Tag: Progressivism

More Fragmentation in the Progressive Ranks

I’ve written recently here about my hope that the Progressive movement in the U.S. would begin to coalesce around a single leader or small group of leaders to unite behind the important causes of a day when a right-wing demagogue of the first rank has just been handed the nuclear codes.

Now along comes yet another Progressive claiming to be the uniter who can bring all the Progressives together under one umbrella. This time its Cenk Uygur, the Internet TV commentator who is quite popular among the same constituencies who found their Presidential candidate of choice in the person of one Bernie Sanders.

Uygur has announced that he is stepping forward to head up an organization he calls Justice Democrats. Uygur, host of the Young Turks show, said the new group plans to launch primary attacks against Democrats who have abandoned Progressive causes and stances. He cited specifically, by way of example, Sen. Corey Booker of NJ.

So add one more splinter to the rapidly disintegrating Progressive movement in the  United States. And we’ll wonder in 2018 and 2020 why we don’t make the gains we expect. It will be because we are not like the Republicans, united as a solid front. If the Tea Party movement didn’t teach us anything, it should have taught us that.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to see this resurgence of interest in Progressive causes. I just wish it could be integrated and focused so that it could leverage resources instead of competing for them.

 

Sustaining the Bernie Revolution

Those of us who began the 2016 Presidential campaign as supporters of long-shot Bernie Sanders have now come face-to-face with the reality that he will not be the Democratic Party nominee for the White House. He and his followers will undoubtedly be conducting extensive postmortem analysis of the campaign and the mechanisms of the nominating process for many months to come.

But I want us to move beyond those moribund discussions and consider how we may help keep the revolutionary spirit Bernie engendered in so many millions of our fellow citizens alive, productive, and influential. Beyond the question of who we choose to support in November, the movement itself is too powerful and important to allow it to dissipate as has happened so often in the past with progressive causes.

move_to_amendI want to commend to your attention a movement of which you are probably aware called Move to Amend. This organization is dedicated to the sole purpose of overturning the worst Supreme Court decision perhaps of all time: Citizens United. By a number of different mechanisms and means, this rapidly growing group is attempting to establish the principle that corporations are not people, that they do not have “human” rights. That they are not entitled to unfettered free speech in the form of political contributions.

I’ve been a member of Move to Amend for quite some time, but I’ve decided to step up my visible involvement as a result of the now-concluding Presidential primary season.

At a minimum, I would request that you go to their website and sign the petition there. While you’re on the site, consider the possibility that you might be able to entice other friends or even gather petition signatures from strangers, in an effort to boost this cause.

If you feel so inclined, I’m sure they would appreciate you volunteering, donating, or otherwise promoting the cause.

Thanks for listening. Let’s keep Bernie’s great revolutionary work alive well beyond the upcoming election!

Regards,

Dan

Politics by Principle, Not Polemic

There is a lot of emphasis these days on the idea of getting the money out of politics. I consider that an all-but-impossible dream. It’s like saying, “We have to get the politics out of politics.” We may be able to dampen the influence of some kinds of moneyed interests in the governance of our nation but we are too far down the road of money as speech now to turn completely back.

Frankly, I’m at least as concerned — if not moreso — by the escalating influence of raw, unreasoned, knee-jerk reactions and polemic speech as I am with the influence of money. I suspect — with admittedly no raw data to support my position — that it is the constant screeds from both ends of the political spectrum that turn more people off to the value of political participation.

All of us who really care about politics and governance have allowed ourselves to become emotionally engaged in the debates, in the analysis, in the predictions and in our own commentaries, public and private. The result is the nearly complete disappearance of Reason with a capital “R” from the political scene.

Progressives can’t find a single Republican they can stomach as a viable White House candidate. Conservatives think the sitting President is an illegitimate interloper and a Communist to boot, and they find all of the current crop of Presidential hopefuls to be ignorant, anti-American socialists or worse.

Meanwhile, all we actually produce is heat. There is very little light being cast on the American political scene these days.

It seems to me — and I’ve said this in different ways many times over the years here and elsewhere — that the problem is that politics ought to be about philosophies of governance and moral priorities. Those with whom we disagree need not be found to be universally unlikable and outright enemies. In other words, we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. To that end, it might help if we had a rational basis for discussing our points of disagreement; even if we can’t resolve them in some mutually agreeable and acceptable fashion, we may well be able to lower our collective blood pressure and turn down the volume a bit to enable serious discourse.

