A discussion with Nation editor Katrina Heuvel confirmed what I have long felt: America has no Left of any political significance.
The Establishment media use the phony balance of “the Right says, the Left says.” But the terrible truth is that while the Right is strong, the Left does not exist except for a few voices crying in the wilderness like The Nation magazine.
Speakers at this cruise-conference kept talking about changing American culture. But when it comes to the media, it will not change. The media are corporate and Establishment. Ownership is ever narrowing. Media change is impossible.
These liberal-left conferences are overly optimistic. One cruise attendee said she was buoyed by the re-election of President Obama. The truth is that re-election simply means more of the same-old, same old.
Another woman remarked that 2012 was the most important presidential election in more than a century. Even anyone with the most casual knowledge of history cannot overlook FDR.
Nevertheless, bios of the participants make it clear that so many have fought the good fight: early voting legislation, motor voter law, the Berkeley teacher strike, civil disobedience during the Vietnam War, battle to rout South African apartheid, a moving visit by an Air Force veteran to the Peace Park in Nagasaki and an activist who returned his Eagle Scout medal because the Boy Scouts are intolerant of gays and atheists.
While I have dwelled in the lofty ivory tower in intellectual pursuit of leftism, socialism and atheism, so many of the folks on the cruise have done far more than just theorizing. They have been active with deeds.
The Nation gatherings of like-minded souls for dinner each night were uneven. One evening I happily sat at the same table with Gary Younge, immediately likeable Guardian columnist, and Al Dorfman, a New Yorker and one of the few genuine leftist among the 430 Nation cruisers. Most of the diners at my table were pleasant, Nation readers, but hardly leftists.
Another criticism of these progressive meetings is that the questions from the audience so often turn into speeches. The hobbyhorses make you cry out: please creep up on your question mark.
Pro-Palestinian Medea Benjamin was the best panelist. She provided one of the highlights of the cruise, skewering the pompous Eric Alterman for his pro-Israel views.
Indeed, the Nation cruise organizers should leave Alterman home next time. At one dinner he arrogantly proclaimed that he didn’t really want to be there. To prove it, he wore music plugs in his ears. Discourteous plus gall equal zero.
Stephen Cohen, specialist on Russia, proved to be another discourteous Nation star.
I asked him a serious question: is there something in the Russian psyche that demands an authoritarian state as under the czars, the Soviets and now President Putin? He dismissed the question with a snide reply: “Oh, you’re just another Russian basher.”
Hardly that. Cohen, with an immense ego, is another who should not be invited again.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.