April 13th, 2012
01:42 PM ET

Zakaria: The return of the Left

Editor's Note: Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

It has now been four years since the start of the global financial crisis. This was a crisis that showcased a breakdown of markets - too much leverage, too little concern about risks and too much debt. So you'd imagine that any political backlash would involve a move towards the left.

Well, that's not what happened.

Instead, we saw a shift towards the political right in much of the industrialized world. Here in America, the Tea Party was born, pulling conservatives further towards the right. Consider that in the 2008 election, Mitt Romney was considered the conservative challenger to John McCain. In this election he is the moderate, outflanked on the right by every other candidate.

This dynamic seems afoot in Europe as well. Britain's Conservatives returned to power after 13 years. Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy cemented their positions. Spain has a new conservative government.

What happened to the left? Why was there no great surge in left-wing populism?

My own theory is that in the crisis the state had to jump in dramatically to stop a depression, but those actions - taking over banks and car companies, guaranteeing debts and mortgages - scared the hell out of people on the right, who saw it as the beginning of a new socialism.

The left never mobilized. The Occupy movement channeled popular discontent into its protests, but it never really had a coherent program and never gained traction.

But that seems to be changing. The French elections may prove to be the beginning of a new trend. The Socialist Francois Hollande is proposing a 75% tax rate on people earning more than a million Euros. He's now been upstaged by the more fiery Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The Left Front candidate has been holding huge meetings across the country, telling seas of flag-waving followers that he would impose a 100% tax rate on all earnings above half a million dollars. And these left wing candidates are polling well.

Consider, on a more timid scale, President Obama's 2012 campaign, which is moving to the left both in style and substance as he takes the "Buffett tax" on the road.

Read: 2012 - the year of elections

Look at the protests in Greece and Italy, which are getting more organized. Or consider even, "The Pirate Party". This is a European political network that was founded on the basic platform that information should be shared for free. They want to legalize online file sharing and minimize copyright protections.

I reported last year how the German offshoot of the Pirates won enough votes to enter the Berlin state legislature. Critics said it was a flash in the pan.Berlin is an urban city-state with a lot of rebellious young college students. But last week it scored a second win in Saarsland, a rural, gentrified state on the French border.

The Pirates won 7.4% of the vote to enter parliament. Polls now suggest that not only will the Pirates enter two more state legislatures next month, they have also become Germany's third most supported party.

So a new left-wing group with no real platform on energy, taxes or foreign affairs is now the third most popular party in Europe's leading economy.

We might be seeing the beginnings of a left-wing response to the crisis channeling popular discontent - some of it is extreme, some wacky.

But perhaps the larger function these groups will serve is not to actually be elected to run a government, but to do what the Tea Party seems to have done: To use its voter base to pressure moderates.

If the Tea Party made the right more right, then don't be surprised if France's left and Europe's Pirates make their governments more attentive to the left.

We may be in for more ideological strife in the West.

Post by:
Topics: Elections • From Fareed • Global • Politics • What in the World?

soundoff (374 Responses)
  1. J R Brown

    Does anyone remember the Iraqi man going on television talking about how America was going to suffer the mother of all defeats at the hands of the great Iraqi army while tanks were rolling into Bagdad...? That's kinda what Fareed reminds moe of with his liberal propaganda....

    April 14, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  2. jon

    The return of the left happened with the election OF Obama in 2008, by the midtern election the public began to send signals that 2 years of the left in power was more than we could stand as evidenced by the landslide GOP victory in the House. Everything is pointing to the ouster being complete by 2012 election

    April 14, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
    • patrick

      Do tell us more.

      April 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  3. palintwit

    Studies have proven time and time again that there is a higher incidence of incest among those families living in the southern bible belt. Particularily those residing in trailer parks.

    April 14, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • patrick

      And, your point in mentioning this???????????

      April 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  4. Gerald

    You people are missing the point. Left-wing politicians simply do not create an environmrnt for free-enterprise. Successful companies will find a better home unless we create an environment which is buisness friendly. Threatening huge tax increases on the wealthiest might not scare major Hollywood stars (they simply increase ticket sale prices), but it will scare any new investments in this country. Maybe not now but not too long from now.

    April 14, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  5. smalrus

    That was the most lacklustered, non-thought provoking commentary ever about nothing. Most of the Western governments have swung Right and MAYBE France will have a Leftist president and MAYBE Obama will succeed with the Buffett Rule. The four-year-old who just got inducted into Mensa could have provided better analysis.

