In Response: Adolph Reed, Jr. in Harper’s Magazine

March 2, 2014

letters@harpers.org

“Electoralitis,” the word coined by Adolph Reed, Jr. (“Nothing Left” March, 2014) to illuminate a wildly contagious epidemic that has afflicted and laid waste to huge swaths of the population and the radical left, is practically perfect. Every election cycle in which left politics are tethered to the Democratic Party leaves us more anemic, weaker, more flat on our backs and bed-bound. As the term suggests, electoralitis is a chronic condition if not a terminal sickness, and its symptoms are plain to see: lethal exhaustion, a degenerated political imagination, and the wasting away of critical thought.

Every season as the electoral carnival rolls into town with its attendant bells and whistles, flashing lights and boat-loads of cash, too many ordinarily smart and sensible people lose their minds. It’s important to remember that in the several-thousand year history of states, only in the past few centuries have any of them done a thing to extend the realm of human freedom, and then only when forced by mobilized and fierce fire from below. In our own history Lyndon Johnson, for example, championed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since Reconstruction even though he was not part of the Black Freedom Movement, and Abraham Lincoln, who was forced by reality to declare an enslaved people free, never joined an abolitionist party. Each responded to robust and revolutionary movements erupting from below.

Reed reminds us that the critical task today is to build that movement on the ground, creating a radical left where none now exists. He goes a bit off the rails, however, when he sneers at Occupy, undocumented immigrants, the LBGQ struggle, the environmental resistance (“green whatever” according to him), and more as “magical or morally pristine…source[s] of political agency.” And when he asserts that the women’s movement has collapsed into “challenging the corporate glass ceiling,” all I could think of is that he’s hanging out with the wrong women.

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