A lot of things need doing. We all direct our efforts where we feel they are best employed, whether out of self-interest or for idealistic reasons. My interest, besides entertaining myself, is in attempting to motivate basic principles that I think should animate progressive thought and action. This turns out not to be all that difficult, since the breach between the way people think and some obvious, valid progressive principles is vast.
By progressive I mean social-democratic in the European sense, not what is commonly understood in the U.S. as “liberal.” Social-democracy, European style, is the most plausible option for forward evolution of the American system. To be sure, social-democracy in Europe leaves much to be desired, not least because it currently submits to the economic strangulation of central bankers. Even setting that aside, the social situation is far from perfect. One has only to look at the banlieues of Paris, the youth riots in the United Kingdom, the rise of xenophobia across the continent. Nevertheless, in terms of basic indicators of social well-being, Western Europe is way ahead of the U.S. (More on this in subsequent posts.)
How to get there? I’d say first we have to cast off the chains of liberal American exceptionalist clichés. When a Democrat occupies the White House, the weight of these chains is over-powering, crushing the thought of any dispassionate, objective criticism of whatever treacle issues from the Oval Office. Because there’s always Something Worse over the horizon. And there is. It’s really true. Mitt Romney/John McCain/God-knows-who would all be appreciably worse, perhaps irreversibly so. But as Freddie DeBoer eloquently points out, the lesser evil is still evil. The point is not to withhold support from Democrats in close elections. It is to see the difference between what we’re getting and what is possible.
There’s a place for cheer-leading, but here is not it. This is likely to be a low-traffic site. We won’t be a decisive factor in any elections. So ruthless criticism of Democrats here will be costless, and hopefully enlightening.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The most recent jobs report caps a five month run of strong employment growth. Does this mean Obama is doing a good job? That the government has dealt adequately with the recession? No on both counts, as the previous post begins to make clear. We will parse out the distribution of blame between the White House and Congress in days to come.
Now I understand the political imperative of propping up Democrats. Because there’s always Something Worse. I understand the political relevance of happy talk about the jobs numbers. How persuasive that talk can be is a good question, seeing as how the economy still stinks. The bad faith of those on the right who have discovered arcane measures of labor market slack (the “real unemployment rate”) is manifest. But in a serious conversation about the economy, the huge damage that has been done and is in prospect should be understood. We need an objective look at where we’ve been, where we are, and what ought to have been done, since the problem of inadequate employment remains with us. If nobody is willing to say what we need, no politician is going to elevate such priorities, and no office-holder is going to act on those priorities.