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The Decrepit Character of the "Professional Left"

The Decrepit Character of the "Professional Left" By Dr. Rec 17 Aug 2010

According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the professional left is supposedly President Barack Obama’s dreaded enemy, apparently more so than the professional right, whom he works consistently to assuage. To the professional left, Gibbs and company offer no apologies. But what is there to fear in this "professional left?" Is it the dreaded critical monster that the glib Gibbs has made it out to be?

One would think that a ruthless critical apparatus had been directed at the Obama administration, and that this apparatus was incisive, overwhelming and intransigent. But this is far from the case. Instead, Obama has his full complement of apologists on the "professional left," who are ever ready to point to rightwing bogeys as the enemy, and thus to redirect any anger toward them that rightly should be directed at Obama himself, as well as at those corporate masters whom he so faithfully represents.

But recently, the professional left itself has begun to use the real left as a foil against rightwing criticism like that from the Obama administration. Case in point: Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC's flagship program, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." Recently, he blithely and indifferently dismissed Karl Marx as a "lousy thinker." No explanation was given for this hasty dismissal of one of history’s most prominent minds. If this vapid characterization is any indication of the tendency of the professional left, then there is nothing for either the Obama administration or the rest of the right wing to worry about. Such spouting without apparent knowledge of political thought strikes of American anti-intellectualism. 

Keith Olbermann 

The obvious retort to Olbermann's remark is that anyone with the intelligence to understand Marx and at all acquainted with his writings will recognize, regardless of his or her agreement or disagreement, the productions of a great intellect. And those more intimately concerned will know the importance of Marxist thought in the history of ideas, again, even if they utterly reject his views. Marx overcame and refuted effectively all forms of philosophical idealism and subjectivism; he was first to develop the materialist conception of history (in The German Ideology); he developed a thorough critique of Political Economy, including the works of Adam Smith and Ricardo; he synthesized the major works of economics and philosophy; and he developed a political system based on all of the above that still stands as a major antipode to the prevalent economic system, tracing its development from ancient history to its emergence in the 19th century. To have accomplished any one of these things would save one's place in the pantheon of intellectual history. To have done them all makes Marx one of the foremost intellectual forces of all time, no matter one’s opinion of his politics. But one has to be familiar with the context of Marx's work and his massive contribution to it to understand all of this.
So, in its ignorance, the "professional left" disavows the real left. Mr. Gibbs, with enemies like this, who needs friends?

Another MSNBC pundit, Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show," attended Stanford University. Later she won a Rhodes scholarship and studied at Oxford. She was apparently the first "openly gay American" to receive a Rhodes scholarship. One would think that she would be a daunting part of the professional left to which Gibbs alludes. Think again.

Despite her self-congratulatory, self-satisfied demeanor, Maddow is anything but a leftist; rather, she is an Obama apologist of the first order. In fact, she’s a toadyish liberal apologist for imperialism.

While challenging Obama’s failure to overturn the infamous "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" (DADT) ban on openly gay members of the military, Maddow fails to question the most important policy and political trajectories of the Obama administration, including the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the continued policies of indefinite detention of erstwhile "enemy combatants," the extension of domestic surveillance, and the arrogation to itself of the right to assassinate without trial or even arrest American citizens deemed terrorists. Today, DADT is a matter of internecine banter amongst those in agreement about the major function of the U.S. military: the enrichment of the war industry itself, the purposeful destruction of capital, and the use of the American working class as tools for the material and political enrichment of the corporate class.

Like the rest of the American liberal-left, Maddow accepts the premise of the Bush and now the Obama administration’s argument that US forces in Afghanistan are actually attempting to rid the nation of its terrorist elements and to establish a workable democracy. During her visit to Afghanistan and in subsequent comments, Maddow never seriously challenged the official version of events or in any way expressed opposition to the war, now the longest in US history. Waged for the control of the Caspian Sea for the purpose of controlling oil, and for mineral and other resources, the war in Afghanistan is not materially different from the Iraq War. Both are wars of imperialism, and the political establishment means to use any manner of propaganda to ensure their continuance, as the recent cover story of Time Magazine epitomizes. Maddow’s coverage of the wars, or rather her lack thereof, serves as such state propaganda.

Maddow merely represents the neoliberal flavor of commentary in support the corporate oligarchy and its speculative and militarist adventurism. While she and her fans may believe that her openness about sexual orientation and gay rights qualifies her as a flaunted member of the professional left, these features are merely a costume to disguise her rather reactionary political positions. She’s not a radical at all. The daughter of a former US Air Force captain and raised in Castro Valley, California, Maddow has not, despite her apparently racy identity façade, overcome her family background. She has not so much as matured into an individuated person free from the class and military biases of her family.

Rachel Maddow

Others in the professional left may be more "radical," but in any case, throughout the cable news spectrum, as limited in perspective as it is, the point of the professional left is to push Democrats to the "left." Thus the professional left clings tenaciously to one of the two levers by which the ruling elite control the political process in the U.S. Even when critical of the Democrats, the point is always to urge them to cooperate in their supposedly avowed "progressive" agenda. Such people are dreamers. They have no clue just how utterly implicated both political parties are in the objectives of corporate and military domination.

How then do we understand this supposed disdain for the professional left within the Obama administration? The glib Gibbs’s comments were apiece of a charade. Of course, they were aimed at disarming and appeasing ultra-rightwing voters and critics, who must have been thrilled to hear Obama’s press agent disavow Obama’s own media advocates. But more importantly, by excoriating the so-called professional left, Gibbs left the false impression that a real alternative to Obama and the Democrats -- one based on legitimate criticism and not the false claims that Obama is a "socialist" -- was represented in the media. Of course, this is not the case, and Gibbs knows it. But Gibbs’s attempt to substitute the faux, professional left for a real left will be subverted by the faux left itself, as the latter scurries to avoid any association with a "lousy thinker" like Karl Marx.

Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D. --Michael Rectenwald is the Founder and Chief Editorialist of Citizens For Legitimate Government,

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