Monday, July 24, 2006

Marginalizing Principles

I wandered over to The Smirking Chimp this morning and read Burton H. Wolfe discussing knee-jerk ‘liberals’ and fanatic ‘progressives’. Reading this sort of analysis of the left makes me crazy. It’s one thing for conservatives to continue their decades long campaign of smearing liberalism, but when liberals join in, using the same tactics and language no less, it frustrates the hell out of me. While I recognize that the point Wolfe is trying to make is a valid one, I hate to see liberals focus on such a small problem when there are so many big ones left unsoved. Democrats should be trying to figure out how to bring liberals into the fold, not how to discredit us further. Excising liberals from the Party has proven to be a big mistake, I mean really, the DLC experiment has failed as completely as the Bush agenda. Perhaps it’s time to listen to the liberal point of view rather than trying to marginalize it the way the Republicans have for so long.

Yes, in order to build a strong Democratic Party and to successfully push a liberal/progressive agenda, it is necessary to focus on the long-term goals we share rather than on the single issues we each hold dear. The Republican Party has had great success because they have been able to get unified support from constituencies that have little in common with one another. But, just because liberals aren’t as compliant as conservatives, doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to compromise.

The Republican Party has done a great job in linking together its very different constituencies and enforcing lockstep support for their agenda by all of their separate groups. The religious right supports the financial agenda of the corporatists and the corporatists support the regressive social policies of the religious right. Bigotry and fear of “otherness” is not good for corporate America, but they support the pet issues of the religious right anyway. Creating more poverty through economic policies that favor corporations over people doesn’t square with Christian teachings, but the religious right supports them anyway. This may prove the Republican Party politically astute, but it does nothing to create a more perfect union. In fact it is tearing us apart and driving our country into the ground.

Social and economic justice for all is at the core of liberalism and discussion, debate and a thriving marketplace of ideas is how we decide the best way to create that justice. This makes it far more difficult to institute lockstep support for anything. Sure, we should make more of an effort to focus on our common goals and we should be willing to put our pet issues aside, but asking us to support policies that solve one problem while doing harm somewhere else, is not compromise, it’s silly. That doesn’t make us “knee-jerk” liberals, it just means we understand the connectivity of life, that what we do in one area will create ripples that affect everything else.

Compromise is good, but liberals should not be expected to compromise right out of the gate. There is a process for reaching consensus and there is a time for compromise in order to do the most good for the most people. Liberals understand this, we’re just tired of being expected to compromise before the appropriate time. We get to come to the table like everyone else, present our case and attempt to persuade people to our side. Our ideas are not “outside the mainstream” as the conservative noise machine has claimed for all these years and by picking up on their meme, Democrats do a greater disservice to the Party than liberals ever could.

Instead of calling us “knee-jerk” liberals, why not ask where the need to instantaneously react to policy affronts comes from? Could it be that liberals have been on the defensive for decades, fighting off attacks that we are myopic, rigid America haters? And how about questioning why we don’t hear the term “knee-jerk” conservative bandied about all the time? It’s certainly more wide spread and does far more damage to the political conversation, not to mention the country and the world.

Of course there are fanatics of every stripe, but I would venture to guess that there are far fewer liberal fanatics than just about any other group. Liberalism is a way of looking at the world that colors our opinions on a myriad of issues. We want justice, we want freedom, we want progress and while we understand that compromise is necessary for good governance, we also know that compromise is a two way street. We are willing to debate the methods of implementing policies that will further the larger goals, but don’t ask us to abandon the fundamentals. Justice, freedom and progress are imperatives. We can negotiate (through compromise) how best to achieve those things, but that they are necessary is not up for debate. That doesn’t make us rigid or fanatical, it makes us principled. Last time I checked, that was a good thing.

9 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

When liberal’s start smearing liberalism, or making ridiculous straw-man statements about the left I start to wonder if they are really members of our community. Why would I want someone who makes these kind of statements as part of my community?

