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Sunday
Aug092015

Lefties Driving Lefties Crazy -- As Only They Can

We’re used to seeing nutballs on the far right drive away moderates who once were their allies. We’ve watched the crackpot wing of the GOP take control of the agenda and their old friends scatter like cockroaches when the lights go on. A neighbor revealed yesterday that after forty years with the GOP he’s now an Independent because, “my party got hijacked by sick people.” Next year he may be a Democrat. Who knows.

The GOP my friend once embraced was the party of Teddy Roosevelt, of Dwight Eisenhower. Now it’s the party of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. The party of TR and Ike was worthy of respect, of measured debate over policy and process. Now it’s a cartoon, worthy only of disdain. If you ask someone who thinks of themselves as progressive or liberal what they think of the GOP you don’t get measured opinions about Ike or even Bob Dole or Thomas Kean. You get rants about Rubio’s climate change denials or Walker’s willingness to watch a mother die before allowing an abortion.

While I do get a kick out of what surely looks like political suicide, I’m concerned when my friends on the left do things that drive away their own. I’m not thinking here of radical minority movements like embracing Stalinism in the ’50s, the violent Weather Underground of the ’70s or today’s terrorist Animal Liberation Front. My concern is with positions taken by very smart people who think of themselves as sensible, albeit idealistic. Two of these drive me batshit crazy: insensitively imposing one’s own vision on others and political correctness. The first is here, the other on another day.

Imposition of vision: Why does the left do this? Well, because they cannot help themselves. They are smart (and know it). They think through an issue and come to a particular conclusion. They feel that it is right and, a fortiori, should become the standard model.

As misguided as this is, it’s different from the right-wing’s MO. There, positions tend to be staked out based on ideology and faith and buttressed, not by logic or measured argument, but by cherry-picking data and selective focus. There are good reasons why the left dominates in places where smart people congregate. Liberals are, indeed, smarter than conservatives.

Back in academia, I was our Department’s rep to our union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). It focused on faculty rights and benefits, keeping workloads reasonable, raising salaries, improving the conditions of part-time faculty and adjuncts — standard stuff. Not surprisingly, the board was made up of well-credentialed left-leaning types.

No problem, right? Well, no problem with the usual lists of demands, no real problem with the focus on salaries and working conditions — though I thought there was occasionally too little attention paid to scholarship and too much to making sure everyone was treated equally.

I favored a merit-based salary scale. Egalitarianism is a worthy ideal so long as you understand that it’s based on a myth. I saw nothing idealistic about a professor who mentored PhD’s, had major grants and published regularly being paid the same as one whose contribution consisted of teaching the same dreary courses every semester because they were hired the same year. But that’s not the reason for today’s bitch session. Today’s rant concerns the manner in which the union tried to impose its standards and views on faculty and staff.

The PSC started addressing the membership as “Brothers and Sisters” and signing off with “In Solidarity.” The board began issuing statements contrasting faculty with the university administration as a battle between “Workers” and “Management.”

I appreciate that brother (and sister)hood is a lofty ideal, I grasp how important solidarity is to a union. I understand that I worked at CUNY but these words, dragged from the world of linguistic political correctness, just felt wrong. And I knew they were going to backfire.

Politically, I was on the same page as my friends on the board. Pragmatically, we were worlds apart.

Over time problems emerged. Many faculty, even those with progressive views started getting antsy. If I didn’t like being called “brother” you can be sure that I was not in the minority. If I took umbrage with treating scholars who took administrative positions as though they had somehow changed their values and goals and became “management,” you can be certain I was not alone. The President of the college was a good friend. He didn’t go into administration because he wanted to screw faculty. He was as opposed to how the real “management” folks, the business men and women who sat on the Board of Trustees, were acting as the PSC was — and he got seriously pissed when they labeled him “Management.”

Many faculty stopped coming to union meetings. Conservative groups initiated efforts to take over the PSC. The unity the union sought was degrading  before their eyes. Idealistic, unthinking Lefties were turning long-standing liberal supporters into enemies — and doing it by violating the very principles they themselves got elected on: inclusiveness, protection of minority views, egalitarianism. It was weird.

I retired in 2005. Many of the same folks still hold positions in the PSC but the language of their materials seems more moderate and inclusive. I don’t know what happened in the past decade but the fact that the crew didn’t get voted out and none of the less desirable alternative slates took over is a good sign. Maybe they are no longer driving away their once and future colleagues. Maybe a lesson was learned. Maybe ….

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