April 2, 2003 | The Los Angeles Times

True Left Versus the Lunatic Fringe

By Norah Vincent

The left is not dead.

It isn't dying.

It hasn't lost its moral mind.

In fact, after nearly a decade of decline and dissipation, it is finally enjoying a quiet renaissance, though you may not have heard about it above all the shouting from the “Blame America First” brigade, which was born on 9/12 and instantly became the de facto voice of the left.

Since then, its rallying cries have become ever more outrageous and degenerate.

Latest cases in point: During an antiwar teach-in at Columbia University last week, assistant professor Nicholas De Genova told a gathering of students that he hoped the war in Iraq would produce “a million Mogadishus,” referring to the 1993 killing and desecration of U.S. troops trapped in Somalia.

In the Boston Globe, James Carroll equated the allied “shock and awe” bombing campaign in Baghdad with 9/11, calling it “terrorism pure and simple.”

The hyperbole has boiled over, prompting critics such as Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan to declare: “Once the left starts equating legitimate acts of war … with the unprovoked terrorist attacks on civilians, it has lost its mind, not to speak of its soul.”

But the truth is that a few brilliant voices on the sane left — most notably writers Christopher Hitchens, Nat Hentoff and Paul Berman — are spearheading a long-awaited rebirth of the intellectual left. And they have been doing this all along, if anyone cares to follow their admirable lead.

In October, after more than 20 years at the left's house organ, the Nation, Hitchens announced his decision to leave the magazine. “I have come to realize that the magazine itself takes a side … the amoral side … in this argument and is becoming the voice and echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden,” he said.

Since then, Hitchens has made a leftist moral case for the war in Iraq, based largely on his contention that using American military power is legitimate if it ends gross human rights violations like those being committed against Iraqi civilians by Saddam Hussein, a sentiment notably absent from most antiwar rallies.

Berman was quoted in the New York Times as similarly upbraiding the peace movement: “It's something of a scandal in my eyes that hundreds of thousands of people are not marching in support of the oppressed Iraqis.”

Berman's book “Terror and Liberalism” advocates aggressive foreign intervention to promote democratic ideals. His thoughts could be a manifesto for the left reborn, a road map for worldwide liberal revolution and the dreamed-of liberation from totalitarianism that communism failed to accomplish.

Meanwhile, in a recent column in the Village Voice, gadfly Hentoff explained why he didn't march against war in Iraq, though he once marched against the Vietnam War.

“If people want to talk about containing Saddam Hussein and don't want to go in forcefully and remove him,” Hentoff said, “how do they propose doing something about the horrors he is inflicting on his people?”

Hitchens, Berman and Hentoff are not apostates, though they may be tarred as such by the stultified left.

All three have been tirelessly critical of the Bush administration, especially regarding its heinous abuses of civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

All three stand for the values the left once championed: human rights, liberty, equality, empowering the downtrodden and resistance to abuses of power.

Since 9/11, faithful Muslims have decried terrorists' hijacking of their religion. The true keepers of leftism in the United States might say the same of their movement, whose usurping lunatics have made the left into a human shield for fascism and a mouthpiece for vile anti-American propaganda.

The lunatics may be making headlines, but Berman, Hentoff, Hitchens and other real thinkers are making history.

Norah Vincent is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.