Adolph Reed, Jr.

The author of an incendiary piece in Harper’s magazine that lambastes liberals for lacking conviction and being too focused on electoral politics is coming to Brunswick this Saturday. Adolph Reed, Jr.’s “Nothing Left: The long, slow surrender of American liberals,” published in the March issue of Harper’s, engendered a number of responses across the leftist blogosphere.

A professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania (he’s previously taught at Yale and Northwestern), Reed is happy to have sparked a discussion. “I’m writing to try to identify and connect with people out there who have serious politics and to try to broaden the conversation,” he said in a phone interview this week.

“The terms ‘left’ and ‘progressive’ — and in practical usage the latter is only a milquetoast version of the former — now signify a cultural sensibility rather than a reasoned critique of the existing social order,” Reed wrote. “The left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency (youth/students; undocumented immigrants; the Iraqi labor movement; the Zapatistas; the urban “precariat”; green whatever; the black/Latino/LGBT ‘community’; the grassroots, the netroots, and the blogosphere; this season’s worthless Democrat; Occupy; a ‘Trotskyist’ software engineer elected to the Seattle City Council) to another.”

Long quote, but worth it to show the tenor of Reed’s article; no wonder left-leaning media outlets like The New Republic and The Nation offered rebuttals.

In the latter, Michelle Goldberg responded to Reed’s suggestion that Dems are overly fixated on electing people with a D next to their names — regardless of their true (neoliberal, corporate-friendly) politics.

“A left that absented itself from the dirty work of electing a president would be indulging in the very reflex Reed decries: trying to send a message to those in power rather than contending for power itself,” Goldberg wrote.

“The two parties at this point are pushing two very different, ideological visions of the role of the state and the market,” Mike Konczal wrote in TNR, responding to Reed’s suggestion that today’s neoliberals are virtually indiscernible from conservatives.  

But both Goldberg and Konczal, along with many others, agreed at least in part with Reed’s prescription for reform: “The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left. Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless.”

I ask Reed how Hillary Clinton’s likely candidacy in 2016 fits into his thesis. He doubts that Elizabeth Warren will wage a campaign from the left, but even if she did, “what would happen is that the Democratic smart money — media money and Wall Street money — will make a determination early about which candidate is more electable, and the one whos the most electable will be the one who can raise the most money, and the one who can raise the most money is the one with the closest ties to Wall Street.”

Adolph Reed, Jr. speaks on Saturday, May 10 at 6:30 pm at the Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St., Brunswick | 207.725.5242

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