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Repeat After Me: That Horse is Not Dead
Activism and Irony in the Age of ABB

by Mickey Z.
October 12, 2004

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“I’d join a movement...if there was one I could believe in.”

-- Bono, “Acrobat"

“We are not looking for one answer. We only ask for the current brutality to stop, to create new space for thousands of possible answers.”

-- Arundhati Roy

For more reasons than I can list here, it’s always fascinating to dwell in the netherworld of Left activism. One such reason is the way so many on the Right and almost all in the Center view the Left as a monolithic entity: the tree-hugging home to both John Kerry and Ward Churchill...Michael McMoore and Ralph Nader...Noam Chomsky and Dan Rather...Susan Sarandon and Arundhati Roy.

Excuse me while I sigh...deeply.

The Left, of course, is far too diverse for any single label. You have those who are actually not leftists but, for the right price, will play one on TV. Then we have the lesser-known but omnipresent radicaler-than-thou Left that sneers at anything less than immediate and total revolution. This election year, as we’ve seen, has spawned a new Left subspecies known as Anybody-But-Bushers (ABBers)...a group that includes veterans one would never expect to even hint at voting Democrat. ABBers believe that by merely repeating over and over that George W. Bush is the worst president ever, it becomes true. In the eyes of many ABBers, the only way to fend off the creeping fascism is to silence those who don’t agree with them. Someone alert Alanis Morrisette: we have irony.

Needless to say, there are lots of gray areas in between all this...but 2004 is the year where I’ve suddenly found myself surrounded. (I don’t just mean by single issue activists who demand more attention or those who drive to protests in SUVs and eat at McDonalds on the way home...and thusly find my veganism to be unbearably moralistic.)

The fake lefties I mentioned above, well, they don’t even know I’m alive. But the ABBers...they have the knives out for anyone not willing to hold their nose and vote for the rich white male Yale-educated war criminal not named Bush. For example, the youthful protesters at the RNC (Hmm, any numbers in yet on how much impact those demonstrations had?) called my radical credentials into question because I was unwilling to personalize my dissent into an anti-Bush theme and do so in a predetermined venue at a predetermined time. As I fend off these and other thrusts from the Right (as it were), there’s certainly no relief to my Left.

“You’re beating a dead horse,” I’m told (over and over, notes Alanis with an ironic smirk) as my admittedly quixotic attempts at reaching the non-converted are dismissed and/or demeaned. The point of no return has passed and I’m merely getting in the way of their revolution.

To recap: I’m too rigid for the ABBers and too soft for the direct actioners. At least my wife still loves me.

I will say this to the ABB police: Take up yoga or Pilates...because you’ll need an awful lot of flexibility to execute the contortions necessary to justify your stance if Kerry wins and goes on to do what we ALL know he will do. We hear about the “small differences” between the two major candidates but—if those differences actually exist (not a foregone conclusion)—what do they mean to a Palestinian boy brainwashed into becoming a suicide bomber or a woman in Iraq afraid to leave her house for fear of being raped and sold into slavery? Will Kerry’s Bush-lite spiel save any lives in Chechnya or Kashmir or Sudan? Will the fact that Kerry is not Bush help the 40 million Americans without health insurance or the two million dis-labeled Americans imprisoned in nursing homes against their will or the homeless man I see each day outside the subway station at 86th Street? I could go on...but, as the hard Left never fails to remind me, we’ve heard it all before.

Which brings me back to that poor dead horse...and the lovely Ms. Morrisette. We are bombarded and deluged every minute of every day with corporate propaganda. Repetitive. Redundant. Relentless. And remarkably effective. But, ironically, lil’ ol’ me (and others like me) co-opting that time proven strategy by driving home the point about challenging corporate spin as the first step towards change, well, that’s a waste of time...or beating a dead horse.

(Warning: moralism approaching) Hey, I’m a vegan. I don’t even ride horses or bet on them...never mind killing them and beating their prone carcasses to prove a point.

Not very long ago, I was like a bit player in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” To me, the New York Times was left and the Wall Street Journal was right and presidential debates were held because the candidates actually disagreed. Thanks to the relentless work of so many writers and thinkers, I woke up and essentially dedicated my life to spreading the news. Now I’m supposed to believe that such work is either contributing to fascism (say the ABBers) or too little too late (as the hard Left contends)? Sorry, but I don’t believe that horse is dead. It’s just moving slower than any of us would prefer.

Here’s the deal as I see it:

If you plan to vote for Kerry because he is not Dubya—despite hating him and everything he stands for—please don’t embarrass yourself trying to justify this action with scare tactics about Bush.

If you think the time is ripe is to organize your own version of the Zapatistas within an oblivious nation consumed with consuming, count me out of that plan, too. (It reminds me of Rexroth, who wrote about “the self-appointed bureaucrats of the New Left” who “preach massive confrontation and deploy massed ranks of defenseless students as though they were the armies of Frederick the Great.")

Bush and Kerry are sure they have THE answer. It’s frustrating and frightening to witness so many across the Left spectrum declare similar certainty. What I’m searching for is a path not based on fear. Bush wants his constituents to be afraid of terrorists. Kerry and the ABBers want their constituents to be afraid of Bush. The direct action crowd wants us to be afraid of the imminent apocalypse. I don’t pretend to have THE answer...but I do know that fear rarely produces positive change, e.g. the changes I myself have been fortunate to experience.

The fascists have been at the gate and the sky has been falling for decades...even centuries. As a result, we are at best playing defense...trying to hold back the tide. Thus, while recognizing the dangers of the Bush administration and the fact that time is of the essence, I’ll continue to trust the evidence of my senses and keep plugging away...always listening and watching and struggling for new avenues and ideas or the “new space for thousands of possible answers” Arundhati Roy talks about.

Mickey Z. is the author of two brand new books: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press) and A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Library Empyreal/Wildside Press). For more information, please visit:

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