FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.--The Nation cruise recently to the Caribbean, like many long anticipated trips, was disappointing. Some panelists were wordy, others enamored of their celebrity, others ego-tripped and several acted like standup comics rather than giving topics the seriousness they deserved.
A discussion with Nation editor Katrina Heuvel confirmed what I have long felt: America has no Left of any political significance.
The Establishment media use the phony balance of “the Right says, the Left says.” But the terrible truth is that while the Right is strong, the Left does not exist except for a few voices crying in the wilderness like The Nation magazine.
Speakers at this cruise-conference kept talking about changing American culture. But when it comes to the media, it will never change. The media are corporate and Establishment. Ownership is ever narrowing so media change is impossible.
Participants at these liberal-left conferences are overly optimistic. One cruise attendee said she was buoyed by the re-election of President Obama. The truth is that his re-election simply means more of the same.
Another woman remarked that 2012 was the most important presidential election in more than a century. Even anyone with the most casual knowledge of U.S. history cannot overlook FDR.
Nevertheless, brief biographies of the participants make it clear that so many have fought the good fight: early voting legislation, motor-voter law, teacher strikes, civil disobedience during the Vietnam War, battle to rout South African apartheid, a moving visit by an Air Force veteran to the Peace Park in Nagasaki and an activist who returned his Eagle Scout medal because the Boy Scouts are intolerant of gays and atheists.
While I dwell in the lofty ivory tower of intellectual pursuit of leftism, socialism and atheism, so many of the folks on the cruise have done far more than just theorizing. They have been active with their deeds.
The Nation gatherings for dinner each night were uneven. One evening I happily sat at the same table with Gary Younge, immediately likeable Guardian columnist, and Al Dorfman, a New Yorker and one of the few genuine leftist among the 430 Nation cruisers. Most of the diners at my table were pleasant, Nation readers, but hardly leftists.
Another criticism of these progressive meetings is that the questions from the audience so often turn into speeches. The hobbyhorses make you cry out: please creep up on your question mark.
Pro-Palestinian Medea Benjamin was the best panelist. She provided one of the highlights of the cruise, skewering the pompous Eric Alterman for his pro-Israel views.
Indeed, the Nation cruise organizers should leave Alterman home next time. At one dinner he arrogantly proclaimed that he didn’t really want to be there. To prove it, he wore music plugs in his ears. Discourteous plus gall equal zero.
Stephen Cohen, Russian history specialist, proved to be another discourteous Nation star.
I asked him a serious question: is there something in the Russian psyche that demands an authoritarian state as it had under the czars and Soviets and now under President Putin? He dismissed the question with a snide reply: “Oh, you’re just another Russian basher.”
Hardly. Cohen, with an immense ego, is another who should not be invited again.
However, someone who ought to be invited back again and again is John Nichols. He describes the media to perfection.
“A horrible media system,” he says. “The worst in the world. Dysfunctional. Even North Korea has a better media system.
“Americans believe what they see and hear on the media. They are entertained not informed by serious news. The media are led by ignorance and lies. They lead the public into unending wars. America slaughters its young people in the military.”
One speaker noted the prevailing military-industrial complex but failed to add the powerful congressional influence to the complex. Members of Congress want bases, munitions depots and military facilities built in their districts or states.
Indeed, the will-o’-the-wisp fiscal cliff would vanish overnight if the military-industrial-congressional complex were greatly reduced.
But someone quickly reminded me of the Iraq war caused by Judy Miller of the Times. And that reminded me of the pro-war corporate press and its skimpy coverage of anti-Iraq War demonstrations.
And that reminded me of the speaker who rightly ridiculed the notion of American exceptionalism. This “exceptional” nation has been waging permanent war for 70 years.