The Left-Center Resurgence

There is a growing backlash against the hard-left. The left-center is reasserting itself.

For the last several years, the intolerant, illiberal hard-left has intimidated politicians, consultants, writers, many corporate leaders, much of the media and virtually all of academia. Not towing the hard-left line could get an editor or a CEO fired, a politician sacked or a young professor denied tenure.

The most ludicrous example (among many ludicrous examples) happened last July when the nation’s largest charter school network, the KIPP Foundation, dropped their slogan, “Work hard. Be nice.”

“The slogan passively supports ongoing efforts to pacify and control Black and Brown bodies in order to better condition them to be compliant and further reproduce current social norms that center whiteness and meritocracy as normal,” explained a spokesperson for the Foundation.

Oh, for cyin’ out loud, people. This is just garbage and we shouldn’t be intimidated into pretending it’s not. Being nice and working hard are not “whiteness.” They’re “goodness.” Maybe we should tell our kids to be mean and lazy. That’ll upend the meritocracy for sure, because the last thing we should want is for anyone to get ahead based on merit.

But things are starting to change. The movement to reassert common sense and classical liberal values has been slowly gathering steam.

One of my favorite writers is Thomas B. Edsall, who has a regular piece in the Wednesday New York Times. Last week, Edsall’s column included this observation:

Nadine Strossen, professor emerita at New York Law School and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote by email that she considers herself a, “bleeding-heart liberal” but even more important to me are the classic liberal values that are under siege from all sectors of the political spectrum, left to right, including: freedom of speech, thought and association; academic freedom; due process; and personal privacy.

Strossen cites “the proliferation of new organizations that seek to counter the illiberal trends in academia and beyond.”

The past 12 months have seen a centrist countermobilization designed to strengthen a mainstream image of the Democratic Party and to block the power of the more radical left to set policy. New groups and digital publications include PersuasionCounterweightAmerican PurposeFoundation Against Intolerance and Racism and the Academic Freedom Alliance.

Actually, that’s only a taste of what’s out there. Our Resources page here at YSDA lists almost two dozen centrist websites, organizations and think tanks. And we’re adding new ones virtually every week. In fact, just today I came across and added the “1776 Unites” website, which is a group of Black intellectuals who are pushing back against the Times’ lamentable “1619 Project.”

And influentials like Barack Obama and James Carville have been speaking up for classical liberal values, as well. I would count Pres. Joe Biden as a classical liberal, though, as a Democratic office holder, he can’t afford to be too critical of the hard-left in his own party. One of his main jobs is to keep the Democratic coalition together and he’s done that pretty well so far, but it prevents him from being as out-spoken as he might want to be about intolerance on his left.

Still, I have a feeling that we’re approaching a tipping point. As the number of left-center groups proliferates, more people will feel they’re in good company and they’ll feel emboldened to speak up when, for example, some organization claims that being nice and working hard are bad things.

And as more people speak up, more people will speak up. There will be a snowball effect. Still, I’m realistic. The illiberal hard-left is here to stay, I don’t doubt it. But I’m starting to become more confident that it can be shoved to the fringes of our political life, where it belongs.

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