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Richard Kline: Progressively Losing

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By Richard Kline, a Seattle-based polymath and poet

Those anywhere to the liberal side of the Anglo-American political spectrum have been on a long losing streak. As of this summer of 2011, they are wholly in disarray. In my considered view, ‘progressives’ lose because they do not have it as a goal to win. Their principal concern is to criticize the moral failings of others in society, particularly the moral failings of those in power.

At best, progressives seek to convert. In the main, they name and shame—ineffectively. American ‘progressives’ distrust political power, period, are queasy about anyone having it, and suspicious toward anyone who actively seeks it, including other putative progressives. The contest as progressives conceive it is fundamentally a moral one: they believe they are right, and want their opposition to see the light and reform/conform. Thus, they don’t frame what they engage in as a fight but rather as a debate.

There has been another and more radical trend on the left-liberal end of the spectrum previously. That trend derived from radicalized, Continental European, immigrants, it sourced much of labor activism, and is largely extinct in America as of this date. It is the atrophy of this latter muscle in particular which has rendered progressive finger-wagging impotent.

One can’t fully analyze the state of specifically American left-liberals without evaluating the positions of the domestic economic oligarchy, which are primarily conservative, or left-radical activism internationally. What follows is necessarily truncated yet also the heart of the matter. I’ll start first by defining a few terms.

I would loosely divide the left side of the political spectrum in America into liberals, ‘progressives,’ and radicals. The first two have deep roots in the primary sociological communities of the country; the third did not. Progressives and radicals have largely been distinct communities of activism. I’ll discuss both in some detail below. (Actually, the range is not a spectrum but a three- or four-dimensional position space, but that is a separate issue. I happen to particularly dislike the term ‘progressive,’ but I’ll skip my reasons and use it for the sake of clarity.)

Liberals are great believers in ‘the law,’ and happy enough to live and let live until they are in a pinch or have to give up something for the greater good—at which point they scream for a cop or start in on how ‘we’ can’t afford X. Liberalism isn’t primarily a moral position but a practical attachment to personal liberty and property. If one abandons that allowance for others, one is soon threatened as well since power unchecked makes few fine distinctions, so it’s a ‘hang together and don’t rock the boat’ perspective rather than one of commitment. I’m not going to spend verbiage here discussing this community because they go with the flow rather than push any program. As such, they shape little in the way of policy. The principal asset to left activism provided by liberals is their inertia, since the American political tradition is a significantly liberal one, and American governmental institutions are substantially so on paper. Fascism and oligarchy are pushing on a mountain of lard in trying to shift liberal inertia, with limited success. The only way really to move the ‘liberal muddle’ is to set fire to its peripheries. The good news is that liberals don’t want to change what they have, and clutch for ‘the government and experts’ to save them if things go sour. (Although that’s also the bad news . . . .)

Secondly, let’s dispense with several basic misconceptions regarding why progressives are presently so unsuccessful.

“Progressive goals are not popular.” Even with the systematically distorted polling data of the present, this is demonstrably untrue. Inexpensive health care, progressive taxation, educational scholarship funding, curtailment of foreign wars, environmental protection among others never fail to command majority support. It is difficult to think of a major progressive policy which commands less than a plurality. This situation is one reason for the lazy reliance upon electioneering by progressives, they know that their issues are popular, in principle at least. Rather childishly, they just want a show of hands then, as if that is what goes on really in elections.

“The ‘Right’ is too strong.” The oligarchy specifically and the Right in general are far less strong in American society apart from what their noise machines and bankroll flashing would make one think. The great bulk of the judiciary remains independent even if important higher appellate positions are tainted. Domestic policing is, by tradition and design, highly decentralized, with a good deal of local control, making overt police state actions difficult, visible, and highly unpopular (think TSA). While the military is a socially conservative society in itself, it is also an exceptionally depoliticized one, with civilian control an infrangible value. Popular voter commitment to the nominally more conservative political party has never been narrower or more fragile.

The rightist oligarchy does have a stranglehold on the major media, despite which accurate, uncensored, news is widely and readily available to anyone who wants to hear it. The other principle advantage of conservatives is that they are highly organized. Consider how the oligarchy effectively took over the ‘Tea Potter’ lunatic fringe in no time, and still presently stage manages it behind the curtain, or how they are paying some outfit(s) to constantly monitor and surreptitiously disrupt liberal to progressive blog-spaces. The powers of the Right are broad but thin and brittle, like a coat of lacquer on everything. Any organized citizen resistance would shatter that surface grip without great difficulty.

Part of the genius of the Right is that they presently operate through puppets, like Scott Walker or Chris Christie, or even Clarence Thomas, rather than attempt to assume direct power. Individual puppets can be kicked out, but they can always buy/indoctrinate another set of quislings because the supply of wannabes is endless. But that is a weakness, too, in that without such a puppet quisling in the right place at the right time (think Tim Geithner) the Right has no grip on key levers of power. The larger point here is that the mass of institutional governance in the US remains wholly separate from conservative control, and is not notably committed to conservative goals.

“America is a conservative society.” That is demonstrably untrue on any historical analysis. Like the other points here, it is a meme invented and spread by the right wing itself. There are three grains of truth in the contention, however.

More than some West European derived socio-cultures, there is an initial value placed in Christian profession; not faith, profession, and not an enduring one either. I won’t argue this in detail, as it takes a text, but the profession of a higher cause is the personal entry point to belonging in the society distinct from a more discrete paradigm of ethnicity. This makes the society seem from the outside more Christian, and hence ‘conservative,’ than it is in fact. This has for the majority become the ‘civil religion’ of Bellah, but is in effect a secularized form of Christian pilgrimism; one must profess to belong.

Second, there are specific communities in American culture which are deeply conservative, notably most rural whites. Their society is in fact distinct from the culture of the county as a whole, something they understand but that the majority chooses not to. (This concept is argued, if slightly differently, by David Hackett Fischer in Albion’s Seed, an analysis I endorse and would extend.) The point being that their society in America is conservative, but American society as a whole is liberal if one does a sociological analysis.

Third, American society is not radical because it is deeply suspicious of ‘combinations,’ cabals, cliques, or factions who combine to advance their own interests as distinct from the broader public interest. There are deep socio-historical roots for this antipathy to faction, but they are real. One consequence of this, though, is that American society as a whole has generally been hostile to organized labor as a ‘special interest.’ American society also has a bedrock attachment to personal property and personal liberty—essential liberal values, one might add, not conservative ones—which impede any advocacy of leveling or uniformitariansim; i.e. liberty always trumps equality. The flip side here, though, is that Americans are just as suspicious of ‘sections,’ ‘trusts,’ ‘banksters,’ and oligarchs if they see them as an organized, self-interested force. This distrust is not a conservative preference. These are further points I won’t develop, but the in aggregate they make society seem ‘more conservative’ since radical goals are shied away from.

Who’ll Carry the Can?

Anglo-American ‘progressivism’ has its origins in Non-Conformist religious reform communities. These date to Lollard times in England c. 1400, before the US was settled, and always had a significant social reformist element beyond within a professed Christian carapace, as it were. Literacy, education, personal liberty, and economic liberalism are all embedded in this worldview, formed as it was between the contesting pressures of a rapacious, French-speaking aristocracy and a crypto-absolutist monarchy with scant regard for the rule of law, while a venal and irreligious church hierarchy provided no relief. England from c. 1350-1500 was a place of intense factions and irruptions of civil war, leaving a distaste for power-seekers and military rebellion. Few of them were rich; it was a proto-bourgeois and petite bourgeois community, but with religious congregants in the lesser nobility giving them communication with power. The suffered erratic but at times severe religious persecution prior to c. 1600, and political disenfranchisement even after that, which much shaped their negative view of state power. There is much more to this subject, which demands a text no one has yet written. This is a social tradition are both fairly well-defined and quite longstanding.

The first key point is that the tradition of progressive dissent is integrally a religious one. The goal isn’t usually power but ‘truth;’ that those in the right stand up for what is right, and those in the wrong repent. The City on the Hill and all that, but that is the intrinsic value. This is a tradition of ideas, many of them good, many of them implemented—by others, a point to which I’ll return. Coming forward to a recent and then present American context, consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as progressive:

Anti-colonialism
Anti-militarism
Abolition
Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights
Conservation/environmentalism

Consider as well notable progressives who have held executive or even power positions in national governance. I struggle to name one. Progressives largely worked in voluntary organizations and reform societies outside of the notoriously corrupt political parties of America. (It is interesting and relevant to note that as a society we recapitulate that endemic historical venality once again c. 2011.)

A most relevant point is that these are value-driven policies. Notably absent are economic policies. I wouldn’t say that progressives are disinterested in economic well-being, but employment and money are never what has driven them. A right-living society, self-improvement, and justice: these are progressive goals. Recall again that many of them were already bourgeois; that most of historical notice had significant education; that their organizational backbone was women of such background. These conditions apply as much now as ever. Some progressives, many of them women, were radicalized by their experience of social work among the abused poor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Consider Beatrice Potter Webb or Upton Sinclair. Some progressives will fight if backed into a corner; many won’t even then, as there is a strong value placed on pacifism in this socio-community. Think John Woolman and Dorothy Day.

Reviewing the summary above, it will be evident that progressives are ill-equipped by objective and inclination both to succeed in bare-knuckle political strife. One could say unflatteringly that the goal of ‘progressives’ in activism is to raise their personal karma by standing up for what is right. “Sinners repent,” is the substance of their message, and their best dream would be to have those in the wrong do just that, to embrace progressive issues and implement them. More cynically, one wonders whether progressives would be entirely pleased if all of their reforms were implemented, leaving nothing to inveigh against.

Progressives are at their best educating, advocating, and validating those in need well apart from the fray. There are few cases that readily come to mind where progressives have implemented any contested policy on their own initiative without others of different goals involved. Somebody else has to carry the can for their water to get drawn. Without going into examples, that is my opinion, and a conclusion I’ll return to on a different vector below. What progressives do best is to deny and eventually withdraw community sanction for specific practices, so that those practices are eroded and then banned by governing authorities. Where communities are deeply divided and such practices have tenacious constituencies, progressives have few answers and no success.

The origins of Anglo-American radicalism are far less tidy to summarize. To me, it’s an open question whether a native tradition of radicalism even exists. I’ll posit a view, by itself debatable though to me accurate, that radicalism is a secularized derivative of millenarian religious revolt, but modify that contention in saying that ‘bread and justice’ were ever the drivers of such fervor. Religious ‘fairness and community’ were simply the only means long accessible for poor or oppressed communities to intellectually package their dissent and demands. ‘Poor or oppressed communities’: these are the fuel for radicalism, and one finds them far more in Continental Europe than in England. Serfdom was far more advanced there than it ever was in Medieval Britain or Scandinavia (for complex local reasons). Furthermore, social and economic radicalism often only catalyzed in the presence of communal cum national revolts against subjugation.

Howsoever, it is difficult to argue for a radical activist community in the US before extensive non-Anglo immigration. Radicalism certainly hasn’t been limited to industrial or even urban contexts, but then neither has immigration. American mining drew heavily upon experience European mining communities, many of whom who brought radical ideas with them, for instance. Even if one considers civil rights agitation intrinsically radical, the same conclusion holds, for blacks, Catholics, and Jews were by definition non-indigenous to a Protestant British colonial community. I’ve been all through Foner’s work on the growth of American labor, and read a deal else, and while I wouldn’t say it is his conclusion I’m struck by how late and how separate labor demands were in their inception in American left-liberal activism.

The key point is that the tradition of radical activism is integrally an economic one, and secondarily one of social justice. It was pursued by those both poor and ‘out castes,’ who often had communal solidarity as their only asset. It was resisted by force, and thus pursued by those inured to force who understood that power was necessary to victory, and that defeat entailed destitution, imprisonment, and being cut down by live fire from those acting under color of authority with impunity. This was a tradition of demands, many of them quite pragmatic. Few were wholly implemented, but the struggle to gain them forced the door open for narrower reforms, often implemented by the powers that be to de-fuse as much as diffuse radical agitation. Consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as radical:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate
Anti-imperialism

While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

Critically, these are grievance-driven policies. One could say that the goal of radicals is to force an end to exploitation, particularly economic exploitation since most radicals come from those on the bitter end of such equations. As such, many of them have specific remedies or end states. Notably absent are ‘moral uplift,’ better society objectives other than in the abstract sense. Further, since so much of radicalism is communally based it has often been difficult for radicals to form inter-communal alliances.

Secondarily, since the goals are highly specific to individual groups, factionalism is endemic. Radicals have disproportionately been drawn from the poor, and from minority communities; groups who have had little to lose, and for whom even small gains loom large, especially economic ones. These have been disproportionately non-Anglo American, many of whom brought their radicalism with them from prior experiences in Europe, though occasionally their message has radicalized contemporary indigenés, for example ‘Big Bill’ Haywood or John Reed (or Chris Hedges). Radicals have always had to ‘struggle,’ not least since they have consistently been assaulted by other factions and the state: militancy was their real party card. If this wasn’t necessarily violent, it was confrontational, as in boycotts and occupations (sit-downs). While radical women have always been visible, the backbone of radicals always was minority community men. Think Joe Hill and Sam Gompers.

Many earlier immigrant communities experienced considerable oppression, and not only came to America as an escape but brought radical elements with them. That was true amongst German, Polish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants, and was relevant amongst the small West Indian population as well. Their third and fourth generation descendants are, at best, little involved with radical organizing. Present immigrant communities to the US are substantially from Central America and its surrounds, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. These communities have not brought radical elements with them: those have tended to stay home or go elsewhere. They have largely come here for the opportunity to better themselves, and shaking the social order is the last thing on their agenda. The exception to that are Muslim immigrants to the US, of diverse background though substantially Arab in origin. Presently, they lack indigenous American allies, and are heavily policed by the state; they are no way placed to take a vanguard position supposing that they were so inclined.

Reviewing the summary above, it will be evident that the supply of aggrieved militants has thinned out. One could say, uncharitably, they their residual objective has been a piece of the pie, and to be left alone to eat it in dignity. “Share the wealth,” is the substance of their message. Once they have any, the tendency is to sing another song. On a darker note, some were later sedentarized by acquiring apparatuses, which easily rancidify into patronage and rent-seeking gatekeepers.

What radicals do best is bunch up and shove, that is organize and agitate. Those now don’t bunch, and have little inclination to shove as opposed to fit in. But for blatant discrimination, present immigrants would be a reliable, conservative voter base not inclined to pursue economic grievances through activism. Without that muscle, labor has no strength. What labor has are mortgages, debt, and a lot to lose, not a matrix congruent with agitation.

From the perspective here, progressive and radical vectors and their policies overlap directly only in a few areas. Moreover, these vectors have tended to be pursued by discrete demographic and ethnic communities, though of course values and polices have been swapped and shared at times and in places. The success of one vector has tended to advance the success of the other Said another way, they have been more powerful in combination than either would be alone. If radicals might have achieved some of their goals without progressive support, though, the reverse is not true. Progressive advocacy particularly lacks any traction at present absent effective radical agitation to make the progressives seem like ‘the reasonable ones.’

A further conclusion from this analysis is that the assault of the right has been focused disproportionately upon the prior policy and institutional gains of the radical vector. From one perspective, one could hypothesize that the broader socio-culture has focused its response upon the ‘most foreign’ or perhaps ‘least native’ contentions. I’m far from sure that I believe that myself. For one thing, the oligarchy and the right are most hostile to economic claims. With the exception of environmental activism, which has huge economic implications, most advocacy for economic justice has lain primarily with the radical rather than progressive community. Radical agitation has been the most militant, provided the most physical muscle, and is historically sourced amongst the poor, all reasons why radical successes should be expected to draw the larger reactionary attack. Then too, economic reforms are easier to attack since they are far less embedded in law than social reforms. And further, one should not assume a reactionary program will stop if and when the institutional bulwark of economic justice and organization is crushed, since there will be little to bar the marginalization or ban of existing progressive successes after such a point.

Still, any progressive or radical revival has to take into account that the assault of reaction has been principally aimed at economic justice and its supporting legal and institutional bases in the US and the UK.

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity . . . .”

If it all seems black, consider: Social justice never seemed deader than 1957, but enormous reforms were enacted by 1974. Progressivism was never more prostrate than c. 1900, but a broad reformist agenda was emplaced by 1916.

The downside to those comparisons, though, is that radicalism did much of the agitation to impel reform in both cases, and it is just that engaged radicalism which we most lack now. To go back a further iteration to the 1849s, progressives sans radicals were far less successful until slaver states were stupid enough to revolt. The American socio-political context is more divided and radicalism weaker today than at any time since the 1840s.

As of 2011, I would say that progressivism is broader and better known than at any time in American history, not least because of the validation and presence of past success. We can rely on the oligarchy to push to egregious excess. What we cannot rely upon is public agitation to be the thin end of the wedge.

Can we, then, expect oligarchical corruption and economic losses to push liberals and the haute bourgeois toward a reformist program? I wouldn’t count on that, and in particular, no one should expect that to happen quickly if it occurs at all. Take as an example Dylan Ratigan’s recent rant against elite corruption (to unfairly single out one prominent instance). His solution? “Let’s all get together on a Big Capitalist Spend-a-thon.” Because we’re ‘too divided,’ so we need something like a ‘Moon Program that brought us together.’ Now, I don’t know where Ratigan was in 1962, but that was the height of Civil Rights agitation, concurrent with mass agitation against atomic weapons testing, and also the start of the anti-poverty campaigns. His image of the country pulling together is something seen through the dollar signs on white tinted glasses, frankly.

But there are two deeper points to take from his appeal. First, he, as many, evidently believes that capitalism will really save him and us, it’s just that ‘a few’ have hijacked it. He doesn’t want to change any system, only to get back to some non-existent past in the imagination when it worked, or rather when it worked ‘for people like me . . er, us.’ Many think like this, and it is a huge load of sand in the crankcase on any drive for change. What these folks want never worked for many in this society, but too many believe in retrospect that it did because that belief validates a lot of comfortable lies. That embrace of plasticine phantasies is a dead weight against change.

Second, Ratigan inveighed against ‘factionalism’ even more than against corrupt oligarchs. Like many, he sees himself as in a reasonable center between ‘the left’ and ‘the right,’ and in firm American tradition mentioned above he is suspicious of special interests advocating ‘their position.’ So he wants us to come together around a common position. Now, the political naivety of this is stunning given the overt, anti-social, anti-citizen program of the right through a generation, pushed in private by many whom he doubtless respects in public.

But even accepting the false analysis, what stands out is the extent to which progressives have let themselves become seen as ‘special interests’ advocating ‘for the few.’ Ratigan isn’t alone; many ‘liberals’ and ‘centrists’ and ‘independent voters’ share this view of progressives, explicitly or implicitly. This is where progressives are in the public mind, and not simply through propaganda from the right.

Progressives have successfully become tarred as ‘factional’ in significant part due to their involvement with identity politics, i.e. ‘X rights.’ The Democratic Party has correctly identified this imprimatur as an electoral loser, and for that reason amongst others have abandoned progressivism in the most cowardly way. However, we cannot expect ‘reasonable centrists,’ delusional or not, to embrace the reform program of ‘those X favorers;’ this will not happen. And not necessarily because ‘centrists’ hate ‘those Xers,’ but because the societal disposition is to shun advocates of minority advantage.

One could list numerous conceptual failures amongst liberal and radical activists in this way. I’m going to limit myself to a few, with similarly few remedies to follow. Progressives have a childish fondness for a show of hands, i.e. elections, and a present obsession with the current reactionary ‘hypocrite’ coughed up by the oligarchy and the latter’s media. Both are pointless and self-defeating. Winning elections doesn’t matter; passing laws and regulations, and winning court decisions on their basis is what matters. The former may lead to the latter, but it hasn’t for twenty years at least. And the oligarchy can always recruit another quisling, the supply is endless; their personalities are irrelevant.

Moreover, the ideological ultra-right doesn’t care if they are in the minority: they’re delusionally convinced of their own validity, and will continue in their ways whether they get 10% or 70% of the vote. What matters isn’t what they’re after but simply beating them.