Conservatives say that their strongest guidance comes from the Constitution, to which they owe loyalty above all else. But as a Progressive/Socialist thinker, I find the Preamble to the Constitution to be a pretty thorough-going description of the so-called Founding Fathers’ intentions.

The Preamble sets forth six overriding purposes that undergird the entire Constitution. These are the framework, the First Principles on which the rest of the document is built and according to which it should be interpreted, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

These six purposes are:

To “form a more perfect union”. Bringing greater unity, commonality of interests, solidarity of causes, and a better planned governmental system than that set forth in the Articles of Confederation which the Constitution superseded seems to be part and parcel of the plan for the document.

To “establish Justice”. In the late 18th Century, the term “justice” was widely understood to mean fairness, egalitarianism and the other other principles for which the American and French Revolutions had been fought.

To “insure domestic Tranquility”. In other words, to enable the nation and its inhabitants to live in peace and harmony.

To “provide for the common defence”. Provision was made for a military department whose primary responsibility was the protection of the nation and its people from outside attack or interference, though the text of Article I, Section 8, paragraphs 11-16 places some fairly severe restrictions on this “militia” and its scope.

To “promote the general Welfare”.  By this clause, it seems the founders meant to extoll the virtue of providing for the well-being of the citizens and residents of the nation. By the word “general,” they specifically did not limit it to the welfare of a specific class of citizen.

To “secure the blessings of Liberty”. This is the first word in the French Revolutionary sloganeering of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, which the American colonists had also adopted and adapted. Liberte implied freedom from oppression by a ruling class but also probably carried the connotation of freedom from oppressive government as well.

Whatever else might be said of these six purpose statements for the founding of our representative democracy, one thing seems clear: the provision of at least several of these promises would require the presence of a central Federal government capable of raising taxes and making spending decisions based on these priorities.

Establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare all seem to me to define legitimate functions of government as envisioned by our founders. To the extent that conservatives oppose government broadly or refuse to support specific programs designed to have these effects, they act counter to conservative philosophy and to the intent of the Constitution. To the extent that progressives are seen as willing to trade liberty for any of the other provisions of the Preamble or to prioritize any one of them over the others, they act counter to progressive thinking and to the intent of the Constitution.

The Founders had had the experience of the Articles of Confederation which provided for a terribly weak, decentralized form of government that really consisted of a very loose association of states, who retained all power to govern. The Constitution must be seen in large part at least as a counter to that experience, which clearly did not work well. The fact that the Constitution is framed as a set of carve-outs from those Articles is also not a coincidence, however. The founders were as leery of a too-powerful central government as they were of a too-weak one. So all of the powers that are not specifically allocated to the central, or Federal, government are reserved to the states and/or the people by the 10th Amendment.

Most of the arguments about the Constitutionality of a given law or executive action take place on this front. Strict constructionists take the position that any power not very specifically reserved to the Federal government should be left to the states. Progressives claim that the founders could not possibly have foreseen many of the changes in our society and in our culture and in our politics over the decades and centuries and that we should read the Constitution as preferring a single, national solution to problems that don’t clearly fall solely within the boundaries of a state.

There will never be an end to the debate and there shouldn’t be. But there needn’t be rancorous screeds bombastically exploding forth from proponents of either of these extreme positions. Perhaps what’s needed rather than a Constitutional Convention (which is being increasingly talked about as a solution) is a meeting of the minds on the First Principles of American Governance as set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution. Maybe then we could find ourselves once again in a position to govern this nation and move its agenda forward as we accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number consistent with these principles.

Me, Too, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Warren, American progressives’ loudest, clearest and sanest voice on the national political scene, says she wants to see what Hillary Clinton wants to do before she decides whether she’s progressive or not.

Me, too, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

In response to a question by MSNBC “newsman” Al Sharpton about what Warren would say to those who question HRC’s progressive bona fides, the Massachusetts Senator said, in essence, “I question that as well.” Warren, despite national movements afoot to draft her into accepting the Democratic Party nomination in 2016, has insisted that she will not be a candidate and has said frequently that she hopes Clinton makes a run.

But if there’s a single real progressive in this country who believes for a nanosecond that Hillary is going to adopt any truly liberal positions on important social issues, they must be deaf and blind. She and her husband are both center-right Corporatist Democrats, or what I call Republicrats. She is definitely to the right of President Barack Obama, who is clearly not a progressive in most senses of the word.

I’m somewhat less enamored of a Warren candidacy than many of my lefty friends. For one thing, she’s a bit raw and inexperienced for my tastes; the party got excited about Obama as president but his political naiveté and inexperience have been extremely costly to the nation and to the party. For another, I’m not sure a well-placed Senator doesn’t have more influence over the long haul than a President and I think she might be smart enough to get that.

But in any case, I don’t think she’ll run and barring a run, she doesn’t have a chance in Hades of getting the nomination as a “dark horse” drafted nominee. Hillary will have the convention locked up along time before the party gathers. So as a practical political matter, I don’t see a Warren candidacy and as a practical reality, I’m not sure she’s ready.

But we surely need some pressure from the left on the party and on Hillary if we have any chance of seeing a progressive agenda — even a small portion of it — become law. Warren could, if she chose, supply that pressure but only at the cost of party ostracism which would blunt her effectiveness as a Senator. That’s probably too high a price to pay for too little reward.

 

Could Elizabeth Warren Be the Beneficiary of the New Realpolitik?

warren-for-president-signAfter I wrote yesterday about what I see as the near-term political landscape, conservative new York Times columnist David Brooks penned an op-ed in which he tossed in one of the wild cards I alluded to in my prognostication. In a piece entitled, “Warren Can Win,” he posited that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a populist of the first rank who is also a firebrand and a fighter for what she believes in, could win the Democratic Party’s nomination for President next year.

He concluded his essay with this paragraph:

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

The “emotion” defined by Warren is, as Brooks says, an “emotional register of the Democratic Party [that] is growing more combative. There’s an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat.” I can attest to that sense of frustration, though I’d up the fire a bit and call it disappointment bordering on outright anger. And the view Warren defines? Pure populism with a healthy dose of anti-big-finance born from her childhood roots and honed on the battlefields of regulatory necessity.

If Warren can wrest the nomination from the presumptive candidate, Hillary Clinton (who has little fight and no legitimate claim to populism), then she alters the political equation fundamentally. By not being a “Republican Lite” Democratic candidate, Warren might ignite large numbers of previously inactive folks along with those who are fed up with Obama’s lack of progressivism and pull off a win in the General. In that event, the overall situation could look much different than I predicted yesterday. By forcing the Democrats back to their roots and creating a strong opposition to the Republicans’ obstructionism, she could shift the debate and the power struggle back toward the people in ways no other candidate I can see on the scene right now could.

 

Run, Bernie, Run

Looking back over my nearly 70 years on the planet and my more than 50 years of active political engagement, I can see that one word that could neatly sum up my experiences might be “Quixotic.” I run around tilting and windmills and I have a few stashed in case I run out of obvious ones.

My wife agrees. And she’s known me longer than anyone else.

That label is true in most areas of my life, but nowhere is it more accurate than when it comes to politics. Just by way of example, I was a life-long Democrat until this year when I switched to being a Green, which is the most progressive party I can find. I’m still a progressive and I always have been.

Except in 1964. That year, I was living in Chicago where the Dick Daley Democratic Machine owned everything. I was in my element at last. So naturally I joined the Goldwater campaign. I said at the time that I did so because I admired that he was a man of principle even though I didn’t agree with a single principle he espoused.

This is all by way of explaining why, if as anticipated Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described Socialist independent from Vermont, tosses his hat into the Democratic Party run for the White House, I will be a solid supporter. Unless, that is, Elizabeth Warren changes her mind and decides to take a shot. In that case, I’m going to have a dilemma on my hands. But just because of his sheer courage in adopting the Socialist mantle, I might tip to Sanders until and unless he is forced by the Establishment to drop out.

The differences for me between the Green and Socialist parties are quite small but there were a couple of planks in the Socialist platform I felt uneasy about. Plus my belief that global climate change is the defining issue of our time internationally matches up more closely with the Greens in their passion. But it would be a close call if Sanders and Warren both offer themselves as candidates.

This article points out why a Sanders candidacy could ultimately be good for the Democratic Party but I don’t honestly care about that or its impact on the “presumptive” nominee, Hillary Clinton, for whom I have no love at all. For me, a leftist candidate might actually have a chance of winning this year if s/he can get the nomination because the GOP has nobody of any stature ready to run. (Seriously; the latest talk is about giving Romney another shot!)

I hope Sanders decides to run.

Jim Webb is a Non-Starter for Me

The first Democrat to officially enter the 2016 sweepstakes is former West Virginia Senator Jim Webb. He’s a right-of-center Reagan Democrat who served as the Gipper’s Secretary of the Navy, an angry ex-Marine who is absolutely bellicose on foreign relations and a complete non-starter for me.

While he voted with the party when he was in the Senate, his comments since then — and some of the material in his warlike novels — have turned me off completely.

The Democrats can’t affect the national policy agenda by trying to out-conservative the Republicans. The Democratic agenda needs to push farther left on the issues on which most Americans agree with that agenda, not dragged to the right. The GOP has been moving the national conversation to the right for decades. Time to push back.

 

Elizabeth Warren: America’s One Best Hope in 2016?

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

It is at one and the same time my fervent hope that Elizabeth Warren agrees to take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s 2016 nomination and my unshaken expectation that if she does she will lose badly.

She sounds to me like a woman who desperately wants to run, not because of personal ambition (though I hope she has a lot of that) but because she seems genuinely to care about what happens to the average American citizen.

In this piece in the Washington Post today, she sure takes on the aura of someone who has a strong view of what the national agenda ought to be as she takes on both Democrats and Republicans in Washington who are making loud noises about making government work again without asking the deeper, more important question, “Work for whom?”

This is, as she points out, a time when “action at any price” could become the new doctrine of appeasement once masquerading as “peace at any price.” We know how that one worked out.

My favorite pull quote from her latest op-ed:

Before leaders in Congress and the president get caught up in proving they can pass some new laws, everyone should take a skeptical look at whom those new laws will serve.

In my ideal scenario, Warren takes on HRC, moves the Democratic Party agenda to the left and then announces she’ll run at the head of the Green Party (or, for all I care, her own Progressive Party). She would thereby earn my undying respect and unflagging support. Only a rapid and radical shift to a progressive agenda can save us. Even the rich and the greedy — lined up, licking their chops at the prospect of compromise meaning more lining for their pockets — should awaken to the fact that the destruction of the middle class ultimately means their own economic death.

Run, Elizabeth, Run!

 

Press Keeps Talking About Phantom Left Shift Among Dems. I Wish

This morning while reading yet another piece on Hillary Clinton and how she might govern if she got to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., I ran across another one of those mysterious comments that I find sprinkled all over the largely conservative media. Andrew Ross Sorkin said in the piece that, “[the] Democratic Party, in the wake of the financial crisis, appears to have shifted leftward since Mr. Clinton left office.”

Say what? Where? Where?!

I think the Democratic Party has shifted right. It’s just that the national landscape has been titled even farther to the right by the combination of dark money, GOP gerrymandering, and the Democrats’ inability to articulate a position that is anywhere near the left space occupied by many if not most self-identified Democrats in the nation.

This is a theme I read over and over again. Yet it is impossible for these common taters (spuds with no cred) to point to a single significant policy shift to the left in the past 20 years. Repeatedly faced with the opportunity to shift the agenda and the policy to the Left, Clinton and Obama both resisted, choosing instead to “compromise” positions not yet taken in favor of keeping the Democrats Lite in charge. The current situation is no different.

So let’s stop talking about the media bias to the left, can we? It’s non-existent except in the wishful thinking of commentators who have long since abandoned their own progressivism.

 

 

The Progressive Vacuum in American Politics

Michael Lind, writing on Salon.com today, offers this concluding observation to a piece attempting to analyze why the Democrats can’t seem to win in local and Congressional elections despite clear voter support for progressive policies:

The white working class has not rejected the party of pro-working-class economic progressivism, because in today’s America no such party exists. They can’t turn down a new New Deal that nobody offers them.

Green Party USA Logo

Green Party USA Logo

socialist_party_logoHe’s right if we focus only on the two major parties. But both the Green Party and the Socialist Party USA espouse the progressive principles about which Lind writes so clearly. Many if not most of these policies draw more than 50% support in polls when they are posted as policies independent of the party proposing them or the President’s name. And yet the policies are never even seriously proposed by Washington politicians of either stripe.

I’ve been around long enough to understand the potential problems associated with a third-party movement. But I’ve also been around long enough to see that we are not going to achieve the systemic change that is needed to right the American ship of state and back it off from the brink of a corporate state collapse within the framework of the present two-party system, which is built on a crumbling and unsustainable capitalist foundation. Real, systemic change can only come now via  radical dismissal of all Powers That Be.

This won’t be a short-term solution. It will probably take more years than I have left on Planet Earth. But if we don’t start soon, it may become impossible.