass posts. (For more on Balaam’s Ass, see Numbers 22:21-38 (KJV).)

Perhaps because I’m not a Christian, I don’t find myself forced to adopt the rigidity of the Right respecting their twisted interpretations of the Bible when reading the Beatitudes. After all, I don’t believe that God, or any other supernatural Being, wrote it. I recognize it as an empathetically-inspired utopian ideal, parts of which are impossible and parts of which are perhaps not even worth striving for. I am not, for example, going to follow the example of Barnabas in my desire to exemplify the spirit of the Beatitudes. (See Acts 4:36-37.) And one thing I share in common with the Republicans is that I refuse to follow the teaching of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 19:21.

But if I were a Christian, it seems to me that this would be my focus. If I were a Christian, I’d take a few serious lessons from the Impressionists. I’d paint the world with openness. I’d recognize the unfinished aspects and focus on painting the world with light.

Christianity today — at least the advertised version, the version that curries favor and is incestuously curried for its favors by the Republican Party — is placing a lot of emphasis on legislating the morality of others. They share more in common with the Pharisees of John 8:3-6 than with the Jesus of John 8:11.

How is it, if the GOP has become the POG (Party of God), that the light of the world resembles nothing more than a blowtorch? Whatever happened to focusing upon improving one’s own moral life before turning to one’s “brother”? And isn’t it significant that Jesus’ words here use the word “brother”? Couldn’t this be an indication that providing advice to another member of the Church is okay after you’ve resolved your own issues, but perhaps you could adopt Jesus’ approach to those outside the Church?

Jesus said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” (Matthew 10:14 (NIV).) He didn’t say, “If anyone will not welcome your or listen to your words, take control of the government and alter the laws to force them to follow (your understanding of) my desires.”

Is it not significant that the only time Jesus appeared to physically express his anger and attack anyone, it was in the temple area? (Matthew 21:12-13.)

The fact is, though, that none of what I’ve just said is what the “christian” forces in the Republican Party are about. What they’re about really boils down to what politics, in general, has always been about: Power and Control.

George Washington supposedly saw political parties as “fractious agencies subversive of domestic tranquility.” (“Farewell Address (1796): George Washington,” from J.D. Richardson, Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 1 (1907), 213, part of Basic Readings in Democracy on the U.S. Department of State website.) “It was his fear of what parties would do to the nation that led Washington to draft his Farewell Address.” (Ibid.)

Politics in his day, and increasingly thereafter, was not tremendously unlike what we’re seeing today. The Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans (not the same as today’s Republican Party) were at each other’s throats. And this wasn’t just limited to words, either. Just as today, the vehemence of their disagreements sometimes lead to violence. There was the famous incident involving Awon Buh and the peanut butter. Or, for the history buffs amongst us, the incident in which Aaron Burr, once Vice-President of the United States, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, former secretary of the Treasury and one of the writer’s of the Federalist Papers. Later, in 1858, there was a bloody melee on the floor of the United States Congress.

Things are no different today. When it boils down to it, the struggle for political power in America is a (barely) civilized form of war. The party in control right now is not concerned about godliness; they’re concerned about control. And since the days of cavemen, no better means of control has been found than convincing others that God is on your side and then silencing the “heretics” who might try to explain that God’s message and your message are not one and the same.

The problem right now is that it works better if “the enemy” is not some pluralistic entity. “They” have to be as monolithic as “us.” That way, when one of “them” disagrees with another of “them,” “we” can declare victory. Our “two-parties-only-please” political system encourages this.

In the end, I’m not so sure that Mr. Bradley’s crowing over Mr. Thompson’s break with the left, though, is justified. Mr. Thompson does appear to have fallen into the trap created by the neo-conservative right; he asserts that he is leaving “the left.” So it seems he’s accepted the neo-conservative myth that there are essentially two monolithic voices. But it’s not clear that Mr. Thompson has abandoned a liberal point of view.

And therein lies the proof of what I said near the beginning of this article. Mr. Thompson’s “break with the left” notwithstanding, “the Left” is not only comprised of the likes of those Mr. Thompson takes to task in his article. There are others of us, still proud to be considered Left rather than Right or even the status-quo-supporting Centrists.

Perhaps, in the end, what Mr. Thompson really ought to consider is whether, like the Republicans who really do seem to have room these days only for the most extreme elements of the neo-conservative religious right, he is in danger of allowing only the most radical voices to claim title to “the Left.” I don’t favor that option. As I said above, I’m proud to be considered part of the Left; I’m not ready to give up the title.

And frankly, I don’t favor allowing the extremists on either end of the misconceived political spectrum lay claim to the moral high ground.

Categories: Balaam's Ass


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // May 30, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    You’re not alone…

    “What if this whole crusade’s a charade / And behind it all there’s a price to be paid / For the blood on which we dine / Justified in the name of the holy and the divine.”


  • 2 Rick Horowitz // May 30, 2005 at 10:05 pm

    I saw that story earlier today (May 30, 2005), I particularly liked Trent Reznor’s comment:

    Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me.

    Somehow, though, there’s got to be a way to twist MTV’s censorship move as evidence of a liberal media…

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