Dean and the gentrified left: Post-modern busybodies?
By Murray Soupcoff
web posted December 22, 2003
In a recent Wall Street Journalop-ed, Mark
Steyn contrasted Howard Dean's surprising blasť 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 blasť. Obstruct plans to convert the
ravaged site into a memorial bike path and he'll hunt you down wherever you
Why 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, latte-drenched
Except 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.
So in 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
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.
Indeed, 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
However, 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 life.
And because of this countercultural "caring," they are the good guys; and any
groups who oppose them are the bad guys.
In fact, 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
In the 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.
Public 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 moral inferiors.
Hence, 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.
Hence, 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 mind-altering
Similarly, 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.
And of 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
and cyclists should be socially commended and provided with special privileges
on the nation's roads.
And so it goes. The narrow, hypocritical micro-politics of what Mark Steyn
calls the "Bike-Path Left" -- America's new politically-correct, petty-bourgeoisie.
As far 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.
Just another reason to vote for George W. Bush and the Republican Party in 2004.