    April 14, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
  6. sugarendra

    Journalists like Zakaria have a tendency to jump to startling conclusions just to catch the eye of the readers.A stiff increase in the tax rate of the rich is not what the Left is all about.Hollande,of course,is likely to win.But given the current economic condition of France ,there is absolutely little he could do, except perhaps to increase the tax rate for the rich just to announce his arrival in the presidential palace.What he does next is far more important.Hollande is clueless about it.

    April 14, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
  7. grvol

    Hopefully it will stay to the right. The great communist experiment failed. The liberals in this country and in Europe are simply in denial that the Soviet Union collapsed. They are in denial that life sucks in North Korea. Yet Obama and his commie comrads insist on trying the failed experiment again.

    April 14, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  8. Cheeseburger

    A lot of experts here. Amazing that there are any problems at all in the US or world! Oh, that's right, these are talkers, not doers. Just me or does Zakaria look evil?

    April 14, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
    • patrick

      Just you!

      April 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  9. Sha

    Bush added 4.9 trillion to the national debt in 8 years.
    Obama has added 5 trillion to the national debt is just under 4 years.
    Who is the biggest spender ?

    April 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • patrick

      You have to spend money to make money.

      April 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • shawn l

      Bush inherited the healthiest economy the country had been in, ever. Bush inherited a budget surplus. Bush increased the debt by 5 trillion dollars. Obama has increased the debt by five trillion dollars, inheriting the Bush tax cuts and other policies in place. Stop trying to re-write history you bunch of trolls.

      April 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
      • Midwest Jim

        shawn I.

        You should try learning history before you accuse others of "re-writing" it. Bush came into office just as the dot-com bubble was bursting. The inflated tax receipts during that bubble were the reason that Clinton budget director Franklin Raines declared "surpluses forever". Not only was Raines way off base with his predictions, he helped sow the seeds of the 2008 crisis during his subsequent stint as head of Fannie Mae, until he and other were caught committing accounting fraud and forced to resign. The reality is that Raines had plenty of experience in committing accounting fraud during his time in the Clinton Adminstration.


        I "could" have used 9-11, and the associated expenses as a reason for Bush having economic challenges during his administration. The reality is that he largely met those challeges. Once the dot-com recession was over, Bush's term was one long economic expansion, until the effect of spiking oil prices set off the subprime loan "timebomb" that has been planted by liberals in our economy. That was the exact prediction of those who first questioned putting Fannie Mae into subprimes in 1999. Bush tried to stop the subprime train wreck before it was too late – but Barney Frank and Maxine Waters and other defenders of Fannie Mae would not allow it.



        April 15, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  10. Scary

    This is scary. First, the presumption that there was no move to the left following the fonancial crisis is willfully blind. The tea party was born because the 3 headed monster of Reid/pelosi/Obamatook us further to the left than this country had ever been, and with a recklessness rarely seen. Second, want a way to ensure nobody with money stays on your country: look to these french candidates. Who will pay for the social programs when they bleed everybody out? It defies common sense.

    April 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  11. the return of the left couples with koreak shooting off missiles, the iranians hiding their nuclear intentions, obama hurling insults at the supreme court, syria killing wantonly and obama doing nothing.....what else has the left brought with their so cal

    fareed you shill, get off the air. go back to india.

    April 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  12. no surprise here....the return of the left coupled with korea shooting off missiles, the iranians hiding their nuclear intentions, obama hurling insults at the supreme court, syria killing wantonly and obama doing nothing.....what else has the left brough

    so laughable...what nonsense from fareed the anti american shill for obama

    April 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  13. domhussain

    Reblogged this on Dom – Hussain.

    April 14, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  14. Andrew

    I find it amazing on how a majority of right-wing commentators on this article have basically become trolls who only exist just make American conservatism look like blundering idiots. It's a wonder why I am ashamed that Canada's conservatism has to be associated with this dreck.

    April 15, 2012 at 4:01 am | Reply
  15. Midwest Jim

    It is rather astonishing that a full time journalist is "stumped" as to why the developed world moved "right" after the financial crisis. Try reading "Reckless Endangerment" by NY Times reporter Gretchen Morgenson. This book details in rather painful (for the left) detail, the decades long steps taken by Jim Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae, and others to lower mortgage underwriting standards, and introduce widespread use of subprime loans as a mean of helping the "poor" (i.e. – people with bad credit) buy a house. Johnson essentially used the taxpayers as "co-signers" for Fannie Mae's borrowing, putting much of the money saved vs. market rates into his pockets ($100 million in income during his brief tenure), while putting taxpayers at risk when it all came crashing down. Johnson used the sleaziest tactics, including at one point – sending forged letters of protests to Congress (made using real names of people who had no idea of what was happening) to stop any attempts to end his schemes.

