Ask a dozen progressives what progressive means, and you'll probably get a dozen answers. But odds are that they'll all touch on the same core values: human and civil rights, effective government, improving the social safety net, including healthcare, anti-poverty programs and unemployment programs. Individuals will have their priorities within these areas, but this is the terrain. The priorities of individual progressives are not mutually exclusive. It's a progressive coalition based on values.
Today, in one of his more weakly-reasoned posts in a year of some real doozies, Markos attempts to toss progressivism out the window and claim for himself leader of "the new progressives." True progressivism apparently is a real problem for progressives, but most of us just don't realize it.
The basis of this claim?
Wait for it....
The generation gap. (Oh, if I could buy the world a Coke!)
...I sense the generational divide between new school activists (those of us who came "of age" politically in the late 90s and 00s), and those who harken back to the 60s and 70s....
I'm increasingly convinced that the biggest intra-movement divide nowadays isn't ideological -- we mostly all agree on the same things -- but generational. Old school activists view politics and the activist realm differently than new school activists (very generally speaking). Those differences manifest themselves in arguments over single issue groups, effective activism, partisanship, tone, style, pragmatism, the types of candidates we should run, etc.
I take it that the thrust of this is that we old fogies are just out of touch with reality.
I wrote above that most progressives "agree on most things", but there are probably few issues, if any, in which 100 percent of progressives agree. And such disagreements are not necessarily born of ignorance, or "using Rove's talking points", or being a "DINO". But disagreements born from research and exploration and each individual's varied life experiences. This is a reality in which we must operate and thrive, and it can't be by forcing a party line on every single issue. Because really, who will set the party line? Who will enforce it?
What Kos does not seem to realize is that he's fallen for the conservative frame on progressive values -- that they are too varied and mutually exclusive to be worth anything in a coalition. So, he argues, we must ditch those values.
I have a different interpretation of the political tea leaves of today.
In 1964, when Goldwater lost the presidential election, conservatives launched one of the most effective coordinated meta-campaigns to win not only political office but "the war of ideas." They mobilized money for campaigns, sure, but they also pulled in big big money for think tanks, because they realized that if they were to win any lasting victory, they had to convince people that their ideas were better.
With the 1970s recession caused by a prolonged foreign war and spiking oil prices (sound familiar?), new ideas -- any new ideas -- had an automatic appeal just for being new. Even so, the Republicans couldn't win until Iranian religious zealots took American hostages and held them for well over a year. That event, and the continuing economic woes, sank Carter, and Reagan won in 1980.
He was called "the great communicator" and "the teflon president" (because nothing stuck to him). He sold Iran weapons in a deal to free the hostages, killed tax breaks for alternative energy, blamed our economic woes on "welfare mothers," and then "created prosperity" by breaking out the credit cards and launching into the then-greatest deficit spending in world history, thereby quadrupling the national debt and putting a lot of money into bankers' pockets. But while people cried out, he never got rattled or defensive. He just smiled like grandpa and said to the American people, in effect, "Don't you worry. Daddy's going to make everything alright." That qualified him for the "great communicator" moniker.
The Democrats countered with two smart guys but very weak political candidates, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, neither of whom had any personality or savvy political guidance. The Democrats had been blindsided by the war of ideas the conservatives were waging, and found themselves in the situation of a man who's asked, "When did you stop beating your wife?"
The Democrats were aware they were under attack. They tried to stand up and fight, but they didn't realize that they'd already been boxed into conservative frames. Mondale epitomized this moment when, in a political debate, he tried to be wry in saying, "We're both going to raise taxes. The difference is that my opponent won't tell you. I just did." (Oh such wit.) He bought right into the conservative frame, and spoke about government programs in terms of taxes.
Doom was sealed for the Democrats when, four years later, Dukakis simply ran away. "I-I-I-I-- I am not a liberal!"He had presided over the "Massachusetts Miracle," but it didn't matter because the Democrats were losing the war of ideas, and Dukakis himself didn't even try to fight.
Now all of this may seem like ancient history for turks like Markos, who've known nothing but conservatism their entire lives. Growing up ignorant of real progressivism, he and others have lived their entire lives in an environment dominated and defined by conservative ideology, like a tree grown only as tall as the ceiling and no further, it has skewed their perspective of what's possible. To them, it makes complete sense to attack progressive values, because they have no understanding of what progressive values have been about since Teddy Roosevelt founded the National Parks system.
New school progressives are also less tolerant of ideological orthodoxy. We don't fall in line with the "acceptable" liberal position, frankly, because we're not trained to fall in line. We are more likely to be educated in an economy that values "proactiveness" and "self-initiative" and "problem solving" over blindly following the orders of our boss.
In other words, "new school progressives" don't really hold progressive views. Perhaps that explains his repeated and persistent attacks on people who don't sign up for his "anybody but the Republicans" approach to politics, toe the Democratic Party line and to hell with values.
The political landscape is different, no doubt -- the politics of old where "leaders" told us how to think and act is dead. The media landscape has changed -- the era when a few editors and producers determined our "leaders" and excluded other voices is dead.
Here, again, his ignorance shines through. Where he gets this idea that we all just thought what we were told to think, I don't know. Rush Limbaugh? It certainly bears no resemblance to the reality I knew back when I was leaving home to vote in my first election.
These are the realities. Is there conflict between the new schoolers and old schoolers? It seems so. Is it insurmountable? Definitely not. The old schoolers need to realize that the world has changed and that politics in the 00s is a much different beast than the world in which they used to live. Business as usual is simply not an option.
That's right. "Reality" today is discussed, analyzed and debated completely within the conservative ideological frame. The conservatives have won the upper hand in the war of ideas. And Kos argues that we must give up that fight, ditch progressive values, and just battle for a corner of conservative politics.
What we "old schoolers" know is that political atmospheres change, and that the war of ideas is never over. Give up? Never!
The "business as usual" Kos ascribes to us "old schoolers" is fairly limited, when he uses Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, both of whom made their names after Reagan was elected and conservatism was in full swing, as touchstones. But what about MLK, Jr? What about Cesar Chavez? What about all those brave souls who stood their ground and said, "No more!" and didn't get overexposed in media to give kids jaded views of them? What about the "business as usual" as practiced by FDR? LBJ? What about the "business as usual" such as when Carter was pushing progressive tax cuts to cut breaks for the poor and encourage alternative energy development?
What's clear is that Markos has no idea what "business as usual" was before he came of age.
And we (politically) young whippersnappers need to 1) be more respectful of the accomplishments of our political elders (something that I need to work on, obviously), and 2) realize that at the current pace of technological advancement, it won't be long before we ourselves are obsolete. That might take the edge off some of the hubris I note with some discomfort amongst some of my netroot colleagues.
Yes, talk about hubris. Pot, meet kettle.