Turning the Corner
Debate on 42nd St.
Originally uploaded by manteo.
Stumbling home from the Tank last night, still in shock over how scary Zell Miller was, I came across an RNC delegate wrapped up in debate with a protestor. It was a remarkably low-key and civil discussion, almost inaudible over the ambient roar of Times Square. They were asking each other questions that began with phrases like "Do you really think that . . ." and "But don't you feel that . . .": that is to say, they were actually listening to each other. The previous night, on that very same corner, I'd come across a guy screaming at a delegate to go home, while the delegate screamed back: "get a job". While that encounter resonates on an emotional level, it's heartening to see that sometimes even entrenched political enemies can still hold an actual dialogue, even if it's anonymous, in passing, drowned out by the cacophany of the Crossroads of the World.
But of course, it's a fundamental liberal error to let our respect for discourse blot out our determination to win political victories. And as New York braces for the arrival of George the Lesser, I can't help feeling a sense of optimism, an informed hope that the American left is putting itself together in more powerful ways, and learning from its old mistakes.
It used to be that "liberal" was a proclivity. You were "liberal" like you were "nice," or "consciencious." Conservatives had a movement, radicals had a (small) movement, but the mainstream American left had no sort of coherence or verve. The idea that CNN somehow provided a "left" equivilant to Fox News or right-wing talk radio could be bandied about unchallenged.
But now, on the internet, on the radio, in private clubs and nonprofits and even in some realms of commercial life, the American liberal left is starting to cohere, to develop not only a sense of identity, but of entitlement, by which I mean: righteousness. We are learning to stop saying "you may be right" all the time, and to start saying "you're wrong." And we can do this because we have the newfound strength that comes from a sense of self-identity.
This election may or may not go our way. But whatever happens on November 3, some broad outlines are emerging for the political future of this country. One is that the Republicans are entering into a sort of crisis phase (more on this at a later date). The other is that there is a more confident, focused mainstream left cohering, and at some point it will be strong enough to launch itself into a position of power, if only it can recognize the opportunity.
So, looking at this photo of a debate on 42nd Street, don't just think "how nice - they're talking to each other." Think: "I hope she's kicking his ass."