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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Obama Should Watch His (Canadian) Left Flank

President-elect Barack Obama continues to surprise and delight, especially among the media. His cabinet appointments are garnering general approval ratings. Political reporters are slapping themselves in disbelief with Obama's tone of seriousness and openness - a huge change from the devious unilateralism and bankrupt policies of the Bush years.

But recently, bloggers on the left are beginning to express nervousness about what they hoped would be a more left wing agenda.

On NPR over the weekend, reporter Ina Jaffe noted that the blogosphere has begun worrying that Obama is tacking to the center, much to their displeasure. The bloggers interviewed were looking for policies that were both symbolically and practically indicators of a break with the hard right Bush policies.

There is a certain triumphalism in the moderate and trade union left these days. Some political blogs of that stripe have high expectations that an Obama administration will undo the economic and cultural damage wrought over the past eight years.

At the same time, there is a certain element on the far left that appears eager for Obama to fail. The French have a saying for that (they have a saying for most things...). It's called "la politique du pire." Loosely translated as "the politics of the worst situation possible." There is a certain wishful thinking among some on the left that any progressive attempt deserves to fail because only then will a "true" left emerge.

What nonsense. It's an old form of Leninism that somehow has managed to survive and still finds its expression among the nostalgia-mongers in the blogosphere who prefer moral victories to real ones.

One of the more appalling examples of this was in a recent edition of The New Yorker in a profile of Naomi Klein, the left's latest incarnation of La Pasionaria. Klein, a Canadian has written eloquently about what she considers the dangers of consumerism and corporatism.

The article, authored by Larissa MacFarquhar was brilliant in describing the insulated world of agitprop fashionistas who scoot around the world speaking to like minded souls. It may be an argument worth hearing because it is so timely. But to me, it remains mostly a thin theoretical approach, rather than the practical one espoused by Obama.

But one quote in the article that was truly shocking came from Klein's father-in-law, Stephen Lewis.

In Canada, Lewis and his family come close to being an incarnation of a latter day Socialist Holy Family. Lewis, a renowned UN diplomat, has been active for years in helping Africans find solutions to HIV-AIDS. He previously was a politician with the left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) - the Canadian equivalent to the Labour Party in the UK.

Lewis won elected office both in Ontario and at the federal Parliament in Ottawa on a number of occasions. His wife, Michele Landsberg is a well known feminist columnist for the Toronto Star. Their son, Avi, a former CBC-er, now works for Al Jazeera. Lewis' late father, David once led the federal NDP.

For me, Stephen Lewis' halo slipped in that article when he was quoted as saying:

I'm more fundamentalist now...I have no patience for capitalism at all. I see now that there is nothing that is positive in this ugly international system, and that's why I embrace Naomi's view of the way the world works. I'm actually tired of my rhetorical outbursts - I'd like to engage in physical aggression.

How appalling and how pathetic that this once admirable Canadian should adopt a rhetorical outburst with the political sophistry of an adolescent. One can only hope that Lewis was misquoted. And if not, is Klein prepared to repudiate her father-in-law's silly offer of support?

One can only hope.

1 comment:

  1. Considering all that Lewis has seen during his years of fighting against all manner of obstruction en route to dealing with HIV/AIDS itself?

    I'm surprised that he's not crankier than he is.