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A Response to Jeffrey Goldfarb

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your open letter. I am afraid that in spite of your admiration for the color gray, you have distorted all of my positions, reducing complex, nuanced arguments to black vs white caricatures that I do not recognize and that I disown. Briefly:

  1. For me, the central issue of American radicalism has been to establish a permanent, continuing radical presence in American life. Obviously, mass upheavals like the women’s movement are not going to establish such a presence. However, without such a presence such movements become absorbed and lose their radical meaning. I would never criticize any movement as obviously emancipatory as the women’s movement; this would be like criticizing an ocean or a tsunami. I did think it is important to recognize that radical women in that movement abandoned the attempt to build a “mixed” left, i.e., a radical presence.
  2. Rape culture. How extraordinary that you would chide me for not opposing rape! My point was that the characterization of universities in general as “rape cultures” was wrong — and important.
  3. My article on Trump and Hillary. My point was that it was impossible to understand Trump except against the background of the moralistic, identitarian culture exemplified by Hillary Clinton. Hence, I discussed the role that the cult of true womanhood played in American political history. To accuse me of choosing Trump as opposed to Hillary is willfully misleading.
  4. Obama: One of the most disturbing results of the absence of a genuine radical presence in US life is the failure to analyze critically the Obama Presidency. Many of the responses to my posts on Obama have been ad hominem, directed against me, not my arguments, while my characterizations of Obama were never that, but rather attempts at historical reasoning. The problem of appreciating the nature of his Presidency is deeply complex, but for me we can only start by appreciating the lost opportunity of 2008, and the disastrous policies that the country has been following, especially since the nineties. By this I mean our truly criminal wars in the middle east and the consolidation of a two-tier society in every institution: housing, education, health care, culture, etc.
  5. Finally, let me return the favor and tell you how I view your politics. Much as I like you and appreciate your warmth, friendliness, and public spirit, every political judgment I can remember coming from you has been the most banal of cliches: insipid anti-Communism, red-baiting, American exceptionalism, pusillanimous refusal to see the hypocrisy and greed and all the rest of what passes for liberalism or “progressivism” today.
In conclusion: Ever since I came of age in the fifties and sixties I have watched your brand of liberalism support Mccarthyism, vote “reluctantly” for the Vietnam war, find farcical economic arguments to dismember the New Deal, go hard on crime, look down on “populism,” think drones are a good idea, get tough on Putin, turn a blind eye to East European anti-Semitism, confuse meritocracy and equality, and all the rest. It is very easy to see that right wing Republicans need to be opposed. I however feel that I owe it to those who provided me with a first-class education to use my intelligence more critically. My targets are not the easy ones of the Tea Party but rather those who tell us that all answers are grey, that life is complex, that politics involves compromise, that you can’t get everything at once, that there is evil in the world, that “little things” matter. Frankly such empty banalities are the real problem for me. They cover the whole mean-spirited American empire with an oily film of hypocrisy. Still I like you as a person very much.

Best,
Eli

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Eli Zaretsky

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