"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

When Good People Go Bad - Or, If Given Enough Time, All Liberals Become Conservatives

Harry Isaacson had grown up in a Reformed Jewish family in Far Rockaway, New York.  He went to yeshiva and knew only Jews outside his home town until he went to college with a generous scholarship to a second-tier university, not the Harvard or Yale his parents had hoped for, but a stepping stone to their law schools. 

Jews were still thought of as money-grubbing, shtetl refugees, and their numbers were kept down at premier institutions - take one or two Jews for appearances sake, but keep the rest in Brooklyn where they belonged was the policy. 

He was the first generation of Isaacsons to go to college.  His grandfather had a clothing store on Orchard Street and his father a cutter in the garment district who made enough money to buy a house on Long Island. 


The grandfather had been an early supporter of Samuel Gompers,  labor hero, founder of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and a friend of the Jews on the Lower East Side. 'A mensch', said Herman Isaacson, 'A real mensch' who sat seder with him once on Delancey Street before returning to Chicago. 'A man to be reckoned with', and with that he tutored his sons in the ways of reform and progressivism. 


Harry's father took easily to the struggle of the working class, joined the Communist Party in the Thirties, officially resigned in 1955 because of McCarthy and his claques but never lost his passion for civil rights, and took his son to Rallies for Justice organized by the Queens Branch of the Socialist Workers Party - candlelight vigils for Jews sacrificed at capitalist altars, and daylight marches for workers rights. 

Harry joined the Socialist Student Union at college and roomed with other Jewish students who shared his passion for systemic reform, his resentment of anti-Semitic admissions policies, and the plight of the black man. 

He was a natural leader and led Freedom Rides to Selma and Montgomery.  He was a charismatic speaker and drew crowds of both classmates and town residents who gathered on the Green to hear him speak.  He spoke with intelligence, wit, charm, and energy, and before long he was recruited by a major activist group in Washington.  There, the recruiters assured him, he would reach his full potential and serve the American people. 

For years after a degree in Deconstructive Semiotics at Duke, he travelled the country speaking in support of racial equality, gay rights, peace, and the final cracking of the glass ceiling.  When environmentalism showed up on the radar, he was the leader of the first squadron to take on Global Warming.

He was a progressives' progressive.  There wasn't a liberal cause under the sun that he didn't support.  Although with an instinctive disgust for gay sex, he wholeheartedly embraced alternative sexuality, and even had a few gay friends.  However of all the progressive causes in his hand-basket, this was one which made him gag.

His Castro friends' enthusiastic stories about fisting, water sports, and bathhouse holes in the wall gave him ulcers, and when he went with them on the Bay-to-Breakers march in San Francisco, a festival of gay floats, S&M dog collars, faux buggering, and Mardi Gras theatrical excess, he left the gay thing aside and turned exclusively to the environment - a safe haven for a liberal with socially conservative roots. 


However after months of the squawking and howling about the environmental Armageddon around the corner, Harry began to sour on the movement.  As important as the central issue might be, the self-serving, blatantly distorted memes about predatory Man destroying the environment were hogwash.

There was hysteria in the air, the cogs had come off the gears, the flywheels were spinning without traction, without direction. Environmentalism was no longer a sensible confrontation, but a nut-worthy side show of activist fashion. 

Yet the fires of progressivism still burnt hot within him, and he was not at all ready to abandon ship.  Soon the frat boy, beach weekend revelry would end and the issue would return to the halls of Congress, the courts, and state legislatures to be legislated and adjudicated. 

But then came the transgender thing.  If gay hijinks were not enough to make him retch, the gender spectrum encouraged all kinds of 'non-binary' coupling.  If anything in the progressive circus was side show worthy, it was this.  The parade of 'thangs', as one Mississippi naysayer called the cross-dressing, flouncing, bull dagger work boots-and-flannel, bearded lady, Cage Aux Folles faux femmes extravaganza, was as far from Harry' Jewish, Samuel Gompers roots as could be.

Yet there was still the need for social reform...Or was there? What was wrong, exactly with missionary-style, old faithful, mom and dad sex? Or burning leaves in the Fall, or sitting shiva praying the Torah and begging forgiveness and offering atonement. 

At heart his Jewishness was what brought him back from the road to the home office.  In the context of Yahweh's eternity what were a few degrees of temperature; and if the Books of Deuteronomy and Kings were worth anything, they were God's ordering of human legacy - Josiah married Esther, Aaron married Leah, Jacob married Shoshana and they all had hundreds of children to populate the world with Jewishness, godliness....Here he stopped before tangling himself in the very same weeds as his secular colleagues.  Don't go overboard, mate, his warned himself.  Parallels and obverse references are good, but know when to stop. 

At what would be his last progressive hurrah, the Convention of the Committed was a jamboree of progressive activists, each of which had a voice and a poster session, and every possible dimension of political causes was on display. None provided convincing evidence (Biblical references debunking Kings and the obsessive proto-reproductivity of the Jews, paleo-meteorological records of climate periodicity, etc.) to support their causes but were only pimped out, tarted up versions of reality. 

It was Bay-to-Breakers, the Folsom Street Fair, and Halloween in the Castro all rolled up into one; and at that moment, Harry went back to Queens. 

'I'm sorry, Papa', he said at temple during the High Holy Days. 

'For what?', his father answered and went on to whisper a joke to his son:

Hymie, Shmuel, Jake, and Abe were sitting around the coffee table for their weekly get together. 'Oy', said Hymie.

'Oy, vey', said Shmuel. 

'Oy, gavalt', said Jake. 

'What is this?', said Abe. 'I thought we weren't going to talk about the children'. 

And so it was that Harry returned to his roots.  Not only a return to the Bible, shiva, the High Holy Days, and seder; but political conservatism.  At least conservatives for all their own Sturm und Drang made sense - a nice fusion of Biblical wisdom, God's intention for individual salvation, and the course of history in all its predictability, God's determinism. Not quite a Let It Be, and not Ecclesiastes either, but sanity.  Nothing to preach - the Jews have never been evangelists - just common wisdom.  Toppling statues is no different than telling Moses on Mt. Sinai to mind his own business. 

So no one heard from Henry Isaacson again,  He kept his own counsel. 

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