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The Left Must Remain in the Conversation
Are Americans more open to left-wing ideas than the mainstream media admit? For ideas about war, health care, and a shriveling standard of living, the left could at least expand the range of possible solutions.
By "left" I don't mean simply "loathed by the right," as in "Hillary Clinton's far left agenda."
I mean the left that's left out.
For example, take syndicated columnists. According to a September report in MediaMatters.org, conservative commentators far out-ink "progressives" on America's op-ed pages, measured both in numbers of papers that carry them and in circulation. A ranking of the top 100 columnists is heavily skewed in favor of conservatives. Note: Media Matter's "progressives" are predominately liberals. Only one that I know of -- Amy Goodman (number 85) -- is left wing.
Liberals want capitalism to fulfill its promises of fairness, liberty, and abundance, but they will only go so far. The sacred cows of capitalism trump serious tinkering.
So, what do Americans lose, lacking the left in the mainstream? Often, it is the truth, at least until reality trumps illusion. For example:
NAFTA degrades standards of living at both ends of the siphon. Insurance companies shrink health care to grow profit. Iraq is about oil.
Too often, mainstream pundits get a free ride on key issues, unchallenged by anyone whose bread is not buttered by roughly five corporations dominating news, television, entertainment, and publishing.
Pieces occasionally emerge by writers like Katrina vanden Heuvel of the The Nation, a mag that's earned its billet with a 142-year pedigree and writing that's inoffensively high-brow while right-on.
The left is accessible on-line. DemocracyNow.org features Amy Goodman's War and Peace Report. CommonDreams.org, Alternet.org, and BlackCommentator.com provide reporters and analysts from liberal reformers to radical socialists. Read them and you'll wonder why you rarely find such insightful and well-informed voices alongside the monotonous rehearsing of center-right wisdom in America's op-eds.
Where are Manning Marable, Bill Fletcher, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Scheer, Dahr Jamail, or Robert Fisk? Where's Noam Chomsky, the most famous American intellectual in the world? Where are they even heard of, except in the dismissals of the liberals and the curses of the right?
Are we so unsure of our intellectual underpinnings we can't brook one modern adherent of old Dr. Marx like John Bellamy Foster, editor of the Monthly Review? Some recall how in its 1949 inaugural issue, MR featured another doctor -- Einstein, that is -- writing "Why Socialism."
Indeed, back in the day, Americans read a lot more socialists in the mainstream: Michael Harrington, perennial Socialist Party candidate for President Norman Thomas, UAW President Walter Reuther, and AFL-CIO Vice President A. Philip Randolph all published regularly in major magazines and newspapers.
Featuring left voices again would finally bust the myth of the left-wing media. We'd all see what die-hard capitalists they really are.
Even when the left is far left or wrong, it offers contrarian views that keep the debate honest and make us consider broader consequences.
In the Balkans, I saw a book called NATO, published by the Workers World Party -- a true "far left" organization that condemned the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia and the demonization of the Serbian Socialist Party
Like many others, I believed that Serbian ethnic cleansing in breakaway republics had compelled the world to act, and that the WWP was perhaps overly sympathetic to a fallen socialist regime. However, in 2003, I crossed the Krajina District of Croatia and saw countless terra-cotta roofs smashed in by shelling in deserted village after village. On the doors of abandoned churches were Cyrillic characters, and I realized that these were Serb villages. Some 200,000 Serbs were brutalized and driven out in 1995. The causes of and solutions to the Yugoslav civil wars were more complex than I had assumed. It took a far-left group to point this out.
Maybe the mainstream media just doesn't know about the real lefties, but their fellow citizens deserve to hear them.
Phillip Bannowsky is a member of The News Journal Community Advisory Board.
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