My mission (self-appointed)

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.


My mission (self-appointed) — 5 Comments

  1. “Western Europe is way ahead of the U.S. (More on this in subsequent posts.)” This social democratic European subscriber is looking forward to mentionned subsequent posts.

  2. Back in the rack Maximum old top

    Shall we exhume 70’s social democrat hopes ?

    Or expose the bad memes in the SD memome

  3. “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.”

    I see a simple equation. Politicians, including Democrats, need two things: money and votes. With low turnout, the focus of all politicians will be chasing the money. Hence, the leaning towards Third Way/neo-liberalism for Democrats, especially once they get to Washington.

    The only way to change is (1) get as many Republicans as possible permanently out of office (which means electing Democrats regardless of their degree of evil) because with total party control there simply is no such thing today as a good Republican, no matter how decent personally and moderate politically; (2) make Democrats pay more attention to the votes and feel less need to scramble for the money.

    We do those two things by getting everyone to vote, regardless of how disillusioned and disgusted with politics and government they may be. Republicans win with disillusionment because it keeps turnout low.

    Somehow, disillusioned potential voters need to feel challenged not to acquiesce to Republican strategy and tactics to keep them away from the polls. They need to be shown how staying away from voting (or voting for third parties right now) insures that the billionaires control government. They also need to be shown that, in fact, Democrats do many different things that are better for ordinary Americans compared to what Republicans do. They also need to be shown that if progressive forces are responsible for achieving Democratic majorities, the people they elect will be more likely to listen to them and not just to the Third Way-ers.

    Traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, certainly necessary, will not do the job of achieving the quantum leap in turnout that can change the direction of the country. All of the progressive Democratic organizations should be combining on massive advertising and promotional campaign simply to get everyone to vote based on the above principles: if you don’t vote, you are guaranteeing that every politician will listen to the money. You and your friends do have the power to change things. Yes, that means a goal of 100%. Setting a more pragmatic goal like, say, 42% for a mid-term will not have the passion necessary to really make a massive change.

    It is understandable why the Democratic establishment has no interest in raising the likelihood of a more populist direction. But why aren’t the organizations who call themselves “progressive” doing it? Does their silence on what should be an obvious need mean they really are just a wing of the Democratic establishment serving the PR purpose of keeping the Democratic base satisfied?

  4. I would add that we must be grown-ups about this. Of course, the politicians, even the ones we consider the good guys, will always listen to the people with money. The realistic possibility is to change the equation that the politicians need to win. Very high turnout will do that.

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