Home > My Commentary, Solidarity Forever > Crocodile Tears for Left-Wing Fears

Crocodile Tears for Left-Wing Fears

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Harvey Milk’s people do not have anything to apologize for. Now the society is going to have to deal with us not as nice little fairies who have hairdressing salons, but as people capable of violence. We’re not going to put up with Dan Whites anymore.

-San Franciso Supervisor Harry Britt, May 22, 1979

There is a joke floating around about the tactics employed by supporters of President Obama and the Democratic Party to discredit the critics of their increasingly unpopular, aggressive, and radical social agenda.  It goes:

“How do you know if someone is a racist?”

“Easy, it is anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal.”

If there was any doubt that the Left and the Democrats would go to the well and use one of their most potent rhetorical weapons-the demagoguery of identity politics-in order to defend President Barack Obama and his domestic agenda, there shouldn’t be anymore. In the face of polling which shows President Obama declining in popularity and an increasing number of Americans disapproving of most of the Democrats’ policy initiatives, the Left has been exerting a lot of energy  in order to remind Americans that the  history of the U.S.  is filled with  bigoted violence. Their intentions, of course, are not to make reasoned policy counter- arguments against  effective opposition and to set an example of “civil discourse” they feel only they possess,  but rather to browbeat critics into shame and, eventually, a silence born of  historical guilt.

They do this without much evidence that the critics are in fact bigots or plan any kind of violent resistance to Obama’s left-wing social policies. Ironically, however, the rhetorical attacks on the critics  evoke some of the most sweeping conspiracy theories and harken back to the industrial-sized paranoia that afflicted  the Left during the political tumult of the 1960s and 70s. An atmosphere that, incidentally, bred some of the most extreme violence and worst domestic acts of  terror ever witnessed on American soil; most, if not all, committed by devotees of some Marxist, revolutionary or some other counter-cultural cause associated with the radical Left.

One of the most misleading examples of this appeal to identity politics was recently pursued by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.. On Wednesday, September 15 the Speaker held her weekly press conference where she talked about the state of health care reform amongst other issues. During the conference, Pelosi was asked a number of questions about the growing opposition to health care reform and the increasing disapproval ratings of President Barack Obama. After a week where critics of the Democrats’ legislative agenda mobilized hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters to march on Washington D.C, and spurious charges of racism were attributed to that crowd ostensibly by supporters of this agenda,  Nancy Pelosi responded by warning that the language being used by the critics in the debate should be scaled down as it might incite violence. Choking down her tears, Pelosi said:

“I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this, myself, in the late ’70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place.”

For anyone who knows the history, it is difficult to fathom what “frightening language” Pelosi was referring to when she warned about the dangerous, perhaps deadly,  potential of free and open political debate and aggrieved citizens’ assembly. The specific violence the Speaker amorphously alluded to, as confirmed by her office, was the murder of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the gay politician recently depicted in Gus Van Zant’s biopic starring Sean Penn. Milk was murdered by fellow supervisor Dan White, who received a very light sentence because of the use of the notorious “Twinkie defense” at his trial.

The City’s homosexual population was enraged by the sentencing that followed ( White got 7 years for involuntary manslaughter) and their outrage was exacerbated by an unfounded theory that there was a concerted effort by a secret cabal within the San Francisco police department to harass and malign them, and that somehow White, the jury, and an unspecified number of the San Francisco political establishment were a  part of this conspiracy. It is curious to note that the prosecutor in the case, Thomas Norman, denied these allegations as he had diligently sought to convict White of first-degree murder,  and that the Chief of Police, Charles Gain, was rated as one of the most progressive police officials in the nation and had been implementing pro-gay policies since the beginning of his tenure. (It was San Francisco after all; by that time already an uber-liberal American city. Remember the kinder, gentler powder blue police cars from 1970s police movies?)

Nonetheless, the outrage was felt so deeply by San Francisco’s gays that this street-level conspiracy theory helped to ignite what was known as the White Night Riots on May 21, 1979, the night of White’s conviction. Far from being a peaceful protest, White Night rioters (in one night) burned and smashed City Hall, attacked and injured police officers,  set police cars on fire, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. The rioters ended up also trashing the Civic Center and most of the Castro District, which was the most gay-friendly neighborhood in San Francisco and the center of gay political power in the City. Hundreds of arrests were made.

Despite the fact that some of Harvey Milk’s supporters tried to calm the crowd before most of the violence broke out, there were many gay leaders who refused to apologize for the riots and the damage that was done. So deeply was the loss of Harvey Milk felt that it was seen as a sort of rough justice that the community’s outrage was expressed through violence and disruption, even if the mob’s case was not entirely based on verifiable truth of a real conspiracy. Regardless, the White Night Riots are not remembered as an outburst of paranoid extremists, but as an expression of justifiable gay rage that spawned a new era for homosexual activism and the struggle for gay civil rights. For instance, in a compilation of personal histories recounting the event, one proud activist remembered his rage in an essay about the events he called “I Was There!”:

“i sprinted up the stairs of the state building until i reached the doors, front and center. i gesticulated wildly at the guards on the other side. they were two huge riot-geared cops. i smiled at them and tugged the bricks out from under my jacket. through the glass doors divided us, we were no more than four feet apart from each other. i hurled the bricks with all my strength into their faces. the doors splintered and the cops fell back. i was covered with glass, screaming, “fuck you, fuck you. i’ve been living for this, you cowards, i would kill you if i could!” i was shaking with the expulsion of a rage that fed hungrily upon itself.”

Part Two coming soon

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