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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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