Letter to an Ex-Contrarian

Article excerpt

Dear Christopher,

I was very sad when you left the magazine, but I was puzzled too. What kind of contrarian leaves a column--called "Minority Report," no less--because too many of the readers disagree with him? Quite apart from the fact that some readers share your views on Iraq, the precipitating subject, aren't contrarians supposed to relish the combat? To enjoy stomping about the lonely platform and hectoring the resistant multitudes? Let's say you wanted to persuade those opposed to invading Iraq that the cause of Iraqi democracy and Kurdish self-determination require it. What better pulpit than here?

But of course there was more to it than that. On the radio, on Hardball, in a long interview in Salon, in a Washington Post essay redolently titled "So Long, Fellow Travelers," you've offered a view of those who oppose Bush's military plans that is seriously at odds with reality: The antiwar movement equals the left and the left equals the followers of Ramsey Clark, defender of Slobodan Milosevic and assorted Hutu genocidaires and other thugs, who is the founder of the International Action Center, which is closely linked to ANSWER, a front for the Workers World Party. Your picture of the big antiwar demo in October could have come straight out of David Horowitz's column: "100,000 Communists March on Washington to Give Aid and Comfort to Saddam Hussein."

Now, it is a fact that answer called the big demonstration in Washington, it arranged for the permits, organized many buses and brought on all those speakers no one listens to. That's not the same as controlling the movement--99 percent of the people who go to those demonstrations don't even know ANSWER exists--but of course it's galling that this tiny group of sectarian throwbacks play any kind of leadership role. That's why numerous lefties you know well--David Corn, Marc Cooper, Todd Gitlin--have written polemics calling for their ouster, and various efforts are afoot to out-organize them. I think those writers exaggerate ANSWER's influence--I can't tell you how many people I've spoken with who do not recognize in Corn's LA Weekly description the DC event they attended. But the important point is, those writers and those organizers oppose ANSWER because they know it doesn't represent either the left or the antiwar movement. You seem to think it does.

What I don't understand is how you can believe that. You've spent decades on the left you now despise. You know that Edward Said, Ann Snitow, Doug Henwood, Laura Flanders and Adolph Reed care as much about human rights as you do, don't regard Saddam Hussein as a people's hero, don't secretly gloat over 9/11 (you, weirdly, told Salon that the event filled you with "exhilaration"--the battle between fundamentalism and secularism had been joined). Why do you write as if these antiwar voices--or Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or the National Organization for Women, or your presidential candidate of choice, Ralph Nader--did not exist? You are doing to the American left exactly what Martin Amis did to you when he laid the crimes of Stalin at your Trotskyist feet. …