Progressives have become far too obsessed with ‘the agenda of the right’ to the point that they themselves presently have no positive agenda, certainly none that can draw in the uncommitted. Progressive actions are wholly defensive rather than offensive, and this maximizes the oligarchy’s huge advantage in money and organization. In an endless search for ‘equality,’ progressive activists have handcuffed themselves to the contemporary equivalent of campaigning for temperance (banning alcohol so as to ‘force’ uplift). These activisms and other, broader forms of identity politics aren’t something I would call for abandoning. They cannot, however, recruit a wider reform movement, and indeed actively repel those of limited political education because they focus inherently on ‘some, not all.’

On the radical side, employer based privileges (i.e. ‘contracts’) will continue to be broad-base losers for left liberals, exactly because they inherently favor ‘some, not all.’ The workplace organizing model was always compromised; in the US, it has failed. Narrow unions are dead, not least because corporations can move jobs, sites, and countries far too readily. Something much in evidence now amongst anti-union working class and petit bourgeois folks who should, in principle, support unions to enhance ‘prevailing standards’ gains is, explicitly, spite that some have good jobs and protections while these others don’t. If rightist propaganda has exploited this, the situation is nonetheless a huge bar to extending a radical reform program even amongst existing union members, to say nothing of those on the outside. Issue- and instance-specific campaigns such as opposition to fracking run into the same problems. If you are directly effected, it’s a crisis; if you live 100 miles away, it’s not your problem (seemingly).

Similarly, “Free my spliff” doesn’t have much currency for non-tokers. The problem is that instance- and job-specific injustices have always been and remain primary, organizational drawing cards. These are what radicalize many individuals, and get them involved with activism to solve them.

To me, the only way out of these dead ends lies in committing to a defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice because this affects all. Social justice cannot be secured absent economic justice. Any such agenda is going to be anti-corporate, anti-poverty, pro-education (and job re-education), and pro-regulation. It has to be citizen-based outside of existing political parties. This kind of program can be articulated as pro-community rather than pro-faction if the organizing is done. This has to be pursued from a defined agenda, unapologetically, and from a pro-citizen(ship) position regardless of other more discrete goals.

Will Anglo-American progressives articulate any such program and organize around it? I can’t say that I’m optimistic. Yates said it best in the fewest words in a comparable social moment heading on for four generations ago. To extend upon that thought, the contemporaneous Fabian Society had a fine, progressive program. Almost anything they could have aimed for within reason was ultimately put in place too—from 1944-50 when the British Empire was derelict, the state effectively bankrupt, and the ruling class irretrievably discredited by their knee-jerk nationalism and societal niggardlyness. Between the wars, Fabian successors were unable to accomplish anything meaningful on their own.

And yes, we too now can rely upon the oligarchy to fail. They have nothing to offer 90% of the citizenry, economically or socially. They have been serial catastrophists in their grossly speculative market manipulation, and only grasp after ever more gassy phantasms following each failure. Their ‘bombsight hegemony’ pursued abroad gets no peace, no silence, and no net profit. Both on an historical basis and on present scrutiny, we can rely upon the extractive class to drive themselves right into the bridge abutment of ruin.

What we can’t rely upon is for them to impact that moment quickly. From an historical and cyclical perspective, ‘just waiting it out’ might take until 2035, even 2045. Now a generation of squalor and iniquity in the US is nothing to remark on scaled against world-historical standards; it would fit with the rule of things rather than the exceptions. Americans think that they are exceptional, and that that isn’t how they do things. Well, they’ll have to live up to that, because what is certain is that we won’t have reform without struggle. Government-buying oligarchs; sold-out liberals clutching their meal tickets; loose cannon fascist minority; deeply divided society: that’s too many logs to leap on a single, lucky bound, or to be rolled by Some Sainted Prez (of which we’ll have none). If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.

Progressives will continue to lose as long as they continue to act with strategic irresolution and tactical incompetence. They no longer have a political party to carry their banner: the Democrats have completely shut them out. Waverers and the Great Huddled Middle won’t respect, and so won’t support, natterers who won’t fight.

We are not in a time for converting but one for confronting; not a time for compromise but a time for direct action. Holding actions are a way to lose slowly, an offensive program is needed. Naming and shaming, and electing the Next Great Saviour have both failed, and progressives need to get off those donkeys and articulate a real activist agenda. Spectacle gatherings which the media ignore and where everyone goes home Monday morning are presently ineffective because there is no organized base to make use of them. Money is not the main problem; feet on the ground moving forward are the real problem. A discrete agenda pursued full-time by experienced organizers is the solution. Less talk, and more walk.

Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing. They need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them). They need a defined activist strategy, no matter how large the difficulties or time horizon appear. They need to build genuinely activist organizations with specific plans to achieve a core set of goals. And they have to reclaim militancy as a word, and deed, of pride. If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

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161 comments

  1. Matthew Evans

    This is all true and important but seems impossible to change. The lack of interest in winning goes along with an obsession with process rather than outcome. This is partly because it’s not as clear what outcomes the left want as it is on the right. There they want more for themselves.
    But the left seem unable to tap a similar sentiment among the great mass of people.
    Is this really because our plans lack credibility or because we choose leaders who sell out. I think it’s mostly the latter. That means we need a Goldwater moment in which the left chooses someone who can’t win but who sets up the basis for a credible candidacy later. Obama is far more dangerous than any Republican to those who rely on social security.

    1. YankeeFrank

      I believe Richard’s point is that we don’t need a messiah, but a non-negotiable set of principles/demands as our banner, not some squishy vague “progressive” leanings and small-beer issue activism that can be vaguely betrayed and separately attacked. Singular issues like fracking and union-busting are important but insufficient and ineffective on their own; they do however exist under a banner of more general principles that unite them and can bring most of us together — principles like freedom to organize our communities in ways of our choosing and purging money from politics.

      1. Dan B

        That banner could be a genuine grasp of sustainability as involving an understanding of how the entire economy is dependent upon the biosphere and earth’s resources, etc. Many progressives are devoted to equality and promoting “environmentalism” but are simultaneously indifferent to or ignorant of the implications of natural resource depletion, like peak oil. In sum, they see that the pie is unfairly distributed but they also believe the pie will continue to expand.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Dan B., I would say 95% of the population has no idea what sustainability is, nor would it rank on the same order of magnitude with a viable job or reliable governance if they did. Yes, many progressives might cohere around that, but it won’t sell to a larger public as _the_ platform as opposed to _a_ principle. One of the bullet points, yes, but that can’t be the principle of a wider organizing movement. Sustainability will come as unsustainability fails. Short of that, its a swap out the bad when the chance is had kind of proposition for the wider culture. That’s my view from forty years of following that particular issue.

          1. Fiver

            And for 40 years those screaming at the tops of their lungs that the environmental crisis supersedes everything else, that a human population collapse scenario looms with each passing year, have all along been correct. There is very little time left, what with another 3 billion people landing on a planet that cannot, over time, sustain even half its existing level of population. It is bullet #1 or the rest is quite literally impossible. The radical ecological and anti-global activists of the late ’90′s were of course erased by 9/11 like so much else.

            A solid grasp of the key facts of planetary ecology, and what it means for the future global economy, in any case leads directly to some form of democratic socialist set of laws, policies, institutions etc., as the only path with some prospect of fairly managing the coming consumptive austerity that will be our constant companion over most of the course of this century.

  2. Linus Huber

    I think the American society is presently rather paralized by a form of a generally depressive mood. I do not exactly remember the different stages of grieve but the rage stage has been missed or is going to come in extremis at some coming date when it is clear that no policy is going to avert the painful adjustments required.

    The above analysis is very dense for a non American but I do agree that only walk will force change and talk does not produce any result as it simply will be ignored or categorized as unrealistic ideas.

  3. attempter

    Progressivism is by now not in fact a faith in the future, but another kind of conservatism. A strong proof of the political progressives’ lack of faith in the future is their characteristic desperation to grab any crumb they can get right now, their inability to ever gamble the possibilities of the moment in expectation of a much bigger payoff down the road, and their delusions which turn the most empty words and the simulation of “access” into actual achievements. In all this, the progressives are even more focused on short-term gain than the banksters. (Of course the actual gains made in that short term are rather different between the two.)

    So there’s one piece of evidence, from the political world, that the faith in progress itself is dying, even as so many still profess a superficial attachment to it. So what’s the nature of this continued attachment? I’ve already said it – it’s another kind of conservatism. “Progress” is another form of the ideology of clinging to what little one has and trying to prevent any change at all. Thus progressivism joins conservatism as a clod in the way of change, and also joins it in the paradoxical consent to the destructive rampage of capitalism which as part of its totalitarian wave of change is submerging them both.

    Liberalism isn’t primarily a moral position but a practical attachment to personal liberty and property.

    It’s typically bourgeois, and differs from modern “libertarianism” only in degree, not in any sort of principle. (Liberal “morality” is really a mood or whim to be indulged when times are good, but jettisoned the moment the going gets tough.)

    As of 2011, I would say that progressivism is broader and better known than at any time in American history, not least because of the validation and presence of past success.

    And shallower. And not least because of how profoundly it has sold out and become an astroturfing apparatus.

    Winning elections doesn’t matter; passing laws and regulations, and winning court decisions on their basis is what matters. The former may lead to the latter, but it hasn’t for twenty years at least.

    Hmm, heckuva job with the latter. I guess that’s why we’re in such good shape now, because “representative” government and its “rule of law” work so well.

    I admit I fail to follow how faith in elections themselves is childish but not faith in the laws and court decisions that follow from them. Both are accouterments of representative government, which the post already acknowledges is intrinsically bourgeois and guarantees bourgeois outcomes. Madison and Hamilton already explicitly said so back in the Federalist papers.

    Progressive actions are wholly defensive rather than offensive

    This is because of their indelible timid conservatism like I described above.

    On the radical side, employer based privileges (i.e. ‘contracts’) will continue to be broad-base losers for left liberals, exactly because they inherently favor ‘some, not all.’ The workplace organizing model was always compromised; in the US, it has failed.

    My idea of true radicals (i.e., those whose positions are in an absolute sense moderate and common-sensical) is those who recognize the irrationality and immorality of “employment” as such. Those who merely want to reform it hardly qualify as “radicals” by now. Radical-chic liberals, at best, which means selling out in the end.

    Issue- and instance-specific campaigns such as opposition to fracking run into the same problems. If you are directly effected, it’s a crisis; if you live 100 miles away, it’s not your problem (seemingly).

    These campaigns are seldom placed in the proper context of a general economic critique. I’m peripherally involved in an anti-fracking campaign (i.e., not really involved, but I know some people who are and sometimes chat with them about it), and when I phrase things in ways that place it in the context of Peak Oil and corporatism, people are interested, but it’s clearly not the way they normally think and express themselves. I haven’t asked, but I suppose even if they agreed with the anti-corporatist critique they’d be scared to make it part of the message, for fear of being called commies or something. But I think not only is that fear incorrect (anti-corporatism can easily become popular where consistently argued), but it’s the unwillingness to encompass specific issues within the general truth which dooms them to these “does it affect me” ghettos.

    Any such agenda is going to be anti-corporate, anti-poverty, pro-education (and job re-education), and pro-regulation.

    I see. It’s going to be anti-corporate but pro-State (and pro-”job”, i.e. exploitation), and therefore pro-corporate. (For those who would dispute this, it might help if you could name any State which has ever existed which was anti-corporate.)

    We are not in a time for converting but one for confronting; not a time for compromise but a time for direct action. Holding actions are a way to lose slowly, an offensive program is needed.

    Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing. They need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them). They need a defined activist strategy, no matter how large the difficulties or time horizon appear. They need to build genuinely activist organizations with specific plans to achieve a core set of goals. And they have to reclaim militancy as a word, and deed, of pride. If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

    That’s all true, but progressivism isn’t the ideology which can do it, and “progressives” sure ain’t the human material. And really, how is anyone to be induced to fight and sacrifice like this in order to more effectively win elections in ten years or whatever, in order to then get the Better Elites who will pass the Better Laws and eventually appoint the Better Judges who will hand down (evocative term, eh?) the Better Decisions? That’s all what’s implied by the reform program outlined above.

    I guess if Better Representativeness were the picayune limits of one’s vision, one might as well just keep voting Democrat now and hoping for Better Democrats. All the rest here is just a sublimated version of that. So why wait?

    And indeed, that’s the only behavior that can be expected from such a meager appeal. Because, like I started out saying, progressives are scared little conservatives. So the prescription is a mismatch between the message and the audience. Those who would find the vision appealing will never fight for it. Those willing to fight will find it wretchedly insufficient, and probably impossible to boot, since all the evidence is that reformism can’t work.

    1. Vile_Hack

      Exactly. This analysis is spot on.

      Reformism, even in it’s most successful instances, historically has always degenerated into frank opportunism, and has never been more than a holding action at best.

      If you want to emancipate the people from the exploiters, both the methods and the political program must go far outside the bourgeois framework.

  4. K Ackermann

    Is this about the 17th?

    A lot of this pissed me off… all the pigeon-holing, but it’s also hard to reject the conclusions.

    I’m in.

    1. Richard Kline

      So K., the above essay was not conceived around any immediate event. This sprang from personal reflection in the Spring following particularly egregious progressive flailing at several issues, domestic and international both, and came together after some discussion with Yves.

      If I didn’t get you steaming a little, I wasn’t trying. : ) It is difficult to talk about these issues without specficis, and specfics are always just a little off. Consider the broader surmises rather than the particular barbs, I suggest.

      1. Mineral Military

        Lot of words being tossed about, such is the English lanuage. Liberal, progressive, left. I don’t think we, outside of the guilded leadership, have any representation in any political organization. To see how perilous dissent has become to the status-quo, consider the use of sound cannons and paramilitary units when Bankers meet. Transcend these cheaper descriptions, as a writer.

        1. Richard Kline

          Many jejeune whinges regarding style in comments, so I’ll let yours stand for the rest, Mineral. Since you, as they, seem not to have engaged nine in ten issues in the essay worth discussing at a minimum, I’ll make you this proposition: Transcend your limitations as a reader, and I’ll meet you half way.

          1. Susie Madrak

            It’s my observation that progressives aren’t radicals because they don’t believe in power-sharing with those they consider beneath them in intellectual power and credentials. (I might have missed it, but I’ll say it if you didn’t: Credentialism is a hard-wired belief system for most progressives.)

            Hence, the relentless undermining of any really useful coalition-building: This group’s too extreme, that group’s too working-class (and thus, it’s implied, racist — note the derogatory undertone of the term “Hillary voters”), nativism and isolationism is inherently evil because it’s a tool of the far right, etc. No other group ever quite lives up to their high standards.

            So of course, nothing truly meaningful is ever accomplished.

            It’s always about economic and social justice. But if your leadership is comprised of people who, all things considered, are doing pretty well, see how far you get.

          2. Daft Hack

            “Typical conserva-liberal, always progressin’ so far to the right, that they come up as morally challenged libertarian neo-liberals with a touch of bolshevism and childlike Randianism”

            Did I just make a poo-poo, tell a riddle, or make some kind of point? Assume away!

  5. Dameocrat

    America is no longer British so I am not sure how applicable albions seed is. What I do know is that progressives have been continuously delusional about how much influence their activism has on the Obama administration, thus they still support him. I believe this is largely because he symbolically fullfills the aspirations of blacks even as he betrays them in several ways, most notibly the fact that most of them are lower or middle class, whereas he represents the upperclass. I think blacks have been traditionally important to successful progressive movements, in the past 50 years, and without them we are kind of rudderless, till we take inspiration from elsewhere. Yes, the social reform movements of the 19th century are a good place to look. As are the more radical industrial unions of the early 20th century. Those that sought to represent the entire working class, like the wobblies. The oligarchs really scored a coup by putting a right wing black in charge of the democrats. It is really killing us.

    1. Richard Kline

      The thesis of _Albion’s Seed_ is that there are enduring, distinct, sociological communities with discrete lifeway parameters; that these communities pre-dated colonization; and that they are enduring. These communities do not, btw, change sharply simply because the state actor floating atop them changes. One of the four communities he defined is likely no longer extant, the Southern planter class which was by far the smallest and most localized of those he mentioned. The others remain very much extant. Genetically, socially, and institutionally these have been the core communities of the country. Saying that is not to denigrate any others but simply to recognize a functional reality. Immigrants have adapted to that ‘social structure’ in the main. The communities which Fischer and his researchers did _not_ profile, are instructive: Native Americans, and African slaves. I would argue that both are extant as social communities as well if not including every individual of such descent anymore than the other communities do. More could be said, but at the least being ‘British’ has little to do with the problematic of that text.

      1. Jim Haygood

        ‘One of the four communities [Fischer] defined is likely no longer extant, the Southern planter class which was by far the smallest and most localized of those he mentioned.’

        Errr, I believe you’re misrecalling or misstating his point. Fischer’s four groups were the Puritans of New England; the Anglicans and Catholics of Cheskapeake Bay; the Quakers of Pennsylvania; and the Scotch-Irish of the Appalachian borderlands.

        The Southern planter class was a tiny top strata drawn mostly from the second group. But Fischer would assert, I think, that all four are still extant and coloring politics to this day.

        In the upended post-bellum economy, some of the former planters morphed seamlessly into banksters. Usury has more upside than chattel slavery, you know!

        1. Richard Kline

          So Jim, I use ‘planter’ as a shorthand for those who haven’t read the book. I’m referring to the Anglican/Catholic community of the Chesapeake who also extended further south. They were limited in number and very much an upper class. I believe that, had they they numbers, they would have continued as a community, but they’ve been swamped demographically more than failed. That’s my view. Regardless, they weren’t progressive, although many of them were liberals, an interesting point in and of itself.

        2. Dameocrat

          another colonial culture albions seed fails to grasp aside from blacks and native americans is the the new york dutch banking community. this community was protory during the revolution, and prosouthern during the civil war. it extended from manhattan to the tip of long island.

          1. Richard Kline

            So Dameocrat, I suspect that they were gauged as to small a community, but I didn’t write the text. Nor did I know that the New York Dutch remained an intact community as late as the Civil War, which certainly makes their position more interesting. Either way, it’s hard to argue that they established an enduring population plume with a socio-political position space later than that. For reasons beyond Fischer’s analysis, I would tend to include the New York/Jersey Dutch with the Chesapeake squirearchy in their broad political leanings even though they were anthropologically quite distinct communities. In fact, the Chesapeake squirearchy _should_ have remained pro-Tory, which would have defeated the American Revolution, but for the utter political incompetence of the British. History is generally a close-run thing in my view of it . . . .

      2. Roger Bigod

        The Virginia Gentry were partly a product of social engineering. During the English Civil War, Gov. Berkeley encouraged members of the gentry to emigrate and rewarded them with land. They happened to arrive when the market for tobacco was growing exponentially and became fabulously wealthy.

        Around 1750, the tobacco business went into a secular decline. I’ve never seen the prices or aggregate figures, but the estate of Richard Randolph, last surviving son of the Immigrant, William. is an indication. He died in 1750, leaving 40,000 acres, but so much was bought on spec that the debts cancelled the value of the land, and it took 2 generations to settle the estate. By 1775 the planters were up to their ears in debt to English trading houses and one reason they strongly supported the Revolution was to cancel the debts.

        Exhaustion of the soil was another factor. By 1800, the 4 huge Randolph plantations on the James had been abandoned.
        In 1820-30, the whole economy of VA went into a deep decline and there was a huge exodus. Fischer treats this in a companion book. He’s something of a fanboi for the gentry, so it isn’t very analytic. But the general theme was that elements of their culture and lifestyle were dispersed and became influential, although they never had the numbers or clout to dominate a state legislature as they had the House of Burgesses.

        I can’t see that they made any cultural contributions that have any force. They were very legalistic and had a concept of personal rights and privacy that seem contemporary. But these have other sources.

      3. bob

        First I have heard of the book but it sounds interesting.

        One note about migrations to canada, then to the US.

        How are the Jesuits dealt with?

        The french canadian and native american alliances?

        I’ve seen “migration maps” along these lines before, but I think they all under represent the people coming from north of the border, and where they were “from”. They also misrepresent the borders at the time.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_and_Indian_War

  6. will bow baggins

    uyou talk about radicalism as economic-based politics, but not about marxism or anarchism. in their place only the rather bland “labour”? this feels like fictive categories in search of an analysis, which is why it is essentially nothing more than genre analysis, grab bags. its also incredibly long. from an editorial pov it should have been serialized.

