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Lambert Strether pointed to this video of a Real News Network interview of the very well meaning and articulate Norman Solomon. Unfortunately it also serves as a object lesson of why progressives are losing. The tell is when, close to the end of the piece, he remarks that progressives only have pockets of strength in the US. That may be true in terms of political representation, but it is not even remotely true in term of the sentiment of the public. It;s clear he buys into a view (or more accurately, a set of excuses) that NC regular Richard Kine wrote:
….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.
The contrast is pretty stark. And while Solomon is of the view that the left needs to be better “organizing,” readers have discussed the notion, spurred by OWS, that broad social interests have gotten the most traction from groups that apply pressure but don’t become very closely involved in the political apparatus.
I’m not saying that there is not a useful role for people like Solomon in the system. But he seems not to recognize that a much bigger, and ultimately more radical, approach is needed to achieve the sort of changes he’d like to see.