Skip to content

A brief note on why the progressive blog movement failed

2013 October 27
by Ian Welsh

In the early 2000s progressive blogging seemed like a big deal.  At the first Yearly Kos, as it was called then, big name politicians came and kissed our ass.  We were covered by major newspaper and TV outlets.  Etc…

Today, we are nothing.

The reason is simple: we could not elect enough of our people. We could not instill sufficient fear.  We could not defeat incumbents.  We did not produce juice.  Clark and Dean didn’t win the 2004 Presidential nomination. Dean was taken out in a particularly nasty fashion (via the manufactured Dean Scream.)

The turning point was when Joe Lieberman, though defeated in a primary, managed to be elected anyway.  After the 2006 House capture by Democrats, Pelosi’s democrats betrayed the fundamental principles that the prog blogosphere stood for: they did nothing to stop the war, for example.  The Prog blogosphere took it, and worse, most of the blogs that did come out against House Democratic Vichy behaviour, lost audience.  (Yes, they did. I tracked this stuff carefully at the time.)

The nail in the coffin was the 2008 primaries.  To put it simply, Obama bypassed the blogging gatekeepers. Commenters, whether free or bought (and yes, I believe many were on the payroll) capsized DKos and other major blogs.  Obama did not need the gatekeepers, he simply bought out the movement.  The bloggers were irrelevant.  At least one major blogger acted as a conduit for Obama hits: was fed oppo, and put that oppo out there.

After 2008 everyone knew that they didn’t need prog-bloggers and that they didn’t really need to fear bloggers. (They may be annoyed by “Firebaggers”, they do not fear them.)

Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology.  They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy.  Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.

So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.

The Tea Party, say what you will about them, gets a great deal of obeisance from Republicans for one simple reason: they will primary you if they don’t like how you’ve been voting, and they’ll probably win that primary.  They are feared.  Progressives are not feared, because they do not believe enough in their ostensible principles to act on them in an effective fashion.

That is why the progressive revolution of the early 2000s failed.  If you want the next left wing push to succeed, whatever it is called, learn the lessons of the last failure.

(Note: I poured years of my life into the movement. Its failure is my failure, and I take no pleasure in it at all.)

129 Responses
  1. October 27, 2013

    Thanks for putting words to what many of us have been feeling for a while.

  2. S Brennan permalink
    October 27, 2013

    I was there throughout, you take is my EXACT perception. A very important post, which I will do my best to spread around. Thanks Ian for a creating a place where the truth is told.

  3. Gerard permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Haha…New Left fails again. 🙂

    Long live the old left. :3

  4. bystander permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Yep. Yep. And, Yep, some more. In ’08 we chose to do the blog wars. Rallied on persona, pragmatism, lesser of two evils rather than principles.

    Progressives are so afraid of losing ground that they won’t risk. They are so enamored of their “principles” they own them, voice them, promote them, adhere to them with great economy.

    I get that progressives fear further losses to those who are vulnerable. That vulnerable populations could be made more vulnerable if political strategies fail. Take, for example, the so-called health care initiative. To me that was *really* instructive; and told me volumes about the “energy” of progressives. I get that if the legislation didn’t pass, many who could be served, wouldn’t be served if it failed. Any number of better alternatives could have been made painful for Democrats to avoid, but people did not want to risk. And, efforts to promote an alternative with met with bitter, derisive assaults.

    If you’re always worried about what you could lose – if you feel you’re not in a position to withstand losses – then you don’t accept risk. You become trapped in your own inertia. Always ambivalent; stuck in the muck of what-if-s. And, thereby, agree to trade down; to accept the chipping away – the third, or fourth, or fifth best option.

    Pragmatism is no friend of principles. I’d argue that the only “principle” progressives have is their loyalty, their unquestioning fealty, to pragmatism. And, pragmatism always seems to be defined by what’s offered to them.

  5. October 27, 2013

    The reason progressive blogs don’t win elections isn’t lack of progressive purity or conviction – it’s just the small percent of voters who *read* them.

    Right-wing media has a much larger audience that includes blogs but is dominated by FOX and talk radio shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh.

    Progressive broadcasting is lame – Air America’s national talk experiment failed and left mostly small local radio talk shows, while MSNBC largely toes the Democratic Establishment line.

    Moreover, right-wing media consumers are easy to herd because they are driven by simple hatred of “others” – blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays.

    Progressive media consumers care about dozens of complex issues and insist on thinking for themselves, rather than following some blowhard. Just compare Rachel Maddow’s gentle probing style with Sean Hannity’s rabid attacks.

    Because of the right’s broadcasting power, far right Republicans *do* win most primaries. Unfortuntely for Republicans, these far right candidates – especially Senate candidates like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock – then go on to *lose* general elections they should otherwise win.

  6. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 27, 2013

    While Democratic candidates win in the Senate and then vote for right wing policies. You know, as I do, Bob, that Obama wants to cut SS and Medicare and is just negotiating with Republicans over how and whether there will be some small tax increases along with entitlement cuts.

    Republicans are willing to have fewer representatives, in exchange for representatives who are more willing to actually vote for conservative outcomes. As such the country continues to trend Conservative, with Obama actually being worse on civil liberties than Bush (don’t believe me, this is the ACLU’s stand), worse on whistleblowers, killing more civilians with drones, etc, etc…

    But at the end of the day, what you’re saying is “I have a different set of reasons why we couldn’t supply juice”.

    Primaries are often determined by very small numbers of people. We couldn’t even deliver those people in most cases.

  7. Dan Lynch permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Mostly agree with Ian.

    It was sad that even in “safe” states, progressives wouldn’t vote for Jill Stein.

    I have some sympathy for swing state voters who chose the “lesser evil,” but I cannot wrap my head around the “safe state” voters who refuse to vote 3rd party.

  8. Lars Jones permalink
    October 27, 2013

    It failed because it was driven by hatred for Bush and the bitterness left over from the 2000 election aftermath. Once Bush was gone, there was nothing to sustain the energy. Most of the bloggers had no institutional knowledge of politics. This was there new hobby rather than their lifelong passion. They were never going to stick around. So much of what remains on the left is hatred for the right — the “baggers,” they call them — that when the Tea Party phase passes, all the remaining energy will be gone.

    But this is an extremely useful acknowledgement that Stoller and dKos and firedog lake and Jerome Armstrong and Atrios and all those who were important back then (a) accomplished few of their political objectives and (b) no longer matter at all, to the extent they ever did. Dean lost. Lieberman won. But Markos has made a nice living for himself, hasn’t he?

  9. October 27, 2013

    I disagree with your notion that it’s a matter of true believers via fakes. There are, and have been, and continue to be, progressive bloggers and progressives in general who are true believers and not partisan hacks, not tools of the Democratic party. If you want to know why the Tea Party extremists became a Big Deal while the “real” (as vs. partisan hack) progressive bloggers did not, it’s easy: Follow the money. The Tea Party extremists got the money they needed to make themselves heard and to get people elected. To a certain extent partisan hacks like Kos got either money or sufficient attention to go to their heads and insure they didn’t actually embrace the progressive values they pretended to espouse. “Real” progressives got nothing — no money, no attention from the mainstream media, nothing.

    So of *course* progressives irrelevant to elections, because money is 99% of what determines the winner in today’s U.S. elections. When money determines who wins elections, and the top 1% control over half the assets of America, the top 1% are going to determine who wins elections — and they will invariably select either right wingers, or center-right “pseudo-progressives” like Kos and Obama, to be their standard-bearers because a true progressive movement would threaten their hegemony over the nation.

    This isn’t going to change until people start making informed choices about what candidate best represents their values and best interests rather than making superficial choices based on how much money a candidate has to spend on attack ads and catapulting the propaganda via campaign ads. Given that 50% of the eligible populace doesn’t even bother participating in the process to begin with, I’m not holding my breath. Until the majority of the American people are willing to be citizens of a democracy rather than sheep who vote for who they’re told to vote for by the idiot box, the 1% are going to control who wins elections — and they are *not* going to fund progressive true believers because the progressive true believers scare them. The Teabaggers, on the other hand, they think are controllable and have beliefs compatible with their prophet err Profit.

    Follow the money. Just sayin’.

  10. Matt Stoller permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Wall Street Democrats persuaded so many progressives not to believe their lying eyes.

  11. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 27, 2013

    If money was the primary determinant then mainstream Republicans would crush Tea Partiers, not the other way around.

  12. Ned Ludd permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Progressive blogs didn’t fail. People on the left were disgusted with Democratic collaboration with then-President Bush. Progressive blogs successfully funneled these people back into the Democratic Party.

    Progressives and liberals wring their hands over lousy policies like Obamacare but ultimately decide that There Is No Alternative. They criticize Democrats in-between elections, but come election year, they frighten people with scary Republican stories and demand that they vote for the Lesser Of Two Evils. They show that you can be disappointed by Democrats, yet you should still vote for them. They use liberal arguments to support policies that enrich capitalists. They model compliance for people who are aware of and critical of the faults of capitalism. That is their role and they are very good at it.

  13. Tim Fong permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Part of it is a fundamental failure of the majority post-Bush progressive blogs to develop any real criticism of the dominant political economy. In the end, all they were left with was to accept neo-liberalism (or late financial capitalism, if you like). They just feel bad about it, or want some milquetoast reforms. Moreover, there was and is a failure to understand how power works. Politics isn’t really just Sunday morning talk shows and dueling policy wonks. It’s about power and who wields it, and who is willing to break the system to get what they want. Imagine what would happen, say, if Obama had gone for the platinum coin option.

    The key thing, I think, that people should understand is that even relatively reformist-seeming things such as a jobs guarantee or minimum income, fundamentally challenge the rent-seeking entities that drive and control our politics. Which is why it would never be allowed.

    And yes, I acknowledge that you and I have somewhat different policy prescriptions.

  14. Jerome Armstrong permalink
    October 28, 2013

    I didn’t see Lieberman’s 2006 win in quite as pinnacle a light at the time, and it certainly wouldn’t have been, had we followed it up more often, and won.

    Yet I certainly peg the crux of lost movement with the rise of Obama’s campaign. It was an awful place to be in with Clinton vs Obama, in the 2008 primary. My basic impulse (after Edwards –who had the populist message– imploded) was, like many bloggers (not the masses), to go with Clinton because she at least showed signs of being accountable to the netroots movement, unlike Obama. He didn’t need the netroots for his message and candidate-movement, he had the places like Politico to push out of, and was basically an identity-politics cult for many new to politics that flooded the blogs.

