There was once a familiar American left. Progressive unions, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, campaigns against poverty, war and other ills - all were recently a part of our national scene. Today all are faded or gone. Now, from Michael Tomasky, one of the most intelligent voices to emerge from the American left in years, comes a stirring challenge to our nation's progressive tradition. Left for Dead examines the troubling recent history and tenuous future of our nations' once-significant progressive movements, and makes an uncompromising study of how the left has been destroyed by its own contradictions and ills - and what must be done if there are any hopes for revival. With penetrating insight Tomasky uses revealing "case studies" to explore how today's left lost control of crucial issues such as welfare, immigration, affirmative action, and health care. It would be all too easy to blame the forces of the right for the left's slippage; but Tomasky explores how today's left has found its own way of "making enemies of everyone" - narrowly representing eccentrics, academic specialists and malcontents above the vast expanse of working-class Americans, whom it has come to regard with near-contempt. With each chapter a unique stepping stone in recent history, Tomasky traces the uneasy relationship between the left and the Democrats, the early institutionalization of identity politics in the McGovern campaign, the dead-end pursuit of welfare rights in the halls of academia, the confused and ultimately failed campaign for national health care and the ill-conceived politicking over immigration - all of which came to life with insight, freshness and candor in the pages of this book. It is from these ruinous times, however, that Tomasky finds the potential for a newly impassioned and American left, one that can understand all that is truly good and promising in America and can become reconnected with the hopes and the motivations of everyday people. But it is a potential that can be realized only with a dramatic break from recent years. If there is to be a recognizable American left in the next century, the thoughtful and urgent work can begin the discussion that will take it there.
Michael Tomasky is a columnist for the Daily Beast, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, and the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He lives in Maryland.