Lest I Become Fred Siegel

He was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a spokesperson for George McGovern, a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute, a voter for the independent John Anderson in 1980, a close advisor and supporter of Rudy Gulianni and finally a voter for Donald Trump.

Let the progression of Fred Siegel be a lesson to me.

To be honest I had never heard of Siegel until a reader pointed out his obituary in the New York Times. He died in New York last week at the age of 78. Siegel was what one might call a public intellectual, moving back and forth between academia, politics and writing commentary in the general media.

Like Siegel I’ve moved from left of liberal to liberal and now to moderate. But, God help me, may lightening strike me down before I go so far as to vote for Donald Trump. But I’m 14 years younger than Siegel was, so who knows what might happen in the decade and a half (I hope) to come. The trajectory seems to be in a rightward direction and who knows where it stops before I get, ya know, stopped.

The late Fred Siegel. Don’t let me become him.

Unless I’m not really moving much at all. I like to believe that I’m not moving predictably along the ideological spectrum, but rather sticking to core beliefs while it’s the rest of the left that is going off the deep end.

When I started YSDA I had the audacity to write up a list that I called the Principles of Moderation. I just had a look at them again and I wouldn’t change them. I continue to strongly believe in classical liberal and middle class (bourgeois, if you want) values. What has driven me away from the left is the feeling that they’ve abandoned both sets of values. They see free speech as negotiable and something that can be squelched when they deem it to be “harmful.” They see hard work and merit as shams set up to perpetuate “white privilege.” They are for active discrimination now to make up for past discrimination. They see people as defined primarily by the color of their skin and not the content of their character in a world where the good guys and the bad guys are easily identified. Where I see individuals, they see oppressed and privileged groups. Where I see shades of gray, they see only black and white. Black is good. White is bad.

I admit that there are moments when I’m so angered and frustrated by the left that I want to voice support for Trump just to get under their skin. I want to own the libs. But I restrain myself. The left is bad, but they’re not that bad.

I’m not against ideological development. Show me someone who believes exactly what they did 20 years ago and I’ll show you somebody who needs to get out more. And Fred Siegel appears to have gone through a true ideological metamorphosis. He was a serious thinker and his thoughts pulled him that far to the right, though it’s still hard for me to understand how anyone can support Trump.

Because Trump isn’t on the spectrum. He’s on a different plane. He’s not conservative in the classic American sense of that word — for smaller government, lower taxes, free trade, personal freedom. He’s more like a European conservative — blood and soil and xenophobia.

I may not be as ideologically liberal as I once was, but I am as classically liberal as I ever was. Let me not become Fred Siegel.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Lest I Become Fred Siegel

  1. Mayor Dave

    Before Siegel went down the dark path his book, The Future Once Happened Here was close to a great book. It is still worth a read. A nice companion book is David Marinas’s book on Detroit.

    Jeff Adams


  2. “If you are not a liberal when you are 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35, you have no head.” This quote is attributed to many people, but resurfaces because it makes a good point, and Siegel is a good example.

    Though I claim no intellectual comparison, I also voted for Anderson in ’80 and Trump in ’16 and ’20. As I’ve described why I did so in several places on YSDA, I won’t repeat why I voted for Trump. I will say I was looking clearly at the issues and candidates and free from ideology and partisanship.


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