This morning, in an effort "to piss-off the Deaniacs one more time," Roxanne posted a bit of a political rant that attempts to take progressives out to the woodshed for, um, losing touch with political reality. I think she does so from some mistaken assumptions, and ends up knocking down a straw man. Now Rox is one of my favorite bloggers, and she's even welcomed me as a guest blogger on her pages. But I think some of the things she claims today deserve a response. And since I have this humble little platform here, I'll give it a ramble.
There's an interesting throughline making its way around Leftopia today (and most days, these days): In order to win in '06 and '08, the Democrats must run on a unified "Progressive" anti-Iraq War platform. While I agree with you on many Progressive issues, I also wonder what country you all think you're living in. Let me remind everyone that
45% of American citizens still define themselves as moderate, compared to 34% who define themselves as conservative and 21% as liberal.
The first -- and main -- mistake here is equating "progressive" with "liberal." Now I'm one of the first to admit that there's a lot of overlap. But I feel, at least from my perspective, that there are some important distinctions between the two: progressive means having a dynamic, proactive government that actively participates in the economy and the fabric of our culture, while liberal comes with assumptions about the kinds of programs the government provides. In some ways, liberalism goes beyond progressivism in the manner and approach of such programs, while progressivism goes beyond liberalism in the scope and goals of what a proactive government can achieve. At least that's how I see it. (For the record, I consider myself a progressive who is sympathetic to the liberal cause.)
The second mistake I think Rox makes is conflating the anti-war movement with the conflated "liberal/progressive" political agenda. I think these are two separate issues.
I see no reason to assume that liberalism means pacifism, or that progressivism means isolationism, or vice versa. Rox argues that Lyndon Johnson was not a "true anti-War Liberal/Progressive," but that's because he wasn't anti-war. However, Johnson was very much a liberal, ready and willing to push forward on the war on poverty, even while he was carpet-bombing Vietnam. The schisms in the Democratic Party in 1968 were mostly over the war, not liberalism.
The third mistake is to read "progressive" as fitting into any neat category on the already-sloppy "liberal/moderate/conservative" spectrum. Let's go back to the percentages. (I won't quibble with them. I don't know their source, and could not offer an alternate, anyway.)
- 45% moderate
- 34% conservative
- 21% liberal
Here's where the distinction between progressive and liberal is important: Most people believe in an effective and efficient government that serves the people's interest. That is progressivism. When it comes down to it, only black-hearted dominionists, covetous plutocrats and dyed-in-the-wool anarchists in the conservative ranks would be hard-set opposed to progressivism. Even libertarians and progressives can find many areas to agree on. On the "liberal" side of things, authoritarian socialists would oppose the privacy values in progressivism, but would probably agree on pro-active government programs to address poverty and education and healthcare gaps.
The fourth mistake is to take people's self-identified political labels at face value. How are these labels used and perceived? Since Michael Dukakis ran away from the "liberal" label Bush the elder threw at him back in 1988, the Democrats have been in full retreat from that word (and, many would argue, what it stands for). For the most part, nobody has stood up for any liberal values for fear of drawing the wrath of the Atwater/Rove/Republican spin machine and their corporate media attack dogs. Since the 1980s, what suffices for political discourse in this country has been entirely within the frames and vocabulary of conservative ideology. (Don't even look for "progressive": it's not there.)
In other words, few people self-identify as "liberal" because the political and media leaders have given it a bad name. Nobody has been speaking up for liberal values, and so nobody else talks about them, either. It's a self-reinforcing loop that locks liberal values out of the discussion.
In the aftermath of Katrina, what's become bloody obvious for nearly all Americans is that we need effective government -- progressive government. The conservative ideology has proven its own bankruptcy. And political leaders who hold a philosophy based on vilifying government have no business running government.
The fifth mistake is labeling the peace movement as progressivism. To me, the anti-war movement crosses the political spectrum.
What's clear to most of us now is that, to this administration, the military is the answer to everything. Have a hurricane? Send in the military! Have a flu epidemic? Send in the military! Need to win the hearts and minds of people traditionally mistrustful of the West? Send in the military!