    But, I view the clincher happening a bit later, with Bill Halter’s loss in the 2010 Democratic primary in Arkansas. That is when it really ended. The whole Labor-Netroots coalition, Accountability Now, the blogs went all-in big (still barely united) and MoveOn and PCCC. Over $10 million to defeat a BlueDog that gave us this crappy corporate ACA debacle. But Obama did all he could behind to the scenes to defeat Halter. Obama dissed the Lt Gov Halter by embracing Lincoln (Michelle Obama once came to Fayetteville and recognized all of the politicians on the stage — Lincoln, and even Republicans — while ignoring the Democratic Lt Gov Bill Halter standing behind her) sure. Obama mailers pushed the LR area African-American vote into Lincoln’s camp in the run-off. Lincoln was a rural democrat– a base of voters that Halter took away her. Obama being just neutral would have meant a Halter victory. But it wasn’t just the Lincoln victory, it was the way that national Democrats reacted to Halter’s message that convinced me the movement was finished. It took the attack site that we put up,, for me to see clearly what had happened.

    This (rising against the Democrats that aligned with the banks) was the defining issue if this was to be a populist progressive movement within the party in 2010. And we rolled it out with Bill’s campaign, and it struck her hard. Halter’s numbers soared among the rural Democrats, this was (taking on the banks) the top polling issue. Halter was gaining on the issue, overtook her, and then the Democratic Party backlash against him was immense (it’s when Obama got involved heavily too). Halter buckled, and made us take down the website. A symbolic cave. Lincoln won the run-off by 4 percent.

    Another flawed candidate the progressives sided with? Sure, but it really didn’t matter in the big scheme of things. When Democrats sided with the banks in 2008, and the progressive movement balked at primary challenges against those bankster-sponsored incumbents in 2010, it was all over.

    The night of Halter’s loss, I sunk into a couch at the Excelsior in Little Rock across from PCCC’s Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor. We all just slumped over speechless. So yea, contrast that with the highpoint party we had when Lamont defeated Lieberman in the ‘06 primary in Connecticut– when MoveOn’s Tom Mattzie was busting open the biggest champaign bottle I’d ever seen. This is where we arrived 4 years later. When, after having $10M to spend in a primary against a incumbent that sided with the banks and defeated the public option in the Senate, all it proved was that the sitting Democratic President was against us.

    I would agree with your general basis of criticism, that of our movement being non-ideological to a fault, but I am not convinced that is a defining feature of the reason for the failure. First, we just have to recognize that Obama (and Clinton, for that matter) are hugely compromised politicians. Flawed liars, and the most responsible for the failure of enacting a “progressive” agenda. And second, that the Democratic Party as an establishment voice can be summed up pretty much the same way. Wellstone and Feingold are gone, and no one else has stood up.

    You know, when Markos and I wrote CTG, just when we finished the draft, I had an OMG moment, saying to him–“you know, we haven’t said at all what we meant by ‘progressive’ throughout the book.” I threw in a link in the footnotes to something about it moving things forward, but really, it made me pause to wonder at my faith that they meant what we meant. So, I’ve had to accept the failure to grasp that insight. We thought it was just about using tough tactics and the rest would follow. Because we knew it was the moment for the Democrats to have a massive majority. Fuck, weren’t we naive.

    I left the Democratic party after 2010– threw away the whole Gravy Train Democratic consulting gig. Sure, I didn’t like the way that my entire world got dropped. I too put some years into it. As a sort of cleansing, last cycle I went to work helping to primary some incumbents in both parties for a rich Texan PAC, and managing libertarian Gary Johnson’s internet campaign. I felt a lot clearer and cleaner having done the partisan purge. It made me realize that libertarians and progressives have a lot more in common than do either libertarians with the Republican party or progressives with the Democratic party. I’ve also come to believe that this alliance is where the next movement is scares the shit out of the major parties, and the Government as a whole.

    Yesterday, I was out on the DC Mall with this alliance. Against the surveillance state. Syria was another moment. SOPA also, and Audit the Fed. It’s a paradigm shifter, and it’s going to happen more and more. It could turn into something even bigger.

    The alliance of progressives and libertarians (lets call it that for lack of a particular name for now) isn’t, for the most part, going to attract the purity-partisan types, the Democratic socialites like Tom Watson of Joan Walsh, or Daily Kos (though maybe Markos will get around to writing his “Libertarian Democrat” book and make a sea change there), but it’s going to happen regardless.

    The oomph of the Democratic party in the blogosphere today can be summed up with a cursory glance at posts and comments on Balloon Juice, Little Green Footballs and Booman Tribune. They bend over backwards to justify the party bailing out banks, the nation going deeper into debt with global military expansion, and spying on citizens, yet they’ll nitpick that a libertarian is willing to allow abortion to be a state issue. They are more concerned with attacking truth-tellers like Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden then they are keeping anyone accountable or demanding transparency. That’s what they are really good at– justifying why the powerful should stay so and attacking the ones who challenge power. And, if needed, providing a handy social lifestyle issue to keep the division. There’s no energy left. Nothing that inspires people that are pissed off and want change. Just finger-pointing at the other team. It’s become pointless and principle-less tribalism.

    We saw a big step with the netroots organizing last decade. It was the most exciting thing to happen within the Democratic Party in decades, but I now view it in a wider scope, without the partisan obstacle.I don’t think it’s over. It is dark. The internet is still hopeful for organizing a revolution. What I saw happen with the movement against Obama invading Syria tugged at my attention. Maybe we still could have some real transformational shifts happen, in the US and globally. I hope so. I’m counting on it to keep my sanity from making the traditional American blitz. When things get too tight, picking it all up and moving further west… to some remote pacific island. No wifi, just yoga 🙂

  15. John Hemington permalink
    October 28, 2013

    The reason progressive blogs failed is aptly demonstrated in this stream of comments. Yes, many of the progressive blogs were “bought out” by the Democratic Party/Washington Consensus Wall Street sociopaths — many because they believed that “there was no alternative”. Yet, with all of this, there are still a large number of honest and honorable bloggers, Ian among them, who have focused on reality and not on Party myths and traitors.

    The answer, it seems to me, if for progressive bloggers who have followed this path of focusing on reality rather than on Party loyalty to unite is a large umbrella organization which could self-select those who wish to follow the same path. They wouldn’t and shouldn’t need to agree on all issues as long as the primary message was legitimate and focused. Left leaning groups have historically failed for spending more time fighting among themselves than fighting faulty opposition policies and ideas.

    Those who sell out to a political party, either party, should not be permitted to participate since they are no longer capable of being even minimally objective when evaluating policies and ideological premises. Where the extremist political right has been successful is being able to focus on a message and stay on it with a great degree of unity. It is admittedly easier to do this when you are well-funded and when you can make up your facts to suit your message as you go along. But I believe that the progressive left is too fragmented to provide consistent messaging and never has been good at framing issues sufficiently simply to get through to most of the people.

    Having an effective umbrella network where people interested in what is really happening to them could go to a single source for that information would greatly diminish the inability to get essential information out there and it could be self-policing if done properly and legitimately. At this time it is extremely difficult for individuals interested in learning what is really happening to know where to look or whom to believe. The Internet is a cesspool of misinformation and few have the time or will take the effort to sort out the good stuff from the dreck.

    It’s way past time to stop complaining and organize an effective network of bloggers who are strong enough to set egos aside sufficiently to make a real difference in how things work in this world. We don’t know how much longer the powers that be will permit the Internet to be this kind of an information highway so we had better become better organized soon and utilize it while it remains available. Individual bloggers working alone will never stand a chance against the massive propaganda of the organized extreme right. And bloggers working for Party goals, whatever the Party, are never free to be honest in their commentary. To be effective the participants must be real journalists not the faux kind now working in mainstream media — this means not being aligned with any particular power center, only working on the side of truth and the people of the nation.

    This can be done and it doesn’t have to cost very much to do. But it could also result in add- ons such as annual or semi-annual gatherings so that those involved would get to know one another and directly exchange views, alignments with independent media such as The Real News Network and, in effect, take the place of the old-line mainstream media — only doing it better.

    But, if something isn’t done soon, it won’t much matter what happens because the last strands of hope will be lost and we will devolve into a two tier society of masters and slaves. No contrary voices will be permitted. The situation is dire and there is no time to waste. It’s time we quit fighting among ourselves and unite to fight those who are actually running the show.

  16. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Thanks Jerome, that was very interesting: indeed, enlightening. By ’10 I was out. 09 demoralized the heck out of me, watching people kissing up to Obama after he bailed out the banks and then did his lousy stimulus (which I panned the day it was announced) and ramped up the drones. I paid less attention to Halter/Blanche than I probably should have.

  17. John Hemington permalink
    October 28, 2013

    One more brief comment, if I may. Regarding Ian’s comment that “we failed to elect enough people.” Done properly, in my opinion, a blogger umbrella organization’s purpose should not be to elect people, but to insure that the people who do elect people to office have sufficient, accurate and important information to enable them to make an informed choice. Following the idea that them main basis for existing is to “elect people” is the pathway to hell for honest journalists and commentators. Is it why so many bloggers were sucked in as Democratic Party operatives. And, it is why much of the progressive blogging community has lost the faith and respect of the readers.

  18. tatere permalink
    October 28, 2013

    A small point about the money: it’s not that the Tea Party faction has all the money, it’s that they have enough of it. It’s important that they have people with the means and will to run in those primaries, but it’s also important that they have funders who will pay for those primary campaigns, *win or lose*. It’s a trivial amount of money for people like the Kochs, but it’s enough.

  19. October 28, 2013

    You describe precisely why I have lost all respect for those who call themselves “liberals” or “progressives” today. They put party power politics above principle. They say we should ignore what those in office are actually doing, and pay attention only to their party affiliation because, “when a Democrat does it it is moral.” These voters will gladly sacrifice principle to hold on to power.

    I disagree with Republicans, but I respect them. If their legislators do not vote in accordance with their principles they they don’t make excuses, they throw them the hell out of office. They are willing to lose an election to make their point.

  20. Dr Duh permalink
    October 28, 2013

    I would like to agree with Jerome, that progressives and libertarians can join forces to defeat Wall Street hegemony.

    I don’t see much much desire to cooperate except on single issues.
    There’s tremendous distrust on the libertarian side.
    There’s significant disdain on the progressive side.

    I think that one way to seek common ground is pledge allegiance to the Constitution and to make restoring the Jeffersonian ideal of the citizen farmer the movement’s goal. By that I don’t mean a nation of farmers, but rather a nation in which each citizen has an opportunity at independence across numerous domains, starting with controlling your own economic destiny and building outward. Framed this way, government action is much less threatening. You might win support for everything from head start to the ACA if they’re framed as the ‘foundation’ for seeking out your destiny, much in the way people expect the police to suppress crime so they can leave their house and go to work . But it would entail renouncing certain liberal pieties, like gun control and attempting to achieve greater economic equality through affirmative action or overtly redistributive policies. It would probably entail accepting restrictions on abortion in states where that is popular.

