Back to the civil rights barricades

By Todd Gitlin

By Letters to the Editor

Published December 6, 2000 8:00AM (EST)

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After reading Todd Gitlin's article, I'm not sure which I find more offensive: the idea that Republican efforts in Florida are anything akin to the very real legal discrimination suffered by black Americans in this country, or the idea that the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore are the salvation for blacks and other disenfranchised groups.

No matter how much of an ideological difference there is between archconservatives and ultraliberals, their rhetoric is very similar. They each ascribe only the most nefarious motives to the other and try and paint a picture of their rival as being a grave threat to life, liberty and freedom.

I would suggest to Gitlin that he remove his ideological blinders, abandon the jargon and refrain from his rather insulting characterizations. Asserting that a large swath of this country is nothing more than conservative yahoos hell-bent on marginalizing and oppressing blacks, Jews, women and others is insulting even to me, a 25-year-old black male from New York. That kind of geographic, socioeconomic class-baiting is exactly what's wrong with most political discussion these days.

-- Jermaine R. Leonard

When Todd Gitlin voices his derision of the John Birch Society, he fails to understand one thing: The United States is a republic, not a democracy, and always has been. To claim otherwise is to fall into the same trap as the right-wing fundamentalists who froth at the mouth about how our country was founded on "Christian principles" and point to the motto "In God We Trust," not remembering that this has only been the motto since the 1940s. If you wish to change what is, you must have a clear and realistic view of it. A more democratic society is, indeed, a necessity if people are to be free of the oligarchs -- but don't look to the past for examples, because you won't find them.

-- Lee Cavett

Todd Gitlin's comment about "Nader nihilism" reflects the left wing's inability to understand why hundreds of thousands of Ralph Nader supporters won't just go along with a system that is clearly broken. It reflects their inability to look beyond 20-year-old coalitions that have failed in the face of corporate coalitions, and it reflects the old-guard left's own underlying nihilism: They refuse to see any hope in the fact that young, disenfranchised people were excited about the election and turned out in huge numbers. The paternal scolding that has come from the liberal media, aimed at all the idealistic and angry voters who voted for Nader, goes to further show the old left's inability to form new coalitions beyond their labor and race roots. They would rather shame us into voting for their candidate than convince us of his merits.

-- Jeremy Lassen

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