a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mark Steyn contrasted Howard
Dean's surprising blasé response to the capture of Saddam
Hussein, as well as to the catastrophic 9/11 attacks on New York
City and Washington, D.C., with Dean's fervid, emotional identification
with the issue of more bike paths for America's yuppies. In Steyn's
words, "On Osama bin Laden, [Dean is] Mister Insouciant.
But he gets mad about bike paths. Destroy the World Trade Center
and he's languid and laconic and blasé. Obstruct plans
to convert the ravaged site into a memorial bike path and he'll
hunt you down wherever you are."
such a small-minded vision from a spokesperson for the contemporary
American left? One of the reasons, accoring to Steyn, is that
in the past century "all the big [leftist] ideas failed,
culminating in 1989 in Eastern Europe with the comprehensive
failure of the biggest idea of all." In Steyn's words,
"the left retreated to all the small ideas: in a phrase,
bike paths...That's what Howard Dean represents -- the passion
of the Bike-Path Left." Indeed, if you think about it,
much of today's political left has become gentrified, whether
personified by elitist Yankee blueblood Dr. Howard Dean or snotty
Hollywood socialite Arianna Huffington, or the thousands of
well-paid university professors, journalists and upward-mobile
professionals who inhabit our big cities' most trendy, affluent,
it's a post-modern gentrification with a twist -- a haughty
social code of the privileged infused with the radical utopianism
of the 60's counterculture. Howver, today, it's a different
kind of radical utopianism, what might be appropriately labelled
radical utopianism chic. As Steyn notes, it's strictly a minimalist
utopianism, sobered by the dramatic defeats to 60's wild-eyed
dreams by the global realities of the 70's, 80's and 90's. And
these 20th-century cultural and political "defeats"
included (1) the rapid social disintegration of the drug-addled,
violence-ridden "hippie" movement, (2) the political
and geo-political triumphs of Ronald Reagan, (3) the world-wide
ascendacy of free-market capitalist economics (even in such
rigid bastions of socialist utopianism as Communist China and
the Soviet Union), and (4) the painful disintegration of the
'heaven-on-earth' Marxist nation states of Eastern Europe and
the Third World -- once hopeful experiments in social and economic
"egalitarianism" decaying into repressive totalitarian
oligarchies and economic basket cases.
As a response
to these sobering realities, we now have an emergent "progressive"
American bourgeois class playing it safe -- merging the the
ambitious upward-mobility of the middle-class bourgeois ethos
with a moderated version of the counterculture utopianism of
the 60's. If nothing else, as Mark Steyn insightfully points
out, it's a retreat to "small ideas" for many of these
new denizens of affluent leftism -- expressed in a politics
of petty political correctness and goodness.
an ironic twist, many of today's leftist zealots have become
the prissy petty-bourgeoisie of 21rst century America -- Starbucks
Babbits. And members of this emerging bourgeois class look so
nostalgically on the Clinton years because -- Monica Lewinsky
aside -- it was the political era of what Steyn calls "micro-politics":
an era of small-minded regulations and rules aimed at bossing
around everyone in America -- telling them what they could and
could not smoke, eat, drink or think, as well as whom they could
hire and fire.
members of the new fashionable trendynista political left, personified
by Howard Dean, are a unique modern version of yesterday's small-minded,
bourgeois Babbits. Like Howard Dean, they have no compunctions
about taking advantage of American's prosperous capitalistic
free-market economic system to earn a good living (and rake
in the big bucks if possible). Nor do they have any aversion
to the many perks of privilege -- just so long as those privileges
primarily benefit them.
as a result of an ironic values transmutation, they embrace
a 60's-style countercultural, oppositionist stance against the
traditional symbols of capitalistic wealth and achievement.
They champion an alternative culture of "openness,"
"authenticity," "tolerance," "caring"
and "selflessness" and eschew the alleged greed, materialism,
hypocrisy, selfishness and exploitiveness of traditional American
of this countercultural "caring," they are the good
guys; and any groups who oppose them are the bad guys.
theirs is a cant and code of arbitrary politically-correct goodness,
revolving around a rigid, small-minded catechism of accepted
speech, thought and behavior prescribed by righteous opinion
leaders in academia, the media and the arts.
world of the gentrified left, it's not the consequences of words
and behavior that count, but appearances. Goodness entails slavishly
mimicking politically-correct speech and thought, regardless
of their actual impact.
morality has been routinized. And today's small-minded burghers
of Babbit-style political-correctness revel in their superficial
goodness, while enjoying the power that comes from selectively
repressing the liberty and choice of those whom they deem their
the dogmatic insistence on increased spending by government
on local services targeted at economically-marginal social groups,
even if the consequence of much of this progressive largesse
is an increasing apathy, lack of initiative, family breakdown,
and social anarchy in the lives of those targeted.
the condemnation of cigarette smoking as a selfish, loathsome,
self-destructive act that requires ever-increasing government
regulation -- while simultaneously championing the freedom of
the spiritual-minded and adventurous to search for fulfillment
and alternative wisdom through smoking marijuana or imbibing
over-consumption of trans-fatty foods by your average Joes (or
Mabels) is a public-health threat warranting government intervention;
but sexual promiscuity and experimentation by sophisticated
'metrosexuals' is a sign of cultural superiority and sophistication
deserving public respect and support -- regardless of the escalating
public-health threat posed by sexually-transmitted diseases.
course, spending $15,000 on a diamond-studded bracelet or watch
is an act of repugnant, self-indulgent conspicuous consumption,
when those same dollars could be better spent on "saving"
the children of America (meaning that such conspicuous wealth
should be taxed away to pay for government programs for the
less fortunate). However, spending $15,000 dollars on a lightweight,
titanium Italian racing bike is a sign of good taste, authenticity
and environmental sensitivity, and cyclists should be socially
commended and provided with special privileges on the nation's
it goes. The narrow, hypocritical micro-politics of what Mark
Steyn calls the "Bike-Path Left" -- America's new
as their champion Howard Dean is concerned, forget the battle
to provide liberty, justice and opportunity to the Iraqi people.
It's time to focus on important issues, such as more bike paths,
or stamping out cigarette smoking and Big Macs.
reason to vote for George W. Bush and the Republican Party in
Murray Soupcoff is the author of Canada
1984 and a former radio and television producer with the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the Managing
Editor of The Iconoclast.
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