American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation

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Of course, Destructive Generation also shatters Kazin’s central thesis that these radical groups were merely the bad boys of social justice, of youthful enthusiasm gone slightly awry, by relating the violent plans and activities of not only the Weather Underground, but even everybody’s favorite aging 60s radical Tom Hayden, for violent revolution in the United States—and the real life death and destruction that resulted.

Kazin is right about one thing, however, and that is that the Left’s major triumph in the United States is in the culture, particularly Hollywood and universities.

When Jonah Goldberg or Daniel Flynn write about the radical or communist roots of environmentalism, feminism or multiculturalism, it’s considered an expose and someone is sure to shout “McCarthyism!”  When Kazin does it, it’s… bragging?

Maybe this book will provide a clue for fuddy-duddy conservative commentators who laud  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington because it’s sparkly clean and pretends to love America.  Kazin does a pretty fair job of outlining just how prominent CPUSA members were in writing scripts in 30s and 40s Hollywood, and how leftist populism was a huge theme for filmmakers like Frank Capra. In keeping with the rest of his MO in American Dreamers, Kazin once again leaves out the pertinent and damning fact exposed by Ron Radosh in Red Star over Hollywood among other sources, that many of these scriptwriters were paid agents of Stalin who submitted their scripts for approval to commissars before their studio employers got to see them.

But while Hollywood has never seemed more Left than today, it has suffered in going from red white and blue to just red, from Frank Capra to Michael Moore.  Movies have decreasing social relevance and increasing alienation from audiences.

Kazin covers Michael Moore (not uncritically) as an example of the New New Left.  He links him as a satirist with Simpsons creator Matt Groening.  But that’s just weird.  Groenig may have started out a leftist (though his comic strip Life in Hell is truly funny) but he achieved mega-success with The Simpsons, an equal opportunity satire which frequently takes its best shots at the Left.  But Kazin never completes the contrast, instead oddly claiming The Simpsons for the Left mainly because a few Christian fundamentalists once protested it.

Another bizarre aspect of American Dreamers is the almost complete lack of discussion about the Middle East, al Qaeda, or even The Patriot Act.  Anarchists in Seattle are spotlighted by Kazin, but the recent anti-war movement is barely given a sideways glance.

Leftist feminist Naomi Klein, who has called for Al Sadr’s killing fields to come to New York, gets plenty of kudos for her writings condemning capitalism.  Kazin is far more critical of iconic left-wing heavyweights Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky—though not for their favoring of terrorists over the U.S., or of the Arab world against Israel, but for their general conspiracy-nut frame of mind, which Kazin judges limits their broad appeal.

The issue of Israel is never raised in the book, other than the occasional mentions that so-and-so is into Palestinian rights or some similar cliché.

So whether reports that John Lennon died a Reagan fan are true or not, if you really want to know why the hard Left never captured the love of a majority of American voters, you are better off listening to a 3 minute Beatles song, then spending a week with Michael Kazin’s deliberately incomplete treatment of a destructive American movement.

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  • Tim k

    A Good Read Of The Truth THINKS. I Lived in them years and know what you are saying.

    I lived and was there but not with them and could see them for what they were…

  • StephenD

    Yeah, his work is right up there with Howard Zinn in terms of honesty. I expect in short order this will be mandatory reading in our tax subsidized schools. We keep feeding the snake and wonder why it lives.

  • tagalog

    "Serfs," not "surfs."

    Please don't bad-mouth Frank Capra. He was more a populist than a dupe of the communists.

  • erp

    … "scholarly periodicals as The Nation, … ." Please stop, my stomach hurts from laughing so much.

    BTW – the socialists are far from done with destroying our way of life. We're being set up for the worst kind of violent election in our history and I wouldn't be surprised if they determine that voter fraud won't buy them victory this time, that Gracious Leader will declare martial law and cancel the election.

  • mrbean

    The New Left, SDS, and their offshoots were all made up indoctrinates of Marcuse and his colleagues and of useful idiots who promoted them in the media.

  • Ben

    Halo of ramanticism often cover social extremists of both kinds as the result of their ideologies of the simple junior-type character.Artist too often fell in love with the charming lies.Rich Hollywood communists are the absurd example of the fact that the modern world is too complicated for an artist`s intuitive political opinion.

    • Richard Ong

      Good one.

  • joy52

    "How the Left Changed a Nation" for the worse…

  • Ghostwriter

    I remember a guy named Daniel Flynn covered some of the same ground in "A Conservative History of the American Left." It's a pretty good read. It also left in the material Kazin left out. Still,I wonder how Mr. Flynn feels about another book that documents the same history but from a leftist point of view.
    Also,I doubt that Polish-Americans would have been too happy with the American Communist Party anymore than the Polish were happy with theirs.

