Read an Excerpt
Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right
How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve
Crazies to the Left of Me . . .
When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s, I didn't know about liberals or conservatives. But I did know about the New York Yankees.
The Yanks were my life back then. Sometimes when they'd lose, which was almost never, I would stop eating. When I was ten years old, I was the Mahatma Gandhi of the Bronx. Gandhi fasted for long stretches in order to change an oppressive social order. I fasted for maybe a day until Mickey or Yogi or one of the other Bronx Bombers knocked one out of the park and the Yankees won again. In both cases, going without food highlighted a terrible injustice, and in the end our sacrifices made the world a better place.
Back then, the Yankees' many critics (most of them sore losers from Brooklyn) would say that rooting for the Yanks was like rooting for General Motors. As a kid I didn't quite grasp the meaning, but I knew it wasn't good. General Motors was big business, the embodiment of corporate power. GM was—forgive my language—Republican!
Which meant the tycoons who ran General Motors went to snooty country clubs and ate expensive meals at fancy restaurants. We hung out on the roof of the tenement—a place we called "tar beach"—and ate at diners; that is, on those rare occasions when we ate out at all. Republicans didn't represent us. We were Democrats. And I can honestly say that during my entire childhood in the Bronx, I never met even one Republican there. Not one. Frankly, I don't think they existed.
TheDemocrats were for the "working man," just like my father, who got up before dawn every day and headed off to a factory where he ran big, clanking machines that put embroidery on dresses and tablecloths and just about anything else. He worked hard and although he never made a lot of money he always took care of his family. He and all the others like him were the blue-collar backbone of the Democratic Party.
None of the men I knew growing up had white-collar jobs. They all worked in factories, like my father did, or in little dry-goods stores selling hats and coats, or in garages fixing cars. The women stayed home and took care of the kids. None of them had jobs outside the house. That would have reflected badly on their husbands, an indication that the man of the house couldn't provide for his own family. None of the grown-ups had gone to college. Most of them hadn't even finished high school, which wasn't the least bit unusual in those days. Their savior was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who got them through the dark days of the Great Depression. FDR, because of his polio, could hardly move without a wheelchair. But to the faithful where I grew up, he could walk on water.
So, it's not exactly a mystery why years later, when my interests extended beyond Yankee Stadium, I took the road my parents had traveled and became a Democrat. I didn't even have to think about it. It's just who I was. Up North we were all liberal Democrats, of course, but on the news we heard about the other kind of Democrat, who lived in the South, the conservative kind. But in those days no decent person, certainly not after the civil rights movement began, would get caught so much as washing his hands in the same sink as a conservative. They were not like us. They were bigots and cowards who had to hide behind a flimsy excuse they called states' rights, and the muscle of nasty sheriffs, to hang on to a way of life that struck many of us as not worth hanging on to. I despised conservatives back then.
In the early '60s, when I was still in high school, we took our first long family road trip south, to visit relatives in faraway, exotic Florida. We traveled in my dad's prized possession, a two-tone, black and white, 1954 Plymouth, which he would polish with an old rag every chance he got. Someplace in the South—Virginia, or one of the Carolinas maybe—we pulled into an old, wooden roadside restaurant for lunch. This was still the Old South, remember, and before we even got out of the car, I saw the sign, one I had only seen before on television and in the newspaper. No coloreds allowed, it said.
My parents weren't bigots. They were appalled, like decent people everywhere, when they watched the news and saw Bull Connor sending his dogs after civil rights marchers, or state troopers beating black people with nightsticks just because they wanted the same rights as everyone else had in America. And they even knew, I suspect, that the same kind of people who didn't want blacks in their restaurant didn't want our kind—Jews—in there, either. But my parents were of a certain generation, and so they were willing to accommodate the bigotry—or at least turn a blind eye—in order to get a sandwich, a soda, and get the hell out of there.
They didn't want to rock the boat. I, on the other hand, at seventeen, wanted to sink the damn thing with every last racist son of a bitch in it. So I told my folks that I would wait in the car while they and my little brother went inside to eat. But, as it turned out, they decided not to go in, either. And before you could say "Jim Crow," we were back on the highway heading south.
It was exciting to be a liberal in the 1960s. America was changing and we were on the right side, the side of equality and decency and fair play. That's what the country was about, wasn't it? Being a liberal back then made me proud. Conservatives, on the other hand, were on the wrong side of history. They were an embarrassment.Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right
How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve. Copyright © by Bernard Goldberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.