    The media managed to "sell" the "blame Wall Street" excuse at the beginning on this crisis – but that has been largely exposed as a false argument. What Wall Street did was a secondary process – selling off loans through processes which hid the risks of default. Those risks – and the entire subprime crisis would existed with out without Wall Street – and it is the lingering effects of the housing market collapse caused by bad subprime loans that hampers our recovery to this day. The left has been "absent" because they were at fault – hopefully the shame of many on the left knowing that will keep them lying low through November.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
  16. Ken

    The reason the left can't mobilize is exactly BECAUSE of the occupy movement. Occupy states they are against the established political parties and processes. They will never suppor Republicans, but don't trust the corrupt (in their view) Democrats either. They believe their message should be taken directly to the people. But what is that message? No one really knows as Occupy, like the Democratic party, has pulled in som many different views and agendas. The TEA Party is focused on one thing .. smaller government and supporting those who support that view. Occupy wants to tax the rich, legalize pot, stop banks from forclosing, give more money to students for education and forgive their loans, force banks to stop charging fees and high interest on cards, on and on and on the list goes. Heck the number of views and divisions in Occupy are so bad, the group in Zocatti Park broke into two sections ... and upper section and lower section. The lowers referred to the uppers as elitists with their head int he clouds who only know how to talk talk talk, and the uppers looked down on the dirty lowers who had nothing to submit to all their meetings discussing how things should change. This is the same reason Obama had trouble passing Obamacare. Everyone wanted there own special something in the package, but that upset others in the party. So eventually the 1000+ pages of law includes other deals (like an exclusion for Nebraska on certain aspects) to sweeten the deal and get the votes needed. And this is why the left always eventually falls. You cannot be all things to all people. That leads to chaos and anarchy. And the Right keeps stepping in to clean up the mess made by the left.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
    • Rz

      @Ken, If you are indicating that democracy more or less only allows us to change those individuals in the seat of government, but not the system or process itself, then I must agree. It is in fact possible for change to take place, provided there is majority agreement, however, over the years there has been very little to demonstrate any positive movement in this respect (if anything it has been overall negative). So unless there is a broad consensus to more or less reform the government from within, the only alternatives would be utter collapse or revolution. I cannot readily cite any government that has more recently voluntarily reformed itself, since it is almost impossible to rebuilt an engine while it's running. There have been historical cases where governments have failed outright. But it seems that revolution (especially these days) has been the method of choice to affect overall change. The Occupy movement was clearly predicted well over a year before it actually started, and I believe the underlying sentiment of the nation strongly supports it. But there is no one leader acceptable, capable, or willing to take it out of it's infancy and lead it to fruition. And what everyone should be asking themselves is, why ? Why is no one willing to step up to the plate and actually save America ?

      April 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  17. pmcdonald

    The left will rise again eh? Perhaps the rise of Right wing nationalism that is often seen in times of economic stress will be overcome this time. But perhaps this is yet to come.......

    April 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  18. Rz

    The problem with ME politics is that noone can trust an arab. It is impossible to get a straight answer and trust whatever answer is provided.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Reply
    • Rz

      I did not post the above comment. Nor can I be entirely certain as to who it is that's hijacking names, but the comment is clearly reflective of pathetic gutless loser who is doing thesecthings.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
      • Rz

        I am the real Rz and I say that muslims are the most fu ck ed people on this earth and should be wiped out.

        April 17, 2012 at 6:20 am |
  19. herrfrank

    First of all, it's Saarland, not Saarsland. And by one poll, CNN and Zakaria derive that the Pirate Party is more popular in Germany than the FDP? Than the CSU (which still is its own party in long-term alliance with the CDU)? Than the Greens? Let's revisit that assertion at the next national election in Germany.

    April 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  20. RonFromNM

    Jean-Luc Mélenchon deserves a bullet between the eyes, as all thieves do.

    April 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  21. Adnan Khan

    I'm not a fan of extremes, but extreme left kicks extreme right's ass any day.

    April 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  22. Heiko Jakob

    The pirate party is neither left nor right. The pirate party is simply straight forward.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
  23. Sharky

    Fear and chaos is what gives birth to fascism.
    Nothing is new except the history you haven't read.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:25 am | Reply
  24. connector66

    Well, I discussed Zakaria's perspective with my German Pirates fellows and actually we don't see us as a clear left wing. The only attribute I'm quite sure about is progressive. We think left-right perspective doesn't fit to us any longer.
    A Frankfurt newspaper considered us even as capitalistic avartgard and new tech-fricky bourgeoisie. Party of a new Hominid's who claim their right in information sociaty:

    May 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  25. connector66

    Our Party Leader confirm this. No clear left wing.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
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