The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Left Wing Self-Defeatism And How To Win

One constant theme which needs dealing with is the idea that the country is more conservative than liberal and that centrists are needed to hold off horrible conservative things from happening.

More than that, this is an argument for oligarchy.  What I see is that the majority of people, in poll after poll, want single payer.  A huge majority want the public option, yet odds are decent you won’t even get that.

When people talk of left-center coalitions the center part includes a large number of Senators (like Diane Feinstein) who won’t do what the majority of their constituents want them to do.  At this point “centrist” =  “captured by monied interests.”

Odds are if Obama wanted single payer, the House could pass it.  It’d be close, but they could get it done.  The House is the more representative body of the two bodies, the Senate is deliberately retrograde.

When I look at the US what I see is a banana republic.  And then I see people who think that the Senate, or even the House, actually does what the American people want.  Again and again, Congress does things that the majority disagree with.  In 2006 the Dems were elected to end the war in Iraq, for example, and refused to do so (though again, the House at least went through the motions, the Senate didn’t even make an effort).  Oh, Congress will sometimes do what the majority want—when that’s what it was going to do anyway.

The plan to fix this is simple enough and always has been. Obama was a right wing democrat and this was clear early.  I told people that repeatedly through the primaries and into the election.  Once he was chosen as the nominee I told people not to work for him or give him money, because he could win or lose without netroots or progressive support (it was a drop in the bucket compared to what he was getting elsewhere and was not decisive for him), and to take their time and money and spend it on electing progressive members of Congress, where that amount of money and volunteers could be decisive.

People who hold progressive and liberal policy views are a much larger proportion of the population than the right wing crazies are, they are in fact a majority of the population, though you’d never know it from listening to the gnashing of teeth of some folks.

If the right wing crazies could capture the Republican party, liberals and progressives, who already make up the largest block in the House, and who massively outnumber Blue Dogs, can certainly do the same to the Democratic party.

If, of course, they stop telling themselves self-excusing lies about how the country doesn’t agree with them on basic issues like healthcare, when, in fact, the country does.  Americans may not call themselves liberals, but when you look at their actual policy positions they are more liberal on most (not all, but most) issues than they are conservative.  That’s a gap in self-perception it should be possible to jump.

It takes real work for the centrists and right wing to keep Liberals and Progressives down.  Notice that almost all of Obama’s whipping is towards the left, towards progressives, not to the right.  The right wing of the Democratic party is more or less doing what he wants (forget the rhetoric, again, look at who he and Rahm whip), it’s the left wing he’s scared of, because if they got their act together they could stop him from passing anything.  The Blue Dogs in the House do not currently have a veto, the Progressives, if they want to use it, do.  And that’s why they get the back side of Obama and Rahm’s hand so often.

The left is the most dangerous force in American politics today.  The entire resources of the lobbying industry and of centrist Democratic interests are required to keep it in check, not just during legislative season, but during elections, when the DCCC and the DSCC do their very best to make sure that progressives don’t win primaries, and when they do, that they’re starved of resources.

So time to spine up.  If you’re a left wing Democrat, you belong to the scariest force in American politics.  The crazy right will have some good cycles yet to come, mainly due to Democratic establishment incompetence and preference for mushy middle candidates but demographics are against them.  Don’t write Republicans off yet, but they are failing.  You—the left—are the rising force, and everyone in the center and the right, is doing everything they can to keep you down.

Don’t let them, and don’t believe lies about how you’re some tiny minority whom the American people don’t agree with.


Meet the New Boss


The Problem With Healthcare Reform Isn’t the American People


  1. The president gave a speech to Wall Street and nobody came — none of the CEO’s of the bailed out banks, that is. Four banks hold about 40% of national deposits, and 20 banks about 70%.
    Their absence says it all. Even the president is nobody to the financial oligarchs.

    Repeat after me: “There will be no meaning full reform as long as legalized bribery (aka campaign finance and lobbying) permitted oligarchs to rent the government, regardless of which party is in power. Since the oligarchs will never permit this to be changed other than through a populist uprising of voters, trying to change this through normal politics is impossible. It is difficult to imagine any party getting a larger mandate from voters than this president and this Congress. It hasn’t even made a dent.