    If this broke the power of large corporate interests and impaired the US’s ability to wage war, this would probably be a net positive trade, but I’m not sure it would be palatable.

    The alternative is to wait for the demographic facts to assert themselves in a nation that becomes progressively less white and more miserable every year.

  21. October 28, 2013

    At least one major blogger acted as a conduit for Obama hits: was fed oppo, and put that oppo out there.


  22. S Brennan permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Steve J,

    Don’t know Ian’s reference, but Josh sure as hell seemed to…his take down of Hillary was line on line with the oppo I heard from somebody who was pretty far up the food chain of Obomar’s Chicago media links.

  23. Eureka Springs permalink
    October 28, 2013

    As a native Arkansan I don’t think Jerome emphasized just how awful a candidate Halter was. One needed an electron microscope to find differences between him and the Ar D party status quo. And I think Clinton backing Lincoln weighed far, far more against him than Obama.

    Also, it’s not that difficult to have a simple platform. Simple substantive, easy to hold candidates accountable with something(s) in it for an overwhelming majority.

    Single payer for all – we take care of each other for a much better price.
    Minimum wage 22.50, Or 20.00 with single payer. See, we can negotiate!
    No more aggressive wars. Which immediately allows for spending on this entire list.
    No snooping without an individual court warrant;
    No secret law, secret budgets, secret courts.
    F the banks.
    Abolish corporate personhood.
    Establish public only party thru campaign finance.
    Tax the rich.
    College or Vo Tec for all.
    Raise social security stipends to a living amount.
    Establish affordable fiber internet to every home in the land which is already on one or both – the old phone or electric grid.

    But this is not who the D party is (not one item mentioned) nor who it will be until it losses many many times… or even better is sent the way of the Whigs.

  24. October 28, 2013

    The Tea Party, say what you will about them, gets a great deal of obeisance from Republicans for one simple reason: they will primary you if they don’t like how you’ve been voting, and they’ll probably win that primary. They are feared. Progressives are not feared, because they do not believe enough in their ostensible principles to act on them in an effective fashion.

    The Tea Party has multiple other characteristics that progressives do not, and they add up to: the ability not only to “primary” internal party opponents, but to do so within the existing Republican party structure and to make use of identity politics for policy purposes. ie, they know how to unite the “guns-and-butter” issues with the “shape-of-genital” issues.

    What I see here—and I saw back then—among the don’t-vote-for-Obama/ersatz-Cassandra progressives as are rather disproportionally represented in places like this is a failure to engage with the electorate as it exists and why people vote for what they vote for. (It isn’t primarily the policy content, even for right-wing voters.) Progressives do not have the ability to create and sustain political careers. The Tea Party is the fruition of a very long process going back decades that the progressive left simply has not gone through.

  25. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Unfortunately, the greatest obstacle facing change is the meaning of words have become as fungible as the wealth that supports the political system, the connection between speaker and audience has been eroded, the point of the story of babel is being re-enacted politically. Just the comments to this point show an alarming similarity to the story of the blind trying to describe a heffalump (h/t A. A. Milne); here a couple of dozen opinions, many marvellously well put, but still not connecting with the others to produce a completed picture. No political persuasion speaks the same language, the universality of language has disappeared alongside universal education. The greatest ‘gift’ the British gave their India colony, (outside the railways) was a language that was universal on the subcontinent and throughout that empire. The division of language in the (forgive this) Duhmerikkkan empire between its constituent parts will, given sufficient time, be the heel of clay that brings down that empire; complexity requires the ability to communicate amongst itself, that is true from the cellular level to the most complex animal in the zoo, (mess with that and mess with being). Corporate organization has solved this problem through hierarchy and authoritarianism and has purloined the republic from its citizens in all but form. Corporate organization was able to succeed by first usurping the market in the form of monopolist domination of the economic processes. That corporate position is nominally impregnable and cannot be defeated through traditional means of attack, however, there remains a means to defeat this power or any power for that matter, the means is through knowledge of the experience of the species, it is why a little knowledge is so dangerous. The trick is to get to that place where one knows what they’re about and the answer becomes clear, it is that clarity that empowers command and direction of complex systems, without that clarity, whatever is assembled will not last, either of princes, kings and emperors, or of republics or democracies as well.

    The apparent choices presented are always manichean, many times of loaded outcome (who chooses evil over good?) leading to dead-end paths far from the desired destination. In present day economics, the only available solution (theory) has no alternative to itself. That alternative is there, it is just a matter of reading history or the anthropologic record beyond where history records. The ancestors were intelligent beings (from the beginning) and their experiences are thrown away at great cost. The economics of those painting on cave walls is not different in function from today’s breadwinning, although the economic superstructures would have been developed since. It is necessary to define and use economic terms precisely if they are to have utility, opinions of meaning defeat and dull the tool of language in solving economic problems, emotional opinions are a cancer destroying rational communications.

    The future lays open to infinite possibility. Knowing where one has been, where one is are fundamental to deciding where one wishes to go, how one is to get there and what the form that future will take. The future is totally plastic to what is decided here and now, excellence is not a bad place to start deciding from, culture excellence.

  26. October 28, 2013

    Oh and, the same dynamic that produced the Tea Party also props up far-right movements in other countries, including in ones with long-standing left-wing traditions. See Front National/Marine le Pen in France. The failure of the elite coupled with the effective and mostly uncontested use of identity politics by the right, in further combination with a politically fickle and inconsistent left.

  27. Celsius 233 permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Formerly T-Bear
    October 28, 2013
    Quite excellent and your intent/meaning is not fungible.
    I find the web to be increasingly obtuse, which is anathema to actual communication.
    I fear our plastic future is prone to warping and distraction by those running the game and we humans (most US citizens, since we seem to be not in control and are not up to the task of discernment/critical thinking to prepare ourselves for the real fight).
    At this juncture time is short and effective action is wanting.
    My view, at this time, is negative and not observant of hope.

  28. Matt Stoller permalink
    October 28, 2013

    I wrote this in 2008 to describe the crushing of the netroots and all non-corporate sectors of the party:

    After Lieberman won, and I remember that moment very well, it was all downhill. Clinton and Obama realized they didn’t need the netroots, and openly smacked us around with the retroactive immunity policy lie. Edwards was an obvious fake, and I don’t meant the sex stuff. It was well-known he was going around Wall Street and telling donors not to pay attention to the populist message he was delivering, that that was just for the primary. We were cooked after 2006, the big players saw us lose and they realized they didn’t need to cut deals with us. After that election cycle we began accepting the policy lies as necessary, Iraq being the first and most important one.

    You touched on a lot of the problems, I would add a few details. MSNBC emerged to provide competition for progressive blogs, as well as cherry-pick the social climbing talent from them. Most partisan fundraising, which had been a significant source of power, moved to that channel (which was at the time owned by GE, now Comcast).

    The netroots never built real alliances with anyone, not labor or corporate segments or the military or anyone else. There was some modest electoral work of convenience, but that’s it. There was no money stream that came in, and a starvation diet took its toll. And there was, as you point out, a phenomenal lack of integrity and virtually no willingness to exercise power. So there was no institution-building.

    Today people are scattered, and you see shards of possibility. But remember, that was a moment far bigger than the netroots. That was when the recount, Iraq and the financial crisis happened. It’s when the American elite turned us into Saudi America, decided global warming didn’t matter, and turned itself into an oligarchy. We failed to stop these shifts, but they were also very big shifts.

    Anyway, no one’s done a post-mortem on this, which is probably why you got some flack.

  29. Mcmike permalink
    October 28, 2013

    That is because the left seems to think this is solved by blogging.

    It is solved by putting up candidates at every level (and yes, then supporting them).

    Note the passive implication in the notion that the primary challengers just sort of appear out of thin air. No, they represent people stirred to stick their necks out and pound the pavement.

    There is still no replacement for getting off your butt.

    Ps. I am not as impressed as you by the principles of the tea party, they are often incoherent, self contradictory, and heavily identity based. But yes, they are willing to do what it takes to get their way. And yes, the koch money and craven media gelps.

    Pps. I have been voting green and tp since 2000, and have received incredible heaps of scorn and abuse from dems far more than cons.

  30. October 28, 2013

    I was a sucker for Obama the first time around, the sincerity of the progressive blogosphere sucked me in. No fault of sincere progressives, sincerity is not something it is useful to become jaded out of IMHO.

    By the time Geithner and Emmanual were installed, however, I’d lost any hope for change. When Santelli’s rant conjured overnight the Tea Party from the frothing base of the “Grotty Old Plutocrats”, I had just struck up a correspondence with Tim Cox, the right wing techno utopian who thought GOOOH could fix an electoral system that didn’t see itself as broken (everyone who does not benefit from it sees it as broken, for its winners it is almost ideal). I ended up spending a weekend ferrying around Tim, the frothing sociopath Pamella Geller and a few Libertarian keepers of the contract.

    We attended three “Tea Party” events at Holiday Inns upstate where Tim set up tables and ran seminars, the Libertarians circulated and Pamella incited bigotry otherwise not in evidence, but buried none too deep, easy to reach. At the end of the day I ended up at an Italian restaurant somewhere in Rockland County with a dozen of the organizers of these events: there were three mid thirties GOP activists who were the keepers of the cash, obviously funding all the publicity and operations from cash from “who knows were”. The cash was available for anything pushing the rabid right meme. Cut off the cash and IMO these things die out pretty quickly.

    A year or so latter I began to attend the Zucotti park encampment of OWS at lunch time as my office is near by. Whenever they marched or had a major rally I would make the time to attend: I was then, still, a free agent with control of time out of my own office. Subsequently economics has pressed me into a second full time job so I’ve not been able to see in person the organizational work I read about in the Rockaways. I expect that effort to be self sustaining unless another organized govt effort (like the multi city coordinated raid that ended the encampment phase of OWS) shuts it down to.

    All of this is a long way of saying, in my direct experience, there are tons more people who would involve themselves in a real, no compromise, progressive movement if they weren’t up their asses in hock and desperate to keep the bills paid not knowing exactly where they would sleep or how they’d eat after bankruptcy. The genius of American Neo-Liberalsim was to first spread the population thin in a physical environment requiring cash flow to cover $4 a gallon gas between them and only then begin picking their pockets systematically a nickel at a time for the last forty years.

