Ron Radosh

Life on the Upper Left Side



       Many of you have seen the video of what happened when some naïve or perhaps brave McCain volunteers decided to march, hold signs and give out leaflets for their candidate during the annual Upper West Side Street fair in Manhattan.  The fair takes place each Fall between 65th Street and 96th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. The fair, one of Manhattan’s largest, is a family event, and everyone regularly goes if the weather is nice.  It offers clothing bargains, home-made items, food, and on two stages at each end, an array of bands and other entertainment. 

        Each year, candidates or their supporters regularly appear and make their appeal for  votes. I recall Ed Koch himself marching with a few people when he was running for Mayor. Most people go and shake a candidate’s hand, or ignore them. After all, one does not go there to engage in political action.  But the Upper West Side is what Tom Hayden once called “one of the liberated zones in America,” putting it alongside Berkeley, California and Madison, Wisconsin as safe havens for the Left. Virtually everyone who lives in what once was an eclectic and diverse neighborhood, now more than ever gentrified and inhabited by wealthy lawyers and account executives,  see themselves as anywhere from the liberal side of the political spectrum to the far Left.

 So when Obama supporters saw the little band marching on their turf, they erupted in anger.  You might think that this was the pro-Nazis parade marching through Skokie Illinois.  And in fact one of these Upper West Side Liberals yelled “Nazis” at the McCain volunteers as they passed by. Others chanted “McCain is a lying pig;” “You have no brains,” and some of these intellectuals held up their middle finger and booed in unison as the campaign workers passed . Many of them, I suspect, are on the faculties of the City University of New York, New York University, Columbia University, Fordham University, and other institutions of higher education whose faculty members almost all choose this neighborhood as their home.

       What they have revealed is not that they oppose John McCain- we knew that already-but that their dedication to civil liberties- a cause they extol at length when they charge the Bush Administration with severe violations of it- is not very deep. At the very least, they still hold to the old 60’s Marcusean dictum that those they deem fascists do not have the right to speak.  These liberties  are reserved for people having the correct opinions and who have the people’s true interests at heart; ie, themselves.

       I lived in that neighborhood from 1970 to 1992, when I moved with my family to the Washington  DC area so I was not too surprised to see the video of what transpired there.  Living in “a liberated zone” can feel oppressive if you differ from what the late educator and art critic Harold Rosenberg called the “herd of independent minds.”


       Just as I was about to  publish the above, I was alerted to an important op-ed that appears in The Daily News written by James Kirchick, an Assistant Editor at The New Republic. Kirchick brilliantly raises the issue of smears. He begins by raising what many others saw as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strange assertion that leading Republicans have suggested that Barcak Cobama is a Muslim and a terrorist.  He goes on to rveal how scores of liberal writers, some quite prominent, have regularly made their own equivalent smears against John McCain, without anyone calling them to the carpet. His main point: “If these fringe (and most of them are hardly fringe) Individuals don’t speak for American liberalism write large…then the stray hecklers at McCain-Palin rallies cannot represent American conservatism. By imputing the crazy views of a few right-wing extremists to all conservatives, Obama supporters cut off legitimate concerns about their  candidate’s positions and qualifications for office.”

        I also should note that Mr. Kirchick writes for and is an editor at The New Republic. As long as writers like Mr. Kirchick appear in its pages, it is more than foolish to write this journal of opinion off as a source that is not worthy to read and learn from.