12:55 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I've always liked Will Rogers' line:
"I don't belong to an organized party, I'm a democrat."

Of course all anti-establishment parties are quarrelsome. Even the Founding Fathers had trouble agreeing on anything --it's a myth that the Continental Congress was united on common goals.

What I find amazing is that anyone accepts that Burton H. Wolfe is a liberal and progressive. He is not. He's a crank, a crackpot, and a loudmouth.

Wolfe is a priest in the Church of Satan, a self-described "old fart living on social security", and a vexatious litigant. In other words, he's the kind of liberal Ann Coulter can't get enough of.

The common goals Wolfe lists are all wonderfully progressive and liberal. But I don't see them as less contentious than the so-called "myopic views" that lead to "bilious invective". Indeed, Wolfe has made a career out of "bilious invective".

I'd say the enemy of liberalism in America is the nation's anti-intellectual bias, the complete disinterest in public discourse, and the ability of advertising dollars to "buy" the Free Press. (Maybe it's the Puritan in me, but I don't think advertising and self-promotion should be deductible as a business expense.)

Blogs are helping to unite the Left by actually providing ideas and thoughtful discussion. The Daily Kos, In The Pink Texas, and (Liberal) Girl Next Door provide the salons where the next progressive revolution will be born.

4:38 PM  
Blogger thehim said...

David,
That's well said. I don't see too much myopia on the left these days. If there's any criticism I have of the lefty blogosphere right now, it's that it often overstates the value of emotion. Anger doesn't fix things.

The right succeeded at pooling together various factions by creating an emotional (rather than rational) opposition to liberalism that could be shared by different groups. Because it was based on anger rather than reason, it needed to cater to the angriest elements (the anti-choice religious right, the anti-immigration folks) to stay strong, and therefore it marginalized itself. The left cannot afford to do the same thing. It can't just be based upon a common anger. It needs to be focused on clear goals and rational solutions.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Howard Martin said...

Name-calling is counter-productive and won't get rid of the criminals in charge of our government.

12:24 AM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

LG, you've certainly got your work cut out for you. I certainly admire your belief that the Stockholm Syndrome Party can be brought back around to representing their voters again... there's a chance you may be right, after all, and one thing that's certain is that it won't happen without people such as yourself working to make it happen.

But then you hear yet another god-awful report of of Dem Party lunacy, such as the Big Dawg himself deciding that he hasn't dragged the Dems through enough mud and is now campaigning for Joementum after HolyJoe told the Dems to fuck off if he doesn't get the nomination... I mean, WHAT THE FUCK are these people thinking!?! I'm completely serious -- what in god's name can be going through these people's heads?

But I digress -- don't want thespock to think I'm just another one of those "kneejerk angry liberals" after all. The point is that over the last 20 years I watched the party that was supposed to represent me allow or actively enable:

• the abdication of their constitutional authority in prosecuting the crimes of Iran/Contra
• NAFTA
• the Telecommunications Act
• Welfare repeal
• the Clinton impeachment circus
• the theft of the 2000 presidential election
• the craven subservience of Democrats to the Bush administration after 9-11
• the USAPATRIOT Act
• the lack of serious investigation of the failings of the Bush administration regarding 9-11
• the murder of 3,000+ innocent Afghani citizens via the Pentagon
• the abdication of Congressional Constitutional responsibilities in the build-up of the invasion of a sovereign nation
• the lack of serious investigation of the intentional deception of Congress by the Bush administration regarding said invasion
• the lack of serious investigation regarding the corruption and criminal mismanagement of said invasion and occupation
• the theft of the 2004 presidential election
• confirmation of the nomination of a demonstrably incompetent National Security Advisor as Secretary of State
• the Bankruptcy Bill
• failure to respond to the thousands of scientific policy decisions that have been altered or covered up by the Bush administration for political reasons
• failure to capitalize on the Jack Abramoff/K-Street Project corruption scandal
• failure to mount an impeachment campaign against the Bush administration for their criminal negligence in response to the the destruction of an American city
• failure to mount an impeachment campaign against the Bush administration for the intentional outing of a covert CIA operative
• failure to mount an impeachment campaign against the Bush administration for illegally spying on American citizens
• the confirmation of a strict corporatist as Chief Justice and a confirmed fascist (sorry, "unitary executive") to the Supreme Court
• providing political cover to the Bush administration's failure to uphold their oath of office to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

How the fuck does the party who has allowed this to happen represent me?

