Why Jay Nordlinger Left the Left
In his latest Impromptus column, National Review senior editor (and very charming fan of my name) Jay Nordlinger describes how anti-Americanism--and the self-loathing antipathy towards liberal democracies in general--fueled his departure from the Left. This is a common theme among those who have traveled from Left to Right--or somewhere in between--and it certainly sounds familiar to this ex-lefty:
...Reading some of the reaction to my blogpost, I was reminded why I left the Left, many years ago. Happened sometime during college. I was getting curious about the world: wondering about the Soviet Gulag, for example, and the boat people from Vietnam. I would try to raise those issues with those around me. I was immediately suspect as a fascist: "But what about capital punishment here in America? The death penalty, man. What about Agent Orange, man, and My Lai?"Read the whole thing.
Okay, okay, we could talk about those — we talked about them constantly. But couldn't we talk about the Gulag and the boat people a bit, too? No, we couldn't: because the United States was so sinful, we had to run it down full-time. We had no right to criticize other countries. (This did not apply, strangely, to South Africa, Chile, the Philippines . . .)
Some readers may recall a common line from the Soviet Union in the first years of the Cold War: "But what about the Negroes in the South?" That tended to shut down all conversation.
I don't know about you, but I find it very hard to talk to people who, when you mention the extreme cruelty of Hamas, the Castros, and so on, go right to the United States and its own offenses, real or imagined. Very hard. We simply live on different moral planets.
I guess I spend most of my time, as a journalist, criticizing or bemoaning the United States. I have a complaint a second, it seems: our litigiousness, our racial screwiness, our politicalcorrectness, our violence, the grotesque nature of our popular culture. But, you know? The liberal democracies, including the United States, aren't what's wrong with the world.
Back to my college days, one last time, please — and to the matter of why I left the Left. I concluded that I was on a side: on the side of the United States, of liberal democracy, of man (if you will pardon the grandiosity). I was not a neutralist. I was not a pox-on-both-your-houses guy. I was not a moral-equivalence guy. I knew that the United States and the West weren't perfect, heaven knows. But I also knew that we weren't what ailed the world — that we were, on balance, a force for good.
This was a less common view than you might expect — in my environment, at that time.
Recently, I was talking to a composer friend of mine, who made a journey from left to right (as I did, but later in his life). I asked him how it happened. He said he had gone to West Berlin in the 1980s, to study. And the people around him — West German lefties — said, "You know, there's really no difference between our side and their side. It's all the same, really. We're no better than they are."
But my friend had eyes to see — and he could see that it wasn't true. He saw, starkly, the difference between a free and open society, and an unfree and closed one. That made all the difference.
I had eyes to see, too. There was a big, big difference between the democratic world and the anti-democratic world. The people around me weren't Communists; they didn't carry around copies of Das Kapital (some of them did); they didn't believe in the "withering away of the state" and all that jazz. They just thought that America was just as bad as anyone else — and that, therefore, we had "no right to talk." I disagreed.
To repeat what many of my fellow righties have said, there is no way — no way — that America's enemies can defeat America. Only Americans can do that. How do you lose? For one thing, you lose moral reason. And here is one way of knowing if you're having trouble in the moral-reason department: When you hear about Hamas — about something awful it has done — is your instinct to hate and condemn George Bush? The Patriot Act? Gitmo? That instinct is a crazy one. And destructive.