I was saddened to learn of the recent death from melanoma, of Massachusetts activist Tim Carpenter.
While I have opposed Tim Carpenter’s agenda for years and feature him heavily in my latest book The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the US Congress, I couldn’t help but admire his tremendous energy and commitment to his cause.
Tim Carpenter devoted his life to moving the Democratic Party left. He has changed America far more than most activists of this generation and he did it with energy, courage and a sincere desire to improve his country in accordance with his values.
Those values were not my values, but there is no doubting Tim Carpenter’s commitment to them.
Tim Carpenter founded and led one of the most effective grassroots pressure groups in the country – Progressive Democrats of America. Pursuing an inside-outside strategy, Carpenter’s nationwide organization has pressured the Democrats from the outside to move left on many issues, while helping at the same time to elect several leading socialists to the House and the Senate.
Raised in Southern California, Tim Carpenter was in his mid-teens when he worked on the first unsuccessful effort to get an Orange County socialist, Vivian Hall, elected to Congress. He played vital parts in nearly every progressive cause in Orange County, beginning with George McGovern‘s 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon. He was active in the Catholic Worker Movement throughout the 1980s and in the 1990s, he helped organize the Orange County chapter of Families Against Three Strikes. He has been locked up for protesting, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 and counts Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Jerry Brown among his friends.
In 1982, Tim Carpenter was a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in Orange County, California. That organization became Orange County Democratic Socialists of America and Carpenter remained a DSA supporter until his death.
According to Democratic Socialists of America‘s Democratic Left:
Tim Carpenter, whose untimely death this week leaves us bereft of a tireless champion of social and economic justice. We in DSA mourn the loss of a brother whose politics of radical inclusion made us part of his extended family and of his “team.” As Nichols points out, Tim and his colleagues saw the strategic value of DSA Founding Chair Michael Harrington’s Democratic Agenda project and passionately pursued it. Tim committed his life to advancing the vision of a transformed Democratic Party by integrating progressive electoral campaigns with social movement politics. His unflagging efforts strengthened the Congressional Progressive Caucus in Washington and built a national PDA organization that will carry on his vital work.
Just as many members of DSA have joined PDA and taken part in its campaigns, Tim Carpenter joined DSA out of solidarity. We worked together on compatible goals and out of a common heritage. We have welcomed and supported PDA’s project of petitioning Bernie Sanders to run for president. We in DSA are committed to help PDA — as the concrete organizational embodiment of Tim’s vision — survive and prosper, in pursuit of our common dreams of political and social transformation.
Tim Carpenter worked in Tom Hayden‘s 1976 US Senate bid, he was a trusted aide to Jesse Jackson‘s 1988 “Rainbow Coalition” run for the presidency, an inner-circle strategist for Jerry Brown‘s 1992 presidential run and a key figure in Dennis Kucinich‘s antiwar presidential campaign of 2004.
He also worked on winning campaigns such as those of Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and, to his “immense delight,” Senator Elizabeth Warren’s of Massachusetts.
Tim Carpenter was also close to socialist Democrat reps such as John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, Jim McGovern, Mark Pocan, Maxine Waters , Raul Grijalva and Alan Grayson.
Even the President admired Tim Carpenter.
Around December 2013, while coping with his cancer, Carpenter’s daughter ran up to him with an envelope from the White House that had arrived in the mailbox of the family’s Massachusetts home. When they opened it, there was a note from President Barack Obama, wishing Tim well while celebrating his resilience.
Politics is a brutal game, but one should never lose sight of the fact that one’s opponents are mostly sincere people trying to do what they see is right. By all accounts Tim Carpenter was an enthusiastic, sincere, loyal, generous and decent man.
Losing Tim Carpenter will be a blow to the left comparable to our loss of Andrew Breitbart.
We all know how much that hurt.
I wish Tim Carpenter’s wife, daughters, friends and colleagues my sincerest condolences for their loss.
3 thoughts on “Tim Carpenter: Tribute to a Fine Opponent”
I know that it might appear unseemly to comment on a kindly obituary, but I think there is an important lesson here, so I feel I must.
Dear Trevor writes,
“He has changed America far more than most activists of this generation and he did it with energy, courage and a sincere desire to improve his country in accordance with his values.
Those values were not my values, but there is no doubting Tim Carpenter’s commitment to them.”
Now, that sounds quite reasonable and thoughtful. In fact, it almost sounds as though we probably shouldn’t call Carpenter, and people like him, (borrowing from dear Trevor’s “Gulag Bound” site) “destructive, collectivist controllers,” who are “intentionally perpetrating this sabotage.” Rather, we should call them sincere lovers of their country, who genuinely mean well for everyone. Perhaps their policies are misguided, perhaps they’re not correct about the right methods to use. These are details that can be worked out by considering evidence and argument. But their fundamental decency and sincerity should not be doubted unless there is clear reason to think otherwise. This very nice, thoughtful, and kindly obit raises a very serious question about the tenor of a lot of what goes on here, and in dear Trevor’s work generally. If these people really are “The enemies within,” bent on destroying our way of life, why write such a kindly obit? Why not gleefully proclaim that someone who wanted to destroy America by stealth has, thankfully, died? That is the claim often made here, right? These Marxist-fascist-Islamist-Leninists-whatever-ists want to destroy America, to enslave us? Unless we fight them, we are “gulag bound”– the gulags of course being the absolutely horrific prison camps run by a brutally repressive regime. If we are gulag bound, why write such a nice obit about the man who allegedly wants to send us there?
The answer is obvious, I take it. Dear Trevor actually knows perfectly well that these people, who do not share his values, are nonetheless fundamentally decent and do not in fact want to sabotage America. They are as horrified by the gulags as any decent person would be. Of course they are. Now, why do dear Trevor and his colleagues childishly, foolishly, vindictively, suggest otherwise– until they’re dead? Why not show the same respect for the living that is so graciously and kindly shown for the dead here?
A Melanoma diagnosis, in certain stages, is a death sentence. Though I may have vociferously disagreed with his political opinion, I am sorry to hear of his passing. My prayers are extended to his family.