    In this context a catastrophe seems the only path to mobilization: only when forced to face that “post bankruptcy” nightmare by fiat rather than choice does that group who would be most effective become available: these people are entrepreneurs, small business owners, corporate middle managers etc., educated and effective, natural organizers but financially drained and strained (to the extent you are honest, your work as a small bus owner is not rewarded but you remain progressive: to the extent you cheat you are rewarded handsomely and become a GOP activist). We (I speak here for all the folks I know who fit this description) want the change we voted for in 2008 but have lost the hope we can achieve it. It is entirely non-obvious what to do other than keep trying to pay the bills.

  31. jef jelten permalink
    October 28, 2013

    The movement failed for the same reason they all fail.

    Everyone has to go to work in the morning. Because after all everyone has to make a buck.

    There is no money in progressive movements.

    And if there is it will be bought out and subverted.

    You know this Ian.

  32. RayS permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Could not agree more. I have (progressively) blogged that the trouble with Liberalism is Liberals. Hedges was right on with Death of the Liberal Class – the Left sold out. And the voters who were once the beneficiaries and supporters of Progressives recognize the sellout. They may be ignorant but they’re not stupid. They accept that the 1% is out th screw them – that’s been the case for thousands of years and they know it. What they really resent is the betrayal by those who pretended to be on their side. The Liberal, Progressive, Lefist – whatever you want to call him -is just another part of the problem instead of the solution. Without grassroots support – no power, no threat, no influence.

  33. Gil Smart permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Ian, the part about progressives putting identity over policy REALLY resonates. Everyone here is aware of the Russell Brand interview/rant last week, which really touched a nerve – yet here’s Natasha Lennard at writing about how, even though what he said may have been righteous, no one should stand with him because he’s sexist.

    If that’s the way progressivism is, it’ll never achieve a damned thing, and ought to quit trying.

  34. October 28, 2013

    Interesting piece, Ian. You’re speaking here of progressive *blogs*, of course, and I don’t quite know where the overlaps are, but John Stauber’s piece nailing down the theme that ‘progressives’ are front groups for rich democrats seems extremely on topic.

    It’s hard for me to even choose a name for my political urges and bents, and I’ve pretty much blown off any hope for electoral politics being reshaped in the manner I imagine might lead to the best governance of the nation, at least pre-revolution. To me, it’s the same as believing that the NSA can be ‘reformed’ into something less odious than it is.

    Matt Stoller, I do know that you once saw it clearly about the Democrats, because one of my early diaries at My.fdl was pinging off your piece about Dems being Elites, too, which was quasi-revolutionary at the time. ;~)

    Macdonald Stainsby has written a number of articles on the big bucks funding of Big Green groups that shows us why they are so ineffective, so allied with Dems and big business; ‘Green Capitalism’, OMG! Boy, do the Indigenous of the planet know about that evil!

    Yeah, I vote Green now, sometimes socialist (after working Large and on the ground for Dems for 25 years), but imagine that a worker/radical eco/socialist party would be attractive, although the latter would need to be practical/ideology-based, given the unfortunate turn-off of the term to so many. (Not that that might not change as more middle class peeps begin to suffer from job loss, poverty, pension devalutation, etc.

    Also, I read a comment not long ago that maintained that ‘the golden days of blogging are over’, and it caused me to see that the millennials Tweet, not blog, nor perhaps even *read* blogs. So, there’s that, as well. And do they vote? Not so much, at least since Obomba let them down wholesale, and they are either in debt up to their asses with college debt, or know that gummint don’t give a fook for them.

    @ Gil Smart: Yes! What utter nonsense she spouted. Kim Petersen at Dissident Voice spoke to that. ;~)

  35. October 28, 2013

    The Avocado Declaration remains completely relevant.

    Peter Camejo wrote The Avocado Declaration in 2004. It details how a prime function of the Democratic Party is to siphon real protest into itself, where it then renders it inert. This has been going on for quite some time. After all, the Democratic Party backstabbed the Populist Party in the 1890’s.

    He wrote this from a Green Party perspective as a vice presidential candidate on the Nader ticket. However, his analysis of how the Democratic Party pretends to be the friend of social movements before attempting to co-opt or neutralize them, remains on target and cogent. Both parties are corporatist and do not serve the people. That’s his primary point.

  36. Minimax permalink
    October 28, 2013

    When Santelli’s rant conjured overnight the Tea Party from the frothing base of the “Grotty Old Plutocrats”

    Not true, it was Karl Denninger’s genuine populist outrage that started the Tea Party.

    The corporate Right promptly subverted it, it in a manner not at all different from the subversion of the Netroots. The overwhelming willingness to pretend otherwise I see in many “left” quarters does not sit well with me…

  37. Origami Isopod permalink
    October 28, 2013

    “Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology. They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy. Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.”

    As opposed to manarchists, who, being comfortably white and male, sneer at the idea that their identity is not the default and that the politics they embrace may therefore not work for everybody. Who gives a shit if women were groped and harassed at Occupy? “You bitches shut up with your petty complaints! You’re being divisive!!

  38. pkscott permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Ahem, DINO’s might be a better term for the Neo Liberals. Yeah they suck and yeah they are the lesser of two evils but considering that I’m from Texas I would very much like to have LESS EVIL. You are right about the T-Pers. They are lunatics who have outsized influence because they vote early and they vote often. I point to them every time some a-hole says their vote, my vote, your vote doesn’t count so why bother? Really? That would be why the right is working like a fucking herd of beavers to disenfranchise women, the young, and people of color. Don’t throw in the towel just yet. The Dinosaurs are dying off and the young un’s are starting to vote and here in Texas they just woke a bunch of young women up and they are pissed off. Love your blog.

  39. BeccaTheCyborg permalink
    October 28, 2013

    I dunno, it seems to me the actual problem is that straight white cis dudes treated any and all mentions of homophobia, misogyny, racism, transphobia, ableism etc. as “identity politics” and “being divisive” and ignored those very real issues instead of addressing them. Likely because doing so would take time out of their valuable use of “brown children” in other countries as symbols to enhance their own sense of progressiveness.

  40. David Kowalski permalink
    October 28, 2013

    The effect of Tea Party and other conservative attempts in primaries is somewhat overstated. More Republicans in the House were defeated in the general election than in primaries in 2012 but Republicans remain mostly oblivious to Democrats and scared od the Tea Party. One reason is that once the right gets a member of the House in its sights it does not quit. Election after election, the member can expect a hard primary until either he/she retires or is defeated. This simply doesn’t happen with Democrats.

    Second, right wing campaigns are emotional, not logical. Democratic insurgents on the other hand rarely seem to connect on an emotional level except when war is the issue (Vietnam, Iraq).

    Third, while “conservatives” are loud and proud in the label, liberals got so cowed by constant attacks on the L word that they coined another, “progressive”, to replace it. Walking on tip-toe does not favor insurgency.

    Fourth. liberal values can sometimes splinter blogs. I loved Jerome’s blog until I was chased off by the obots. And once the 2008 election was over, the presence of the left within the Democratic Party continued, as pointed out to dwindle. There was no organizational home like churches and no echo chamber.

    Thanks, Ian, for saying what needed to be said.

  41. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 28, 2013

    “I loved Jerome’s blog until I was chased off by the obots.”

    And yet, at the time, Jerome was supporting alternatively Edwards then Clinton. As I saw, the blogs were capsized.

  42. October 28, 2013

    Most of the high profile self-proclaimed “progressives” in Blogtopoia were/are “ex”-Republicans, libertarians, centrist Democrats and contrarians of all sorts.

    The only political objective they seemed able to demonstrate was a quest for power.

    If they had an ideology, they could not (or refused to) clearly express it. It certainly wasn’t anything identifiably leftist. In some cases, it was barely liberal.

    Though Progressivism has a long history in American politics, in the Blogosphere “Progressive” became an essentially meaningless term — its only common thread initially was opposition to the Bush Regime. Once the Bush Regime was out of office, (purist) “progressive” came to mean opposition to the Obama Regime. Of course, Obama supporters called themselves “progressive” too.

    Overall, the “Progressive” label was/is a marketing tool, not political. The failures of the “Progressive” blogosphere were typically denied by everyone involved, recast and rebranded as successes (ie: “See how we made Blanche Lincoln spend lots of money? That’s what it’s all about, youbetcha!”) The Lieberman disaster was rebranded the same way.

    But that’s marketing, that’s not politics. When all it leads to is Republicans and Blue Dog-type political victories, you really have to wonder just what the “Progressive” brand is all about.

  43. nevernomore permalink
    October 28, 2013

    “they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.”

    Precisely why I joined the Greens.

  44. October 28, 2013

    I have much to say on this topic as I too started my boots on the ground journey into the Roach Motel called The Democratic Party in January of 2004 when I went to Iowa and participated in my first political campaign as a volunteer for the Edwards campaign. (A previous excursion had been doing political satire in NYC in the mid 1980s. Other than that not much other than voting for the rainbow coalition of Jesse Jackson and realizing something bad happened in 2000. My answer to 2000 was to buy a lot of “progressive magazines”. Whew! Whew! How active.)
    Language is my deal and cliches, weasel words and management speak are my enemies. (Great 2005 book by Aussie Don Watson called “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weaselwords and Management Speak are Strangling Public Language”.)
    So last week an essay by economist Stephanie Kelton had in the title “Don’t Think of an Elephant” and she put in a footnote that it was from the “brilliant book” by George Lakoff. In political discussions , references to the professor of framing hooey sets my teeth on edge more than almost anything else. (I met him in 2004 at the “Take Back America” convention and that’s a whole chapter in my yet to be completed book.) When I went back to find like minded souls who also called out the professor back in 2004 -2006, I came across an essay by Marc Cooper in “The Atlantic”
    I highly recommend it as it mentions the “smugness” of the Volvo Democrats and how after their defeat in 2004, the polling indicated that the two biggest things that Dems needed to address was 1) electoral reform and 2) media reform. Bwahahahaha! No economic justice, no anti-militarism, no anti racism i.e. Dr. King’s triple evils. No bringing back Glass Steagall and ending the Fed. Nope. It had to be those darn voting machines and that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. And so the marketing aka propaganda continued. Thomas Frank admitted in some French publication that

    “Leftists of these tendencies aren’t really interested in the catastrophic decline of the American left as a social force … If anything, this decline makes sense to them: the left is people in sympathy with the downtrodden, not the downtrodden themselves. It is a charity operation.”

    As a result they searched for their own sugar daddies and found them and aligned themselves with them rather than the downtrodden themselves. Cooper said,

    As a result, “they imagined themselves the ‘metro’ party of cool billionaires engaged in some kind of cosmic combat with the square billionaires of the ‘retro’ Republican Party.”

