The Mendacious Mavens of the Middle

Pete Karman

When the McCain-Palin campaign was looking a for a “leftist terrorist” to pin on Obama, the best they could come up with was college professor Bill Ayers, a 66-year-old erstwhile extremist who’d been keeping his nose clean for the last 40 years. Back in the 60’s I bopped off to Cuba and wore my larynx out yelling revolutionary slogans. I’m now 71 and would happily accept a return to the glory days of the People’s Republic of Eisenhower. I try to keep up with the left, or what’s left of it, and haven’t noticed any nutty notions in decades. The vast majority of my former comrades have either given up on politics or attend the occasional peace rally. Those who remain activists are overwhelmingly safe and sane social democrats just now figuring out that Barack Obama never was and never will be one of them. That’s not to deny that a few tattered fringistas from the 3rd, 4th or Positively 4th Street Internationals don’t erupt on the scene now and again. Hey, Jerry Brown is back in Sacramento! My point is that America’s meager left, across the spectrum from Hubert Humphrey pro-war liberals to raging Maoists, has long since gone the way of the Whigs. And the movement hasn’t been refreshed by much new blood since Wall Street figured out how to make money and tamp down youthful dissent by putting all the college kids in permanent hock with tuition loans. So when I hear anyone nowadays condemn “extremists of both left and right,” as Jon Stewart repeatedly did at his big rally about nothing much in Washington a couple of Saturdays ago, I know I’m dealing with the clueless and/or mendacious. Who besides senior citizen Bill Ayers and the even older Noam Chomsky do they have in mind? What ultra outrage are they referencing? The Battle of Seattle was over a decade ago. The last really big peace march was back in 2002. No, I take back the clueless option. Those who pretend that America is somehow annoyed, let alone threatened by, leftist extremists on a par with Glenn Beck or the various gun-crazy militias running around in the woods are full of shit! And they know it. Whether in politics or personal life, positioning oneself mid-way between two supposed extremes is usually a cheap ploy rather than a considered judgment. We even have a name for for it: playing both sides against the middle. Politicians, our lowest form of life, find it useful for conning the widest possible range of constituents. Newspeople, the next lowest, are forever trying to convince their audiences that truth lies in the middle for the same reason. I go along with Texas populist Jim Hightower, who likes to say, there's nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos. For a hilarious but just as serious take on this issue, I commend you to Bill Maher's most recent New Rules video

Pete Karman began working in journalism in 1957 at the awful New York Daily Mirror, where he wrote the first review of Bob Dylan for a New York paper. He lost that job after illegally traveling to Cuba (the rag failed shortly after he got the boot). Karman has reported and edited for various trade and trade union blats and worked as a copywriter. He was happy being a flack for Air France, but not as happy as being an on-and-off In These Times editor and contributor since 1977.
In These Times August 2022 Cover
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue