Monday, November 24, 2008

Disappointed by Obama? Progressives and Liberals

Glenn Greenwald wrote an excellent piece, illustrating the absurdity of those progressives who are already upset at the thought of a troglodyte for capital liquidity like Lawrence Summers setting economic policy. Of course, we should not be surprised. Obama ran as a centrist, notwithstanding the fulminations about socialism that conservatives use for rhetoric when campaigning against anyone to the left of Attila the Hun. I am not going to waste anymore of my time expressing my disappointments over Barack Obama. I did that during the primaries and voted for him knowing that he would only be a marginal improvement over his Republican opponent. Any progressive (after the last three decades) who votes Democratic not expecting to be lied to and betrayed is either deluded or sincerely foolish.

What we should be concentrated on is what the "new" New Deal of Barack Obama will look like. This is something that President-elect Obama did not specify too much on the campaign trail (choosing instead to use the last eight years as the contrast to attract votes). At this moment, it appears the stimulus package that will be submitted this next year shall include the following:

1. Increased spending on infrastructure improvements, our roads, bridges (which will second as a form of jobs creation).

2. Increased spending on education, technology, and "improving our failed schools" (i.e., more funding for public schools in disadvantaged or low performing areas).

3. Increased spending to quicken technology advancements for alternative energy sources (solar, wind power, etc.), and increasing the fuel efficiency of cars (presumably this will be a part of any bailout of the Big Three automobile companies).

On the face of it, these all seem like great ideas. Actually, they are much needed and should have been priorities years ago, as opposed to national standardized testing designed to de-fund schools in poorer districts, waiting for our bridges to collapse and kill people before pretending to care about our crumbling roads and bridges, and trade policies that have accelerated the de-manufacturization of our economy.

Still, the impacts these policies will have on the economy remain minimal. The jobs component of this legislation is notoriously seasonal and short-term (construction for our infrastructure improvements). Likewise, education is something that takes time to really parlay its impact on the larger polity. And manufacturing is not going to recover by creating a niche market for electric cars (especially when those same companies have already outsourced most of their operations). I guess this is all we have to constitute hope these days.

Progressive vs. Liberal

It has come to pass that those of us who feed off the spleen of unborn fetuses should return to calling ourselves liberals. I am not sure why I should call myself a liberal, although most people would say I am. Much of this is because the word has become a slur against people who are progressive (in the same way conservatives red-baited folk back in the '50s by accusing them of being Communists and socialists [which they are still doing to this day]). Be that as it may, I always thought of myself as a progressive more than a liberal. Why? Because liberals historically have been an appendage of the Democratic Party, at least since the latter part of the Progressive Era. Progressives, on the other hand, while having similar values, are historically linked with movements (labor, civil rights, women's rights, etc.), independent of the Democratic Party. Indeed, we became so upset at the rightward shift of the two parties that we formed our own progressive parties (in the early to middle part of the 20th
century), and ran our own candidates for those offices (Teddy Roosevelt for President in 1912, Robert LaFollette in 1912 and 1924, Henry Wallace for President in 1948, et al.).

In fact, progressives were to the left before liberals were. In the 19th century, American liberals like Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland may have held similar views on some issues, particularly civil liberties, but they were most certainly not progressives when it came to labor unions or much of anything else of concern to modern liberalism, which became a derivative of the late 19th, early 20th century progressive social movements. Calling one's self a progressive is closer to the values of those movements than insisting on saying that you are a liberal. This is not to say that I care if someone prefers to be called liberal, but I call myself a progressive because I care more about those movements than the fate of any party (even though I am a Democrat), and because labeling is not as important to me as the values that they represent.


So, if one wants to call me a liberal Democrat, fine, but when push comes to shove I am not going to support anyone who is just a Democrat or claims to be a liberal. Lyndon Johnson was a liberal Democrat. I never would have supported him after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Bill Clinton was a Democrat. After NAFTA and GATT, and refusing to lobby in support of a striker replacement bill whose passage he campaigned for back in 1992, I would not vote the man for dog catcher. My priorities and sympathies are with the social movements that agitate for the change in the system and society at large. This is what makes us different from conservatives. If we are not mass-based, we have no rationale to exist. Participatory democracy (be women, freed slaves, or segregated blacks voting, workers having more say through unions, etc.) is what we are (or should be) all about. Outside of religion, the right has no ties to mass politics (and they are slowly losing their religious base with the decrease in church attendance). Because of this, I call myself a progressive first.

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