    The great labor activist and writer, Staughton Lynd, said that you have to work among the people. You cannot work from afar or in D.C. He lived in the decaying steel towns. We cannot separate ourselves from the vast majority of working people. I am no longer young enough to do all that heavy lifting, but I do try to converse with the right libertarians in these parts. I call myself a left libertarian and talk about how the libertarian movements started in the 19th century. We disagree fundamentally about private property as the answer to the oppression of the state, but we do occupy, yes OCCUPY, some common ground as hunting is big around here and nobody really likes to ask permission of the landowner even if they say they do. My position as a rancher and hence a landowner who gives permission gives me a bit of gravitas even as I shock them when I say that I was happiest when I was renting an apartment on 85th and Columbus in New York City.

    Never liked the idea of “progressives” as they were tweakers of a corrupt system, it seemed to me. If I had been born a hundred years ago, would I have been brave enough to be a Wobblie? or a Kropotkin fan? I ask myself that often.

  45. October 28, 2013

    Karl Denninger’s original Tea Party was founded almost completely in outrage against the bailout of the banksters by the government, a cause most of us no doubt agree with.

    Unlike the Dems who have successfully co-opted and defused so much genuine protest, the Republicans thought they’d do the same with the Tea Party that came after Denniger’s, and instead found it split the party.

  46. wendy davis permalink
    October 28, 2013

    @ Bob Morris

    Yes. Quite different than the Koch astro-turfed Tea Party. (And yes, I like few of their votes otherwise), but Denniger supported OWS back in the day.

    ‘Progressive’ has been as coopted as the 99% meme, and a new vector of class unity on the biggies needs to be coined. Yves Smith recently coined ‘debtcroppers’ as opposed to ‘neo-feudal slaves’. It has a certain ring to it.

    @ Bob Morris: yes; gatekeepers for the status quo, as are so many Stainsby and Stueber detail. The funders’ purposes are essentially about the snake swallowing its own tail, imo., and never moving forward. Faux-gressivism, some call it.

  47. bystander permalink
    October 28, 2013

    @ Montanamaven


    If anything, this decline makes sense to them: the left is people in sympathy with the downtrodden, not the downtrodden themselves. It is a charity operation.

    Yes; thanks for that. As a fellow graduate student in an economics class observed; Professor X is great at talking about poor people never having spoken to a person who is poor.

    And, thanks for the link to Marc Cooper’s 2005 piece. As insightful as Marc Cooper can be (a once faithful reader of his now moribund blog) he, also, iirc, resisted any push back to Obama. I could never completely work out whether he was most disdainful of the Left, or of self-identified leftists. Still, I didn’t feel confused about how quickly he could revert to pragmatic agreements when it suited him.

    Cooper’s piece resonates for me when he writes:

    The trick of effective politics—as opposed to thinly disguised self-affirming psychotherapy and aesthetically gratifying rebel poses—is precisely to unite people with different views, values, and families around programs, candidates, and campaigns on which they can reach some consensus, however minimal.

    I was trying to recall the writer at OpenLeft who did a series on engaging folk who were not part of the so-called creative class and who ought to be the foundation for a strong Democratic base, but who otherwise went disengaged. (Maybe David Kowalski recalls him.) Premise being, until those voters were appealed to, on the issues that mattered most to them, “liberals” – or at least genuine (?) liberal Democrats were always going to be shunted aside by the party elite. Populism frightens a lot of people, and yet that clutch of populist concerns, and the people who feel them, and live with them, go ignored – save for the rhetorical one-off crumbs that are forgotten almost as soon as sound wave ebbs.

  48. b2020 permalink
    October 28, 2013

    The Tea Party has no respect for incumbency. None. If anything, they see incumbency as a point against. That might change over time – as they develop their own sediment of incumbency – but it is the starting point. The “progressive movement” wants to win without organizing and without antagonizing, but you can’t start the race at the finish line.

    If you don’t like what has happened in the past decade+, do not support/donate to/elect anybody who was in office during. I have been sick and tired of the Feingold’s, Udall’s, Wyden’s of the world for years – Senators enjoying the utmost in legal immunity, unable to match, let alone exceed what Gravel managed to do with higher stakes. Try another: If Warren does not deliver, why vote for her again? Because she asks the right questions?

    Parties are not a sports team. For a citizen who understands the founding principles of the Nation – and the motives of those that crafted them – parties are the enemy. You can show any attitude towards an elected representative except deference. Whatever their failings and their bigotries, the Tea Partiers understand that.

  49. b2020 permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Corollary: To even consider Clinton, in 2008 or 2016, shows that one has not understood anything about inbred wealth and inherited networks. Assange did.

    To consider Kerry in 2004 ….

    To consider a Daschle/Kerry/Lieberman-sponsored Obama ….

  50. October 28, 2013

    FYI everybody. Speaking of “populists”, Brian Schweitzer will start hosting on CNN today. As much as I have come to hate electoral politics, for sheer fun I am hoping for a Schweitzer/Christie populist mashup in 2016.
    @ Wendy Davis. Everybody should read the John Stauber piece that you reference. One of the best parts of Netflix’s “House of Cards” is Robin Wright’s character as the head of a “clean water non-profit” that is also used for both her and hubby’s (Kevin Spacey character) climb up the power ladder.
    @bystander. Yes, I can’t believe I quoted from an Atlantic article and Cooper but this essay was dead on. I remember engaging with several people on “Open Left” about talking to regular “folks”, but can’t recall the monikers.

  51. markfromireland permalink
    October 28, 2013


    Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology. They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy. Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.

    So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.

    In my experience they have no principles because they are utterly lacking in integrity. Any alliance with the libertarians – extreme right-wing ideologues whose principles (such as they are) consist of an unabashed paean to greed, would be further evidence of this lack of integrity.

    As to how ‘progressive’ or ‘left’ they are that’s another matter entirely. From my experience most of those who would be considered in American terms to be ‘left wing’, or ‘progressive’ are well to the right of me. Given that I’m a conservative European Catholic and am heavily involved in conservative European Catholic politics this tells you a lot about how utterly dominated by the right-wing American politics are.

    There really isn’t any sort of effective American left. The American political spectrum ranges from centre-right to extreme-right with a politically and statistically insignificant number of centre-left to left-wing outliers. A few years ago a friend of mine asked me to proof-read the text of a talk he was due to give on the topic of American political organisations. In it he compared American politics as it now is to a cigarette. The white bit of the cigarette is most of the thing it’s filled with a substance that is both addictive and toxic. Theoretically the filter – the American left, is supposed to counteract or at least mitigate the toxicity of the majority. In reality however the filter is purposefully designed by the cigarette manufacturers to far smaller than it should be to be effective. I have often regretted that I didn’t come up with that analogy myself.

  52. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Even the word *Progressive* whenever used has become the equivalent to chewing on a stick of chalk. Please stop! You don’t have the slightest idea what they are, that word comes from the same lexicon as neoliberal and neoconservative and other BS shite.

  53. Sasha in LA permalink
    October 28, 2013

    I’m sure the progressives could command terror in the Dem party if the progressives had the huge financial backing of someone like the Koch brothers, as the Tea Party does.

  54. McMike permalink
    October 28, 2013

    re left/right/center: for kicks, check this out:

    re Lakoff: I haven’t read the book, so won’t try to defend it, but I do find his contemporary essays on education pretty darned cogent. Framing is just another word for branding, which is immensely powerful, and is why politicos spend so much time and money on poll testing – because it works. Branding is not the only solution to the left’s problems of course, but even the best idea in the world won’t sell itself in this competitive marketplace of ideas, without thoughtful and deliberate marketing campaigns.

  55. October 28, 2013

    You folks are all missing the big picture. The American People took a good, hard look at the progressive bloggers and collectively decided “What a bunch of lunatics! I don’t want these people to be put in charge of a burnt out match, much less the national government.” After that our fate was sealed and we are left to piddle in our own little wading pools of pretend radicalism.

  56. October 28, 2013

    Or maybe it’s because, unlike the Teaturds, the Prog Bloggers don’t have the numbers to make a difference electorally.

    That and unlike the Teaturds, they have some grip on the reality of American political institutions.

  57. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Progressives were able, in general, to turn out much larger crowds than the Tea Party. What they could not do was turn those into primary victories reliably.

  58. Sleeper Cell permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Green Party, Green Party, Green Party!
    The democrats stink like last weeks tuna salad left out in the sun!
    Obama has betrayed every single principle I hold dear. I’m done with him and
    All the apologist butt sniffers in the Democratic Party.

  59. BruceMcF permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Yeah, sounds like I remember it.

  60. Veri permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Thanks for saying that about DKoS.

  61. October 29, 2013

    The problem with championing progressives, and progressive bloggers, is that this “most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology” thing conceals a more difficult problem, and it’s that progressive ideology itself has some serious problems. How are we going to do it? What is the path to the progressive utopia? Are we going to turn the clock back to 1976, when there was a welfare state, or 1966, when the civil rights movement was ascendant, or 1936, when there was a united front? How are we really going to deal with global warming? Are we really going to deal with the jobs crisis while leaving capitalism as it is? Are we really going to form a third party that will replace the two dinosaurs currently in power?

  62. October 29, 2013

    Interesting article. I linked in… hope you don’t mind.

  63. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Link away, I don’t mind. I hadn’t seen this FDL piece:

    My goodness, and I thought I was bitter.

    I note that FDL has lost two-thirds of its daily traffic since I left as Managing Editor.

    Part of it is the general blog decline (thus “failure of the progressive blogs”) I could explain why most of the rest happened, but no need to make more enemies (it’s not, as T-Bogg claims, because FDL became anti-Obama, there’s a large audience for that, whether you think there should be or not.) There is a relation to money, but it’s not primarily about having a moneybags sponsor.

    I am especially amused by Phoenix Woman’s comments.

  64. Hugo Z Hackenbush permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Seriously, fuck Tbogg. He is astroturfing over at Raw Story for Koch Brother’s Megan Carpentier now. FDL should be happy they lost the 8 pedophiles that make up his readership.

  65. October 29, 2013

    So, Hugo, you’re probably aware that I didn’t start at Raw Story until the day after Megan left.

    But thanks for playing. Now I’ve got to go spend some of this Koch Bros loot because the vault is full with all the money I took from Soros too…

  66. Blah permalink
    October 29, 2013

    “The Tea Party, say what you will about them, gets a great deal of obeisance from Republicans for one simple reason: they will primary you if they don’t like how you’ve been voting, and they’ll probably win that primary.”

    And then go on to lose an easily-winnable general election, shutter the government, threaten to destroy the entire planetary economy, and push your party’s favorability rating to record lows while making your ideological foes look like the only sane alternative.

    The lesson any rational person would learn from the Tea Party is “this here, don’t do it.”.

  67. Blah permalink
    October 29, 2013

    ” You know, as I do, Bob, that Obama wants to cut SS and Medicare and is just negotiating with Republicans over how and whether there will be some small tax increases along with entitlement cuts.”

    I know that Obama doesn’t want to cut SS and Medicare and isn’t engaged in any form of negotiation with the GOP over any such thing. I know that he will not drop the tax increase requirement. I know that the GOP will not even consider any offer that requires even a tiny tax increase.

    Seriously these are basic realities of contemporary politics. How far down the ideological rabbit hole have we gone that you do you not know this?

  68. Blah permalink
    October 29, 2013

    “The American political spectrum ranges from centre-right to extreme-right with a politically and statistically insignificant number of centre-left to left-wing outliers.”

    By any objective scale or measure known to political scientists, the Democratic Party is left-of-center. That’s just a fact, they may not be left enough for you but they are definitely not on the right of the spectrum, not by any measure. But then you’re not actually a fair representative of a ‘British Catholic conservative’ either, because those guys are generally very far to the right of where the Democrats are.

  69. October 29, 2013

    Jerome & Montana,

    Here’s the “passable” synthesis of Libertarian-Progressive: Guaranteed Income / Choose Your Job – The Free Market Safety Net

    I realise this is the lion’s den, but when I say “passable” I mean it is a policy that is built to pass BECAUSE it will be supported by Occupy, Tea Party and Congressional Black Caucus.

    Please read if carefully, think about what each group gets and importantly think about who loses: Wall Street, Fortune 1000 management, DC.

    It’s not that hard really to craft policy that those three groups will support, but you need to shuck your binary framing at the door.

    It’s my contention that virtually ANY policy those three groups decide to support becomes law.

    I don’t want to offend you peeps more than I might naturally, but if “progressive” = public sector labor unions no matter what, you’re doomed.

    BUT, if OWS and CBC are more focused on “cheaper education” and “30% more consumption in ghetto” and “economic mobility” and “economic inequality” than you can find plenty of league with the Tea Party.

    We are entering a new phase of history where Government as a Platform (GaaP) takes over, that means Open Source, Amazon, Ebay, Uber, Craigslist style forces are going to reduce the actual “cost of government” by $1T while increasing the “wealth transfer”

    Essentially, we’re going to do to the government what has happened to every other sector of the economy.

    Everything you do at city hall, everything your county does, many thing, your state and the feds do… an app running off the cloud, providing 24/7 service you access from your home.

    And yes, smartphones and access will be a civil right.

    We don’t need marriage offices, permit offices, most courts, many jails, SSA call centers, SS offices, and on and on and on. We have 22M public employees, we’ll likely end up with less than 5M once Silicon Valley is done.

    Anyway read the plan,… yes it makes being a “progressive blogger” for a living feasible. It makes being a painter, singer, a gardner feasible. It ensures black entrepreneurs become millionaires bc they LIVE IN the ghetto.

    There is a way to reward staying in the community, and to provide a safety net, in the most free market way possible.

    If anyone is interested, read up on Distributism. I think it’ll shock you with its progressive roots.

  70. October 29, 2013

    That a plurality votes on identity rather than policy is not news, Ian. Converse measured it back in the 1950s, and I’ve been writing about it since 2009.

    And, well, it sounds really good to complain that the left is not ideological enough. It echoes the complaints of the right that conservatism cannot fail, only be failed. But the left has done ideology, and we know that ideology without ethics turns into authoritarianism. Some conservatives have started to remember this, have realized that they have sown the wind and are now, as conservatives of the past century did, are reaping the whirlwind.

    I think, rather, that there is a need for less ideology and more ethics throughout the culture, on all sides. This is the problem with the real leaders of the extreme right, people like the Kochs, Scaife, and so on—they have no ethics worthy of the name. Perhaps the biggest failure of the left was a failure to defend the anti-fascist mass media concentration and balance laws and regulations. It’s not a secret that perceived attacks on identity leads to easily-led authoritarianism among the populace; the people who wrote the media laws knew it very well, since they’d just lived through it. But the rest of us seem to have forgotten for many years.

  71. October 29, 2013

    GREAT post.
    Politically, I’m likely to oppose 60% of what you stand for, which might qualify me to point out that the blogosphere in general has taken a hit since the glory days you’ve written about.
    I’ve got a libertarian site that used to routinely get 2500 to 3500 hits per day.
    Now I’m thrilled when it hits 600. Part of that is Google (and others) changing their search algorithms.
    We used to see ourselves as a legit alternative to mainstream opinion. But as of 3-4 years ago, you could log onto Facebook and see that everyone sees himself as an alternative to mainstream opinion.
    It was fun while it lasted !!

  72. October 29, 2013

    “Part of it is the general blog decline”

    Ian, part of it is that general cynicism that has set in when everyone realizes that all the nice diaries and blog posts in the world are not going to save them from the repressive apparatus that crushed Occupy, spies on them 24/7, and is going to bring to America the Grand Bargain and the Trans-Pacific Partnership because, hey, rich people want it.

    Maybe something like an independent political party would have helped. Even having a consistent political philosophy would have helped “progressives.” As it stands, being “progressive” is like being a chalk writer in a rain storm. You can see this at — all sorts of writers professing that “I’m a liberal because I believe in blah blah blah,” but still they support regressive Democrats, so it doesn’t mean anything.

    Do the “progressives” have the least clue as to their place in the trajectory of historical events that has led capitalism past its Golden Age (1948-1971) to the neoliberal era (1973-present) and beyond into the grim period to come? Gopal Balakrishnan, from four years ago:

    “We are entering into a period of inconclusive struggles between a weakened capitalism and dispersed agencies of opposition, within delegitimated and insolvent political orders. The end of history could be thought to begin when no project of global scope is left standing, and a new kind of ‘worldlessness’ and drift begins. This would conform to Hegel’s suspicion that at this spiritual terminus, the past would be known, but that a singular future might cease to be a relevant category. In the absence of organized political projects to build new forms of autonomous life, the ongoing crisis will be stalked by ecological fatalities that will not be evaded by faltering growth.”

    So the key, then, is to create “new forms of autonomous life.” That’s not done via a blog. Oh, sure, the blogs can help, but fieldwork, conducted with an understanding of history, political economy, and so on, is essential.

  73. PMD permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Daily Kos was merely a front for a group of rapacious young men of dubious progressive credentials who decided to get into farming real progressives for fun and profit. It was always a scam.

    As ever, the revolution won’t be televised, or blogged.

  74. Grey Ghost permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Good read, and an interesting viewpoint for someone like me who is a recovering Republican and identifies as a right-libertaria. I could be in agreement with so many “progressive” goals, but I think what you’re pointing out here, perhaps unintentionally, is what you get when you put your faith in government as an agent of social change. You get the people who are more interested in other agendas (and, I suspect, mostly in obtaining and retaining power) using the mechanism of the electoral system to “compromise” their way into power and shut the rest of you up.

  75. The Heretik permalink
    October 29, 2013

    First time I have stepped back in the blog puddle in years and only to say my eyes are wide open, occasionally with a tear. Or two.

    Obama thinks Jamie Thirteen Billion Dollar
    Fraud Dimon is “a good guy,” drones are the way to secure peace, and you can be spied on without a warrant. But he’s not Bush.

    Let’s all hail the arc of history, the illusory rainbow. Then get back to work.

  76. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    October 29, 2013

    @Ian for “If money was the primary determinant then mainstream Republicans would crush Tea Partiers, not the other way around.”

    I think the TP’s have connections to a few billionaires that are willing to fund lavishly as needed. I don’t see that on the radical left. When a few billionaires step up to fund a new radical left party (greenish, laborish, Marxish etc.) then I will believe we would see successful primary challenges on the left.

    (damn there are a lot and high, quantity and quality, of comments here!!!)

  77. Older Wiser permalink
    October 29, 2013

    As someone who participated on Daily Kos, a different problem was the most troublesome, at least for me. It’s the same problem you see all over the Internet: censorship.

    Dissenting voices are routinely excluded from blogs of all kinds. Daily Kos is no different in this regard than Free Republic, or the many other right-wing sites. Stray from the party line at Daily Kos — which can shift rather quickly — and your words will be rendered invisible.

    The Internet turns out to be a divisive force. It is good at creating echo chambers, but bad at the sort of idea exchange and cross-fertilization that creates true social cohesion. The electronic world makes it easy to publish, but just as easy to defend one’s self or one’s group from the kinds of challenges that, over time, make them stronger.

    If the so-called “netroots” failed, it did so for the same reason any other sealed environment fails: lack of oxygen.

  78. October 29, 2013

    If you aren’t prepared to ever lose, progressive politics is not for you.

  79. markfromireland permalink
    October 29, 2013

    @ The Raven October 29, 2013

    This is the problem with the real leaders of the extreme right, people like the Kochs, Scaife, and so on—they have no ethics worthy of the name.

    It’s worse than that it’s not that they lack ethics, or empathy, although both of those things are true of them, or even that they’re immoral which is also true of them. They’re something far worse they’re amoral if they want something then that’s the end of the matter they’ll stop at nothing to get it.


  80. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Anyone who thinks the current Democrats are left wing is delusional, and if he or she has travelled two feet out of the US, hasn’t learned anything by doing so.

    As for identity: what identity includes, changes.

  81. Ken Williams permalink
    October 29, 2013

    This is a view from the outside. Perhaps it can shed some light. I’m not a progressive but, I promise I’m not trolling.

    I consider myself a Libertarian which means I probably have more in common with the Tea Party than I do with most of you. However after reading a lot of these comments, I must say that I’m surprised. We actually do have some common ground. I can name several issues where I’m sure we would vehemently disagree but, there are areas I think we could work together.

    Things like NSA surveilance, I’m against till my last gasp. The fact that the president is willing to grant a courtesy to allied foreign leaders that he will not grant to his own citizens is frightening to me. I deplore the bank bailout. I’m appalled at the takeover of GM. I don’t want any president, regardless of party, to be able to call death from the sky in the form of drones on anyone anywhere in the world at his own discretion.

    As far as the subject at hand, I don’t think you’ve actually touched on all of it. Some of you have mentioned progressivism as a hobby and I do think that’s part of it. However, I think the reason the Tea Party is making a bigger dent than progressive bloggers ever did is caused by who’s part of it. Many of them are small business owners. They feel the pinch of regulations first hand in a way most progressives never have. They are for the most part sucessful as they measure success and they don’t need nor do they want the government involved in their lives. In their perception, they are fighting to keep what they already have and they lose if they quit fighting. Progressives generally are fighting for what they want to have. They may want it a lot but, if they give up the fight, they won’t be substantially worse off. So, they won’t fight as hard.

