Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I surfed some of the nastier anti-Bush/anti-War/anti-whatever blogs and saw a lot of derogatory commentary about people like me, who switched our self-identification from Democrat/liberal to ... something else after 9/11. I call us the "Left Behinds" (yes, totally aware of the pun and fond of it; we're also "South Park Republicans," after all). Over where I was, they call us "yoostabees," as in "used to be a Democrat." They mock and scorn and wonder what it was about 9/11 that made us realize, all of a sudden, that one party was slightly more "liberal" than the other.

They can see only partisan dichotomies. Most of the "Left Behinds" I know, while they may have been diligent voters, were not terribly activist in the political party sense. Michael J. Totten, whom I count as one of us, remains a Democrat. A number of others I know have crossed from Democratic registration to Republican, but others have gone "independent" and now find a home in no party.

Me, I was a Republican even before 9/11, but that's a twisted story; I've lived the last 20 years in places so utterly "red" as to count as the last one-party states on Earth, since the fall of Enver Hoxa's communist Albania. Even if space aliens kidnapped two out of three Republican voters on the eve of the election, the Republican candidates still would win.

The real elections were the primaries, and the real battles between progressives and conservatives took place in May. So I joined the GOP, because that was the place to make a real stand against the people I considered most dangerous. "I joined the Republican Party because everyone I hate is in there, and this way I get to vote against them twice a year," I'd tell people. But I usually crossed party lines in national elections. I voted for Clinton in '92 and Dole in '96 (I knew he'd lose, but I wanted to show some respect for him).

I think many of the "Left Behinds" were mostly in the process of a slow maturing out of their eariler hardened notions, and 9/11 telescoped a decade of gradual change into about a week.

But still, there was something about that day, and people's reactions to it, that threw a stark light on the landscape. Those of us in or near the center saw the world we thought we knew come down. Stunned, groping for a new construction to fit the new world we found ourselves in, we found little to say except anguish and sorrow, anger and rage.

But off on the fringes, right and left, the voices of the people who never lose their certainty still rang out. The fringe shouted into the void, and commentators usually dismissed as loopy were the only ones talking in clear sentences.

On the right, there was Ann Coulter:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

In other words, treat them exactly as they were treating us. Do to them exactly as they promised to do to us. I could feel, viscerally, the same way in those hours. I wouldn't have written that; something in me -- decency or pride in being better than our enemy -- would have got between my brain and my pen. But I could feel that. It was, to me, a natural human reaction: both to think that, then to think better of it.

And what of the Ann Coulters of the left? Well, take your pick among them. There was Michael Moore:

"If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!"

Or the San Francisco city supervisor who said this at the municipal memorial service a few days after the attacks:

"America, what did you do, in Africa, where bombs are still blasting? America, what did you do in the global warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the world conference on racism, when you wouldn't show up?"

Or my '60s survivor anti-war protester co-worker:

Don't you think we're over-reacting to this whole thing?

Wow. I confess, I didn't recognize those reactions at all. They corresponded to nothing inside me. But it wasn't just me. My peers, like my liberal co-workers, felt a recognition, too -- for the Moores and the San Francisco officials. In their case, it confirmed their identity. In my case, it revolutionized it.