Define “left”…

I am a little late commenting on Ron Rosenbaum’s article “Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee.” Part of the reason is that I think this column is far more complicated than the treatments given it on many blogs in the past few days (I won’t necessarily do any better just because I waited). Much of what I’m reading seems to boil down to this: Rosenbaum’s column is purgative.

I disagree. To be purgative, Rosenbaum would have to be part of that left that he claims to be leaving. He isn’t and wasn’t. He’s using anecdotes, and himself as a literary character, to make some cogent points about certain attitudes on the “extreme” left. It’s a well-written, intelligent article and worth your time to read–no matter what your ideology.

Now, what makes this column interesting for me is the challenge it presents to the political use of labels. What, exactly, is the left? Is that anything left of center or does it identity an extreme? The trouble is we use this term to identify both points (and everthing in between) on a linear scale of political thought. But political thought is not as simple as that. So “left” is simply a metaphor of place, a way to mark thought on a scale in the most general sense. Rosenbaum is considering the extreme end of this simplistic metaphor–certainly not Democrats or liberals in a general sense, both considered left.

Confusion happens when pundits and political opponents of all kinds use the extreme as a pathological stereotype. In other words, political opponents use the extreme to stereotype the entire class for political reasons. This is a particularly anti-intellectual form of argument used by liberals on conservatives alike.