How the Left Lost Teen Spirit
by Danny Goldberg
Music executive and writer Danny Goldberg has been on the “front lines,” so to speak, of politics in general and free speech in specific for years and has seen both the myths and the realities of his time.
His book is in part a catalog of attacks on free speech in the past 25 years. But the compellingly written work, originally published under the longer title Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit in 2003, illustrates a larger point: Politicians from both sides, but most especially the left, have shot themselves in the foot time and time again, especially (but sadly not only) when it comes to understanding, or maybe even harnessing popular culture.
This is important because missing the zeitgeist on something as relatively unimportant as popular trends is conceivably connected to misreading the mood of your party. Goldberg takes a clear stand on who he wishes had won the last election and what sort of person he hopes wins in the future. But he is just as clear on John Kerry’s missteps as he is on George W. Bush’s incompetence. Particuarly Kerry’s woeful inability to make a firm, plain statement of his positions on Iraq, which lost him the enthusiastic support of a largely energized youth vote.
Speaking for progressives who resented the fact that “their” candidate kept running into the fight with one hand behind his back, Goldberg writes with emotion and humor, drawing valuable connections and paralells. Interestingly, I believe I even see a paralell that he may or may not have intended. On one page, he makes the point that Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam war “earned him many enemies who could never admit the mistake made by both the Johnson and Nixon administrations.” Just one page earlier, he quotes former U.S. marine, U.N. arms inspector, Republican and 2000 Bush voter Scott Ritter as saying, “People would have forgiven Kerry if he had just admitted that his first vote was the wrong vote.”
But Kerry couldn’t admit a mistake any more than his enemies can. Goldberg doesn’t spare the other Democrats who supported a war they knew was a mistake for fear of political repercussions, either. He also treats with admirable evenhandedness Ralph Nader’s lamentable campaigns, making the point that Nader sacrificed a chance to be a real voice for progress to his vanity. In some ways it’s an old point, but rarely made so well or with such a sense of loss for the ideas for which Nader could have been a spokesman.
Goldberg is an unabashed “Hollywood liberal,” albeit one who now lives in New York. In other new material written for this edition, he talks about the ludicrousness of holding Hollywood responsible for the failure of Democratic politicians and consultants. Especially since many of those urging Democrats to do so are, er, uh, Republicans (even if they call themselves Democrats, they’re Republicans).
“It is pretty silly to ask Republicans for advice on how Democrats can win. They want Democrats to lose and they know that anything they say in the media is part of what political pros call ‘the permanent campaign.’ It seems likely that the Republicans…are trying to psyche out their opponents.”
It is for statements like this and others that this book should be required reading for all future Democratic presidential candidates.