Remember When the Left Actually Served a Purpose?

By Jason Scott Jones Published on February 27, 2023

It might mark me out as a Boomer, but I can actually recall when liberals and progressives served a legitimate function. I know, I know, that “Sounds crazy,” but hear me out. If you go back and watch an old episode of All in the Family, for instance. Yes, “Meathead” was fuzzy-headed, Utopian, and frequently self-righteous, and Archie Bunker was right to mock him.

But Meathead was also right about a number of things. For instance, he disapproved of genuine racist statements and thoughtless bigoted attitudes which Archie used to express. Well, that was useful, wasn’t it?

There was a time when the left were the main advocates of genuine racial justice, even reconciliation — while William F. Buckley of National Review was defending literacy tests that stopped blacks from voting.

Beyond Civil Rights, Pursuing Legal Equality

Likewise, the legitimate goals first sought by women’s “liberation,” of equality under law. Of course, progressives didn’t know where to stop, and quickly embraced the escalating, extreme demands of zealots, such as abortion on demand.

The left forgot that the impulse to defend citizens’ dignity and offer them fair treatment arose entirely from the Christian vision of the person — and soon saw churches themselves not as allies but enemies. Now it’s up to conservatives, many of them non-white, to revive the Civil Rights Movement’s goal of treating people according to the “content of their characters.”

The left once championed an end to censorship and paternalistic government attempts to manipulate public opinion. No more. Now liberals are all-in on letting billion dollar corporations work with the FBI to censor our medical information and stifle open debate. Left-wingers of principle such as Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald became pariahs for daring to dissent.

The Left Once Opposed Stupid Wars

The left once served as a reflexive check on our leaders’ impulse to overthrow foreign governments and intervene in foreign wars, often at the behest of big corporations who pulled on senators’ purse strings. Can you remember that? We saw a few remnants of the former antiwar left criticizing Bill Clinton’s attack on Yugoslavia, and George W. Bush’s pointless attack on Iraq. But their heart was hardly in it by that point.

The big money had poured into the left from crafty defense contractors, who assured them that left-wing presidents, too, could wield their bombs and bullets … to promote progressive goals. And pretty quickly the antiwar movement dried up and blew away. Now you can hardly find a Democrat willing to criticize nuclear brinksmanship over Ukraine. It’s up to libertarians and America First realists to try and apply some brakes before the next August 1914.

The Left Used to Care About the Environment

Now with the horrific ecological disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, we see that the left has abandoned the environment, too. I’m old enough to remember when lefties would be outraged at mushroom clouds of toxic gas spreading over U.S. cities, poisoning water supplies, farms, and citizens too poor to get out of town.

So where is the outrage now? Where are the protest marches, the Congressional hearings grilling the Secretary of Transportation over a catastrophe on his watch on his railways? Where are the grass roots groups who used to lobby intensely for breathable air, drinkable water, and uncontaminated soil?

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They have all been bought and paid for. They bought the well-funded line that “Climate Change” is the universal issue, trumping everything else and rendering all other questions moot. Conveniently, there are huge corporations ready and willing to get rich offering electric cars, wind farms and solar panels. The World Economic Forum is a club of billionaires who offer to take over control of the wealth of the planet in order to “build it back better” via a “Great Reset.”

When Lynrd Skynrd was touring and the Rolling Stones still could dance, progressives would have been screaming their lungs over such an oligarchical conspiracy. But in our time? You can hear the crickets. Or maybe that’s the sound of thirty pieces of silver getting slipped into millions of pockets. From a movement that sought to preserve a livable earth for our posterity, the environmentalist cause now warns people not to have any children at all. Which leaves them exactly what stake in the future of the planet … ?

The Right Needs to Step Up … Again

So once again, we’re going to need the political Right to pick up a legitimate cause that the Left abandoned out of a paucity of principle. We need to remember that Republican Theodore Roosevelt steamrollered big business and established our system of national parks. He drew on religious and patriotic sentiment to champion preserving our country’s God-given beauty, and the wonders of nature. (This at a time when Social Darwinism was driving progressives like Margaret Sanger to forcibly sterilize immigrants who flunked culturally biased IQ tests.)

You can’t build a society on blinkered self-interest, an obsession with the present over the future, and sneering contempt for the past. But all these impulses have taken over the movements on the left, which now chase cheap, easy victories instead of moral, long-term goals. It’s left to the churches, the farmers, the patriotic small-towners, and the cussed independent thinkers to rebuild a conservation movement that actually cares about the country and its citizens.


Jason Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream. He is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker.

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