Chomsky gave no easy answers.
Noam Chomsky made a connection with an unlikely radical in his speech at the Orpheum Theatre last night: Joseph Stack, the 53-year-old software engineer who flew a plane into an IRS building in Texas in February.
After quoting Stack's manifesto, Chomsky said Stack was "basically right" in his critique of the American system of politics and capitalism.
But, Chomsky, the firebrand liberal who spent most of his life critiquing and attacking US hegemony and foreign policy, said the left is failing the country by not reaching out to those in the Tea Party movement, who are frustrated and fed up with American government.
"They shouldn't be laughed at. It's not a joke," Chomsky told the packed theater. "Ridiculing the Tea Party shenanigans is a terrible mistake. Why are those voices of discontent being mobilized by the extreme Right?"
An icon of the American Left, Chomsky can be a little boring to listen to. There's coherence to his arguments, but it's almost as though he has too much to say, as he meanders from one point to the next. He drones on and then suddenly, says "thanks" and the talk is over. He could probably benefit from some Glenn Beck-style theatrics.
Still, the packed theater was engrossed with Chomsky. He began the talk referencing the first critical essay he wrote in 1939. "I'm just old enough to have memories of Hilter's speeches on the radio," he said. "I didn't grasp the meaning, but I couldn't help grasp the significance, the menace."
During the speech, Chomsky touched on many of the political upheavals of the 20th century, including the US wars in Southeast Asia, the Russian and US wars in Afghanistan, the Depression, globalization, Haiti, Rosa Luxemburg, and the labor, anti-war, environmental and Civil Rights movements.
During the question-and-answer period afterwards, audience members asked Chomsky for advice on how to wage political battles. But he had no easy answer.
"I get this question a half dozen times a day, 'What can I do?' There is no formula. There are a lot of things you can do. You can do almost anything you want," he said. "You are the only one who can answer it."
But, he added, "If you're talking about tactics, you have to ask yourself seriously 'What are the consequences of your actions?'"