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Sunday, December 05, 2004

The more things change, the more some can't or won't ...  

Via Armed Liberal at Winds of Change, a series of short essays at The Nation on the future path of the Democratic party, ranging from the spot on to the smugly delusional.

First, Michael Lind:
In an era in which most US population growth is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast. At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism. In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at "sprawl." In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs. In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing. In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt. At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech. In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming. In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels. And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.

American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can't adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.
Yet on the very same page, this from Richard Rorty (which Marc Cooper inexplicably deems "thoughtful"):
The sort of people who make up Bush's base cannot be won over by insisting that Christianity mandates concern for the poor, and that Bush has shown none. For most fundamentalist evangelicals think that poverty is a punishment either for insufficient gumption or for failure to establish the sort of personal relationship to Jesus that insures worldly success. So it would be a mistake for Democrats to start sounding more pious. They cannot give up on abortion rights and gay rights without alienating many blue voters, but if they do not do so they cannot hope to win over any red ones. Once again, Democratic candidates are boxed in.

As far as I can see, the only recourse Democrats have is to reverse the drift toward the center that began after McGovern's defeat in 1972, and once again put themselves forward as the Party of the Poor. This may not work, but it is the only card they have left to play. They should beat the drum about the widening gap between haves and have-nots, about the humiliation and misery of families without health insurance, about the scandal of disappearing pensions and about outrageous corporate tax dodges, about fabulously overpaid corporate executives, about Halliburton and Enron. If they adopt this strategy, at least they will be positioned to take advantage of any future economic downturn, and can hope for something like a reprise of the 1932 election. If they instead edge still further to the right, the Republicans will simply shift the goal posts by doing the same.
You know you’re deep in the alternate-reality-based community when you see dismissive phrases like The sort of people who make up Bush's base. Additional clues, if needed, are the presumption that concern for the poor can only be manifested through (strictly secular) government programs; the inability to distinguish the predictable negative consequences of life choices from punishment; the credulous caricature of evangelical beliefs about worldly success; or the inadvertent admission that Democrats would only sound pious.
Most telling, though, is the description of the party's post-McGovern trajectory as a drift toward the center rather than backing away from the edge. As I have posted before, to hope for ... a reprise of the 1932 election is essentially to hope for a reprise of 1929; to be objectively pro-poverty. (Not quite the sense that Rorty intends his recommendation, I suspect.) The Democrats are in a box, and he can't think outside it, but this passes beyond unimaginative irresponsibility and approaches evil.

The only card ... left to play will remain a loser (absent social and economic collapse) as long as Democrats fail to recognize that the familiar mid-(last)century Fordist game has fundamentally changed. Somebody should tell Thomas Frank and company they're not in Kansas any more. Beat the drum, and march smartly back toward the long-avoided cliff. (Is the appropriate image here piper-led lemmings, or Gaderene swine? Discuss.) Maybe a responsible opposition party can emerge then.

Faster, please.

posted by Kelly | 6:57 PM link