  7. SD

    I don’t see the point of trying to pin labels on to something that has no political affiliation what so ever – appealing to the inherent greed in each of us, greed wins.

    Greed is a self-centered, arrogant, self-entitled attitude without any party allegiance. I’ve got mine, f*ck you very much.

    Analyze all you want but it all comes down to greed. It’s only when greed finally gets shamed that things change course though often at the point of the violent overthrow of a government.

    Hence the very reason the self-immolation of a poor vegetable seller started a revolution. Nobody gave a crap about his politics. It was all about the greed.

  8. kievite

    There are other important factors not mentioned above. I would mention three:

    1. First of all one of the fundamental reasons of the current situation is that the geo-political situation changed with the dissolution of the USSR. If in the 30th the existence of the USSR was an important inhibiting factor for oligarchy, now with the socialist model discredited it’s much more difficult to advance what is called “progressive agenda”.

    2. Another important factor was merging of renegade Trotskyites into Republican Party. That started with James Burnham and continued with neoconservatives. That infused the previously stales political party with new totalitarian methods of political struggle directly from Russian Bolsheviks playbook, such as importance of controlling the press, importance of grass-roots activist, important of deception including breaking electoral promises as a fundamental strategy, etc. That created new generation of party functionaries represented by such figures as Karl Rove which made the party much more viable politically. All-in-all this was instrumental in creating unique political force which proved to be very effective in neutralizing opposition (See “What’s wrong with Kansas”).

    3. The third important factor is that two party system was perfected for serving the interests of oligarchy. It’s called poliarchy — the system where voters are limited to voting among two pre-selected representatives of the oligarchy. This is noticeable improvement over the USSR one party rule but with the same net result — political challenge is very difficult. In reality Democratic Party in not a separate party, but an integral part of the two prong bait-and-switch system with a special function of preventing meaningful reform. In other words it is a branch of single party, the party of oligarchy but it is a branch with a special function, the function of a spoiler. While the second part is allowed to show its true face, this one is not. If selection of candidates is performed strictly by the party machine, then elections became a farce. You always face a choice between bad candidate and even worse candidate. For example, between Obama and Tea Party candidate. In this situation the vote for any third candidate became a vote for Tea Party. So electorate is held hostage by two, preselected by oligarchy, candidates and is allowed only to chose between them. Classic example of this mechanism in action was the the role of Nader in Gore vs. Bush election. This is the key mechanism of “managed democracy” or as it is called “inverted totalitarianism”.

    1. Sauron

      I have intend to think of the Demo/Rep’s as being, objectively speaking, two different factions of the same party. Real division and faction is there and is not stage-managed, it’s just very minor division and faction.

      I’m beginning to think you may be right.

    2. esb

      Regarding 2,it must have been like a light bulb turning on in a dark room when the group surrounding Reagan realized the extent of the evangelical psychopathy inherent in the traditional American character (circa 1978).

      Regarding 3, the only way out of the trap resides with the senior professional officer corps, and even a “siete dias en mayo” event could probably be stage managed.

  9. dearieme

    “Anti-colonialism”: it seems to me that Americans were historically anti-British, -French and -Spanish colonialism but entirely happy with American and Russian colonialism. I sometimes tease people that that is because Americans hated ship-borne imperialism but were enthusiastic about the horse-borne variety. But actually it was surely because American imperialism could make them rich, especially if they could pillage British, French or Spanish colonies. They had more sense than to take on Moscow, except perhaps in Korea- where the cost became all too obvious.

    P.S. you seem to have a typo: you’ve said “abolition” when you presumably meant “abortion”?

    1. Richard Kline

      So dearie, it’s important to recall that there are specific socio-communities within a larger ‘American’ population, just as in other societies. That was the purpose of my fleeting comments’ on Fischer’s typological problematic of _Albion’s Seed_. One of these communities—they are broken out by Jim Haygood in a comment above—was strongly pro-colony. They were/are primarily located in the South, the West, and the rural Midwest; think the Filibusters. Another of these communities was strongly anti-colonialist. They were originally principally located in the mid-Atlantic, the upper Midwest, and the West Coast. Another community was cautious regarding colonies, opposing state expenses and international complications but enthusiastic if these could be paying propositions, especially if outsourced; think the claiming of the Columbia River, and the Alaskan Purchase. This community was principally souced in New England, and now many major metropolitan areas. (Don’t get too caught up in those geographical confines, it’s the distinct communal-policy alignments which matter.) Progressives were always heavily drawn from the anti-colonial group with individuals from the other communities—but generally lost when the land was there for the grabbing. Although it’s significant that the Spanish possessions seized were not ‘annexed’ but only ‘administered,’ an important structural and value distinction in gauging the meaning for American society even if the results were similar for those of the locales involved. [I just saw _Amigo_, nearly John Sayles' best film. Everything old is bloody new again . . . .]

      And while thre are typos in the essay, ‘abolition’ wasn’t one of them. I meant the abolition of slavery explicity. Opposition to human trafficking and some aspects of R2P are current echos of that past position, for instance. Abortion was never a major issue until the last generation, and never a principal issue for progressives if very important to conservatives. Was this an issue for radicals? I’m not sure, I’d have to do some background on that. Birth control in the larger sense, by contrast, was always and early an important progressive issue.

      1. sleepy

        Thanks for your essay.

        I moved to Iowa from Louisiana and have always noticed the old time progressive mindset here that revels in self-improvement, due I always thought to Iowa’s early settlement by New Englanders.

        On a very personal level, I preferred the cultural acceptance of sin in Catholic New Orleans far more than the dose of self-righteous self-improvement that tends to predominate in the upper midwest.

  10. Sauron

    Felt very stream of consciousness. Some very interesting points and ideas, but too many to define and develop convincingly.

    I do feel Mr. Kline’s basic point is correct. Liberals need to move from being personal critics of power towards being an active, disciplined, organization for gaining power.

  11. John Emerson

    Haven’t read the whole thing yet, but the opening paragraphs look good and I thought I’d respond up here.

    I think that a major weakness of the American left is snobbery (just like Limbaugh says). Right now the active electorate is 20-30% hard core right wingers, 10-20% committed liberals, 30-40% low information independent voters , with the remaining 20-30% weakly committed Rs and Ds. The liberal / Democratic strategy has been devoted to trying to get low-information independents and moderate Republicans into the Democratic camp. Even when successful this strategy is bad, because it pulls the party right.

    The demographic left out is the critical one: non-voters. Even in a presidential year, 40%+ of the electorate does not turn out. (Obama’s 56% was the best in a long while). This is really the only place where progress might be made.

    But non voters tend to be poorer, less uneducated, and less informed. Not people most liberals would like to spend time with. And reaching non-voters is both expensive and labor-intensive, involving a lot of feet on the ground.

    MoveOn and Obama for America did a lot of that work, but neither group had a lot of specific political content and OfA was a pure personality cult.

    Since WWII the Democratic Party has been explicitly antiu-populist, anti-radical, and anti-movement, preferring to work with organized groups with specific, manageable demands. (The Civil Rights movement came from outside the Democratic Party and was not very welcome at first.)

    The Republican strategy has always included voter discouragement, both by setting legal obstacles and simply by spreading cynicism. If spmeone comes away from Beck or Limbaugh completely discouraged and disgusted, even if they mistrust or dislike Limbaugh, the Republicans win. They want to keep voting down.

    This is a two way street. The Republicans encourage and profit from cynicism, but the Democrats are hard not to be cynical about, and it’s committed progressive Democrats who end up the most cynical. I watched the recent speech in a bar with a bunch of grumbling workers and retirees, and there was no way I could defend Obama without making false promises to those guys. I did that in 2008 and I won’t do it again.

    Recently I realized that neither side wants 70% or 80% voting. Roughly, the Democrats want it close to 60%, and the Republicans win below 50%, but they both lose above 60%, because both are owned by finance, and the only way turnout really can be increased would be by a radical or populist movement-politics campaign with some red-meat hot-button economic issues. (You wouldn’t have to abandon the Democratic social issues, but those issues aren’t going to reach the silent 40%. Something more is needed.)

  12. John Emerson

    “Thus, they don’t frame what they engage in as a fight but rather as a debate.”

    I run into this over and over again. And worse, many Ds insist on academic standards for the debate, and are unwilling to use language the average voter will responds to.

    Brad DeLong and a dozen others grumble over and over again about the errors and bad logic of the Republicans, but this isn’t research we’re doing, it’s politics and persuasion. Proving that the other side is wrong only persuades a few people, most of whom are already liberals.

    1. nonclassical

      “fundamentalist” “debate” is as impossible as Ayn Rand’s defense of her own ideology (which is reason neither she, nor fundamentalists debate)…

      ..historical documentation appears not to be an American
      perspective..one can learn more from history than Kline-I’m
      sure my friend Walt Crowley would agree…

  13. David

    Richard,

    Could you clarify on domestic radicalism? At the beginning you express doubts that there has really been a ‘native’ radical tradition then later you indicate certain points where it’s been operative. And also what about domestic radicalism (putatively) that doesn’t necessarily take a left form, e.g., Whiskey Rebellion, such as today’s Alex Jones? For clarity’s sake, let me throw out a few candidates for domestic (left) radicalism and, if you would, pls indicate where you see them: John Brown, Haymarket, Matewan, Wobblies/IWW, Green Corn Rebellion, Weather Underground, Comm. Party (1920s-30s), today’s DSA, SWP, etc.

    One thing I especially like about your analysis is drawing attention to the progressive form of moralizing and how this is often distinctive from the radical stance–and the telltale sign that the progressives oddly tend to leave out economic issues from the forefront. I love your line about the meal ticket. Is that just it: progressives are pulled up short by still having that ticket? So most of it is objective conditions. As those worsen, shouldn’t we expect more radicals? So the strategy for radicals is essentially you build the ark now. People WILL get more radical as the meal tickets grow scarcer and those already on the edge are pushed even further (e.g., there’s that 40% of income on food threshold). So as conditions deteriorate there’s somewhere for people to go other than the theocrats/neo-fascists. Any commentary appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Richard Kline

      So David: John Brown was a terrorist, and probably insane; it’s difficult to make comparisons from such an extreme, and his politics may well have been incidental to his personality dysfunctions. It’s hard to find an economic radical outfit in the US prior to the Molly Maguires, who were Irish immigrants. One could make a case for earlier, but it’s difficult and more qualified than one might think. Haymarket; off the top of my head, all those tried were foreign born, which was the real point of the kangaroo court. IWW and Matewan, both salted by immigrant activists, mostly anarchists, without which it’s difficult to see the organizations choosing their particular paths, although I’ll say that in my view anarchism is far more compatible with the broader American socio-culture because anti-state than is socialism. Others have likely produced much deeper analyses than that off the cuff. The Communist Party between the Wars: how many of them were WASPs? Few. How many were immigrants and children of immigrants? Many. The Socialists drew somewhat more from WASP indigenes, but even so their backbone was always European immigrant socialists. And so on.

      My point on progressives was exactly that their comparative deemphasis on economic issues was _not_ odd but intrinsic to the conceptual structure of their critique and activism. Review the essay again for that argument, my friend.

      I’m not advocating building an ark and waiting for the inevitable flood to float it. You build an ark so that those around you see that they don’t have to drown or p/pray the Man for salvation, so they unfold their hands and pick up a hammer. Action precipitates action is the thrust of my remedies, a larger argument I do not choose to develop in an essay already long for the remedially challenged.

      1. Greg Colvin

        Don’t forget the hippies. When FEMA could get food to the Gulf Coast the Rainbow Family did. And don’t forget the anti-nuclear movement. We used to organize thousands of protesters at, e.g. Rocky Flats, and it’s shut down now. It would be good to see enough people surround the NYSE to prevent its floor from opening. And don’t forget the huge protests that follow the G-20 and such wherever they go. Eventually they will have to meet only on remote islands, so badly are they hated. Radical, dude.

      2. JohnL

        Richard: John Brown was arguably a terrorist, but his methods were ultimately effective and — not just in my view, but in view of their positive historical impact — justified by their success. It is also pretty clear that he was probably NOT insane, except insofar as most white people of the time thought that whites who interacted with blacks on an equal level were by definition “insane.” W.E.B. DuBois’s biography of Brown is instructive in these matters; he makes the case that Brown’s tactical plans were actually credible, if far-fetched, but even if you don’t agree with that, Brown deserves credit as a man of action who inspired terror in the hearts of the planters, and thereby became the “meteor of the war.”

        Related to this, I’m a little mystified by your placing abolitionism in the progressive camp as a “non-economic” struggle. In reality it was an economic struggle, and in fact the decisive one in the history of the US; the defeat of the anti-racists with the end of Reconstruction is the deep origin of our present predicament.

        I don’t mean to nit-pick, because there is a lot of insightful analysis here, on the liberal/progressive/radical distinction, and especially when you cut to the heart of the problem in the second paragraph: “They don’t frame what they engage in as a fight but rather as a debate.” But the struggle against white supremacy is decisive in US politics, and it is radicals who have most consistently recognized this; the radical approach to the problem has been better than the moralizing of liberals and progressives as you describe them, but the recognition of this question’s centrality is more than “identity politics.”

  14. Taibbi Putdowns

    This is a longer formulaic piece, another exercise in the comment section where it’s a racing attempt to out masturbate the other posters between “them” and “us”. Who could have guessed? We have the Banksters crimes documented, it is time to round up an apolitical posse and fight like hell for justice.

  15. Charles Wheeler

    “The rightist oligarchy does have a stranglehold on the major media, despite which accurate, uncensored, news is widely and readily available to anyone who wants to hear it.”

    This rather glosses over the issue – many people lapping up the mainstream agenda do not want to hear any alternatives that require too much thought. And if 9 economists on the nightly news are telling them what’s inevitable, it takes quite an effort to try and seek out the 1 who suggests the other 9 are talking rubbish.

    The great advantage the right have is that there libertarian message is simple to understand – you earn what you can with your own efforts, taxation is theft, the underclass are victims of their own inadequacy, look after your own, etc., etc. It appeals to the sense of self-volition and coincides with the historical position of the state as the oppressor, taxing and curbing the freedom of the individual.

    Try to point out that the benefits of capitalism have only been enjoyed by a majority when the state has intervened to protect the interests of individuals against corporate tyranny and it will fall on deaf ears. Explain how America was formed, moulded and shaped by the state, and how its most productive period came at a time of relatively high taxation, with government investment laying the groundwork for the expansion of transport, computer technology, satellites, and much of the scientific research that has driven the technological revolution many regard as the result of private sector innovation, and it will be difficult to get across in a sound bite.

    Tell people that the Efficient Market Hypothesis is simply a nonsensical piece of circular reasoning aimed at underpinning the ideological purpose of neoliberalism by suggesrting that we must be living in the best of all possible worlds, or that Ricardian Equivalence – with its contention that government action can only be a best ineffectual and at worst inefficient, despite being completely unhistorical – or that the Laffer Curve is as sophisticated a model as the napkin it was written on, and you will be met by the ‘tyranny of the expert’ response that these psueod-scientific ‘principles’ have been proven by Nobel prize winning economists.

    So, all that is in the right’s favour. However, the neoliberal experiment has yet to do anything other than crash and burn, and in America it is reaching breaking point. The remnants of government funded-infrastructure and the welfare state have been holding up much of the middle-class -even if they don’t realise it – but 30 years of degradation are beginning to take their toll. Until now around 70% of the population have either prospered, or at least, have been able to sustain themselves (if largely through growing indebtedness) – but we are now reaching the stage where 70% can start to feel the ground crumbling beneath their feet, as the foundations of their lives start to rupture, and the security and well-being they had been brought up to expect start to recede.

    Then the arithmetic changes, and the equations start to fall apart. Prettyt soon, the idea of an ‘efficient’ market which keeps millions of young, able Americans unemployed, and allows bridges and levees to crumble, roads to break up, computer systems to fail with shrinking broadband coverage, pensions to be wiped out and Medicare strained of resources will be revealed as the big joke it always was. The curtain will be drawn back and the wizard revealed as a bumbling idiot.

    Then ‘Progressives’ – however you choose to define them – might have some … er … leverage.

    1. Richard Kline

      So Charles, you raise an issue which, deliberately, I chose not to pursue in this essay, but it is relevant, yes: the soft middle of the American population does not want to hear valid societal critique. They’ve been told that if they are docile drones, God and the rich will share pie with them in the form of asset appreciation and ‘social stability.’ So they are still waiting for pie. But then, there are always pieholes waiting. My larger point is that they can’t be talked or admonished into action. They have to see action undertaken for some of them to actually participate. And that action has to be organized. It has to have believable, comprehensible goals, at least some of them. And it has to be effective in salient instances at least.

      The problem isn’t a media problem, its an initiative problem. They won’t move until talk turns to walk because, y’know, they’re followers. That’s the point of a vanguard more broadly. —But not a vanguard of beligerant cranks, which is all they expect to see.

      1. nonclassical

        ..wrong again, Kline..

        You appear to believe fundamentalists taking over government
        had nothing to do with burying the American populace in debt..?

        Don’t believe it was intentional?:

        http://www.amazon.com/Shock-Doctrine-Rise-Disaster-Capitalism/dp/0312427999/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315806914&sr=1-1

        ..Enron (and the 10 years leading to) should have taught you-Americans in general, better..

        By the time banker-lobbyists changed bankruptcy laws, it was
        obvious to the majority..but they were still buried in debt..bought off..just in a different “way” than U.S. political system…

  16. War Funding for Soccer Moms

    Right – it is but a stone’s thrown from a rich frat boy stating in his fake southern drawl ‘that we’re gonna get Ben Laden dead or alive’. To another hick stating that ‘We’re gonna get them murderous bankers dead or alive’

  17. Ron

    Americans are fat and happy or were happy but still fat and seeking not social justice or a progressive life but one filled with high tech entertainment devices and endless made for TV reality shows.
    Americans have been on a huge spending binge for the past 40 years chasing the so called American dream of remodeled kitchens and bigger weddings. The endless magical thinking depicting the greater afterlife, housing that endlessly appreciates in value and of course our obsession with bombing various 3rd world countries back to the stone age along with our belief that oil deposits never run dry define the culture.
    Political labels such as progressives or conservative have little meaning in a culture driven by extreme financial self interest.

  18. Amateur Socialist

    This is a frustratingly useless post for NC and quite unusual in that regard. Those of us who are not poets or polymaths might have been helped by his characterizations of Liberals, Progressives, and Radicals if Mr. Kline had actually bothered to cite any writers, thinkers or political leaders by name. The only one I saw was Dylan Ratigan, and he’s only an example of a celebrity TV talking head. And not a particularly influential one.

    Pitiful.

    1. Richard Kline

      So personalities not ideas are your strength? I guess that’s why your an amateur.

      While this commentor is an obvious troll, to whom I generally do not respond, there is a point here that to me is germane, though not as presented. Analysis is about ideas in a context of factual statements and comparisons thereof (as much as one can ascertain substantive facts). Those who depend upon ‘source validity,’ i.e. who said what, are intellectual cripples. You, my potential (if unlikely) friend could have as valid an inference as ANYONE WHOM YOU CHOOSE TO CITE. Do your homework, get some command of a fact set; consider an hypothesis; test. Yes, some sources are consistently better than others. But personalities really are irrelevant. It’s fully evident that doing the historical background to actually having a position, an opinion, and an inference is just too much bother to the particular individual behind this remark, at least on this day. But for others of you out there I encourage you to go and get the historical and sociological background to have an _informed_ opinion of your own. By all means, don’t take my word for it. Take my essay as a proposition for study, but of present events and past trajectories, and see what of it holds as a useful model of either context.

      It’s the substance of the argument that matters, not the source. In my experience, as here proved again, those who look for the latter first generally lake capacity in gauging the former.

      1. Alex

        You missed his point. He’s not asking you back up your inferences with citations, but your statements of fact. It’s not just that your essay is devoid of specific examples of the kinds of people you’re talking about, but all your factual statements, even statements regarding history, which would presumably be easy to provide citations for. This makes it difficult to assess the validity of your reasoning, because there is a fog of uncertainty regarding the factual claims you’ve based it on.

        </NOT a troll>

        1. Alex

          …all your factual statements, even statements regarding history, which would presumably be easy to provide citations for

          Oops. I meant that all your factual statements are unsupported by citation.

        2. Alex

          Also, I liked your essay, despite the lack of supporting citations. I just don’t know how much to trust it.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Alex,

            That assumption isn’t correct. The post is already over 5500 words, and dense. Most of his sources are books not news stories or web based commentary. Sourcing it would have doubled the length of the pieces and lost most readers.

            I think you are exhibiting a tad of credentialism. When someone like a Krugman or a Niall Ferguson comments on history, no one questions it even though they rarely source what they write in an essay format. Kline is extremely well read in the social sciences. You might disagree with his interpretation, but his views are anchored in a lot of research.

          2. Alex

            Thanks for responding, Yves. There appears to have been some kind of glitch in the system. If you load the page directly the only comment responding to Richard Kline’s appears to be an iptables rule string, and my comments weren’t getting through. But on the reply page, the comments currently show up and the iptables rule is gone.

            Kline is welcome to write any way he wants, but it would be stronger if he supported his claims more specifically. It’s usually easy to provide hyperlinks to supporting material without breaking the flow of the text. (E.g., Niall Ferguson does give specific examples in his books.)

            (I don’t read Paul Krugman. :-)

          3. Yves Smith Post author

            Your example of Ferguson makes my point. I’m referring to his essays, not his books. He does NOT provide the sort of citations you are asking for in his essays. This is an essay, not a book.

            I deleted the iptables string, the guy who posted it, which it turns out was you, was using multiple handles in his comments on this post and violating other comment rules. And either way I access the page, the replies to Richard’s 11:29 AM comment are the same.

        3. JTFaraday

          I thought that Amateur Socialist’s point was actually much simpler: if you’re going to posit the existence of a typology (liberal, progressive, radical) that actually exists in the social body, then you ought to “name some names” preferably with some explanation for why you think that label applies to that person/ group of persons (or use some other means of exemplification) so that your readers can follow what *you* think those terms represent in our common collective world, as opposed to the worlds in our individual heads.

          Hence, the “stream of consciousness” comment, which I think I saw twice (and which I admit floated through my own head as I was reading it).

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The only comments I deleted were from someone using multiple handles. That is classic troll behavior and grounds for banning. You are on thin ice in trying to create the impression that several independent parties are making similar attacks.

          Do it again and not only will I ban you, I will expunge all your prior commments. Breaking the rules is bad enough (and you should know damned well that multiple handles in the same thread is asking for it). And your use of both multiple handles, multiple e-mail addresses, and multiple IP addresses IS troll behavior. Arguing with me only compounds the offense.

          1. solo

            I think you should also know that “multiple handles” can occur in perfectly good faith when, for example, the poster is unable to get his/her post to show up in the comments; gets the “duplicate message” screen when reposting same; then, tinkering, puts in a different “handle” (pseudonym + email) in an effort to get the very same comment to print. Also: Could somebody please define “troll” for me? –Obviously a pejorative term, but for old folks not reared on modern electronics the term is an enigma. (In my childhood with the Brothers Grimm, trolls were monsters hiding under bridges, eating passing children.)

  19. Jonathan Larson

    Missing from this flawed analysis is the very important fact that it is about 10,000 times harder to build something than to wreck things. Or as the 19th century Progressives would say, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a skilled carpenter to build one.”

    While there haven’t been many Progressive victories in the past 35 years for a host of reasons, it doesn’t take much looking to see the results of decades of them–Social Security, Medicare, public libraries, land-grant universities, etc. etc. To say the Progressives never won anything on the national level is to ignore some pretty major accomplishments like the New Deal.

    1. David

      I agree. But it’s also the specter of radicalism that helped motivate toward the New Deal. btw, speaking from experience, demolishing an old barn is actually very difficult and even dangerous work. :)

      1. Jonathan Larson

        I have indeed taken down a barn and you are correct, it can be quite dangerous. Difficult? That I won’t agree to. If you think taking down a barn is difficult, you probably haven’t built anything too complex. Just remember, you can take down a barn without ever resorting to a ruler or any other measuring device. Try building a barn without them.

      2. nonclassical

        ..sure is David..

        when we destroyed ours we set it on fire, pushed it over on itself, and kept plywood between it and propane tank…

        took 1 day-took 1 year to fully re-construct…seems an appropriate metaphor-though I dislike abstraction..

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You call the article “flawed” yet you offer almost nothing in the way of a substantive critique. I ran it by a political operative who found it to be accurate, save he would have put more emphasis on the corruption of the elites.

      Your dismissal suggests that Richard’s comments offend your beliefs, but you aren’t able to rebut them effectively.

      The reason New Deal reforms were implemented had perilous little to do with the Progressives. In fact, they are the poster child proving Richard’s point re radical muscle.

      Contrary to popular belief, Roosevelt did have the support of an important group: international corporations (see Thomas Ferguson’s Golden Rule for details). But the big impetus for many of the leftward moves was that Communism and radical socialism was getting a strong following. The CIO, which was far more radical and violent than traditional labor unions, was eating the CIO’s lunch.

      1. Binky the perspicacious bear

        the part I felt was missing was the fact that the essay understated the unavoidable truth of American sociopolitical relations-the willingness of factions to expropriate the use of violence from the state when the group has come to the conclusion that their needs won’t be met by the government or industry.
        Compare Wisconsin, the home of “liberalism” no less than the stereotypical “Minnesota Nice,” with what the ILWU is doing to defend its interests in Washington State against an internationally constituted grain export terminal. Who is going to get what they want and who is going to be attrited into settling for less or nothing?

      2. solo

        How’s this for “substantive critique”: This self-styled polymath (Kline) purports to address the prospects of the Left but is so provincial that he says not one word about the preeminent “news” of the twentieth century in this regard, namely, the historic failure of socialism (of both the Second and Third Internationals). There is more wisdom in the ironic title of Ralph Nader’s farewell book–”Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us”–than in all of Kline’s idealist banalities.

      3. clina

        How’s this for “substantive critique”: This self-styled polymath (Kline) purports to address the prospects of the Left but is so provincial that he says not one word about the preeminent “news” of the twentieth century in this regard, namely, the historic failure of socialism (of both the Second and Third Internationals). There is more wisdom in the ironic title of Ralph Nader’s farewell book–”Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us”–than in all of Kline’s idealist banalities.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          His post is about the failure of progressivism circa 2010. Your demand that he include a tangentially related topic is s spurious criticism. Someone in the thread made a far more astute about a topic Richard might have incorporated: how the legacy of the McCarthy witch hunts was a much weakened “hard” left.

          1. clina

            Yves: If you think that the historic failure of socialism is only “tangentially related” to any prognosis on the U.S. Left, you have carried “American Exceptionalism” to a new low. Your field of expertise is financial economics, and you are very good at it: Would you claim that non-US financial/economic failures of historic scope were only “tangentially related” to U.S. markets? –Ditto in the marketplace of ideas: The failure of socialism where socialism was strongest (whether in its Second- or Third-International variants) goes to the heart of any prospective Left dynamic in the U.S. The provincialism of Kline’s offering in this regard is only matched by that of his advocates.

      4. Jonathan Larson

        You are correct in that what I wrote amounts to barely more than a drive-by cheap shot. As someone who has devoted much of my spare time as an adult in collecting and understanding data about the Progressive movements here in the Midwest, I suffer from too much info and coming to the point means leaving a lot out.

        But I have done my homework and I can assure you, the Progressives built places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota (state bank, anyone?) and I am FAR from hopeless about the potential for Progressive organizing.

        Of course, Kline may be right–we may be mere shadows of the giants that built this country. But I think the real problem is that we got lost when multiculturalism replaced economics as the core issue for Liberals / Progressives—to the point where these groups barely know how to argue Progressive economics anymore.

      5. nonclassical

        ..banks, under FDR had been totally disempowered..asked
        FDR to “nationalize”..many on Yves fine NK have suggested that is what is actually necessary-not some sort of progressive-liberal diaspora that Kline laments…

    3. Linden

      Yes, and to say that the Democrats started losing because the American people hate identity politics is to ignore the successes achieved by those groups: the Civil Rights movement; the social, educational, legal, and economic betterment of women; the growing social acceptance of gays; the greater workplace protections of migrant laborers. All of these things happened because minority groups, subject to centuries of historical discrimination, still were able to convince the majority of the righteousness of their causes.

      I’ve heard this critique before, and I suspect it comes from lazy thinking and also a gut-level disdain for the demands of minorities. The Democrats have been working hard to “earn back” the votes of blue-collar white men for the last three decades, apparently because votes from white men are somehow more legitimate and ideologically pure than those from “self-interested” women and minorities. I don’t see that this has been a successful strategy for them.

      1. Richard Kline

        So Linden, I specifically turned to the issue of identity politics with trepidation, but it is the dead mule in the middle of the room that has to be discussed. Personally, I think that many of the ‘rights and liberation’ activism we’ve seen are just, are necessary, and are of certain long-term benefit. Convincing the indifferent, ignorant, or hostile of the existence of oppression and the righteousness of assuaging that is critical in getting people to think, yes, as well as necessary because just. I don’t really want any one to stop doing any of them. By themselves, they cannot build any mass activism however, and this is something progressives, radicals, and, yes, oppressed minorities have to account for in their activism.

        Here’s some things I did _not_ say. I didn’t say the Democrats are losing because of identity politics. I don’t give a tinkers damn if the Democrats lose or win (I’m a radical). It is a certain political-historical fact that identify politics lost the Democrats conservative, rural whites—but the Democrats were losing them already, and had the potential to pick up other strata of voters. That’s there problem.

        I did _not_ say that most of the population ‘hates minorities’ or the equivalent which you imply. What I think is relevant, though, is that the majority position in this culture is highly suspicious of ‘some not all’ movements. Whether or not the right chooses to manipulate this inclination (it does), the social position is deeper than and preceded such manipulation. The advancement of a particular identity group makes for a better society in the abstract, but it seldom does anything for those not of that group in the concrete. What, pray tell, are those of that group going to offer in return? What do they have to offer that applies EQUALLY to those not of their constituency? This is what any other rational person out there is going to think if and when they stop to think, Linden. Progressives who won’t face that are talking about faith, not about justice, and definitely not about politics. I say that both from my experience in organizing and my grasp, such as it is, of the sociological background in this country. Not only that, but the culture has a strong bias in favor of equal application. That has been used very potently to assuage the condition of oppressed minorities by demonstrating ‘unequal treatment.’ Turnabout, what do progressives largely engaged in identity activism have to offer those outside their groups?

        Rightly or wrongly (some of each) the larger part of society doesn’t think that identity constituencies are giving back as much as they are demanding or are given. You can present your own proposals how to address that; I’m presenting that as a substantive problem that can’t be moralized away. And the last thing, the very last thing, that will be helpful is to announce loudly, “You owe it to me.” I’ll also suggest that you might want to re-evaluate your disdain of blue collar white men, which is evidently deep. They are people too, and your fellow citizens. Yes, some of them should stop standing on your foot. What, I’d like to hear, do you propose to do for them? When you have an answer for that, Linden, you’ll have a movement. Until you do, you’ll have an ‘interest’ as far as anyone not you is concerned. And in the voting both and in (or not in) the demonstration, people vote their interests. If they don’t share your interest, guess how that tally is going to run.

        1. Linden

          I have no disdain for blue-collar men, Mr. Kline, as my family is full of them. It is because my family’s roots lie in the laboring class that I can say with certainty that people of that class can be persuaded much more easily than elites of the need for justice across the laboring class, whose members are more often minorities or women. The various civil rights movements succeeded in spite of white elites, not because of them. This country didn’t go from having segregated drinking fountains to having a black president in just three generations because most white Americans weren’t convinced of the justice of that cause. It is working-class Americans who intermarry across races, and it is working-class Americans who rebelled against the Vietnam war, even as elites ramped it up.

          Your language simply illustrates my point: like right-wing Republicans, Democratic elites have learned to disdain the movements of women and minorities as niche politics that do not give back to the larger society, and to reflect that view back into the discourse, rather than refuting it. Who is the larger society when you subtract women and minorities, I ask you? It is Democratic elites who assume that blue-collar white Americans can be appealed to solely on the basis of narrow self-interest and implicit promises to put the “others” back in their place. It is our first black president who referred scornfully to bitter rural people who cling to God and guns, while attending a tony fundraiser in San Francisco.

          There can’t be broad-based prosperity or economic justice that leaves out the majority of the population, i.e., women and minorities. There can’t be a genuine progressive platform that ignores the fact that minorities and women are still short-changed in this and many other areas, or which promises a kind of trickle-down justice — “you’ll get yours after ‘real’ Americans get theirs.” Since the progressives’ method of presenting their case to white Americans still boils down to “vote for us, dumb crackers, because we know better than you what’s good for you” I am convinced they aren’t serious about the effort.

  20. LM Dorsey

    “Progressive” does have specific, historical content. Of course. And for all I know, there may even be a few honest-to-god proressives out there. But, mostly, seems to me, “progressive” is what some Dems started calling themselves when they were unable to deal with the opprobium freighted into “liberal.” I hear in its use the intellectual torpor that has characterized the party for forty years.

    All the Jacobin “radicals” are on other side. (Why nobody calls them on their hijacking of “conservative” is a complete mystery to me.)

  21. Jethro Votes

    How do Americans view 9/11 for example? The fourth estate began to openly purge what they called liberal attitudes after the Towers Fell – this was a fascinating crowning jewel to decades long destruction of threats to industry.
    We had so-called liberals asking for killing!
    The New York Times couldn’t resist all out bloodshed – approving, massive military destruction in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Not a peep of how many innocent people the US was killing in foreign lands – and the wars have been waged for the same reason they’ve always been. Incidentally – we are expecting this fine organization to honestly anaylze the housing bubble?

    Even the Pentagon needed to remind the US sheep that there is ‘gold in them thar’ Afghan hills, less the people begin to ask why we are throwing wealth into bombs. Consider, that if we don’t have a free press to begin with, how can we possibly begin to formulate what the governed prefer? We don’t, this country doesn’t. We herd people into approved labels, while the leadership does an appallingly awful job out of sight and out of mind.

  22. President Can Kill Ya

    Americans should look back in anger. Richard Klein for example, could have written a piece for this sunny, reflective Sunday morning – listing the number of people the United States has killed, evicted, or allowed to die on a nearby Island (both the prison and the country) – and, as good writer attempt to compare and contrast similar historical precedent. The number of Americans who’ve been swindled out of their homes and out of their jobs, this too, would seem relevant.

  23. i'm a liberal (well really an Eisenhower Republican)

    My biggest annoyance. Liberals who call themselves “progressives.”

    Damn it own the word liberal. Conservatives don’t run away from the word “conservative.” Liberals shouldn’t either.

    1. nonclassical

      ..”conservatives” don’t run from the word “conservative”, because they have returned to fundamentalist-fundamentalism…call them “fundamentalist” and see what they agree to “own”…

    1. LM Dorsey

      1. A significant component of all politics is self-interest (and each side casts the other’s interest as illegitimate) — it’s what the game’s about.
      2. In American politics this dance-step tends to febrile demonization (“the paranoid style,” now almost universal)
      3. But, contrary to popular opinion (and the polls), the real differences between Americans are few and far between. We all tend to be loud-mouthed, arrogant, self-righteous, messianic assholes. (Ask someone down on the res the differecnce between tea party assholes and progessive assholes… Fucked either way, right? And you, too.)

  24. rd

    Rick Perry is providing a glorious opportunity to have a meaningful discussion on these issues.

    He is labelling Social Security a “Ponzi-scheme.” It turns out he is absolutely right in that everything in the concept of savings and investment is a “Ponzi-scheme” in the end.

    If you buy a stock, you are assuming there will be somebody there willing to buy it for more money some years from now; same with a house or a small business. The fundamental concept behind all of these activities is the optimistic thought that future generations will build off the present and be able to “buy-out” the past generation. This is also at the heart of progressive thinking which is fundamentally optimistic.

    The basic conflict that I see these days is the divergent beliefs of the two camps where the progressives have historically felt that helping the lower end of society makes a stronger whole while the “conservatives” operate out a more Darwinian set of principles where people need to learn to survive on their own without significant help from society. This is a discussion that we MUST have to achieve a social compact between the government and the populace. At this moment, it does not appear the US has a functioning social compact unlike most stable, successful societies.

    1. The Reich

      Wrong:

      “If you buy a stock, you are assuming there will be somebody there willing to buy it for more money some years from now; same with a house or a small business.”

      Plenty of slave/chattel housing victims were swindled out of their savings. These folks wanted housing, period, not some kind of a pay off, or a huge return or a lottery ticket. Most ‘Muricans work for large business, not this tax inspired lie from Koch et al. McDonalds remains the biggest US employer. like it or hate it.

      1. rd

        You are falling into the Rick Perry “The Sky is Falling” trap.

        If all you want is housing, then you rent.

        You buy because you think that someone else will be willing to buy it from you when you want to dispose of it. Otherwise, you would need to include a 100% write-off of the value of your house in your calculations to compare with renting. In the 2000s housing market, people did not think about who would be willing to pay exorbitantly more money for housing a decade or two from now, so it clearly became over-valued.

        To justify basic savings, you need to be able to get back the original savings plus inflation. Generally, the riskier the form of savings or investment, the more you need returns above inflation to justify the risk of principal loss.

        Social Security is a totally different animal. It is structured to pay based on future earnings of American workers. Basically, Rick Perry is announcing that he does not believe that the United States will grow at reasonably expected growth rates over the next few decades to pay benefits even if relatively modest changes are made. In that case, there is nowhere to hide for future saving because the stock market will also have poor returns and we will be in a very low interest rate environment for a very long time so savers won’t be paid a normal return.

        Please note that this is a totally different problem from Medicare where the costs are accelerating per capita well above inflation and are a management problem rather than a finance one. Medicare needs fundamental reform, including allowing the program to conduct hard-nose negotiations with drug companies, in order for it to be viable in the long-run regardless of any reasonable economic growth rates.

        1. PaulArt

          So Rick Perry’s diagnosis is spot on then. If the GOP model is to keep sending jobs abroad and increase poverty at home and keep everyone in McJobs then we don’t have enough money for the Social Security trust fund and therefore voila! its a Ponzi scheme. This may be the reason why people like Rove don’t like Perry. They think he is an idiot to speak the truth out aloud, they would prefer the silent encroachment method – increase the eligibility age by two years every 4 years and pretty soon you have set the cat among the pigeons. I am a young progressive who does not support Social Security because of this very reason of the likelihood of its disappearance when I reach the magic age. I prefer individual accounts. Social Security is now an orphan.

  25. Michael McIntyre

    Interesting, but I’m amazed that in this long reflection scarcely a word is devoted to the strain of radicalism in African-American political traditions. One need not nourish the illusion that all African-Americans are radicals read to rise up and overthrow the system to recognize the powerful currents of radicalism that have grown up in that sector of American society. If you’re in need of a tonic that shows that it can be done, take a look at Charles Payne’s fine-grained history of SNCC organizing in Mississippi, “I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.” For that matter, look at the political energy that has come out of Latino communities recently, whether the massive marches of the mid-2000s (the one in Chicago was by far the largest political rally ever seen in this city) or the dogged organizing around the DREAM Act. Perhaps if white radicals can get their heads around the notion that an American radicalism will not be a white radicalism, nor will it be led by whites, we might make some headway.

    1. JTFaraday

      Organizing to pass the dream act may be an example of political organizing, but asking to pay in-state tuition rates as a resident of a state so that one can enter the credentialist/ rat race on terms as currently constituted by global neoliberalism is NOT radical politics.

      Now, it may be that that organizing experience will be redeployed elsewhere in the future, but the dream act is not radical. Education as economic cure-all is a deeply, deeply conservative idea.

      It seems to me that we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking something is radical just because a non-white (if that’s the right category here) person has done it.

      How this tendency is substantially different from the right wing’s unexamined assumption that every plutocratic or corporatist supporting move Obama makes is by definition radical or socialist is beyond my powers to understand, but it certainly did fool a lot of disappointed “progressives” back in 2008.

  26. Virginia Simson

    I think people WAY underestimate the DAMAGE the McCarthy era caused – that includes the belief system that enabled it to demonize leftists, but the trauma caused by very real personal attacks. Think of the havoc caused by the Rosenberg executions, also.

    Left wingers can be so stridently into materialISM, too and don’t care a whit how well they get along w/”fellow travellers”. The concept of principles before personalities seems to afflict above 80% of them. What they do is called “trashing”, “blanking” or just plain “destoying” others who make an ascent in moblizing others.

    We need open mics, a huge dose of diversity in our ranks and a hunger to make real change, not just aggragate “flash mobs.”

    A big delight is the formation of Anonymous – and yet I see few people defending it, let alone listening to them as individuals or reading their value statements.

    We need our own MEDIA, particularly a newspaper NOT online! And perhaps the first issue should headline this very fine essay for people to comment on and debate!

  27. Default Now

    What ever political affiliation, we can effectively counter attack the owner ruler class. We have much more in common with each other then the press will ever admit.
    If more of us decide that the way to save this country is to demand forgiveness of debts, then we can bring the tyrants under control. Don’t pay your mortgages, pull your money out of TBTF banks, insist on accountability for a lost decade.

  28. Raise the Alert Level

    All we see on today is a peculiar celebration of hysteria. I see no one in position of authority admitting to mistakes, only using tragedy for their own ends. I’d suggest the paranoia from the elites is higher then ever, people who have “some kind of problems with Banks” could potentially be tomorrow’s “Muslim terrorists”.

  29. Low Level Static

    Why would Chase be Burning? Is it because an artist wants a firey attack on a Bank? (Of course not) Is the artist a leftist? (Does the question make any sense? Does it matter?)
    How many homes and families has Chase burned?
    Why won’t the press answer this question?

  30. Bob Morris

    As Wobblie organizer Big Bill Haywood famously said, “a liberal is the guy who leaves the room when a fight starts.”

    One thing we should look to for inspiration is the Populist uprising of the 1890′s. It was mostly Midwest farmers who were getting gouged on crops and losing farms. The first thing they did was form co-op so they could sell crops at a fair price. They they organized politically and controlled several legislatures, had a couple of governors and a senator.

    But they thought surely the Democratic Party would work with them on reforms and got backstabbed for their troubles instead. There’s a lesson there.

    Populism is 100% all-American. It requires little explanation and appeals to people across the political spectrum.

  31. Aquifer

    Agreed with much of the analysis in this article with the major exception of:

    “Winning elections doesn’t matter; passing laws and regulations, and winning court decisions on their basis is what matters. The former may lead to the latter, but it hasn’t for twenty years at least”

    Hmmm – if the latter matters and the former is the process by which the we choose those who enact the latter, how can the former not matter? He says the former “may lead” to the latter”, but unless they do, how else does he propose to get the latter? This analysis, that elections don’t matter, i have seen umpteen times, but it usually is justified by the results from the last 20-30 years. So, did elections EVER matter? If so, why don’t they now? is it possibly because we have been convinced they don’t and so treat them like sideshows for entertainment purposes only, like American Idol? And for too many others it is the “team” approach – I’ll vote for the guy/gal who has the same logo as I do on his/her baseball cap or polo shirt, as the case may be; or if i don’t like either team, I’ll just skip the game …

    Another poster solved this seeming contradiction by suggesting that laws and court decisions are, ipso facto, tools of the establishment, so for him, neither the former nor the latter matter – that solves the contradiction but then raises the issue, at least in my mind, of what mechanisms he proposes, out side of laws and court decisions, for achieving his ends in society or is anarchy his answer?

    Another poster pointed out that neither party really wants lots of folks to vote – and i would tend to agree. Insofar as TPTB will have a much easier time getting their candidate in if most folks aren’t paying attention.

    I would suggest to you that TPTB disagree very much with the concept that elections don’t matter – why would they invest so much of their money on them if they don’t? They know very well that they matter, a great deal. At this point, which of the 2 major parties wins indeed doesn’t matter a whole bunch – BUT what WOULD matter a great deal is if the populace ever took elections seriously, and decided that they wanted someone who took them seriously. That is why around election time, when folks get disgruntled and talk 3rd party – we are inundated with “3rd party can’t win” and “3rd parties are spoilers”, though at this point, what could possibly be left to spoil is an open question.

    It seems to me it is ballots or bullets – with ballots we vote for a future, with bullets we simply destroy the present. Exactly how the “radicals” the author seems to favor propose to bring about that changes he may think are necessary without elections, i would really like to know. Organizing, agitating but to what end? So that X will do what?

    Reading articles like this always reminds me of the cartoon where an eager student writes the problem equation on one side of the blackboard and the solution side on the other and in between writes “and then a miracle happens”. I find myself agreeing with the professor (a “progressive”?) who says, “You are going to have to do better than that ..”

  32. Eric Patton

    The only way that I see to move mountains in the United States in 2011 and beyond is a movement based on parecon (participatory economics). I see no other blade as sharp enough to accomplish the slicing required.

  33. Deloss

    Mr. Kline, I disagree, and not very respectfully. If progressives (and I guess I am one) don’t want to win, how did Kathy Hochul get elected? Why do I have to go out to Forest Hills on Tuesday and make phone calls for David Weprin? Why would I jump for the phone every time Yves says, “Call up Eric Schneiderman and pat him on the back”?

    As to progressives not having goals, again I disagree. Here are a few of the most recognizable:

    1. Tax the rich.
    2. Reverse global warming.
    3. Enact a single-payer healthcare system.
    4. Bring the banks into compliance with the legal system, either by regulation or merely by smashing them up.
    5. Protect public schools (comes under the general heading “Maintain the wall between church and state”).
    6. Protect reproductive rights.

    There are many more, but you get the point.

    The fact is that the oligarchs are very rich and very well entrenched, and they will fight very hard to defend their wealth–even if (as in the case of global warming), achieving their goals would mean their own deaths. And there is a large group that is, I think, genetically constructed to support the goals of the Far Right–even if their support of the right is demonstrably against their own interest. (Genetic construction is the only reason I can think of–they are totally immune to the facts; mention “global warming” on any blog, and they come at you like a bunch of rabid dogs.) The last time we really, really had it out with these knotheads, it took Abe Lincoln and Sam Grant four costly years to prove them wrong.

    When you say “radicals,” I’m not sure who you’re talking about. The Right labels anybody who says anything reasonably intelligent as “radical,” from Alan Grayson to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Google “Ruth Bader Ginsburg radical”). If you mean you want somebody like Lenin, no thank you.

    I feel that your definition of liberals is wrong and unsupported by any facts–at least, you haven’t listed any.

    Yes, inertia is a prominent human characteristic. I don’t think it’s confined to liberals.

    The problem is not with the Left, whether we are self-described Liberals, Progressives, Radicals or Social Democrats, and as a left-leaning Democrat (“gradualist,” my son calls me) I don’t care for your scolding. It smacks vaguely of the fuzzy and infuriating Liberal maxim, “We are all guilty.” Nope. The problem is not with the Left; the problem is with the Right. They are a bunch of cruel, hardly human, destructive, selfish, vindictive, hypocritical SOBs. (Yes, that’s moral criticism, but please reread the first paragraph about where I’ll be on Tuesday.) Barack Obama might well be a far better President if he were not up against an absolutely unreasonable granite wall of granite-headed Conservatives. When he does try to do the right thing, they fling themselves at him like a zombie football team.

    We know what we have to do: oppose them and try to overturn them by every means possible and at every chance we get, to get our government back on our side and keep it there. That’s the goal and many of us are actively working towards it. I don’t find your criticism very helpful, and I think you are wrong.

    But I should add that obviously we’re on the same side and we have the same goals. More power to us.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      His definition of liberalism is that of classic liberalism, and historically he is 100% correct. Crimeny, middlebrow Wikipedia supports Richard’s definition:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism

      Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free trade, and the freedom of religion.[3][4][5][6][7] These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century.

      People like Chris Whalen, who is an Austrian in most regards (he does favor regulation of banks) is a classical liberal, and argues for the use of the term in precisely the way Richard uses it. He has plenty of company.

      So Richard’s definition is in fact accurate, even if you don’t happen to like it.

    2. Paul Tioxon

      Who left the John Birch Society off of its leash? Not Gus Hall, not Abbie Hoffman, not Ralph Nader. The Liberals should have broken the back of the militant right wing like the broke of the back of organized labor. The gradualists or as the academic term I prefer, incrementalism, is just as bad as conservatives, just kinder and gentler as we patiently wait our turn. The reason why the conservatives have counter attacked, won victory after victory is simply because the liberals love money and privilege more than justice.

      And, it is not as if we have to plunge ourselves into subsistence farming. But, the standard of living for a lot of upper middle class people would come down and a lot of people, not as good looking, well educated or even likable by progressive standards would moving up, next to or matriculated with people in your social circle. There have been enough changes for a lot of former liberals. They were once New Deal warriors or Great Society crusaders and now, they have just about had it with ghetto fabulous welfare moms and baby daddy freaks that they see on Jerry Springer.

      Not much changes, because change costs money. Not much changes because you can’t control the changes. And not much changes, because when you see actual change come to your door step, it is not what you want at all. Things stay the way they are because people work very hard keeping it that way. Some give up and let the more energetic take over, some are too decadent and spend their time planning events and what they are having for dinner while they are having lunch. Stars sit in bars and discuss what they are drinking. And not much changes. But, that is all about to change. I believe that the facts of history show progress. I believe the facts of American history show that democracy is in fact, socialism, that the market and capital can be put in service of the republic and the people and not just for the endless accumulation of profits, in what way shape or form brings the highest returns.

      I believe that most progressive are honestly and in good faith trying to identify themselves with the promise of change, inherent in the word progress. It is the idea that tomorrow will be different than today, and that difference will a betterment, a forward and upward movement in the quality of life for the people of the world. Enough food, shelter, clothing, education and health care to be able to enjoy the time we have on this planet. Unemployment in America has always been pretty low. When the economy is good, 94-96% of the people work, some work at two or more jobs. That is a fantastic participation rate. The people of this country have nothing to apologize to anyone for, for all the work we do sustain the system that sustains us all.

      Progressives may have assumed the mechanism of the government, once pointed in the right direction by 1965, would just keep handling problems, like introducing the EPA under Nixon. It was kind of hard to imagine that rational people would deliberate dismantle mechanism of state to the point of the recent near default over the budget ceiling. But here we are. The neo-liberals introduced the shock doctrine to radically change things over night, because they know that there is no incremental turning things backward. Only a revolution or coup accomplishes that. We need similar shock doctrines to radically alter the landscape when progressives, democrats, get the White House and the Senate and Congress.

  34. doom

    Defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice, damn right. But don’t reinvent that wheel. It’s called the CESCR and we’re signatories to that treaty, obligated not to undermine its purpose and intent. The whole world is pushing us to accede to the treaty – the whole world except the US population, which never heard of it, despite its impact here. People are made to forget that civil rights began as human rights, with a very embarrassing NAACP petition to the UN. The petition was grounded on the economic rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    The big void in this typology is what’s been called the true revolutionary movement of the 20th century, human rights. Propounded by global elites including what the Birchers called “Eastern Seaboard internationalists,” human rights spread worldwide, except here where they were suppressed. They got re-imported here by Latin American, Asian and African migrants. The institutional basis for human rights is very well developed but it’s foreign, regional and suprantional. We just need to go out there and hook into it, that’s all. NGOs are doing just that, deep inside the cone of silence, e.g. http://ushrnetwork.org/

  35. Dan Duncan

    Gimme a break.

    You cannot write this post, tracing the impotence of Modern Progressivism without discussing the Modern Progressive’s taint of Original Sin: Eugenics and Buck v. Bell. You can’t. And your failure to address it means you either don’t know what you’re talking about, or that this is just a dishonest piece.

    There is no doubt that the connection between Progressives in 1927 and Eugenics and the Buck Case have been distorted by Progressive Opponents. But the connection is there, it’s profound, and it’s disturbing. If Progressives don’t address it, then it will continue to lurk beneath the surface of resistance to Progressivism.

    And this isn’t Glen Beck/Fox News nonsense, either. From Princeton to the home of Glen Greenwald, Salon, the connection has been chronicled.

    Read this by a Princeton economist: http://www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers/Womenswork.pdf

    I don’t know if this guy is from the Chicago School. He probably is, but it’s irrelevant. The fact is, mainstream, well-respected economists and political scientists are able to make the devastating connection between Progressivism Social Engineering. This is the root of the Progressive Problem. You have to address it head on.

    And yet, in this “introspective” piece on Progressivism, nary a peep on the subject. C’mon.

    Progressives understand, quite well, why the Tea Party is devoid melanin, but there isn’t even a hint of introspection with regards to the racial homogeneity of Progressivism. Why?

    We all get it that Progressives want to limit corporate domination and environmental degradation. Obviously, these are noble objectives. But it won’t stop there. And it’s not just Right Wing ideologues who feel this way, either. Basically anyone who isn’t White and College Educated looks at the Progressive Platform of “Momma and Poppa don’t know best; but we academics in the state do” and says, “Whoa. Let’s ease up just a bit there Mr. Progressive Reformer.”

    Progressivism is State Sponsored Social Policy. Progressives are to the Left what State Controlled Capitalism is to the Right. It’s tempting, but too dangerous.

    The fact of the matter is, you need others to look upon Progressivism as something but a Brave New World. Kline’s essay doesn’t come close to doing that.

    Hell, the Right doesn’t even need to concern itself with Progressives. Progressivism isn’t “progressively losing”. Progressivism already lost. And now, thankfully, Progressivism is a feckless, impotent enterprise with adherents who have their hands tied behind their backs.

    You’ll never unify the constituents of the Left through Progressivism. They don’t trust you. They don’t like your paternalism.

    You want to impel a change in the Modern Progressive Movement? Then open your eyes and demand of yourselves the guilt and contrition you demand of everyone else.

    Check out Marlantes’ excellent novel on the Vietnam War. The following clip it captures not only minorities’ skepticism, but also the skepticism of the mainstream Center.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=kxskmuYAKNEC&pg=PT447&lpg=PT447&dq=matterhorn+nigger&source=bl&ots=dxwnj9ElH6&sig=S8jWNuxj0n088Zn6xL2Iy7jiDFk&hl=en&ei=Hs5sTubHLsL20gHN-syIBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=matterhorn%20nigger&f=false

    A black private in the war, “Jackson”, is talking to his Lieutenant “Mellas” about race. Fellow black soldiers named “China”, “Mole” and “Parker” are referred to in this clip. Cassidy is a racist sergeant. It’s easy to follow. Just read first 3 or 4 pages.

    You’ll probably think it’s a stupid reference on my part. But it’s not. It captures how many non-progressives feel perfectly. From the Southern White good ‘ole boy to the urban black just trying to make his way….”don’t nobody want to be your nigger.”

    1. nonclassical

      ..”progressivism involves social engineering”…

      poppycock-obviously by someone who has never lived in Europe, where balance between “free markets should regulate themselves” and greater good for all, is in plenty..

    2. John Sabotta

      The only sensible thing I’ve seen on this thread so far. You’re right, of course, and you might want to explore the connection between defenders of slavery like the horrible George Fitzhugh, who proclaimed in his book that “we slaveholders are the true socialists” and modern liberals. I think that the real tragedy of the Obama regime is their use of racism to keep black and whites from recognizing their true common enemy – the overwhelmingly white bureaucracy that wants to manage and control everybody and everything. One of (but not the only) disgusting aspect of the late unlamented Southern slaveocracy was the way in which poor whites were set against black slaves (who they instead should have seen as their comrades) by the slaveholders in the big houses.

      1. Looney Tunes

        Even more plausibly, when are liberals going to answer for Eve? Liberals will never be taken seriously until they hold themselves to account for Adam’s fall.

  36. Thomas Williams

    Interesting but beside the point.

    From my perspective the left packed up and left the planet sometime in the 70′s, leaving voters with 3 choices: don’t vote, vote for an independent, vote for a republican.

    With the rise of a “no-fault” agenda and other insane stances, the dems pretty much guaranteed the right would prevail no matter how silly the GOP got.

    Remember, the Dems created and launched the “Mexican invasion” at a DNC meeting in the early 70′s – check out their minutes. Also they have for decades had a policy of “deficits do not matter”……….

    I could go on and on but I won’t. Suffice it to say if the left had behaved as adults, the citizens would have been given real choices and we might not be in this mess.

  37. El Snarko

    Five quick points. First, the fundamental failing of the last thirty years is one of law.It has to be, you know applied. Without that this is what you get…worse to come. Second, this is predictable since the hman animal wants maximum comfort, security, and “fun”. These can only be purchased. Without law human nature rules all. By the way it is most, most unlikely that you can be a liberal and still be in the top 2% of incomes. Sorry. Anyway, since the two things all in the US Do agree on are “when you do the right thing the money will come” and “he who has the gold makes the rules”then you get Rick Perry. Gets the money, makes the rules. If you are not Rick well, you are doing something wrong.

    Third, this legetimate involvement of European history and roots is made less important because of globalization. The effeect is minimized by the supernationalization of capital. From the HUns to the Hapsburgs, Europe did not have to deal with the Mayan, Chinese, not even really the Russians. They do now.

    Fourth, there is a new class distinction that is transnational. You can either be someone who can be or has been globalized and outsourced, or on eof the people who does this. I agree that this is a difference based on current action and potential to do so in the future, but while a category whose membership is fleeting, that is just the point. Only capital is more or less permanent. That is why banks do not lend and nations preach austerity. As an aside, the media has to be considered….at least hugely and chronically overpaid by world standards. That being so, and also classified with the entertainment division, irrelevant and natuarally siding with the hand that feeds them.

    Five, national health insurance is now THE most important issue. IF that can be implemented people can live comfrotably two generations of tech behind the curve and do well with some level of security and investment. The jobs may well be crap say median wage +/- 20% at best, but with cheap housing and guraanteed medical coverage it should be quite cozy to cave dwell for the next twenty years. while taxes do increae, productive capacity and technology move abroad, and prospects to get rich quick evaporate except on late night tv.

  38. don

    A very good and insightful overview.

    Initially when reading this i found myself wondering about the assumptions and generalizations at play, suspecting that the piece would lead to flimsy conclusions based on such assumptions ad generalizations. Later on I realized to that the assumptions and generalizations are to a degree unavoidable when attempting to tackle such a sweeping analysis.

    Richard, I believe your analysis could be strengthened by including a perspective on US social movements in advancing progressive causes, as well as the failure in doing to. It is here that you need to, in my opinion, engage more in the “identity” politics so prevalent over the last couple decades.

    Your reference to “raising hands” as in the singular emphasis given to electoral politics as the means to progressive social change hits the nail on the head. Related to this is one of your concluding remarks regarding progressives failure to emphasize social justice by integrating economic issues more effectively. Failure to advance economic and social justice issues reflects what is/was lost in the emphasis on identity politics, which itself can be traced by to the development of social movements and away from class.

    I also appreciated your address of Ratigan and his idealized myth of a former capitalism hits the mark.

    The urgency given to a more radicalized and even militant direction is especially important in your overall attempt here to push forward perspectives that are needed to advance debate and ideological formation among progressives.

    We live in a time when it seems as if no alternatives exist to the capitalist economy and the sort of liberal democracy that prevails. All attempts to reach for such an alternative are perceived as utopian, and thus discounted. Even more importantly, all forms of protest, resistance, etc., seem only to convey the sense that we live in an open society, that allows free associations, free speech, etc., and in that sense said protest, resistance, etc., never really challenges the status quo but instead strengthens it, confirming our cherished democratic values. Ironically, doing nothing may be more radical than anything else, at least as of now.

    1. Richard Kline

      So don, I’m two hours past my bed time and so can’t give your remarks the detail of response they warrant. I’ll limit myself to one point that I did not draw out at any length in the essay.

      In my observation, social activism in the US proceeds best ‘outside.’ Specifically outside of political parties, but also to a degree outside of government. One builds pressure to one side of an issue while eroding legitimacy to its other side until those on the inside, regardless of party, are compelled to make concessions or open to genuine reform. Many seem to forget that it was under Republican Administrations—the compromised Teddy Roosevelt and the odious Richard Nixon—that large volumes of reformist legislation was enacted. This isn’t because the Republicans ever turned nice or wanted reform but because the push on the outside convinced them that giving concessions was to their, the Republicans, immediate advantage.

      So yes, social movements on the outside are intrinsic to the kind of activist organizing I would advocate. It is essential that many on the outside stop cooperating with malevolent insiders, for one, and also essential that outsiders have programmatic objectives which are worth fighting for and which those on the inside can see as to their advantage to advance.

      1. Aquifer

        Mr. Kline,

        I agree that “push from the outside” is what convinces politicians to change, but what is the mechanism by which it does it? Why do they change? Because it is “in their best interest” – what, precisely, is that interest? They wish to be ELECTED/REELECTED, i.e. they wish to be the winners in that process, elections, that you seem to have so little use for. Why do they want this? So they can make law and appoint judges to further their own interests, what ever those are.

        I do believe that we can march til out shoes wear out, call til our ears fall off, write our fingers to the bone and get arrested ’til our bondsmen quit, but at the end of the day if these actions are not perceived as resulting in a CREDIBLE threat at the polls, the pols will laugh them off and proceed as usual – Obama is a perfect example – Emmanuel was right, we are “f***ing retards” because we don’t mount a credible threat to their positions.

        People died to get us the vote – many of those “progressive” movements were about sufferage. For it to be dismissed because we have had so little respect for it over the last few decades i think does an enormous disservice to any cause one sanctions …..

  39. Transor Z

    It’s hard to argue that the American progressive tradition derives from religious roots. It’s also hard to argue that political and economic power was historically in the hands of a WASP elite that transplanted Anglo political thinking and represented factions marginalized and persecuted because they chaffed against Church of England authority. To the present day there are billions of USD locked up in perpetual trust representing the closely held wealth of WASP families that proudly trace their lineage to British royalty.

    As a proud American mongrel, I always shake my head at the aristocratic, racist and let’s not forget often fascistic pretentions of the Anglophile “blue bloods.” Their genealogical societies (“ancient” only by New World standards) and fatuous trappings are truly sad to behold. But the sun set on their day a long, long time ago. With respect for your thoughtful post, I think English observers of the American scene are often tempted to somewhat solipsistically overemphasize the ongoing intellectual, if not economic, influence of the “blue bloods.”

    One radical figure conspicuously outside of your analytical framework here, Richard, is Marcus Garvey. With the influx of immigrants and the nominal emancipation of blacks in the mid-late 19th century, a demographic shift took place in the U.S. that could only be contained today by a truly fascistic apartheid that, frankly, the more radical voices really have to strain and stretch to claim exists today. Of course there are increasing disparities along the lines of race and class, but the unprecedented aggregate wealth that still exists in the U.S. still papers over a multitude of social injustices.

    This isn’t to say that I think the neocon movement in America is anything but racist, fascistic, and reactionary. It is. But I very much agree with your point above that the right’s power derives from perception, control of media outlets and excellent message discipline rather than substantive grassroots support. Much more Wizard of Oz than Big Brother.

    I see the labels of liberal, progressive, and radical as better descriptors of transient electron energy states than anything intrinsic about individual humans who could be grouped into those clusters. Human states are so fickle. It’s at once a tremendous adaptive strength and a tragic limitation of collective memory that we are so pragmatic. Like the saying goes, “A conservative is a liberal whose been mugged.”

    Which brings me to my central critique of your thoughtful piece: It’s the poor craftsman who blames his tools. To the extent that the burden on the intellectual community is to craft social solutions and policies that are both rigorous and workable, future generations will rightfully slap the label EPIC FAIL on today’s grown-ups. Rail against cowardice, laziness, and intellectual dishonesty all you want. It hasn’t changed a damned thing about human nature in 10,000 years.

    Many of the movements you describe above have clear economic components beyond the religious/moral: environmentalism, abolition, gender equality, child labor, universal education, etc. Whatever solutions are going to be crafted, they must be sustainable over time, which is to say the more they are perceived as being artificially and idealistically grafted on to human nature, the more energy and resources will be required to enforce them over the long term. Once cultures get on the police-state track, whether radical left or radical right in ideology, the end game is always the same.

    1. Richard Kline

      So Transor, Z” ” . . . abolition, gender equality, child labor, universal education . . .” were all activist positions pursued initially by those from quite liberal religious backgrounds. Yes really, go back and do your homework. What happened to that tradition is that it has secularized over time while retaining its initial framework of rhetoric and valuation. This retention of structure in a secularizing environment is important to understand in engaging with traditions of dissent and change as they exist in the culture. —Or we can just ignore all that and fingerpaint on the wall: you choose.

      The fact that you do not like that White Anglo-Saxon Protestants established the social traditions and political schema of the nation in which you reside doesn’t change this as a substantive fact, Transor. I don’t say that to approve or disapprove, it’s just a fact. Those social structures have been changed _very, very little_ by subsequent immigration. Rather, those who arrived later adapted to the extant background culture. That is also a substantive fact. I’m happy to say that those social structures can be changed, and should be improved, but to deny that they exist is self-deluding. We can light up a spliff and talk about sustainability in our little squat in the outback, and we might as well spend our time (making more money) writing cheery fiction because the larger culture with six hundred years of momentum in its present configuration will just go sailing right on by as it was before.

      So yes, let’s dream—because we have to—and have our heros—because we need to—but we needn’t deny the lay of the land we live in, and shouldn’t if we mean to change it in any way.

      1. Transor Z

        Richard, you misunderstand where I’m coming from, which probably comes from the impressionistic/cursory nature of the points in my over-long comment. But the “go do your homework” crack is ad hominem and obnoxious.

        I’m very familiar with the Congregationalist/William Lloyd Garrison/Henry Ward Beecher/Abolition/Women’s Suffrage thread in U.S. history. And both familial and religious ties are key to understanding the thread — Beecher, as in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother and “Beecher’s Bibles” sent into Bloody Kansas. Personally, I’d attach a more radical valence to a lot of their activity.

        And I’m sorry if I gave the impression of resenting America’s Anglo-Saxon intellectual tradition. Quite the opposite, I’m in awe of it and respect it greatly.

        What I do have contempt for is pathetic efforts at American aristocracy. This is the sad avocation of a group of people who stopped contributing anything vital a long time ago and now engage in ancestor worship.

        But cultural imagination changes things. I’d be tempted to share a spliff if we can listen to Jimi Hendrix’s version of the “Star Spangled Banner” — a very gifted black artist’s appropriation and reinvention of a dead white guy’s crappy poem set to overdone music.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Transor Z, no, you didn’t give much indication of engagement with that population thread, but since you have more background than was evident I’ll retract my crack. Many such progressives always were more radical in a ‘personal politics’ sense than is evident in their political actions alone. That group closely overlapped utopian communalists, with much of the similar ‘free your ass and your head will follow’ kind of persuasion. But look more closely again: I would argue that these trajectories are _both_ secularized versions of evangelical religious precedents. That is the meaningful wickerwork in my argument here; not that necessarily every progressive was a practicing Christian but that the structure of the behavior was defined by prior religious dissent and retained the patterns and reflexes of that religious dissent.

          A problem with my essay, which tangentially you engaged but I didn’t draw out, is that in fact I did _not_ talk about radical or reformist trajectories from African-American or Latino communities. They really exist and are substantive, as you are plainly aware, and further are _distinct_ from the two trajectories of left-liberal activism I did discuss. I didn’t go there for two reasons, neither of them disrespect for those traditions. First, it’s hard to argue that those non-Anglo traditions of dissent are generalized, or will generalize, to draw in those from the other traditions. I think that they can, and given demographic changes likely will, but whether they have is much harder to say, and hence to argue. Communal pride is something that anyone can understand, and I think that that aspect has had an impact on the other traditions of dissent, not least because many in the radical community had previously experienced communal discrimination. Quite a lot could be discussed there, but there just wasn’t room. My other reason for not raising this in the main essay is that it’s a complicated distinction to make that in my view would only confuse most readers with regard to the primary emphasis of my argument. If I cover everything I explicate nothing.

          I haven’t toked in longer than you’ve likely been alive, but Miles Davis’ ‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a bit more my tempo. But I’ll take Jimmy on ‘All Along the Watchtower’ most any day, another cover to better effect of the doggeral of a phony white guy with no politics.

          1. JTFaraday

            “That is the meaningful wickerwork in my argument here; not that necessarily every progressive was a practicing Christian but that the structure of the behavior was defined by prior religious dissent and retained the patterns and reflexes of that religious dissent.”

            Right on. What is “consciousness raising” if not a conversion narrative?

            Many post-60s liberal educators still think this is THE purpose of a liberal education. Those credentialled on this model are not only “smarter” but more ethical as a consequence too, and this re-education process and process of regeneration in character is all the politics you need.

            It’s a faith based movement, much like its Arnoldian predecessor, albeit much, much more evangelical.

            Of course, the 2nd wave feminist movement, for example, even fragmented along lines of doctrinal difference much like the reformation. (So much for making the world over in our own image).

        2. Greg Colvin

          I’ll join y’all with Jimi anytime. And hey: many of us are talking AND walking sustainability from our squats here in the outback, in the hopes that some of the larger culture joins us, and when the rest sail past us to their doom we will have food, shelter, and herbal medicine.

        3. Richard Kline

          So Transor Z,

          You didn’t give much impression of engagement with the historical evidence involved. Since you have more context than you communicated, I withdraw my crack.

          I don’t underestimate the intrinsic radicalism of the American Abolitionists for instance, no. They were drawn from the same background as the utopian communalists; some had tried that approach as well. But the latter were very much of Evangelical religious derivation. It is much my point that progressivism is predominantly a secularization of that sub-cultural trajectory. The same precepts, structure of argument, and broader goals in the main were retained, just with The White Robed Supremo painted out of the picture, or at least moved to the side wall. These were not, in origin, inherently economic or political justice movements, though, which is my further point, and secularized utopianism—progressivism—has only adopted the later objectives in a very fragmentary manner.

          I did not elect to discuss in the above essay activist traditions in the African-American or Latino communities in detail, traditions that are substantive and enduring. I am familiar with Marcus Garvey, and made a (too telegraphic) allusion to West Indian traditions of dissent. I would place Garvey squarely within an activist tradition of maroon withdrawal. There were insurrections, with few exceptions suicidal and ended with massacre, while boycott and strike were snuffed with death squads as early as the 18th century. Withdrawn, self-sustaining communities were the successful option; in Jamaica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil, Florida even among other places. This was a tradition of the “Leave the gentiles” persuasion. I would see Garvey, W. D. Fard, and a number of others as organizers adapting this tradition for an urban, quasi-industrial context; successfully so in that the new model appears to be sustaining.

          Omitting discussion of this and other traditions was bound to cloud my remarks, not to say generate resentment, particularly given the negative assessment I advanced of the organizing potential of identity politics. Why did I make that choice? First, I skirted mention of the trajectory of maroon withdrawal because I’m not well versed in it, so I would hesitate to make a valid inference from what I know. In particular, I have little grounding in how the ‘new maroon tradition’ has put down urban roots amongst American African communities, notably in the last century. If you happen to know a particularly useful text or texts, I’d be interested to read them.

          Second, I didn’t pursue this because however radical in some respects it is not easy to describe this tradition as a left-liberal, ~progressive one. Rather I would see it as a tradition of conservative dissent. (The concepts of left and right politics are derived from a European context and do not translate well to an African context, be it said.) Third, I think that you will acknowledge that this is a significantly ethno-centric pattern of dissent. I say that not to approve or disapprove, but simply to describe what I see. And that said, as a pattern of dissent that centers on the experience and traditions of a particular community it is hard to see how that can be generalized to other subcultures that are inherently disjunct from that community.

          And fourth, I find it very difficult to find evidence to argue that progressive trajectories of activism have been significantly altered by their alignment with minority empowerment activism, specifically by this trajectory of maroon withdrawal. This last is surely a contentious point, though I don’t advance it idly or without reason. The discussion of this by itself would require a lengthy post. I’m somewhat better versed in the activities of, say, Bayard Rustin, James L. Bevel, Diane Nash, and James L. Farmer for instance. I think you will agree that theirs was a very different method of activism. I think you can see why, then, I didn’t choose to bring that issue to the foreground, not least because it would little change the larger points that were my purpose, that one can’t organize a mass activist movement in the American politics from identity activism. Communally based activism, however valid, will tend to diverge constituencies rather than converge them.

          Should we ever sit down together to parse these schematics, I myself haven’t toked in longer than you likely have been alive. And Miles Davis’ ‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a bit more my tempo. But I’d readily listen along to some freedom rock like ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimmy, another swatch of doggerel vastly improved in the cover from the the version of the politically phony white guy that knocked it off.

        4. Richard Kline

          So Transor Z,

          You didn’t give much impression of engagement with the historical evidence involved. Since you have more context than you communicated, I withdraw my crack.

          I don’t underestimate the intrinsic radicalism of the American Abolitionists for instance, no. They were drawn from the same background as the utopian communalists; some had tried that approach as well. But the latter were very much of Evangelical religious derivation. It is much my point that progressivism is predominantly a secularization of that sub-cultural trajectory. The same precepts,
          structure of argument, and broader goals in the main were retained, just with The White Robed Supremo painted out of the picture, or at least moved to the side wall. These were not, in origin, inherently economic or political justice movements, though, which is my further point, and secularized utopianism—progressivism—has only adopted
          the later objectives in a very fragmentary manner.

          I did not elect to discuss in the above essay activist traditions in the African-American or Latino communities in detail, traditions that are substantive and enduring. I am familiar with Marcus Garvey, and made a (too telegraphic) allusion to West Indian traditions of dissent. I would place Garvey squarely within an activist tradition
          of maroon withdrawal. There were insurrections, with few exceptions suicidal and ended with massacre, while boycott and strike were snuffed with death squads as early as the 18th century. Withdrawn, self-sustaining communities were the successful option; in Jamaica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil, Florida even among other places. This was a tradition of the “Leave the gentiles” persuasion. I would see Garvey,
          W. D. Fard, and a number of others as organizers adapting this tradition for an urban, quasi-industrial context; successfully so in that the new model appears to be sustaining.

          Omitting discussion of this and other traditions was bound to cloud my remarks, not to say generate resentment, particularly given the negative assessment I advanced of the organizing potential of identity politics. Why did I make that choice? First, I skirted mention of the trajectory of maroon withdrawal because I’m not well versed in it, so I would hesitate to make a valid inference from what I know. In particular, I have little grounding in how the ‘new maroon tradition’ has put down urban roots amongst American African communities, notably in the last century. If you happen to know a particularly useful text or texts, I’d be interested to read them.

          Second, I didn’t pursue this because however radical in some respects it is not easy to describe this tradition as a left-liberal, ~progressive one. Rather I would see it as a tradition of conservative dissent. (The concepts of left and right politics are derived from a European context and do not translate well to an African context, be it said.) Third, I think that you will acknowledge that this is a significantly ethno-centric pattern of dissent. I say that not to approve or disapprove, but simply to describe what I see. And that said, as a pattern of dissent that centers on the experience and traditions of a particular community it is hard to see how that can be generalized to other subcultures that are inherently disjunct from that community.

          And fourth, I find it very difficult to find evidence to argue that progressive trajectories of activism have been significantly altered by their alignment with minority empowerment activism, specifically by this trajectory of maroon withdrawal. This last is surely a contentious point, though I don’t advance it idly or without reason.
          The discussion of this by itself would require a lengthy post. I’m somewhat better versed in the activities of, say, Bayard Rustin, James L. Bevel, Diane Nash, and James L. Farmer for instance. I think you will agree that theirs was a very different method of activism. I think you can see why, then, I didn’t choose to bring that issue to
          the foreground, not least because it would little change the larger points that were my purpose, that one can’t organize a mass activist movement in the American politics from identity activism. Communally based activism, however valid, will tend to diverge constituencies rather than converge them.

          Should we ever sit down together to parse these schematics, I myself haven’t toked in longer than you likely have been alive. And Miles Davis’ ‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a bit more my tempo. But I’d readily listen along to some freedom rock like ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimmy, another swatch of doggerel vastly improved in the cover from
          the the version of the politically phony white guy that knocked it off.

  40. PQS

    Great discussions all around. Richard, I will re-read your essay in more detail, although I tend to agree that there isn’t a lot of fight in most “liberals”, however you want to characterize them, and there are a lot of diffuse goals. I would venture, however, that the Right has the same problem, especially since they have decided to take on various intrasigent strains of religiously-identified activists. (See: “will the Christians vote for Romney?”) It may appear that they are unified in their approach, but, for example, when they came out in force for GWBush because of his pious “compassionate conservatism” and hatred of abortion, did they really get what they wanted? No. Under GW Bush, there was no national reversal of abortion policies, which must have been a bitter disappointment for them. So they began to work on the local level to chip away at womens’ rights, which they have had some success with in very conservative districts. (And, which, as you note, the largely independent judiciary typically overturn.)

    I think one aspect that hasn’t been mentioned as a primary, universally-accepted American maxim that is extremely popular is the concept of Fair Play. Americans (perhaps uniquely in the world) almost worship the idea of the level playing field and fairness in dealings. I think anyone wanting change needs to point out how deeply and mortally this concept has been wounded by what’s gone on for the past decade or so: by the banks, by our politicos, and by big corporations. (We can all agree, I’m sure, that the so-called American Dream of bootstraps and fairness, etc., may have always been an illusion, but I would say that it has never been so faint as now, and that the gap between rich and everyone else is a vivid illustration of just how far we’ve fallen.)

    If Americans feel they’ve been cheated on something, they will come out in force for restitution. ANd right now, they’ve been cheated, and I believe they are beginning to realize it. THis is a moment to sieze.

    1. Richard Kline

      So Blackout September, go for it. And I thought about coming east for it but in the end decided not to.

      Question?: What do you do on the 18th? That is my point. What is the larger, defined goal, and where is the organization to carry it forward? Action is certainly better than inaction, but incoherence dissipates collective mobilization. I still haven’t heard an objective beyond ‘show up’ for this action, and that’s a problem.

  41. Steve from Cranbury

    Kline is right. Progressives need a focused objective and aggressive actions to make it happen.

    First, we need to agree with Kline that neither political party will ever act in the best interests of our nation. Pay to play killed that notion over 100 years ago.

    Second, we need to realize our current economic model of laissez faire global capitalism and unregulated financial markets has failed fundamentally. It can no longer create the jobs we need to sustain ourselves or reverse the $10 trillion trade deficit which cannot be sustained much longer.

    Third, we need to create a vision for 21st century America.

    My vision is restoration of our governments to the people by getting rid of political parties, getting big money out of politics and public advocacy and Constitutionally redefining the roles of all our governments. This will require all of us to give up our wasteful partisan squabbling and our obviously counterproductive ideologies.

    America has the know how to recreate our governments and our business model so it serves America well and sustainably.

    Our first step is to rebuild our national economic base. Which means we need to create a progressive Tea Party focused on restoring our job base and enabling us to produce enough of what we consume domestically to reverse our trade deficit.

    In 2012, we need to tell all incumbents:

    1. Institute a Federal Buy American procurement policy and
    give vendors two years to manufacture government goods in the 50 states.

    2. Create a national plan to restore 10 million manufacturing jobs and 10 other types of jobs. Create it before the 2012 election or get voted out.

    3. Reform our financial system so it can no longer bleed away our private and public capital. Create a US investment bank to support reconstruction of our manufacturing base.

    It should be obvious the stimulus Obama proposes cannot do this. It is estimated the program will create 1 million jobs at a cost of 447 billion dollars. That’s $447,000 dollars per job. Hopelessly inefficient and ineffective.

    Much better we had a policy to rebuild our factories, create jobs by making our toasters, tv, shoes here and paying down our trade deficit. Let’s get control of our job base, for it is essential if we are to achieve larger progressive reforms in the future.

  42. chris

    good but long winded.

    Phil Ochs said it better and more succinctly:

    Love Me I’m a Liberal

    I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
    Tears ran down my spine
    I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
    As though I’d lost a father of mine
    But Malcolm X got what was coming
    He got what he asked for this time
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    I go to civil rights rallies
    And I put down the old D.A.R.
    I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
    I hope every colored boy becomes a star
    But don’t talk about revolution
    That’s going a little bit too far
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
    My faith in the system restored
    I’m glad the commies were thrown out
    of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
    I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
    as long as they don’t move next door
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    The people of old Mississippi
    Should all hang their heads in shame
    I can’t understand how their minds work
    What’s the matter don’t they watch Les Crain?
    But if you ask me to bus my children
    I hope the cops take down your name
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    I read New republic and Nation
    I’ve learned to take every view
    You know, I’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
    I feel like I’m almost a Jew
    But when it comes to times like Korea
    There’s no one more red, white and blue
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    I vote for the democratic party
    They want the U.N. to be strong
    I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
    He sure gets me singing those songs
    I’ll send all the money you ask for
    But don’t ask me to come on along
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    Once I was young and impulsive
    I wore every conceivable pin
    Even went to the socialist meetings
    Learned all the old union hymns
    But I’ve grown older and wiser
    And that’s why I’m turning you in
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

  43. Kevin Egan

    I found this a convincing synoptic analysis; quibble with this or that detail, but the point of an overview is to go up high and see large trends: Richard Kline has done that very impressively. I’ve done professional work in the Early Modern period in England, and his broad analysis of trends there strikes me as well-informed and accurate; it predisposes me to trust what he says about other periods I know less about.

    I was particularly struck by this passage:

    “To me, the only way out of these dead ends lies in committing to a defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice because this affects all. Social justice cannot be secured absent economic justice. Any such agenda is going to be anti-corporate, anti-poverty, pro-education (and job re-education), and pro-regulation. It has to be citizen-based outside of existing political parties. This kind of program can be articulated as pro-community rather than pro-faction if the organizing is done. This has to be pursued from a defined agenda, unapologetically, and from a pro-citizen(ship) position regardless of other more discrete goals.”

    I think the reason so many people (including in the NC community) have been so taken with Elizabeth Warren is that she has done more than almost anyone, more visibly, to advance just this sort of message, absent the explicit confrontation, though the extent of the implicit confrontation can be seen in the ferocity of the oligarchical attacks on her. (Yves Smith and a few others have done as much or more on these lines, and more confrontationally, of course; but not so much in the whole of the public square.)

    But one person without organizational resources–and I emphatically don’t count the Democratic Party as a candidate for that organization–can be sidelined or co-opted pretty easily, and Warren’s experience in government certainly shows that. The current Senate run may show it too, probably will, though I hope she’s playing a long game for an eventual Presidential run.

    Still, RK shows that there needs to be serious work done that lies outside the purview of the two parties. I think the programmatic suggestions in the last paragraph make a lot of sense, and they are much more practical than ever now because of the internet. And if I’m right about Warren’s long game, organizing the progressive grass roots now around a confrontational simplified message–Wisconsin shows us some of the possibilities–we might find ourselves converging with eventual electoral victories that would enable legislation that would represent improvements on the scale of FDR’s.

    However, that really does mean holding to the line many of us have decided upon already: forget Obama, that quisling; don’t waste your energy on 2012; start organizing for economic justice. Isn’t it obvious that there’s a huge audience for that message, sitting in their underwater houses? But if we don’t grab them, the nativist and scapegoating message of the oligarchs will instead, as in fact was that group’s intention immediately upon Obama’s election. Or, if you’re really paranoid, as they decided to when they made their first move in September 2008: ensuring that Obama would be the next President.

    But that’s ancient history now: time to get started on that confrontational message.

  44. Jim

    Richard is to be complemented for raising more specifically the issues of movement building,organizing and insurgency.

    I think most of the regulars on this blog now realize that mere exhortation is not enough–because it jumps over a number of crucial steps.

    Some preliminary thoughts:

    I believe that in building a movement we are attempting to construct an alternative society. How can we build a structure of popular assertion that is strong enough to contest the existing power of the received culture while at the same time creating within it social relations that are democratic? If the second cannot be done, the first is meaningless. It seems important to keep in mind that the limits of democratic practice in power are foreshadowed by the extent of democratic practice in the insurgency.

    On a conceptual level there is no agreement, even on this blog, on the appropriate political goal or goals.

    But assuming for moment that there was a consensus on political goals, then the real work is only beginning.
    We would then face the issue of actively recruiting large numbers of people to perform the public acts to breath social life into the possibility of achieving that goal or goals. To me, movement building turns on a compelling recruitment message and a coherent structure to receive and hold the recruits.

    Finally, a new coherent structure of democratic assertion will not be built on conceptual experience alone–it will also be crucially impregnated with direct social experience from our individual lives. It will be a merging together of the intelligence of the seminar and the streets.

    We are now at a point of deep anxiety and aspiration–the juncture at which democratic organizing begins.

  45. Masonboro

    We have a saying here in the South :

    “Don’t take a switchblade to a gun fight”

    I wish Progressives in general and Obama in particular would take this to heart and act accordingly.

    Jim

  46. JD

    As other comments have also pointed out here, an essay that purports to explain the left in America with no mention of race whatsoever is useless. That and the misuse of the word “liberal” (used in its European rather than American sense here) suggests that, despite the historical info, he’s not too familiar with the American landscape.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As I indicated earlier in the thread, Wikipedia disagrees with you on your “American use” assertion.

  47. JayB

    Your GOAL for the actions you’d like us to organize and fight for..what is it? What are your suggested “bullet points” you believe most liberals and progressives can embrace?

    I suggest we will need to see some convincing “bullet points” before we unite in our reform efforts, before we will rise up and act.

    Many of us share a broad dread of where the oligarchy is taking us and we hunger for a positive agenda. We fear an economic catastrophe may engulf us soon. We want to be positioned to help if a window of opportunity opens in the aftermath of catastrophe.

    Your goal, it appears to me, is a return to a golden age. Is this wrong? You point to “enormous reforms enacted by 1974” and “a broad reformist agenda” enacted by 1916. Those were times when (I’m guessing) you see most of the population sharing evenly the gains of material and social progress. Perhaps that broad sharing is one of your bullet points.

    Your discussion appears to take for granted a context of capitalism. The predominant economic and political organization of civilization has not always been capitalism, nor will it remain capitalism. We will move on again. I suggest we have begun that transition and any goals we broadly fight for necessarily will begin to include aspects of that new context/system.

    Democracy and capitalism have a power foundation of identical discreet units, which we pile up and count…money and votes. These are the basis/currency of power. We have begun a transition to a new currency, information. Information is fundamentally different from money. That necessitates a fundamental transition to institutions appropriate for information as the currency of power.

    The executive branch can and is making the transition. The judiciary, which balances information and economic power, easily can adjust that balance. But legislatures are fundamentally flawed as long as they remain a balance-sheet operation counting votes and dollars to determine a winner, the one with the biggest pile.

    I suggest your list of bullet points include fundamental reform of legislatures. This directly leads to a widely recognized goal of stopping big money from buying our legislatures. This nascent movement has many get-rid-of parts right, but lacks focus on what to replace them with. I suggest such replacements focus on information-based decision making. An example: The military-base-closing process was a baby-step toward an information/analysis process.

    We will need political-institution decision-making systems that require and promote analyses-reporting and intellectually-honest critiquing. A basic function of legislatures is to give broad legitimacy to governing decisions. Such legitimacy in an information based economic/political system will require transparency of analyses and transparent debates among experts and referees.

    Your “larger point” requires “action taken” “organized” and “believable, comprehensible goals.” I’m looking forward to your proposal for believable comprehensible goals. That’s the debate I’m hoping to see.

    Goals or bullet-points that move us toward a BETTER FUTURE is a much better sell than a return to a golden past. An information culture with information-based institutions could be that new improved future. Money is failing us; maybe information can save us.

    P.S. Thank you for this essay and thank you Yves for posting it. And thank you for many excellent comments you’ve made to many of Yves previous posts.

  48. JayB

    Your GOAL for the actions you’d like us to organize and fight for..what is it? What are your suggested “bullet points” you believe most liberals and progressives can embrace?

    I suggest we will need to see some convincing “bullet points” before we unite in our reform efforts, before we will rise up and act.

    Many of us share a broad dread of where the oligarchy is taking us and we hunger for a positive agenda. We fear an economic catastrophe may engulf us soon. We want to be positioned to help if a window of opportunity opens in the aftermath of catastrophe.

    Your goal, it appears to me, embrace some sort of return to a golden age. Is this wrong? You point to “enormous reforms enacted by 1974” and “a broad reformist agenda” enacted by 1916. Those were times when (I’m guessing) you see most of the population sharing evenly the gains of material and social progress. Perhaps that broad sharing is one of your bullet points.

    Your discussion appears to take for granted a context of capitalism. Capitalism has only been the predominant economic and political organization of civilization for a short time. We will move on again. I suggest we have begun that transition. Any goals we broadly fight for necessarily will begin to include aspects of that new context/system.

    Democracy and capitalism have a power foundation based on counting identical discreet units, money and votes. Money and votes are the currency of power. We have begun a transition to a new currency, information. Information is fundamentally different from money. This transition necessitates a fundamental transition to institutions appropriate for information as the main currency of power.

    The executive branch can, and is, making the transition. The judiciary, which balances information and economic power, easily can adjust that balance. But legislatures are fundamentally flawed as long as they remain a balance-sheet operation counting votes and dollars to determine a winner. Now the winner is the one with the biggest pile.

    I suggest your list of bullet points include fundamental reform of legislatures. This directly leads to a widely recognized goal of stopping big money from buying our legislatures. This nascent movement correctly has identified many get-rid-of parts, but lacks focus on the replace-with parts. I suggest such replacements focus on information-based decision making. An example: The military-base-closing process was a baby-step toward an information and analysis process.

    We will need political-institution decision-making systems based on analyses and intellectually-honest critiquing. A basic function of legislatures is to give broad legitimacy to governing decisions. Such legitimacy in an information based economic/political system will require transparency of analyses and transparent debates among experts and referees.

    Your “larger point” requires 1. “action taken” 2. “organized” and 3. “believable, comprehensible goals.” I’m looking forward to your proposal for believable comprehensible goals.

    Goals or bullet-points that move us toward a BETTER FUTURE is a much easier and effective sell than a return to a golden past. An information culture with information-based institutions could be that new improved future. Money is failing us; maybe information can save us.

    P.S. Thank you for this essay and thank you Yves for posting it. And thank you for many excellent comments you’ve made to many of Yves previous posts.

  49. globalnomad

    I basically agree with Kline and would add the following
    to his conclusion: that the majority of the meagre 25% who actually turn out to vote, abstain this time round. Americans must wake up, unify, and take control of themselves and their country. To continue to pay lip service to the present system and so-called demos and repos who claim to represent their best interests, is utterly self-destructive.

  50. Dave of Maryland

    Long winded and nowhere near the point.

    From their founding in 1854, Republicans swept to power in 1861 and ran the country in a more or less unbroken streak, until the economy collapsed in 1929.

    Whereupon Franklin Roosevelt saved everyone’s behind while leaving the Republicans in disarray.

    Ronald Reagan brought the Republicans back from the dead and they have run the place, more or less, ever since.

    You got another FDR? Yes or no?

  51. Bob Morris

    Susie Madrak nailed it. Liberals and progressives aren’t interested in dealing with actual working class or rural people. Instead, they assume others should listen and do what the’re told by the betters. Good luck with that elitist attitude. And you bet the working class and rural whites know when they’re being talked down to, insulted, and they resent it. These are the same folks progressives think they’ll organize.

    I’ve lived in big cities and currently live in southern Utah. Plenty of people here across the political spectrum are increasingly angry at the government and the direction of the country.They know they’re being screwed just aren’t sure what to do about it yet. Sounds like prime organizing ground to me. But most liberals would be horrified if they actually had to talk to a redneck wearing a John Deere cap.

    Ditto for the urban working class.

    As Joe Bageant said some years ago:

    “With Micheal Savage and Ann Coulter openly calling for liberals to be put in concentration camps, with the CIA now licensed to secretly detain American citizens indefinitely, and with the current administration effectively legalizing torture, the proper question to ask an NRA member may be, “What kind of assault rifle do you think I can get for three hundred bucks, and how many rounds of ammo does it take to stop a two-hundred-pound born-again Homeland Security zombie from putting me in a camp?” Which would you prefer, 40 million gun-owning Americans on your side or theirs?”

    1. JimS

      I’m with Susie, and Bob, and seabos below. I don’t need ten points, I’ve got two: higher wages for workers, lower rents for tenants; the rest is commentary.

      The problem is that the opposition to the employers and landlords are all too often of the employer and landlord class themselves, in their own little middle-class way, and so poison their politics by seeking to exploit labor (“liberals” who complain they can’t get a gardener!) or extract rents on their property.

      But because they have the best educations, and the most money and free time, they hog even the anti-exploiter political platform, and despise the majority of people for their poverty. So you get the Democratic Leadership Council, and New Labour and their ilk in other countries.

  52. seabos84

    Dude – I already have a crazy job … this was a fun skim … but, speaking of 10 bullet points – where are yours? ;)

    I was teenager on welfare in the 70s & cooked in Boston in the 80′s (5 years fine dining) and did some stints cooking on some floating death traps out of Dutch Harbor from ’89 to ’93 ish & went to u.w. for a math b.a. and worked as a microserf doing email and database server support & … transitioned … to high school math teaching.

    The yuppie scum whose asses I kissed as a cook in Boston were the same kind of yuppie scum whose asses I kissed as a lowly support serf at Microsoft. Funny how the nobler gooder better smarterer selflesser progressives & libs I met in campaigns, in Boston and in Seattle, were from a similar $ocial cla$$ of the yuppie scum.

    I appreciated the historical perspective on the roots of the progressive incompetence – it kinds of makes me ill to think how hard wired it is, but, when you come from 1 to many generations of above scratching for subsistence relative affluence, I guess it is normal to want that Teddy White job on McNeil Lehrer, clearing one’s throat and furrowing one’s brows – what the fuck else are you going to do, get your hands dirty making shit actually run better?

    At this phase, I’m cutting and pasting my multi-year old rant about the current incompetents into this comment …

    THANKS for the history.

    rmm.

    ++++
    THE PROBLEM is NOT that the lying stealing fascists excel at lying so they can steal. I kind of respect them – they have a job to do – fuck over the bottom 98% – and they do their job. Of course they have to goddam lie. When I was a 4 or 6 9 buck an hour cook in Boston in the 80′s I KNEW raygun & company had to lie – they couldn’t tell the fucking truth! hello!

    THE PROBLEM is what we have for “leaders” in the Democratic party.

    We’ve got the same ol same ol politically pathetic whiny noble Kennedy School Of Government, College of Big Word Big Sentence Big Parapragh Big Tome Erudite Losers who couldn’t give away water in the desert.

    We’ve got the highly credentialed highy degreed highly titled highly paid Blue Dog DLC Third Way New Dem Neo Lib Sell Out lying yuppie fucking scum.

    We’ve got those who belong in both camps.

    THE PROBLEM ain’t the lying stealing fascists – THE PROBLEM is the sell out sacks of shit or political naifs on “our” side sucking up “leader” paychecks.

    rmm

  53. Patricia

    ¾ of these comments are plain quibbling and moaning. You all have done more to prove Richard’s points than anything else could have. Congrats!

    I am worried that we won’t do anything until forced. It seems to work that way for us most often. I desperately hope it’s not true this time.

    Surely we can learn new things—why not? It is not bad for us to learn to work in broad popular sweeps and generalizations and quick bright adages. It’s good for us to actually lose our tempers now and then while facing ideological foes, to work so rough that we can’t get the dirt out of under our nails, to trip/fall and have to pick ourselves up with red faces. There’s no indignity in any of it. The indignity lies in our haughtiness and laissez-faire objectivity.

    Richard, your piece needs a good edit. The content is definitely worth a lot more time. Maybe consider breaking it down into smaller pieces—the subject is too huge for one draw. Which would be fine because it bears repeating and repeating. As you wrote, we have the time: “If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.”

  54. Patricia

    ¾ of these comments are plain quibbling and moaning. You all have done more to prove Richard’s points than anything else could have. Congrats!

    I am worried that we won’t do anything until forced. It seems to work that way for us most often. I desperately hope it’s not true this time.

    Surely we can learn new things—why not? It is not bad for us to learn to work in broad popular sweeps and generalizations and quick bright adages. It’s good for us to actually lose our tempers now and then while facing ideological foes, to work so rough that we can’t get the dirt out of under our nails, to trip/fall and have to pick ourselves up with red faces. There’s no indignity in any of it. There’s only indignity in our haughtiness and laissez-faire objectivity.

    Richard, your piece needs a thorough edit. The content is definitely worth a lot more time. Consider breaking it down into smaller pieces—the subject is too huge for one draw. And it bears repeating and repeating. As you wrote, we have the time: “If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.”

  55. MichaelC

    Richard,

    Thanks for taking the time to present a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of the current state of the progressive politics. (‘Progressives’ seem to be as ethereal (and imaginary) as Tea Partiers)

    Since I’ve only read through this once it may be unfair to conclude that progressives are passive and well meaning opportunists, but I think its clear progressives follow rathet than lead, and work best behind the throne.

    FWIW I’d like to highlight the line that is most foreword looking in the whole piece:

    ‘Winning elections doesn’t matter; passing laws and regulations, and winning court decisions on their basis is what matters.’

    Since ‘Winning court decisions’ at the moment seems to be the only path back to sanity, and the current docket is chock full of monumental court cases, I’m surprised at the lack of commentary on this point.

    A few court cases won on the side of ‘Economic Justice’ could tilt the ’12 sloganeering from ‘Hope’ to ‘Justice’

  56. Hugh

    One thing to keep in mind is how thoroughly the kleptocrats/oligarchs have co-opted the left, however you want to split it up. A union leader like Richard Trumka voices cautious approval of Obama’s bogus jobs plan instead of militating for what a real jobs plan would be. The liberal orgs, elite blogs, and Establishment liberals (like Krugman) are wedded to the current two party political duopoly. Most of the time they point fingers at those “crazy” Republicans and are silent or limited in their criticism of the Democrats who are doing the same thing as those crazy Republicans. It’s not funny how far behind the curve they are. Some of these are expressing doubts about Obama, but almost none have expressly stated they oppose him. And almost none of that almost none have extended the critique of Obama to the Democrats generally and said publicly that they will oppose the party. And almost none of that almost none of that almost none have gone beyond this and called for and started working on an alternative to the Democrats.

    There are progressives out here who have done these things but we have been largely drowned out by the veal pen and Democratic Trojan horses that so much of the left has turned into.

    If it hasn’t been posted by others, there is a 12 word platform that has been making the rounds in the non co-opted parts of the left that remain.

    1. Medicare for All
    2. End the Wars
    3. Tax the Rich
    4. A Jobs Guarantee

    I would also note that while Obama and the Democrats have sought to ignore us and only recognized in what few ways they do the co-opted portions of the left. It was we in the unbought part who have been exposing Obama and the Democrats for the kleptocratic corporatists they are. We have stayed small and diffuse but it is our portrayals of Obama and the Democrats and our analyses of their policies that have really stuck. We did not create the discontent but we put a name to it and an explanation for it. We have kept the truth out there that Obama is vulnerable. He can lose in 2012. This is not to take credit for anything but rather to say that an opposition even a small one can have a big effect over time as long as it stays true to its principles. Think where we might be if so much of the left had not sold out.

  57. K Ackermann

    I guess, in retrospect (having slept, too), I soured on the piece right at the beginning until I realized the term “Liberal” was used in the economic sense while talking in the political sense.

    Having re-read the piece, it’s actually quite amazing and I still agree with the conclusions – more so, actually.

    Thanks, Richard.

    Thanks for stretching my brain, too.

  58. solo

    The blurb at the beginning of the article–presumably provided by the author–says that author Kline is a “polymath and poet.” He would be more accurately characterized as a “prolix nanomath,” serving up a precious pastiche of idealist banalities. This man pretends to address the possibilities of the Left, but says not one word about the historic failure of socialism (of both the Second and Third Internationals); the preeminent “news” of the twentieth century. If Kline is a polymath, then Ralph Nader is a megamath, and one who spent his life in good-faith grassroots organizing only to bid farewell to same with an ironically titled book, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.” –There is more sad wisdom concerning U.S. “progressivism” in this title than is dreamt of in Kline’s onanistic provincialism.

  59. Tao Jonesing

    Good effort, Richard.

    My biggest takeaway is that neoliberalism has succeeded far more than I’d realized. Classical liberals were both anti-corporate and anti-monopoly. To say that today’s liberals view anti-corporate and anti-monopoly sentiments as “radical” is to admit that the modern liberal is, at heart, a neoliberal and FAR more “conservative” than the progressives of yesteryear.