    Feel free to say I’m wrong. I’m just trying to provide another perspective.

  82. BruceMcF permalink
    October 29, 2013

    @Jerome Armstrong:

    That is a key point about the meaning of “progressive” ~ “progressive” is not a noun, its an adjective. When the “Progressives” became a force in US politics, people had an understanding about what it meant, because it was applying a label to an emerging collection of movements. But generically, you could have a group of white power supremacists, and there will be some issue on which some of them believe in holding the current position ~ “conservative” ~ and others on making progress toward a goal ~ “progressive”.

    Indeed, it was part of the intellectual foundation of many Progressive Era thinkers that “progress” is intrinsically derived from the criteria you use (your “pragma”, hence “pragmatists”). So two people using “progressive” without a common understanding of what constitutes progress are more likely than not to be talking past each other.

    Hence #p2, aka “progressive populist”, where Populism is the anchor, and “Progressive” is to discriminate it from the reactionary populism that our political system seems particularly prone to at present.

  83. October 29, 2013

    I remind everyone that “Of course you can vote for the lesser of two evils. You get less evil.” (Noam Chomsky, 2008.) Now let’s get back to work.

    My take on this is that the radical right is succeeding by inducing existential panic in its adherents, through propaganda. This isn’t a strategy that can work for the left.

    If anything, I would say that the netroots have been successful beyond hope. We have at least been able to make a difference, and perhaps if we keep on we can make a large difference.

    Ken, I am a small businessperson. I can honestly say that regulation and taxation are the least of my problems. Price-gouging banks and a trashed economy—those are my problems. Can’t sell widgets or services when there’s no-one to buy them, and it doesn’t help that the banks slap fees on everything. I work in architecture/engineering/construction—a liberal in a very conservative business. I think much less business would be done without regulation. No-one would trust the people building or the banks which finance building.

    I don’t understand the complaints about regulation from small businesspeople; mostly our enemies are big businesspeople. The enemy of the corner store is more Walmart than the city government.

  84. October 29, 2013

    Ian –
    I responded to Jerome so I ought to respond to you, as well. Although I commend your optimism, I was rather startled by your naivete back then. Most of you were thirty-somethings – out to change the world. (Or at least the Dem Party) It’s not the oldest political party in the world – having survived slavery, the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the sixties because it is a frail reed buffeted in the wind.
    As I said elsewhere, the Dem Party bought off a few and marginalized the rest. That’s what it has been doing for 200 years. Why should it be different for your generation? Remember, the Democratic Party ACCEPTED slavery in order to flourish politically. It TOLERATED legalized discrimination within its Southern wing for 100 years. It was at the FOREFRONT of the militarism that led to Vietnam. The Democratic Party is not inherently progressive. It does, however, inherently seek to maintain its power.
    That’s why I was so stunned at the actions of the so-called progressive blogosphere during the Lieberman/Lamont campaign. I was aware that Connecticut allowed independent campaigns. I was also aware that, even should Lamont win the primary, he would need to draw in a significant portion of blue-collar Dems who had voted for Lieberman. Instead, the bloggers delighted in casting Lieberman supporters in the most hateful of terms. And, not surprisingly, few switched their votes and voted for Lamont in November. I had no love for Lieberman – but I predicted I early August that he would win 50/40/10. The bloggers and Lamont’s staffers – including the one who described Waterbury Dems as evil and slime – insured his defeat.
    There was a brittleness and rigidity of the blogosphere that was heightened by the internal aspects of blogging – esp. the ratings system and piling on. What happened is that, instead of effective debate, you saw an orthodoxy creep in. It could have been different – but it was not.

  85. October 29, 2013

    PS – I love conversing with ravens.

  86. Ken Williams permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Raven, yep you’re a liberal in a conservative business. I did say most progressives, not all. I also said we could find areas to disagree on but, that’s not why I commented and I’m not going to go that way now.

    That said, the point I was making still stands. If you accept to paraphrase BruceMcF, that progressive is progressing towards a goal, in effect, Progressives are trying to get something that they don’t already have. If they stop fighting for it, they aren’t worse off than they are now. The Tea Partiers don’t see it that way. They are fighting to keep what they have and they feel that if they stop fighting, they will lose at least some of it. Therefore there’s a real difference in intensity and tenacity.

  87. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Thought and Memory, John, thought and memory 🙂

    Broader note: I really didn’t expect this post to be read widely outside of my own readership. It was brief, and sketchy. I don’t, for example, see Pachacutec’s analysis as fundamentally incompatible with mine: his point about Boomer belief in the American Dream is a complement, not a contradiction. I am aware of the money weaknesses, far more than most my critics, I was involved in many of those conversations, though not to the depth Pach was (at FDL money was not my main concern, editing, blogging and managing the stable of writers was).

    I am also very aware of the primary wars and allude to it in the article, as the more astute readers have noticed. I didn’t write about the coordination issues behind the scenes (and I probably won’t), but note that a movement does require coordination and that coordination started to collapse post-2006.

    The key difference is epitomized by TBogg (whom I personally like, as an aside) and Martin Longman, John Cole (still wrong about everything). There was a fundamental disagreement about both principles and strategy that ripped the movement apart. Some of us were not willing to excuse doubling down on Afghanistan, whipping for TARP (no, it didn’t save the world, and yes I understand economics just fine, it’s how I made my bones in blogging), warrantless wiretapping, Drones, Civil Liberties, effectively immunizing bankers from crimes, etc…. We did not get into blogging to enable Democrats to be conservatives who were better than Republicans on a few issues, worse than Republicans on other issues.

    Others view themselves as incrementalist pragmatists “bending the curve” and getting what they can. 1 cent on the dollar, their claims is, is better than nothing (it’s not clear to me that they’re getting that one cent, but that’s another article.)

    For a brief summary on why I don’t believe in incrementalism, read my Baseline Scenario post:

    Everything Obama has done for the environment is swamped by Fracking. Bailing out the banks IN THE WAY IT WAS DONE left a massive debt overhang, which is why the economy won’t recover a generation (and I predicted that at the time, multiple times). These things were, in terms of human suffering and justice, the wrong things to do and they were choices.

    Now none of this means that I think most of these people are corrupt sellouts (for example, I entirely believe TBogg is sincere). It just means I disagree. Of course I think I’m right. Am I? Others will have to make up their minds.

    But your grandchildren are going to look at what you did, what we did, and say “your best wasn’t good enough.” That I guarantee.

    (Scrap that, your children will.)

  88. Scott permalink
    October 29, 2013

    It is hard to get excited when the Big Banks (which are all run by Democrats) are protected by the Obama administration. When the inner city schools are all run be Democrats and producing illiterate graduates yet Obama takes away money from poor students who were attending Sidwell Friends school with his daughters just as a nod to the teacher’s union, I can see where the problem lies.

  89. wanderindiana permalink
    October 29, 2013

    The peak of usefulness for blogging was in 2004, when over $100,000 was raised in a very short time for Green Party and Libertarian Party presidential candidates to demand a recount in Ohio.

    The decline started the moment John Kerry slinked away from the fight. It was Florida 2000 all over again, and that was the wrong so many of us worked to right.

    And let me point out that many A-Listers called those of us pushing for the recount “fraudsters” — yet evidence of disenfranchisement was widespread.

    And the recount, when it happened, was riddled with irregularities.

    The Powers That Be woke up angry that fall, on both sides of the political fence. And so it went, little by little, splintered, co-opted, spread thin, made impure by selfish motives, and so on….

  90. October 30, 2013

    Ken, oh, I see. That was what I meant by “existential threat.” The problem, though, is when one considers, existential threats to small business, surely the most immediate is the rotten economy, a direct result of banking deregulation allowing massive fraud. Another is the enormous power of large business to control supplier prices, cough, Walmart, making it near-impossible for a US-based small business to become suppliers in the USA. This is also a consequence of deregulation, in this case the abandonment of the control of monopoly. A third is the collapse of wages in the USA, leading to a collapse of consumer demand, largely as a result of the gutting of the National Labor Relations Board and the undercutting of the unions, both directly and by regulatory failure. There is no conceivable regulatory pinch that outweighs these pinches derived from deregulation.

    So the small business Tea Party Republicans want what they cannot have: deregulation and a favorable environment for their businesses. The problem is aggravated by the assumption that their understanding of business is an understanding of economics and the reinforcement of these ideas provided by right-wing propaganda channels, especially Fox News. This is a fake existential crisis.

    On the other side of the fence, progressives or liberals or whatever they are calling themselves this week want something they don’t have, yes: health care. And this is a genuine existential crisis: people die every day for the lack of it.

    There is a problem of not recognizing what is real. Life or death, that’s pretty real. But I don’t know any honest small businessperson who will shut down in the face of modest regulation. So long as there is a profit to be made, why quit?

  91. October 30, 2013

    Ian, I take incrementalism is one of multiple strategies to be deployed in the service of progressive goals. It is the easiest strategy for a popular movement, after all; one just keeps pushing. But sometimes other strategies are appropriate.

    Falling down tired. Maybe more tomorrow.

  92. David Shaughnessy permalink
    October 30, 2013

    I am not and never have been a professional blogger. I have participated in blogs for many years, including Glenn Greenwald’s pre-Salon gig at Unclaimed Territory. I have also commented and posted diaries in Firedoglake, Daily Kos and many other Progressive blogs, generally using pseudonyms. This is my view.

    Progressivism is in crisis today for one main reason: Barack Obama. That is not to say that Progressivism was flourishing pre-Obama. Conservatism reached its apex under Bush but then began a rapid decline that was snowballing into full collapse. Wall Street had destroyed the economy, causing enormous suffering for the American People. Conservatives were overreaching floridly on issue after issue. The time was right for an alternative ideology to supplant Conservatism. The country was ready. The American People were eager. Obama spoke like a Progressive and gave ringing endorsements to Progressive values and solutions. This was the Progressive wave Obama rode into the White House. It was, of course, a mirage, or subterfuge to be less charitable.

    Once Obama was inaugurated, he immediately abandoned Progressivism. He refused even to prosecute those responsible for the greatest economic crime in history. The outrage the American People felt was denied its vent and the Tea Party — a brilliant tactical construct devised by the discredited Conservatives — arose to fill the void. That set the Washington political dynamic for the Obama Presidency, one that endures.

