Daniel Flynn, who spoke last night at Kutztown University, uses that question as the title of a book of his. But the question, of course, is dishonest, as dishonest as “When did you stop beating your wife?” Both questions assume something that has not been established.
And Flynn, most certainly, did not establish it last night.
The closest Flynn could come to proving that “the left” hates America was to claim that admiration for Fidel Castro and meeting with Saddam Hussein demonstrated it. Yet he gave no reason why someone couldn’t admire Castro and love America. And Saddam was an admirer of America who may even have felt that the US (in the person of ambassador April Glaspie) had given him permission to invade Kuwait. He may dislike the US today more from a sense of betrayal than from any ideological stance.
Overall, Flynn’s presentation was rather thin. He seems quite an affable man, but he plays fast and loose with facts and concepts. He tries to make a distinction, for example, between liberals and the left, but (after claiming that the left makes up 10% of America) then says that all such labels are subjective. Still, he tries to break down faculty political leanings by who they give to in presidential races, a nonsense exercise, given the breadth of opinion behind any American political leader. He also says that he interviewed 1000 protesters during anti-Iraq War demonstrations. Now, I conduct interviews and teach students to interview: I know what it takes to conduct a real interview. Flynn would not have had the time, even if he could have attended every possible anti-Iraq War protest, to conduct 1000 interviews. What he probably did (and this is confirmed by the clips he played) was to collect 1000 sound bites. And now, he uses these as evidence of how much “the left” hates America.
He doesn’t understand that he was “played” by his ‘interviewees.’ The hyperbole was deliberately and satirically over the top. The people he talked to don’t hate America—they simply hate what America is doing right now. But Flynn, by his own admission, isn’t a funny man. He recounts an incident of police climbing a building after a couple of protestors, some in the crowd below calling for the cops to fall—as if they really wanted or expected that to happen. He said that would never have happened elsewhere. One of the students piped up, “At a rock concert.” Case closed.
Flynn uses the demonstrations as “proof” that the left hates America under the idea that “birds of a feather flock together.” The group that got the permits for some of the bigger marches is unrepentantly leftist, but few who attended really knew anything about them, if they had heard of them at all. Most of the marchers went out of genuine concern and outrage over the path our country had started own—and rightly so. His “proof” just does not hold up.
Flynn also claims to have been attacked by a couple of “ageing flower children” at an anti-death penalty demonstration. I’m dubious, as I am about much that he said. When he listed off accomplishments of America, he included items such as the VCR, that were first produced by the Japanese (based on Ampex technology from America, it is true—but the VCR is not simply an American achievement). Flynn doesn’t seem to care about accuracy. Certainly, he could make his point and be accurate if he so desired.
But it is only a pretense of accuracy that Flynn is after. He’s one of those who thinks that the more footnotes, the more scholarly the work. His other book, Intellectual Morons, apparently has over 900 footnotes (I have never seen a real scholarly work extolled for the number of footnotes, by the way), but seems to be little more than a reworking of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer—for Dummies.
Why does the left hate America? At one point, Flynn claims that it is “because American stands as a massive refutation” of leftist ideas. Perhaps that was Flynn’s most ‘massive’ error: not only does the left not hate America, but it sees those areas where America has not succeeded as confirmation of its ideas. The left loves America, and wants to improve it by implementation of its ideas. America, in the eyes of the left, has the possibility of being the greatest country this world will ever see—but is letting the chance slip through its fingers. And that, to the left, is extraordinarily frustrating and saddening.
Flynn is also a bit disingenuous, claiming, for example, to be ambivalent about the death penalty and to have been against the war in Iraq from the start. He provides no proof for either claim, however. I suspect this is simply a stance for deflecting claim that he is a knee-jerk rightist.
Like David Horowitz, Flynn claims that diversity on campus is only diversity of color and not of thought, and says that he speaks on campuses because he is “interested in starting up a dialogue.” Yet his real agenda was clear by his actions. When I spoke up during the question and answer period, saying I was perplexed by his characterization of the left, he moved for the first time back to the lectern and the microphone, where his voice would dominate the room. Equal dialogue is not what he is about.
He is right on one thing: there is too much similarity of thought on college campuses, and this does need to be addressed. He did not say whether or not he supports Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights,” but did indicate that he would like to see a broader range of opinions on our campuses. So would I, but not if it is enforced from outside. On the other hand, he clearly believes that his own views are the right views. He “knows” the truth of history, saying his was the “correct way to view the founding” of America. Having seen my own views on the Federalist Papers and the early debates of the republic change dramatically recently (due to research of my own), I am leery of anyone willing to make such a claim—and would not want them involved in academia at all.
Through two anecdotes, Flynn says that college campuses viewed 9/11 differently than did the rest of America. Now, when 9/11 happened, I was in my first weeks of teaching in years—and was doing it just across the Brooklyn Bridge. We heard the sirens from the classroom. When we tried to see, we could see nothing (for the smoke headed towards us in Brooklyn), but were all directly affected. Later that day, someone handed me an American flag lapel pin. I took it, but did not wear it. The time, I felt, was not one for jingoism, but for understanding. Flynn, to this day, sees that desire to understand why 9/11 happened (with the desire to use that knowledge to keep such a thing from ever happening again) as a sign of “hating” America.
More than anything else, Flynn sounded like a child complaining to his parents that he was being held to a higher standard than Joey down the street: “Why do you hate me?” He could come up with no better reason, certainly, for the left hating America. He said we don’t see the good, when the truth is we just want movement towards the better. We’re idealists not satisfied with a country that smugly points to its accomplishments and doesn’t address its problems.
Now, the reason I attended last night is that the assumption that the left hates America offends me deeply. As anyone who knows me or reads my blog diaries knows, I’m (perhaps overly) proud of my America heritage. Ancestors of mine first came here nearly 400 years ago. One ancestor was wounded, fighting with Washington at the battle of Trenton. Another (the one I am named for) was a colonel in the revolutionary army—and his brother, a poet and the man responsible for the Treaty of Tripoli of 1798, was the second US diplomat to die in service (trying to deliver a treaty to Napoleon during the retreat from Russia in 1812). One of my great-grandfathers served under Phil Sheridan as he defeated Jubal Early’s forces in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. One of my grandfathers was an artilleryman in France in World War I; the other lost his leg as the result of wounds received in Belgium a week before the Armistice. My father fought on Leyte Island in the Philippines in 1944.
When I went before my draft board to explain why I could not serve in Vietnam, my parents went with me. When asked by the board what they thought, and what my ancestors would have thought, my parents said they would be proud: they had all fought to uphold their beliefs in this country, and would understand that I was standing up for it in my own way. There was little time, so my father could not explain that he, himself, had started having doubts about war while in combat. He continued to serve, but after the war became a Quaker committed to nonviolence—and I was raised in that tradition.
Like most on the left, I love this country for reasons well beyond the wars and the service to the nation of my ancestors. In fact, because I can see its faults, I love this country more, and want to improve it.
Granted, Flynn is no intellectual. Maybe I am holding him to too high a standard. But he does come to speak on college campuses. Given that, I wish he would show more respect for me and mine (the left) than he does. He certainly does not contain in himself the same openness he asks for from professors (and that most of us provide for our students, even those who disagree with us). He has defined the left to his own satisfaction and has shut down his mind.