    Unfortunately, the populist revolt is being mounted from the right, and there is nothing that the left can do about it other than get on board and at least make it bipartisan, as arch-leftist Dennis Kucinich realized when he teamed up with arch-rightie Ron Paul regarding finance.

    The principal challenge economically and socially, and therefore politically is now unemployment. The current found of unemployment is structural, which means that lost jobs are not coming back. New sources of employment have not emerged. Therefore, there is a net long-term loss of jobs in the economy, further weakening the bargaining power of labor and putting downward pressure on wages. Couple this with the boomers moving into retirement with their major asset – home value – still declining, and you get the picture. They will be working longer, thereby crowding out the coming generations, who would otherwise be replacing them.

    Compounding this challenge is the decision of government to backstop the banksta’s at taxpayer expense, increasing moral hazard and creating incentive for excessive risk-taking, effectively turning the financial sector into a gigantic hedge fund with a government “put.”

    This is going to lead to an explosive situation as more and more middle class folks find themselves and their families slipping into poverty. Throw some Rush and Glenn on the fire and things are likely to get incendiary.

    Added to this the growing indebtedness of the US. Total US debt is over 100 trillion with a “t.” Safe Harbour No More (h/t ZeroHedge)

    Personally, it seems to me that thinking people on the left will be creating alternative networks that seek to implement future-oriented solutions instead of jumping into the unfolding conflagration. We learned in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s that this is going nowhere against the Establishment. They hold the power, and they hang onto it jealously.

    Ian, in my experience “left wing Democrat” is an oxymoron. Most Democrats don’t have a clue about what the real left is about. The most left Democrats are left-centrists. There is virtually no real left wing in US politics at the moment. Most people in the US, when push comes to shove, want to preserve the status quo to which they have become used to, and which is unsustainable. The real left wing recognizes that 6% of the world’s population cannot continue using 25% of the resources forever. (What does anyone think that the supersized US military is about anyway?) Changing that will mean redefining what it means to be an American.

    We need a new vision for America that is suitable for the 21st century instead of looking bank. Dennis Kucinich was courageous enough to make an attempt, and Tim Russert (RIP) promptly dispatched him with a question about his belief in UFO’s. That sums up the present state of US politics.

  2. tatere

    We have a problem with geography, especially when it comes to the Senate. I think you are probably right about the views of the American public as a whole, but as long as there are a sufficient number of states where there is not a liberal majority, the oligarchy has a lock. This is less of a problem for the House but still, I think, a real one.

    Maybe we should start funding settlements in the Empty Quarter states…

  3. Ian Welsh

    Baucus’s state is more liberal than he is on medical issues, airc.

  4. Jeff W

    That’s a great (and scary) video, tjfxh—thanks for posting that.

    I really glad you wrote about the liberal/progressive views of the majority of Americans, Ian! It cannot be overstated enough. The myth of a conservative United States has been used to falsely explain—or, perhaps, more accurately, camouflage—national policies and priorities greatly at odds with what most people would want. That that deceptive superstructure has to be desperately maintained was nowhere more apparent than in the days just following the November 2008 election.

    Rick Perlstein, writing this piece “Will the Progressive Majority Emerge?” (The Nation, 2007), based on research from the Pew Research Center and the National Election Studies survey, makes the same point you do—that most Americans hold liberal/progressive views, contrary to the prevailing myth. Paul Rosenberg at Open Left reaches the same conclusion looking at the decades-long General Social Survey.

  5. masslib

    Actually, HR3200 is a POS that only Democrats in Congress could love. It throws a whole lot of money at a dysfunctional system, but it feels good, I suppose, because it gives the pretense of helping the little people. Messa comes from a conservative district(no?), and he supports single payer not just as a morally superior policy, but as a fiscally sane policy. Weiner is considered a moderate, and supports HR676 for the same reasons. Frankly, the idea of throwing more taxpayer money at the private insurers for something government can do better and cheaper makes me sick.

  6. DWCG

    Kucinich is great on the issues, but the fact of the matter is he’s always been a poor media figure.

    Way too serious all of the time.

    The goal should be to recruit more affable spokespersons. People with personality like Rangel and Frank, only not bought off. Sad reality.

  7. One problem with polls is that most show quantity of agreement/disagreement but not intensity. Politicians are especially sensitive to intensity because this is an indication of issue voters. These are the voters that go to town halls, write letters, and make calls. Conservative organizers know this and exploit it. Progressive need to play catch up.

  8. CoyoteCreek

    The crux of the problem: “Americans may not call themselves liberals, but when you look at their actual policy positions they are more liberal on most (not all, but most) issues than they are conservative. That’s a gap in self-perception it should be possible to jump.”

    Spine is the only way to get things in shape. And oh, my goodness, the spinelessness I see in DC.

  9. The ideas in this post and the discussion are very important.

    I am the author talking in the video referenced above. I have spent the past several years studying the impact of growing economic inequality on the long-term health of our democracy and even our political stability. One reason I have never posted to blogs like this before is that I have devoted my energy to “have my say” through the book, It Could Happen Here. Now that it’s done (and will release in early October), I will be much more active in the public debate.

    It seem to me part of this is these are complex subjects and there is so much noise in the media (combined with lack of trust in the validity of the information) that people have a very hard time sorting out what is good for them and what is not.

    For example, I am convinced (for reasons I will not discuss here) that the Administration’s mortgage bail-out plan is not going to work. It’s a whole lot easier for the media to discuss how we have dealt with that problem, and monitor it to some extent, than for someone to explain the complex issues that will probably prevent its success. (I hope I am wrong).

    So, to me the most important thing is to encourage civil, active debate (like this blog) and work to educate everyone. This is one reason I wrote the article this week on my blog Economic Inequality: The Wall Street Journal is Just Wrong,” which was picked up an ran as the lead article at The Business Insider, on the front page of The Huffington Post, and was summarized by Juston Fox in a post at
    Time Magazine Online.

    So, I believe the key is to keep talking, and do it everywhere!

  10. Ian Welsh

    Glanced at your book listing on Amazon. Agreed, and something I’ve been arguing for years.

  11. Liberals and progressives can stop buying products from these conservative funders of conservative Democrats.

    Boycott Tyson Foods of Arkansas who gave Mike Ross D- Arkansas money for his campaigns. Call lobbyist for Tyson Foods Chuck Penry 202 393 3921 and tell him politely that you refuse to buy Tyson chicken until Mike Ross D-Arkansas the leader of the Blue Dogs on health care gets the entire house and senate conservative Democrats to help get HR 676 enacted into law. Tell others to call.

    Boycott American Express who gave Max Baucus $50,000 for his campaigns. Call Joanna Lambert at 212 640 9668 and politely tell her you will not use any American Express cards until Max Baucus gets HR 676 enacted into law.

    Sign these petitions also




    None of the above mentioned companies can afford to lose business from liberals and progressives. Go after the funders of conservatives in both parties with massive consumer boycotts. It worked in South Africa. It can work here.

  12. We’re scary, huh? Grr. Argh. I think I need to work on that…

    I know that on many issues these days the country is progressive, and even liberal on quite a few. We represent the majority view on Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, Social Security, and the banks. The problem is that progressives are still the minority in Congress. The DLC plus Blue Dogs add up to more Democrats than the Progressive Caucus. While the DLC might be considered centrists over all, on health care they’re clearly with the Blue Dogs.

    Even so, progressives are numerous enough to prevent things from happening, and that’s power, too. It’s been like pulling teeth to get them to exercise it, though. That’s the other part of the problem. We on the left tend to be a querulous lot; we go our own way rather than sticking together. Sometimes that’s a strength, but when you’re trying to work as a group it isn’t.

    It’s been frustrating to watch this session of Congress unfold. I hope the progressives there start acting, or we are going to experience a lot more frustration.

  13. Others have been thinking about this recently:

    Dan Fromkin: Who will harness the rage?

    Open Left: How the Democratic Party Works, and Doesn’t

    Jane Hamsher at FDL has been spearheading the charge to primary Blue Dogs. With Rachel Maddow: Putting Spine Into Dems by Force

  14. tjfxh —

    I liked the “How the Democratic Party Works and How it Doesn’t” — but the author cites FDL and OL as the only two examples of institution-building parallel to the Democrats, and therefore as exemplars. Watch as I try to pin him down on FDL and OL deepsixing single payer. Fine, fuck it up, but at least own up to it!