    Progressives did succeed. We pushed the Corporatist Hillary Clinton aside for the — so we thought — more Progressive Obama. We got a president elected. But we were betrayed and deceived and we have not recovered. Why we haven’t recovered is explained in Mr. Welsh’s piece. Much of the reason, I agree, is Obama’s race and the place of identity-politics in the Democratic Party. Beginning with Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party moved Right on economic matters until Bill Clinton effectively sold the Democratic Party to Wall Street. On issue after issue, the Democrats lurched ever more Rightward until identity politics was all that remained to meaningfully distinguish the two major parties. Since the two parties are really just corporations now, this is really nothing more than brand differentiation. The Democratic Party today stands for two things: 1) identity politics; and 2) not being Republicans. That is what the party has been reduced to.

    And one must recognize the sensitive role played by African Americans in the Democratic Party, both as base voters and as an historical symbol. The plutocrats could not have chosen more wisely than Barack Obama, who is effectively immune from intra-party attack due to his race. And the crowning achievement of the Tea Party was to (more-or-less) successfully cast Obama as a radical Leftist, making Progressive criticism appear ridiculous. These two factors — Obama’s race and the misconception that he was a Leftist — staved off any mainstream criticism of Obama from within the Democratic Party. Certainly, there would be no party rebellion no matter how much Obama betrayed the party and Progressive principles. So we have embittered Progressives within the Democratic Party stewing in frustration and feuding with party loyalists and those who defend Obama based upon racial solidarity. It is a mess.

    This isn’t all Obama. This could not be done without the complicity of the Democratic Party Establishment. But, as seen, the Democratic Party has sold out and no longer holds Progressive principles. Even so, Obama was given the Progressive mantle at a moment of historical inflection and he betrayed us. Obama had the control in his hands when he got elected and he chose the Conservative status quo rather than change. I see scant evidence anything can be done other that to fend off Obama’s assaults until his presidency ends. I’m not sanguine. I know that Obama is pathologically determined to cut the social safety net. Perhaps the remaining Progressive Democrats in Congress will be emboldened to resist Obama’s efforts but I doubt it.

    As for the union between the Tea Party and Progressives, I recall many years ago when Glenn Greenwald — while at Unclaimed Territory – seemed to attempt such a thing. Unfortunately, Greenwald’s efforts failed because they were directed at the economic libertarians, not the civil libertarians and populists. Economic libertarians are simply the GOP version of the Democratic Party neoliberals: they are all Corporatists who are implacably opposed to the people organizing and acting collectively. I do think there are legitimate populist elements within the Tea Party movement with which Progressives can find common cause, if not perfect harmony.

    Thanks for writing the essay and for letting me comment.

  93. October 30, 2013

    Don’t I know it.

    During the Bush years my blog was ranked at some points as high as the low 30s in the top 100 of all political bloggers left and right. I was constantly being linked to and my hit-rate was so high that my provider insisted on changing my package because I was using too much bandwidth – they sent me a screenshot showing 11,000 hits or more a day.

    And then came Obama. Long-time readers suddenly were admonishing me for everything from pessimism to racism and today I’m lucky to get more than 500 hits in a day and on a good day apparently rank somewhere around 215,000.

    And people are STILL calling me paranoid for saying that Obama wants to cut Social Security.. He’s spent five years saying it, but nobody knows. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t vociferously defend Obama as a wonderful liberal is a racist.

    And still, the one little message people always applaud me for but never actually do – to perform education and activism in meat-space – waits for someone to take it up. You cannot base a movement on stuff no one goes looking for and no one does anything with.

  94. October 30, 2013

    By the way, I’m surprised to see Bob Fertik repeating the story that Air America failed because of its content and on-air performance.

    Air America Radio was wildly successful in terms of content. It picked up listeners fast and expanded the reach of every station that carried it.

    And then those stations were immediately bought out by right-wing owners who switched to country or religious or Spanish programming, thus dropping their listenership exponentially.

    The failure of AAR was not a result of its talent, but of the business end, which was full of grifters. And this is because rich liberals have been wasting their money for years on identity crap and feel-good junk and no one has bothered to grab the things that could have given us our media infrastructure while there was still something left to grab.

  95. Fred permalink
    October 30, 2013

    The teabaggers caused the loss of a couple of Senates seats — big whoop…Progressives, voting for Nader in 2000, gave us 8 years of GWBush…

  96. Mass Independent permalink
    October 30, 2013

    I’m not sure that it is Progressives who failed, but it certainly is Liberal Democrats. They still believe NPR is truthful and not government/corporate propaganda. The Dems care only about power and control, and as you said, not about fighting for their principles.

    I lived in Maine in 2010 when the governor’s race was three way, when Libby, the machine Dem, LePage, the Teabagger and Cutler, the Independent were running. Eliot Cutler had worked in the Carter administration and written the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But he was smart enough to sense the mood of the state, which was tired of the decades long Dem control, and ran as an Independent.

    Cutler and LePage were running to within 2% points near the end, at around 37% each, with Libby at 18% and sinking fast. The Dems went door to door to try to convince voters to NOT vote for Cutler, rather than acknowledging reality and throwing their support behind Cutler to prevent the disaster that LePage has become for the state. There was no way that Libby was going to garner those votes. The Dems were convinced that Cutler was “splitting” the Dem vote, when in reality, people were sick of the Dem machine and wanted a fresh approach. I talked to many who I knew who voted for Cutler (as did I) and there was no sympathy for Libby, or an inclination to rally behind her.

    Also, Maine had elected an Independent as governor before with Angus King, who they recently sent to the Senate as an Independent to replace Republican Snowe. The lessons I took away from that experience was (1) that Dems are only interested in power and winning, and not in the welfare of the state and its citizens, and (2) that I would never vote Dem in Maine again.

    A prime example of Dems only caring about winning is the ACA-ObamaCare, a piece of junk that could have been done right if they were more interested in crafting really good legislation with 60 years of progressive health care plans from other countries as examples to use to do the job right. But no, it was more important to keep the private insurance companies on as contributors to the party, and as we watch Sibelius get savaged by the Rethugs in a hearing today, we should realize that if we are going to vote for a Dem for POTUS, we should vote for one with the courage to go single payer, Medicare for All, on health care, and to not be a war monger, drone bomber and whistle blower prosecutor. That means, no to Hillary Clinton for POTUS, and good riddance to Obama as he hits the Wall Street talk scene to cash in.

  97. Mass Independent permalink
    October 30, 2013

    @Fred: “Progressives, voting for Nader in 2000, gave us 8 years of GWBush…”

    First of all Fred, see my post below your post to see how Dems did what they will be accusing Nader of for the next 50 years in Maine.

    Second, more Dems crossed over to vote for Bush (the “Reagan Dems”) than voted for Nader.

    Third, Nader has been the only true public servant, rather than narcissistic politician to run for POTUS in my long memory. Gore, like all the spineless cowardly Dems that presently inhabit Congress (with a handful of exceptions), gave up without a fight.

    Even if there were validity to your argument, and there isn’t, Kerry also gave up without a fight BEFORE the total vote was counted, when there was massive evidence of voter suppression and fraud by Republicans. I believe both Gore and Kerry won, but lost because they refused to fight for what was right.

    So to say Nader gave us 8 years of GWB is bull. The spinelessness of the Dems gave us GWB. They just are genetically cowardly-spineless clowns. The last Dem I voted for was Elizabeth Warren, but with the Dem condemnation of Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning, I’m pretty sure I won’t be voting Dem ever again. I’ll be writing in Snowden and Manning on my ballots.

    And last, I voted for Nader twice, and am very proud of my vote. The Dems had him escorted away under threat of arrest from a trailer OUTSIDE the debates where he could watch on remote TV. If I were Nader, I would have done the same, keep running against those anti-democratic fools.

  98. October 30, 2013

    The largest problem with the progressive movement is the tendency to excuse the non-progressiveness of Democrats. Several people have said that above, and several have epitomized the apologist side as well.

    There is simply NO ONE on the right-wing side that says “So-and-so isn’t a conservative, but he’s running under the Republican ticket, so hold your nose and vote for him anyway, because the most important thing is to get people with (R) after their names regardless of their values”. No one. None. Zero. Nada. But a huge percentage of liberal/progressive commentary goes exactly like that. I googled “hold your nose and vote for Bush” and the only articles that come up are people arguing that conservatives should NOT hold their nose and vote for Bush, AND people arguing that progressives SHOULD hold their nose and vote for Obama.

    What everyone needs to realize is that your power is NOT in getting progressives, or even Democrats, elected. Your power is in getting shitbags de-elected. When the Tea Partiers primary some not-so-conservative and he loses the primary, they’ve won, full stop. Winning the final election is not the important part. The important part is that Bob wasn’t conservative enough, so he has to go back to his used car dealership in Kansas, and now Jim and Joe and Ted who are still in Congress look around at each other and think “Who’s next to go?”. This enlightens their thinking and their actions for all future situations that occur, because they don’t want to go back to the auto dealership.

    Dianne Feinstein is one of the worst human beings on the planet. She serves in a strongly progressive state, with (now) a very friendly primary system. Progressives needed to turn out 13% of the public to vote for a decent challenger in a PRIMARY, and Dianne Feinstein would have been out of office entirely AND replaced by a good progressive Senator. Instead, this happened:,_2012

    2% for decent challengers! That’s rounding error, that’s people who check a box at random. No press or blog attention for them at all. No money for them at all. An awesome opportunity, squandered.

    That is to say, out of every 25 Democrats/Liberals/Progressives who went to that primary election to vote, about 24 of them voted for Dianne Feinstein and 1 voted for some other Democrat. That is absurd, that Feinstein would attract 24-to-1 support if anyone at all was showcasing her flaws.

    Concentrate on purging non-liberal people calling themselves Democrats. Never urge anyone to hold their nose and vote for X, even though s/he is not a liberal. The rest will follow.

  99. October 30, 2013

    A couple of disparate points.

    I don’t get the jitters about libertarian-progressive collaboration the way some liberals do. The key proviso is that any such collaboration is tactical, not strategic. There is no hope for social insurance (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) with libertarians. The subordinate proviso is that the Pauls are deeply icky, profoundly compromised by relations with some of the most depraved political elements in the U.S.

    Once upon a time I wrote the netroots was acting as a money vacuum cleaner for the Democratic Party. For this I was banished from some of the worthy blogs mentioned above, and by some of the worthy commenters above. How’s that working out for you?

    I. Will. Be. Back.

  100. OhioBoy permalink
    October 30, 2013

    I definitely think that what the progressive movement needs in order to find strength and unity is white men condescendingly explaining to women and minorities what their REAL problems are.

Comments are closed.