The Strange and Ahistorical Objections of Cultural ‘Moderates’

The radio talk show celebrity Tammy Bruce was on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program last week, where she uttered some puzzling comments about what Senate Democrats had done to Judge Brett Kavanaugh earlier in the day. First let me say that I totally agree with Bruce’s expressions of outrage about how the judge has been treated. Like her, I am shocked by the tricks and smears Democrats have used to derail his nomination. I myself almost gagged on September 28 when the Democrats, who voted unanimously against Kavanaugh’s nomination after tarring his reputation with unsubstantiated charges of sexual assault, called for yet another FBI investigation. This would take place in order “for the process to go forth,” a process that Senate Democrats have already shamelessly disgraced and which would end with their near unanimous rejection of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination on the Senate floor. Never have I witnessed such over-the-top hypocrisy combined with partisan malice.

Bruce was justified in calling this situation to our attention and did so with her customary enthusiasm. Whereupon she said something else that seemed even more noteworthy. She thundered against the Senate Democrats, especially those women among them, for setting back everything she had worked for since the 1980s. It seems these reactionary figures were trying to take us back to the past, which presumably was dark and unjust.

Carlson effusively agreed as soon as his guest expressed this thought. As points of information, it should be mentioned that Tammy Bruce is a self-identified lesbian who spent much of her adult life as a feminist activist. De gustibus non disputandum, as the Romans said. Yet it’s astonishing to hear what Bruce had to say about Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, and their fellow-feminist politicians driving us back into the past. As a social traditionalist, I wouldn’t exactly be booing these ladies if they tried.

Bruce’s statements, which she has since repeated, made me wonder about her ascribed “conservative” identity. According to her narrative, America in the 1960s and 1970s was still a relatively backward country because women weren’t “taken seriously” and because gay lifestyles were still taboo. On her own telling, Bruce devoted most of her adult life to changing that situation, and now she’s unhappy with the efforts made by current feminists and the Democratic Party to carry her ideals beyond where she wanted to take them.

But there’s no reason to assume that the targets of her attack are bringing us back to an earlier age.

As someone who grew up in the 1950s, I haven’t noticed Senators Feinstein and Harris calling for a return to the post-World War II America in which I spent my youth. What Bruce fears is that the radical social change achieved by a previous generation of leftists, including herself, may be endangered.  A Thermidorian Reaction may set in, the way the French Revolution once having reached its Jacobin excesses in 1794, took a turn toward what was then the political center. In a similar way, Senate Democrats and the culturally leftist media are thought to be going too far in their destructive activities, and so a popular reaction could undo the accomplishments that Tammy Bruce and her friends are now celebrating.

My other thought in listening to these comments is that it’s silly to believe the historical process stops exactly where certain progressives hope to have it stop. This is my problem with media conservatives who jumped off the train of progress just a bit before their erstwhile friends. Thus “second-wave feminists” complain that the sisters are misrepresenting what they all once fought for. But why should the more radical sisters stop their reconstruction of gender relations and social attitudes because the less daring don’t want to push matters any further? Why shouldn’t Third- or Fourth Wave feminists continue to work to move us away from what they see as an unjust past? There’s also the question of power that’s already been given away. Once government agencies are created to fight “discrimination” and are allowed to expand their control, the process assumes a momentum of its own.

This reminds me of the concept of a “derailed socialist revolution” first put forth by Leon Trotsky, Josef Stalin’s losing competitor in the power struggle in Soviet Russia after Vladimir Lenin’s death. According to this theory and its later variants, Lenin carried out a true socialist revolution, but then after his unexpected death, a bureaucratized Soviet government emerged and chose as its leader a brutal administrator, Joseph Stalin. Until then, however, the revolution was moving along just fine. What is conveniently left out of this account is one crucial detail, namely, that Lenin and Trotsky even before Stalin took power threw their opponents into gulags and committed mass murder. Despite these factual omissions, Trotsky’s legend does furnish a long-lived myth about the good revolution that went bad. Like Tammy Bruce’s view of recent history, this archetypal legend places evil in the pre-revolutionary past, so that any attempt to deviate from the speaker’s notion of what the revolution should be becomes a leap back into the bad old times.

I certainly understand why the Left believes such things. But why do “moderate” cultural revolutionaries whom the revolution predictably passed by speak for the current Right?

Photo Credit:  Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.