    So, I think the question of what a left blogosphere would look like — as distinct from a “progressive” blogosphere — is still opened. I can’t help but see the collapse of newsgathering as an opportunity…

  15. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, well, Obama ain’t gonna do what Rich (and I) think he should. So, yeah…

    I’ve been saying for years that if the Democrats won’t harness populism, the Republicans will.

    Guess the Republicans will…

  16. Lambert, an impressive number of lefty Internet sources are in place. What needs to happen is a united and concerted effort to move the Overton window to the left. We are still operating in the universe of discourse of Reaganism and economic neoliberalism. The left needs to break this lock on the norms of discourse.

    At the moment, most people on the “left” are afraid to cite Noam Chomsky, for example, for fear of seeming “extremist.” There are plenty of forward looking thinkers and strategists out there, and have been for decades. They are marginalized if not excluded from the debate, like mystics in normative religions and those who question normal paradigms in the sciences.

    The good news is that the traditional media are collapsing with the advent of the Internet and digital technology. The world is going to very different in a comparatively short time. People on the left should be shaping it, because people on the right sure are going to try to exert dominance on the emerging media.

  17. Jeff W

    Your comment, tjfxh,

    We are still operating in the universe of discourse of Reaganism and economic neoliberalism. The left needs to break this lock on the norms of discourse.

    brought to mind these observations by Bill Fletcher and William Zweig from this past Friday’s Bill Moyers Journal, which trace antecedents to this issue even further back, to the anti-communism of the late 1940s and early 1950s:

    BILL MOYERS: Those conservative protesters we saw are not afraid of confrontation. They’re willing to use sharp elbows and brass knuckles in fighting for what they believe in. Why isn’t labor more confrontational in behalf of those very people, the working people of this country?

    BILL FLETCHER: Well, part of it is that there’s I know people won’t appreciate my saying this. But among many of the leaders, there’s really a fear of losing respectability. I mean, you have leaders that have now gained these positions and they’re really afraid that if they shake the table too much, that they will be excluded.


    MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, and the labor movement had a very militant, very aggressive stance in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s that challenged capital. That got tremendous benefits. You know, the labor movement is the people who gave us the weekend. Let’s not forget. The labor movement is what…

    Got us the eight hour day, and the social security, and all the other things that we think are so very important, but are just natural. That came out of a labor movement, but a labor movement that was led by people and was fueled by people who understood that there was antagonism. That there was a battle that they were involved in. This was not just, ‘Let’s sit down and have lunch and figure out what’s the best thing to do for America.’ This was, ‘Here’s a group of people who run the country and run businesses. And they have a certain set of interests. And they do not have our interests at mind at heart. They are not for us.’

    Moyers asked why the labor movement lost the power to “take on capital”?

    MICHAEL ZWEIG: Because the people who tried to do that and the people who did do that were leftist. They were people who had a class analysis of society. Many of them were socialists and some of them were communists, but not all. But that sentiment, that understanding of the basic structure of society as divided by class interest. That there’s a working class that’s a majority of the population in this country. And they have interests. And they have a set of values that that convey those interests. That are very different from the corporations. They’re very different from capital.

    And if the people who held those views and mobilized the labor movement at an earlier point in our history. Those people were pushed out. And they were pushed out by the labor movement, internally, because there was great division and splits. And so then the labor movement got drawn into an era of cooperation. An era of, “Well, let’s all sit down. And we’ll all be reasonable. We’ll all figure out what to do that’s best for America.” And it turns out America is not one thing. America is divided by these deep class antagonisms that we are now living with.


    BILL FLETCHER: I realized this waking up this morning. This is the 60th anniversary of when the Congress of Industrial Organization began a process of purging, wholesale, unions that were led by people on the left. And it is exactly what Mike was talking about. That these purges that came that followed the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act led to this incredible Cold War witch hunt against anyone to the left of the Attila the Hun.

    So that the people that were the most militant, that had the most advanced views on organizing. Who were anti-racist, ended up being pushed out of the official organized labor. And were put pushed to the margins in many cases. And in some cases the unions were actually destroyed. The unions that remained in the CIO and then merged with AFL. adopted the view that Michael was describing. They adopted the sense that we had somehow come to peace in our time with capital. That we did have a place at the table. And that if we rocked the boat, outside of an occasional strike, that we will be excluded. We will be no longer relevant. And this purge, we are living with the legacy of that purge of the left.

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