  • Rifleman

    I’m rereading Ayn Rand’s “The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution,” written from 1965 to 1970. The flea baggers are just new-left retreads, claiming the same lack of ideology, the same enemies (banks, Wall St., big business, the military industrial complex), and the same ‘solutions’ that are always socialist/collectivist in nature, while pointedly disregarding the rights and property of others.

    • Richard Ong

      Sums it up.

  • mrbean

    The basic rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rights pertain to individuals, not groups. They derive from the basic nature of each individual human. So, they do not pertain directly at the “group” level of, say, country, tribe, religion, or race, because all those groupings are made up of individuals. Individuals can change the groups they belong to, but the groups can’t make do without individuals. Most fundamentally, it is individuals who think, act, and choose, not groups. Moral responsibility lies within individuals. Statists, even well meaning ones, all support what has been called a right but is not, called "freedom from want". This means what one man will not or cannot provide for himself becomes the forced burden of another, thereby negating the another's real rights, his life, his liberty, and his pursuit of happiness.

  • Richard Ong

    Outstanding article, illustrating the truth that if you want to know the truth of what is being said or written, focus on what is being left out.

    Every liberal I've ever met in my life is utterly indifferent to the Gulags and killing fields of the left. If there's the least bit of awareness of the basic facts, it nevertheless won't be factored into any political analysis of any question. A new program, law, or bureaucracy? What could go wrong? The children will benefit. Or the arts. Or the environment. Or the "disadvantaged." Or some foreigner. The sacramental "Yes, but . . . ."

    Mostly though, to liberals the horrors of successful leftism rank with events in Andromeda or the lives of wildebeests, Matters of idle curiosity.

    • geoplaten

      Nice post.

      "Mostly though, to liberals the horrors of successful leftism rank with events in Andromeda or the lives of wildebeests, Matters of idle curiosity."

      Somehow they think it could never happen to them, or never happen here.

  • nunyainct

    Another great book that covers the left and their deleterious effect on society is the Long March, by Roger Kimball who examined academia and how the left said we will get to you (Conservatives) through your children. Absolutely the lefts influence on society has been a cancer. They tout equal outcome without equal effort, and see all acts as relative with no true condemnation. Having read Radical Son, I would wish EVERYONE would read it because of the insight into Leftist ideology and seeing it for what it is, puerile and destructive. Having lived in New Haven CT for many years, and having known Warren Kimbro, I do believe there was no compunction ever for his actions, and as with most Leftists, the rules of society did not apply to him.

    • Richard Ong

      Gertrude Himmelfarb in her "One Nation, Two Cultures" quoted Vaclav Havel to the effect that our current civilization is shortsighted with its boundless trust in humanity's ability to "embrace the Universe by rational cognition." This amounts to a loss of God, of "the loss of respect for the order of existence of which we not the creators but mere components." Man is thus answerable for irrationality but not for violation of any external moral code, other than the moral imperative that no thinking may be engaged in that allows for humans to make discriminating judgments about other humans. Engage in that kind of thought crime and you will soon find yourself in the realm of civic death..

      Men having sex with men. Women with women, Men with two women, Men with boys. Men with girls. All acceptable. Witness the honored participation of the North American Man-Boy Love Assn. in the last gay "pride" gathering in D.C. in the '90s. No antibodies against that perversion whatsoever. Part of the great Rainbow Coalition.

  • Ghostwriter

    MKULTRA BRAINCHIPMAN,has anybody ever told you that you're a weirdo? If not,let me be the first to tell you,you're a weirdo.

  • Ghostwriter

    I have no idea what you're talking about.

  • Ghostwriter

    Uhhh thanks,if have had any idea what you meant.

  • Ghostwriter

    What I meant was,if I had any idea what you meant.

  • Richard Ong

    Not quite. Capitalism can be revolutionary, destructive even, as new techniques of production and agriculture are developed. Capitalism focuses on efficiency and marketing to make businesses successful but does not focus on cultural preservation. Producers and innovators are neutral on matters of culture and politics but are still chained to the realities of physics and markets.

    Liberals are not so chained and their focus is on change or revolution according to an intellectual assessment of the desirability of the goal. If the goal can be conceived and is seen as good, then the liberal will pursue it regardless of custom, history, human nature, physics, or economics. Should workers be treated "fairly" as the liberal defines fairness? If so, money can be found to achieve that goal by plunder, expropriation, taxation, limitless borrowing, or inflation, plus varying degrees of coercion to prevent old political choices.

    The capitalist acting rationally stays alive by satisfying consumer wants and obeying the laws of physics, economics, etc. and does not actively seek the destruction of old ways, only more efficient new ways.

    The liberal acts irrationally to achieve fanciful goods and ignores the realities of the world in the process and, as history has shown, resorts to coercion to prevent consumers from making free choices inconsistent with the delusional goals favored by the liberal.

    Capitalists do good with unintended negative consequences. Liberals do evil with an intent to destroy.