It's fucked-up logic. Small wonder people are skeptical! Especially when we have nearly 2000 dead men and women who had signed up as willing to put their lives on the line to defend our country. Are they defending us by killing people in Iraq? Are we safer as a nation by continuing to cultivate al-Qaeda recruitment in Iraq?
Our strongest weapons are our ideals of freedom and justice and democracy. They are so powerful that they worked throughout Eastern Europe, where our armies never went -- perhaps because our armies never went there. Yet our administration -- conservatives all (which is more evidence that war-making is not a partisan characteristic) -- tries to use bullets and bombs, which have no friends. The "accomplishment" of some 100,000 dead in Iraq does not win friends.
This is what the anti-war sentiments are about.
My own progressivism
I suspect Roxanne and I are of much the same mind when it comes to the peace movement. I am not in favor of "knee-jerk" withdrawal in an all-out retreat. But I am in favor of getting the hell out of there quickly, and getting our foreign policy back onto the footing of making friends rather than bullying neighbors. And that's not a progressive view. That's not a liberal view. That's what I consider an American view, a way of conducting international relations advanced by Democratic and Republican administrations in the past.
But where Rox and I differ is in her mislabeling "liberal" and "progressive." Calling Clinton one of "the most Liberal/Progressive Presidents during my lifetime" is almost funny. He was smart, and he was good at the talking game -- and, compared with either Bush the elder or Bush the lesser, his presidency looks pretty damn good right now -- but aside from getting the budget under control, he was not progressive or liberal. Too many corporatist policies were enacted under his watch to call him a progressive or liberal. Too much aggregation of federal government police power over individuals, and too many attacks on privacy rights, took place under his leadership to call him a progressive or liberal. Too many social programs were mangled without making them more effective or more efficient under his leadership to call him a progressive or liberal.
In fact, the last president who was anything like a progressive was Jimmy Carter, who, in spite of the oil crisis, recession and inflation, cut taxes and cut the federal deficit while establishing FEMA -- which Bush killed with cronyism -- and alternative energy programs using, among other things, tax credits -- which "tax cutter" Ronald Reagan killed in his first year in office. (What would our world look like now if Carter's alternative energy efforts were continued and expanded upon all this time? Would we be fretting so much about peak oil? Would gas be topping 3 bucks a gallon, and rising?) And while Carter was not at all charismatic, and had the Iran hostages and oil-crunch-inspired inflation around his neck, his programs and policies are the ones we value (and miss) today, after 25 years of conservatism.
I don't know why Roxanne and so many others on "the left" seem to be on the warpath against progressivism. But I suspect that part of it is in this fundamental misunderstanding of what progressivism is, and what the anti-war movement isn't.
There does seem to be a dearth of anti-war voices in mainstream politics. Senator Paul Wellstone was shooting up in the polls for his speaking out against the Iraq war run-up, before his plane mysteriously went down, taking him permanently out of the debate. And since then, precious few politicos have been willing to stand up against the jingoism of militarist-branded patriotism. Perhaps, with yesterday's stunning 90-9 vote in the Senate for clear-cut regulations on the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere, we're starting to see a shift.
And that shift is bipartisan. And that's because the public resistance to a bloody, costly and foolhardy war, as well as to authoritarian police state tactics at home, is bipartisan -- not "Liberal/Progressive."
It's time to speak out. Cindy Sheehan has helped give a voice to the anti-war sentiments that are widely and deeply held in this country.
But that has nothing to do with progressivism or liberalism. We have yet to hear strong progressive and liberal voices speak out in the public square in front of the cameras of the mainstream media. We have yet to see the mainstream media pay them any mind. While the anti-war movement is progressing in civil protest, progressivism remains largely unheard, a faith in a better future with effective government as a tool for positive change held by many of us in the blogosphere, a minority caucus within the Democratic Party, and in the majority of hearts and minds of mainstream Americans.
Let's not forget: While party politics have battled on like gang war for decades, the largest voting bloc has been that of the non-voter. They are still waiting for someone to speak for them. And so are many, if not most, of the rest of us.
It's time to change the frame of the debate. And that's not going to happen by running scared of Republican rhetoric or buying into Republican frames of what they claim "liberal" and "progressive" mean. We either stand up for what we believe, or we can continue to sit for all that we don't. It's up to us.