Tactical Alliances--an Unfortunate Reality; Uncritical Coalitions--No

by Chip Berlet

It is one thing to recognize the reality of the current tactical alliance to defend civil liberties and oppose aggressive militarism that finds left, right, and libertarian forces working in concert following the catastrophic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This happens in real-world politics.

It is quite another to blend opportunistic cynicism and appalling gullibility and build coalitions with hard right forces, or spread their conspiracist propaganda by uncritically cross-posting hard right material on the web to left lists.

The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions is a collection of articles that discuses how a crude anti-elite critique is what unites some leftist populists, political opportunists, and right-wing populists in a common drive to smash what is seen as a corrupt regime.

Forms of left populism that lack a systemic analysis can find common ground with demagogic leaders who use the rhetoric of right wing populism. Left populism of this sort can demonstrate weaknesses that open it to such seduction.

A naïve belief in the inevitable goodness of the will of the majority--"We the People"--can lead leftists to support political positions that benefit the majority at the expense of unprotected minorities of all sorts. Lani Guinier and Derek Bell have written eloquently about the dangers of majoritarianism. It is often racist, antisemitic, antifeminist, and homophobic.

The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions can be found at:
http://www.publiceye.org/sucker_punch/Clueless.html

These following ideas are from the report Right Woos Left at:
http://www.publiceye.org/rightwoo/rwooz6.html

Circulating information from (and in essence for) the political right without an accompanying notation as to source, appropriate principled criticism, and analysis of intent can have many negative outcomes. It:

***    Launders the original source of the information which often makes independent verification more difficult;
***    Builds the left group's reputation as an independent and resourceful information gatherer when in essence the information has been plagiarized;
***    Gives the information an unwarranted imprimatur since the information is assumed to be coming from a left rather than the right source;
***    Advances often unstated and implicit rightist agendas;
***    Protects the rightist group from criticism by the right or the government since the information is perceived as coming from left;
***    Results in a conscious or unconscious reluctance by the left group to criticize the right group for fear of having information flow cut off.

It is important both journalistically and politically to know the source of
information in order to consider the ulterior motives and possible implications
of the information being circulated.

We certainly shouldn't let the right set our research agenda through leaks but
contact with the right seems inevitable and often proper and useful. Since
persons on the left have contacts with the right for varied and complex reasons,
one blanket criticism is neither sufficient, nor helpful.

We do need to think through policies. What then are the principled conditions
for contact with the right? Keep in mind that we all need to work in coalitions
while maintaining independent political analysis and ability to criticize
freely.

Some suggested points of principle might include:

***   Do not trade potentially harmful information on left groups with the right. Only trade information on government abuses and on other right groups;

***    Double check and double source all stories;

***    Name the group or political sector supplying the information and provide an honest thumbnail political sketch;

***    Consider why information is being passed by the group and make that part of the analysis or story;

***    Condemn flaws in all groups concerned, left or right;

***    Do not refer people to rightist networks without warning them of the nature of the source, and allowing them to make a principled moral decision whether or not to seek the information through that group.
 

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