Todd Gitlin Book <quasi-review>

Bosley_J (BosleyJ@ORE.PSB.BLS.GOV)
Mon, 11 Mar 1996 14:17:00 EST

I just finished reading an interview by the East Bay (CA) Express, dated
12/15/95, with Todd Gitlin, late of UCB, now at NYU. Title of interview:
"Who's Left?" The occasion was publication of his book _The Twilight of
Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked By Culture Wars_. This is a
"quasi-review" in that the interview touches on themes in the book but I
haven't (yet) read the book myself. But I thought some of Gitlin's remarks
were worth communicating to ANTHRO-L and sssitalk.

Gitlin's major thesis might be summed up in his words in response to the
following question by the interviewer:

"Many people believe that what you dislike as 'identity' politics is really
a way for groups of the oppressed to become stronger before they unite and
take action. Why are you so negative about this approach?"

Gitlin replies: "If you're talking about normal interest group politics,
that's fine. If people can do that and still overcome the most narrow wedges
of difference, then bless them. But I think that those impulses to
solidarity have been slow in coming, partly because people don't have any
faith in political action at all, and partly because they have felt that the
magnetism is in other kinds of concerns. Go back to the early '90s and look
at the virtual absence of any political mobilization at a time when these
tremendous cuts were taking place in California--tremendous cuts and
enormous increases in fees,more than 100 percent in two or three years. It's
really quite astounding."

On the process leading up to the 1994 change of Congressional majority:

"They [the GOP] started the right precisely after the Goldwater disaster.
They concluded exactly what they had to do to organize majorities, and they
were back with Nixon and Kevin Phillips's prediction of an 'emerging
Republican majority' within four years.
They got beaten back, or Nixon beat them back himself with Watergate. They
then had to come back again with Reagan in the late '70s. That is to say,
Reagan told them that they needed to put together a certain majority in the
'80s. They built it, lost a little bit of ground in the late '80s, and came
back roaring.
They, in short, have been building a majority--depending on exactly how you
want to compute it--for more than a generation. It seems to me that the left
has been doing no such thing; it has been cultivating difference rather than
commonality. I hate to harp on this theme but it is the theme of my book and
I think it's worth harping on....I believe I am, of necessity, a gradualist.
The problem is, what I've been watching, instead of a gradual improvement
and wising up, is a gradual erosion and demoralization."

And here's the part I dug, relating it to the recent thread in ANTHRO-L on
power. The interviewer asks:

"How do you think the right has accomplished this domination...?"

Gitlin says: "It's a matter of discipline. One advantage the right has is in
nuts-and-bolts political organizing is that they believe in discipline. The
Christian Coalition was put together specifically to mobilize bodies, to
become an important set of cadres within the Republican party. They turn out
their people, whether it's for school board elections or congressional or
senatorial elections. They have never had any qualms or compunctions about
demanding that their people sacrifice their precious individuality because
they don't believe in precious individuality.
I'm quite serious. This is a political advantage. I think it is part of the
discipline of the right to have its eye on the main prize, which is
political power. They're not ambivalent about political power. One of the
saving graces but also one of the self-hobblings of the left is that it's
ambivalent about political power--we're suspicious of it, don't really want
to get near it, certainly don't want to go to a lot of meetings and do
boring committee work."

Stung, the interviewer says, "The left doesn't want to go to a lot of
meetings? If I had a dollar for every meeting I've been to, I'd be a very
wealthy man."

Gitlin--and I love this reply: "Yes, but the left is half anarchist.
Anarchists can be lovely people and a lot of fun to hang out with but not
the people who will turn out the voters on election day."

And so on... about how students at Berkeley not only have no idea what the
'60s was all about there, but many black students don't believe there ever
was [sic] racial segregation. Gitlin plays Ginsburg reading _Howl_ in one of
his big intro soc classes and says that you could see in students' eyes the
sentiment "What the hell is *this*? What is he going on about?"

Sounds like a book worth reading...