    Adam Smith, a classical liberal, was anti-corporation.

    Teddy Roosevelt, and a great many liberal and conservative Americans, were anti-monopoly. Consider searching the online archives of the NY Times for “trust” in the late 19th century. Very interesting stuff there.

    The real reason the modern “progressive” loses is because he/she accepts the neoliberal frame of negative liberty as true, while the frame of classical liberals progressives is positive liberty. Modern “progressives” can’t win the fight because they admit a conception of liberty that cedes everything they claim to advocate.

    Hayek was masterful.

  60. nonclassical

    ..Kline appears to some of us old enough to remember, referring largely to SDS politics..Kline’s references ignore
    the fact nearly all Americans coelesce behind issues regarding Social Security, Medicare, and Supreme Court folly
    of continuiing to dictate that $$$$=$peech…when all know and agree $$$$=property.

    The “left” Kline notes is a creature of another time, though
    he is correct to view it as victimized by itself, perhaps largely as it searches for false leaders within current power $tructures…

    It is not difficult to describe what is true=fact. It is not difficult to find Americans agreeing, in large majority, on both. Concern by political leader$hip with $$$
    rather than truth brought us the lie$ that are re$pon$ible
    for de$truction of $ociety..we are celebrating one major $uch lie-10 year anniver$ary of-here’s a lot of info to cogitate, rather than be concerned with Kline’s dogma:

    http://www.amazon.com/Adam-Curtis-Trilogy-Nightmares-Century/dp/1615774432/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1315805653&sr=1-1

    Compare actual historical documentation to Kline’s nonsense…

  61. Tao Jonesing

    So . . . let me try this again.

    Nice effort, Richard.

    The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve identified as “radical” things that were part and parcel of classical liberalism.

    If you are correct, and I’m not saying that you aren’t, then today’s liberal is a neoliberal, not a clssical liberal.

    Adams Smith, a classical liberal, was anti-corporate.

    Teddy Roosevelt, a classical liberal, although labeled a “conservative” was anti-monopoly (what you call “anti-trust”). The fact is that many businessmen were anti-monopoly in the late 19th century, before the “Progressive Era” (i.e., during the Gilded Age). Check out the online archives of the NY Times.

    If it truly is “radical” to embrace classical liberal ideology, we’re all screwed. IF you are correct, that means that the modern “progressive” embraces the neoliberal frame of negative liberty, which is in opposition to the classical liberal frame of positive liberty. No wonder modern progressives cannot win: they give up before the fight.

  62. RudyKS

    “To me, the only way out of these dead ends lies in committing to a defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice because this affects all. Social justice cannot be secured absent economic justice.”

    Such an adgenda exists! Here is a comprehensive national economic strategy for empowering every American citizen, including the poorest of the poor, with the means to acquire, control and enjoy the fruits of productive corporate assets. It would shift the Federal Government’s role from today’s income redistribution policies to the more limited and healthy role of encouraging economic justice through free enterprise growth.

    http://www.cesj.org/homestead/summary-cha.htm

  63. steve from virginia

    I disagree with your analysis of why progressives (in the US and elsewhere) are on a “Long Losing Streak”.

    How long is long: since Robert Kennedy? Since Robert LaFollette? ‘Progressive’ is not a computer operating system where on has moral authority over the others. There is no moral authority anywhere within the industrialists’ social-economic ambit. Ends everywhere justify means.

    When capitalists can claim the moral high ground by pointing to China and ‘Millions out of poverty’ and do so convincingly, who or what is a progressive? Chou En Lai? Deng Xioping?

    Chinese communist party racketeer who charges 120% interest on real estate loans?

    US labor unions are as corrupt and bureaucratic as the agencies they putatively ‘negotiate’ with (against).

    The battle ground of ideas, where are the ideas? What ‘justice’? More handouts and debt-money to ‘Pro’ racists and agitators? Comes to a begging contest you might have me beat but so what?

    ‘Progress’ itself is not simply contradictory but an active enemy of life on planet Earth. Progress =’s genetic engineering, nuclear power, unknowable toxic chemicals, a world filled with distracting and brain-killing gadgets and hubristic ‘development’. I’ll skip the progress, thanks!

    Progressivism: what is there to save but nostalgia for something that makes brain-dead ‘modernists’ enslaved to automobiles, hamburgers and television feel good about themselves. Progressivism is ‘New Coke’. When the end is what matters, Eric Cantor is a progressive.

    More Cantors means the sooner the plague of progress is brought to a swift conclusion. The context within which the ‘Wobblie’ progressive institution exists is the greater institution of industrialization. Sorry Karl Marx, the industrialization itself — machine slavery — is defective to the core and is so for a host of reasons. It cannot be ‘fixed’ or ‘reformed’ and is in the current process of self- annihilation.

    The ‘Reluctant Progressive’ who made America what it is today: dependent upon the interest rate economics of John Maynard Keynes was FDR. What was Roosevelt’s first act as President? For the government to bail out America’s banks and default!

    Whose depression was it, anyway? Businesses and stockmarkets were put at the edge of the abyss, not by Rooseveltian progressive ‘policy’ but by the willingness of ordinary Americans to hold money … yea, that cash flow is an option to citizens but a lifeblood to business. Roosevelt could bail out business by devaluation. Economies had levers: America wasn’t trade dependent. Unlike today, the US had exchange rate maneuvering room.

    Today? America is import dependent and exchange rates are steadily smashing the world’s junk economies, with nothing to be done. All the progressives out there line up and jump into their cars every morning and pump the (Saudi Arabian) gas into their tanks: our problem isn’t in our marching songs but at the end of YOUR driveway.

    Get rid of your car and I’ll take you seriously. Otherwise, you are just another confused Republican.

  64. PeterG

    Brilliant analysis.

    Mr. Kline, are there any other places you publish your thoughts? I’d really like to follow your work.

  65. barrisj

    David Cay Johnston, in his otherwise brilliant, polemical treatise on the explosive ascent of the plutocracy at the expense of the rest of us, “Free Lunch”, offers as a prescriptive solution yet another variant of “Take Back the Congress”, a sort of “reform” agenda that calls for elimination of moneyed influences in elections – essentially a reckoning of who really pays Congress and how. Unfortunately, that formula tries to square the circle, returning us yet again to simple “democratic choices”, as if those who have mightily schemed, defrauded, and systematically abused the public weal will just step aside and “let freedom ring”. Umm, no, I don’t think so. Frankly, anything relying on conventional electoral politics is doomed to fail before it even gets off the groun, however noble and cleansing the motives. Naming and shaming, as Johnston has done (the book was written just before the shit hit the fan with Lehman), and as many successor books and essays since have as well just can’t overcome the ingrained posture of mainstream reformism, “vote the bums out” prescriptions and all. Even despite knowing that the system has become so totally rigged that conventional politics cannot transcend what passes for “representative republicanism” and the sham and con it has become. There are many extra-parlimentary groupements now forming throughout Europe and organising round the Internet, acting outside the traditional party structures, as those parties – all across the “left/center-left/centrist” – have fallen to neoliberalism, and thus are incapable of serving the people.
    I’m not sure that such phenomenology can be duplicated in the US, not now.

  66. BAukerman

    “[Progressive's] principal concern is to criticize the moral failings of others in society, particularly the moral failings of those in power.”

    “[Progressive's] need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them)”

    Ironically enough, the comments on this post exemplify your point exactly. Only Deloss and Steve from Cranbury proposed any sort of bullet-pointed agenda while nearly everyone else seems to have taken to “criticizing…the failings” of Mr. Kline’s definitions, writing style, and reading recommendations.

    Off the top of my head, here’s the agenda I would propose:

    1. Medicare-for-All (a compassionate no-brainer that would wipe out the budget debt)
    2. Reduced Work-Week (helps reduce unemployment, helps the environment, and gives Americans more time to be with family and friends and maybe even further organize politically. Plus the movement that won time-off for people would be hugely popular)
    3. Living Wage
    4. Maximum Wage (i.e. businesses with over 50 employees must maintain a 50:1 pay scale)
    5. Defense-Spending Freeze
    6. Artistic Freedom Vouchers (http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/the-artistic-freedom-voucher-internet-age-alternative-to-copyrights)

    I find #2 the most important for winning people to our side immediately and #6 the most radical (i.e. transcending capitalist logic by creating a new digital commons outside the realm of private property. Exciting stuff.)

    Some of you may have already seen this but Dean Baker just published a free book (what a radical!), about “loser liberalism” and making markets progressive. It’s available here: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/books/the-end-of-loser-liberalism

    As far as strategy, I think Michael Albert’s book, the Trajectory of Change, lays out a common sense blue print for building a genuine popular movement.

    Also, let’s get Yves on the Dylan Ratigan Show & Colbert, yeah?

  67. bobbyp

    Not bad Aukerman….the societal ills we witness all about us all begin with economic oppression. End it. End it now.

  68. Ven

    Thank you for this post. This essay really added to the scope of my current thinking and widened my perspective.
    The points about the necessity of a radical element for progressives who by default lack it and the different priorities they have allow me to reconcile the seeming contradiction I see when I keep meeting reasonable intelligent people who have strong views but are either politically inert or “Fanboys” of personalities.

    I will have to re-read this essay in one sitting…

  69. Glenn Condell

    There is a lot of interesting meat on the bones of this piece but the bones themselves seem to me brittle in places. Part of the problem is this tendency to rely on broadbrush characterisations of great chunks of the populace as ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative’ or the by now even more meaningless ‘liberal’. There must be a word for this… ‘classificationist’ perhaps? Which is of course itself an example of this probably imprinted mode of thought. I will do it too, unapologetically, but I am aware of how limiting these boxes can be.

    The vast majority of people now would support most ‘progressive’ positions, but in the 50s when there was more than rhetoric involved in the fear of communism, may have identified themselves as Eisenhower Republicans and ‘conservative’. The common thread cannot be reduced to ideology or particular issues, it is simply the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ in choosing the more prudent political course at any given moment, the calculation driven by concern for the future their children will inherit. (This same wisdom, this same crowd, controlled a far greater percentage of the nation’s wealth at that time, and made much more sensible decisions about how to invest it than our much smaller cohort of Masters of the Universe, but I guess that’s OT)

    The almost contemptuous and increasingly de rigeur dismissal of progressives as wet noodle whiners scared of a fight bothers me too. Yes they (we) are weak and some of their weakness can be sourced to internal characteristics, but their ‘disarray’ is mainly the result of determined and well-funded efforts to disable and discredit them over many years by power elites who are alert to the constant danger they pose. Quite apart from the parties (the Dems are no longer progressive, let’s face it) and the bureaucracy, virtually the entire media is party to this; so far from being the transparent window thru which a real democracy functions, it has become adept at opacity and acts as this war’s PR arm, and it simply cannot be matched by any grassroots effort.

    Anyway, people who are guided by morals, people who ‘mean well’ ought not to be mocked, we could use more of them after all. And their lack of gutter-level fighting smarts, their preference for debate rather than battle, isn’t something I would be contemptuous about. I’m reminded of the fact that some of Israel’s military pioneers expressed admiration for Nazi methods.

    Another salient aspect for me (where I agree that prog weakness is largely determined internally) is that by nature progressives entertain doubts, wingnuts do not. (‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’) It is the division between science and religion. Certitude is central to the right wing, doubt means death, whereas although progressives manfully pretend to be certain about this or that (knowing that the five second grab is the holy grail of modern politics), their heart is not in it to the same extent, and they sometimes change their minds on the basis of the evidence, so they’re flip-floppers, though a moment’s thought even in the mind of a wingnut makes clear how much more useful this quality is than a programmatic, meat-headed assertiveness. In short, while doubt is more valuable than certainty (being as Richard Feynman said the ‘open channel’ thru which scientists get closer to the truth), it is less politically saleable to a time-poor and increasingly uneducated populace, who are in any case being serially misled by the captured media and political parties.

    A healthy society produces a lot of leaders at all levels, but a sclerotic late-stage capitalist society like the US, where important decisions are made by a shrinking number of stakeholders, fears leaders emerging from any quarter bar their own and the collapse of public education aligns with agenda very well. Followers much preferred. Dissent that does arise from below in an information-deprived society is much easier to channel into kabuki political channels – steam-releasing but ultimately neutered ‘movement’ politics, and also into putatively progressive politicians (Clinton, Obama) expert at nurturing, and then dashing hope. Any maverick who manages to scale all these walls can be expected to face the usual panoply of dirty tricks, always assuming they can break through the wall of media silence that is sure to welcome their first forays – but the point is that prevention is better than cure and so a dogshit school system is the first plank of elite control. I mean, don’t 47% of Americans subscribe to that Rapture lunacy?

    One other factor might be explained by a subsequent post here on the incidence of psychopaths in our midst, and their unfortunate propensity to be prominent and powerful. There is according to the research a significant subset among us who quite simply don’t care about anyone but themselves and are quite happy and indeed likely to bully, harass, cheat or otherwise dominate their fellows for their own ends, perhaps paying lip service to notions of fairness (recognising the necessity of this sort of Straussian ‘noble lie’) but utterly without any civic imperatives in their thought. These people might well be Democrats but they are not progressives. This capacity for deception is not a handicap and in fact it must confer an advantage in politics over those find it hard to lie.

    Some specific statements are problematic – ‘While the military is a socially conservative society in itself, it is also an exceptionally depoliticized one, with civilian control an infrangible value’ How can it be depoliticised when people like General Boykin can prosper in it? How many self-identified progressives would there be in the forces? I would bet my left nut that a majority of soldiers are Republican, but given I’ve already said the Dems aren’t progressive, that doesn’t really matter. The rightwing bias, the near-fascist infatuation with conformism and hierarchy ought to be so obvious as not to require comment. As for civilian control, dear me, which civilians? The politicians !! The ‘puppets’ controlled by the power elite, who are generally on the same page as the top brass. They all need each other, and there’s not much room for genuine civilian input into military matters, especially if it’s progressive.

    ‘I wouldn’t say that progressives are disinterested in economic well-being, but employment and money are never what has driven them. A right-living society, self-improvement, and justice: these are progressive goals.’

    I agree that this aversion to or neglect of basic economic arrangements is a problem, because it makes achievement of those right-thinking progressive goals far less likely, not so much because they require monetary resources to achieve them, but because failure to address the current, perverted economic arrangements means that finance still controls politics,and you need politics to achieve your goals.

    But I’m not sure that the preference for noble causes is motivated by the primacy of ‘truth’ in progressive worldviews, so much as an overriding concern with fairness. I’m all for the truth, but its fairness, or the obvious lack of it, that I find drives me politically. Sinners can repent if they like, but I would prefer it if they just took their fucking hands out of my pockets and those of my children. The moral aspect is secondary to the practical for me, and I’m sure many other ‘progressives’ and conservatives too for that matter.

    So I agree that ‘committing to a defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice’ is an improvement over the fuzzier feel-good position issue agendas, but I wonder whether including actual ‘issues’ at all might be a mistake. What I mean is that it might be better to think in terms of presenting a list of preferred ‘mechanisms’ rather than a list of cherished ‘wishes’. Any list that includes ‘anti-corporatism’ and ‘pro-regulation’ and especially ‘militancy’ in those terms is doomed for the foreseeable future. Rather, simply state that credit creation should be a public function (a la Bank of North Dakota writ large) – no need even to mention that a whole class of parasitic banksters would be destroyed by this, just point out the obvious benefits for most people – or that any institution receiving public funds to survive becomes publicly owned and regulated, based on the universally accepted capitalist nostrum that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    Progressives will continue to lose so long as they identify as and are perceived as progressives. The relentless anti-liberal propaganda has morphed into official US discourse (even within the Dems who keep triangulating themselves away from any danger of being tarred by that brush and who are of course increasingly estranged from true liberalism anyway, having joined rather than beaten them many moons ago) – the answer if there is one is to emphasise the non-partisan nature of the list of demands, and how they would act to improve the lives and futures of most people, almost everyone really. They have to be seen as practical, prudent measures for a free society of equals whatever their race, religion or political persuasion, not a ‘progressive agenda’.

    Although the capture of the Dems means elections are more theatre than genuine choice, it is still important that whatever result does flow from them can be trusted. So the first item on my list is:

    ‘clean up elections – publicly viewable paper trail ballots only in publicly funded elections with better paid politicians and remaking or removal of the electoral college’.

    Then:

    public credit and banking reform (painted as necessary to secure national prosperity to counter allegations of anti-corporatism and including TBTF, MMT macro policy,Tobin tax, banking pay restrictions, banning of HFT and off balance sheet entities, clearing desk for securities, audit and dissolution of offshore havens, etc ),
    repatriation of soldiers in 700 plus bases abroad with incentives to become engineers or other professionals and job guarantees upon return to work on things like rebuilding the US ‘s crumbling infrastructure,
    Set up a nationwide and genuinely public broadcast and online network (like Aust ABC and the BBC in the olden days..) funded by a formula not subject to changes in political governance, with a charter to cover issues demanded by a defined critical mass of citizens
    Audit of defence, intelligence and homeland security spending, esp black ops funding, and the missing Pentagon trillions, as part of a demand for more transparency, less secrecy…
    Encouragement of unionisation via an appeal to freedom of association, with the emphasis on ‘freedom’
    A statement on the right to food security with support for rather than opposition to local, decentralising efforts
    A job guarantee to all who wish to work, again on enhancing infrastructure where possible, with a minimum wage that obviates the need for tax credit expansion
    An emphasis in education upon the practical – much increased focus on career academies for boys in particular, incentivising links between employers and schools/academies in local settings to foster community growth, but for all students some basic life training – food production, animal husbandry, carpentry, first aid, basic wiring and plumbing, economic and financial information presented without ideology, from household and basic business bookkeeping to how money is created in a fiat currency system, fractional reserve, securitisation etc…

    There are lots more (an apology to Iraqis would be there somewhere), but I guess my point is that harnessing the underlying majority support for progressive positions means an agenda based on how to get there, not where we are going. Changes that while obviously open to VRWC propaganda and banking opposition thru their pet politicians can be confidently advocated without any ideological baggage.

    To me, the issues – climate change, peak oil, jobs policy, protection of Social Security, single payer medical care, whatever, will sort themselves out if the groundwork is laid for genuinely free elections electing people who aren’t obliged to be whores or puppets for those who pay their way, genuinely fair economic arrangements which foster general rather than particular prosperity,
    a much-reduced and more needs-based military/industrial complex, a venue for public debate not kneecapped by corporate interests, a well paid workforce contributing to growth via enhanced final demand and increased tax revenue, a more practically trained and educated populace less likely to fall for the charms of the wannabe puppets, and so on.

    Draw the sting out of the largest power entities in the country so that they can no longer run the show for their own benefit and you have achieved progressive goals, but ‘conservative’ ones also. Most people, red or blue, black or white, given the facts ma’am, would support all this if they were able to get the signal without all the noise, because despite the years of neglect and outright hostility from above, there’s wisdom in the crowd, there’s a prudence and perspective lacking in our dessicated, grasping elites. Breaking their grip though will depend on somehow ensuring that the desperate noise emitted from above does not succeed in making the blue heads think the reds are behind ‘the program’, or vice versa.

    That story of the banker at a café with a Tea Partier and a unionist – a plate arrives with ten cookies which the non-bankers have paid for, the banker takes nine and whispers to the wingnut ‘look out, that union type is going to take your cookie’ – sums things up nicely. We have to get to the point where the Tea P person turns to the banker derisively and says ‘yeah, right’ and joins with the unionist in relieving the banker of the cookies.

    Must finish or I never will, thanks Richard, very thought (and word!) provoking.

  70. Otter

    After the riot, Black Blockers go home and turn on their TVs to find out what they are supposed to believe happened.

    1. Glenn Condell

      Yeah, I was beginning to wonder if I’d said something off limits. Probably the size of my rant knocked everyone else’s out – if so, apologies all round.

    2. Glenn Condell

      Curiouser and curiouser. The thread is 75 strong on my iPhone and Imac at home, but it’s all here on the work PC. Apple bias?

  71. dvoraktchka

    their residual objective has been a piece of the pie, and to be left alone to eat it in dignity.

    how is it uncharitable to say this? isn’t this essentially what any person wants?

    i may seem to dismiss empathy as a factor here, but really, isn’t that basically the entire human biological program?

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