I just happened to listen today to a talk given by Thomas Frank here in Seattle's Town Hall last year. Whenever you hear anyone talking about What's the Matter with Kansas all they ever mention is his elucidation on how the right fools their base with caricatures of "latte liberals" and false campaign promises about "values" issues while completely screwing them legislatively. But as anyone who's actually read the book knows, that's only half of his thesis -- the other equally important half is that the Dems allow them to get away with this because they've abandoned the working class and working class issues by siding with the Rethugs in the class war. David Sirota, who's speaking at Town Hall this Thursday, says essentially the same thing, and the inimitable Digby discourses on it constantly.

So when I saw those poor dumb kids standing on the corner in LQA last week trying to get signatures or donations or some damn thing for the DNC, the only thing I could do was laugh at them (well, either that or punch them in the face, since I'm a "kneejerk angry liberal" and all) -- and the sad thing is, when I came out of the store they were hovering in front of and looked them in the eye, they just shut up and looked away.

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Betty Cracker said...

Great post. I think David hit the mark when he cited anti-intellectual bias as the greatest enemy of liberalism. For the most part, the electorate is ignorant and complacent.

This is a fact which was openly elucidated by the official spokeswoman of the bovine social conservatives, Peggy Noonan, in a column last week:

I note here what is to me a mystery. It is that people with lower IQs somehow tend, in our age, to have a greater apprehension of the meaning of things and the reality of life, than do our high-IQ professionals, who often seem, in areas outside their immediate field, startlingly dim. I don't know why intellectuals--or cerebralists or eggheads or IQ hegemonists--seem to miss the most obvious things, floating on untethered by common sense. If you talk to a brilliant scholar at a fine university about social policy, chances are he will say with honest perplexity that he cannot understand--really cannot understand--why people would not want men to marry men, or women women. I wish there were a name for this, for the cluelessness of the more intellectually accomplished, the simpler but truer wisdom of those who are often less lettered and less accomplished."

Can we hope to make a dent in such willful obtuseness? No, and that's why I disagree somewhat with Thehim when he says policies must be based on reason rather than emotion. I wish that were possible, but I don't think it is.

Instead, I think the answer is to base policies on rational thought but to find an emotional appeal to justify them. A handy example is the New Deal, which was based on sound economic principles and also bolstered a traumatized electorate by providing security and self-esteem.

3:53 AM  
Blogger blogolodeon said...

Wonderful essay, Girl!

8:30 AM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

Well whadya know -- it seems that the Big Dawg & HolyJoe have adopted yet another Rethuglican strategy...

12:16 PM  
Blogger G. Wilson said...

You also alluded to a larger, but more buried, part of the problem in your essay, LG, where the conservatives are pointing fingers at all liberals (in very nasty discourse), but scream foul any time there is an argument against it by liberals in the media. My favorite example is Bush, on many occasions, in a thinly-veiled manner, calling reporters (or media pundits) unAmerican when they criticize the war in Iraq in order to refocus attention on the criticizers instead of the now debunked reasons for America's involvement.
I've read in many sources that the Republican party and its loud-mouthed goons (see Coulter, Ann and Limbaugh, Rush) are a constantly-spewing hate-and-spin machine, preying on American's rather soft-headedness (be they intellectual or not) because, by controlling the discussion and shutting-up liberal pundits, the Bush Administration and neo-conservatives in general can make the authoritarians in this country continue to fall in line. Great discussion and very scary.

1:19 PM  

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