Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Sex (and Anthony Weiner) Betrayed the Left

(First published on Huffington Post)

The Weiner Problem is a bigger problem (no pun intended) than one man's sick folly: It is a metaphor for a whole post-60s generation of American progressives that became more interested in winning culture war battles and fucking around personally, than in the traditional lefty agenda of unions, organizing, workers, change, political voting rights, and a fair economy.

There was a time when the Left was all about jobs, unions, working men and woman, racial equality and protection of civil liberties, not to mention protection of children, fairness and progressive tax codes, regulation of business, worker safety and - of course -- a commitment to the Democratic Party.

Then the Left became all about Sex and Greed, right along with the rest of American corporate "culture."

Yes, this is a generalization. Yes, as Rachel Maddow says - it's also "punching the hippie." But it's also true.

As Chris Hedges points out in his important book Death of the Liberal Class, the Left went inward in the 1960s. After the American Left became involved with legalizing abortion, gay rights, women's rights, as in reproductive rights, the cool thing to do was to embrace one form or another of sexual liberation , gender issues, etc., as the new lefty agenda.

Don't get me wrong: I believe in abortion rights and gay rights. But I don't believe in the Left's allowing sexual liberation to trump every other concern as a priority.

Hedges writes:

"Those who chase the glittering rainbows of the consumer society, who buy into the perverted ideology of consumer culture, become, as Dante knew, moral cowards. They are indoctrinated by our corporate systems of information and remain passive as our legislative, executive and judicial branches of government--tools of the corporate state--strip us of the capacity to resist. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. It makes no difference. ...We must defy the cant of consumer culture and recover the primacy in our lives of mercy and justice."

The sexual selfishness of the New Left and their self-involvement didn't play well with the old union types, replete with their dismissal (for instance in 1968 in Chicago) of the New Left, as a "bunch of fags" (to quote one union boss) and or a "bunch of communists" (to quote another union boss). Yes, the old back room boys were a bunch of homophobes, misogynist Neanderthals. They also had pushed the Democratic Party to ban child labor, keep workers' wages high, curb the uglier side of capitalism.

As Kevin Drum writes in a very important article in the Mother Jones:

"By the end of the '60s,... New Left activists derided union bosses as just another tired bunch of white, establishment Cold War fossils, and as a result, the rupture of the Democratic Party that started in Chicago in 1968 became irrevocable in Miami Beach four years later. Labor leaders assumed that the hippies, who had been no match for either Richard Daley's cops or establishment control of the nominating rules, posed no real threat to their continued dominance of the party machinery...

Why does this matter?... Over the past 40 years, the American left has built an enormous institutional infrastructure dedicated to mobilizing money, votes, and public opinion on social issues, and this has paid off with huge strides in civil rights, feminism, gay rights, environmental policy, and more. But the past two years have demonstrated that that isn't enough. If the left ever wants to regain the vigor that powered earlier eras of liberal reform, it needs to rebuild the infrastructure of economic populism that we've ignored for too long. Figuring out how to do that is the central task of the new decade."

As for all those "draft-dodging hippies," (as the old union types thought of them) they more or less dropped out of traditional American politics when it came to unions, workers rights, fair pay issues and stuck to themes of personal -- mostly sexual-- liberation. Fucking (and/or abortion rights, no fault divorce etc.,) was just so much more interesting than the growing gap between the super rich and everyone else.

Enter the living embodiment of the 1960s, Bill Clinton, and today's "Clinton," Anthony Weiner. Then there's John Edwards. They follow in a long line of liberals more interested in fucking than governing, with the granddad of them all being Edward Kennedy.

Sure the ever-more-disgusting "family values" Right has done the same thing, talked values but then done whoever is nearby. But just Dominique Strauss Kahn betrayed the French socialists, what Weiner has done is to not just betray himself or his party but to vote with his penis for a "lefty" agenda that is more about selfishness than anyone's rights, much less the good of the working people of America.

Chris Hedges is correct: the "liberals" and the American Left have been betrayed by people more interested in selling out to corporate America (who have been busy selling Sex to us, and sexualized all selling) than in workers rights or the economy.

Like the French that, in the name of progressive liberation and open-mindedness, wink and lousy male sexual predatory behavior, the American Left should now start to take sexual scandal seriously as betrayal of a bigger agenda. The American Left should also consider the lost war for workers rights in view of the culture battles they have won.

The Left won the culture wars. Porn is everywhere, and Fucking is deregulated. But so is Wall Street.

Maybe it's time to re-regulate Wall Street and the banks, and reintroduce something shocking to progressive sensibilities-- a few taboos.

For instance, maybe it isn't cool to seek sexual pleasure outside of an intimate, loving grown up relationship. And even if it's okay to screw around, maybe it's time to pay more attention to electing mature adults more interested in the larger progressive agenda -- say how do we stop the top 1 percent of the wealthy from clinging to more wealth than the bottom 80 percent of the population -- than in the "right" to personal sexual selfishness.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women

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