Toward A Progressive Worldview

We begin with the practical. Sterling Newberry over at BOPNews, sums up why this election is going to be a big fat disappointment. Indeed, he gets to the heart of something I am becoming increasingly conscious of. The problem isn’t the far right. The problem is the "Democratic center," which Mr. Newberry identifies with "the establishment." The whole article is worth a read, but here is the bottom line of his analysis.

The establishment does not want what Progressives want. It is unconcerned about single payer health care plans. It is willing to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, but it is not willing to cut defense spending – having seen what happens in the wake of that move in 1994 – and it voted for, and largely still supports, the Iraq adventure. It also takes a great deal of money from corporate sources, and is completely unwilling to investigate Bush on any matter of any importance. It denies the "ethics truce", even as it observes it. It doesn’t want to seem "angry", because its existence is based, not on Democratic votes, but on "independent" voters who think like Democrats, but feel like Republicans. Thus, they live in terror of emotionally decided elections, because they know – correctly – that if it comes down to the country’s heart versus its spleen, the spleen wins every single time.

The establishment does want the money that progressives have, and it wants them around to blame for defeat. They would like the progressives to repeat party talking points, but they have largely abandoned that. Instead, they are happy to go along with the current smear campaign against the liberal blogsphere, because that gives them an endless supply of Sistah Souljah moments. Bet that at some point an establishment Democrat is going to wave something written on a left blog in satirical anger, kick the base and say "we need sensible Democrats". He’ll get large cheers, and vote for a big revenue reduction.

The establishment, in short, is only your friend as a progressive if you have sold out to it for access.

This points to one of those little discussed, but ugly truths about politics in this country. Wingnuts make this point from time to time, as they go about the business of manipulating working people into voting against their own interests. Specifically, they point out that the Democratic party is the party of "white liberals," who in fact practice a sort of "enlightened elitism." The wingnuts simply neglect to tell those working people, that the wingnuts represent the old fashioned elites of crony capitalism. While I certainly prefer the enlightened elitism of educated technocrats over the old fashioned kind, I am not fooled. Our "enlightened elitists" in the Democratic hierarchy have bought into the basic worldview and operating assumptions of the "investor class." They believe that corporate capitalism, and "globalization" are "inevitable." They differ from the Republicans, as a friend of mine once observed, only on the question of whether or not you get the benefit of Vaseline while you’re being fucked.

I have believed — and I continue to believe — that building a progressive majority among ordinary American voters is very feasible, if the question is simply whether a progressive message that appeals those ordinary American voters can be crafted. But that simple question comes with another question, namely, can existing political power centers be found to deliver any such message — a message that will not be well received by the establishment investor class. The answer to that question is becoming increasingly obvious. No, the Democratic establishment, and the corporate media, are simply not going to cooperate in any effort that will actually benefit the vast majority of working Americans. Thus is Sterling Newberry correct.

As long as the progressive wing of politics donates and works for a party establishment whose basic economic and political theory is antithetical to their long term aims of government, they will remain a junior partner in the Democratic party, forced to donate and work for candidates who are intent on selling out key bottom line social, civil and economic pillars of the progressive’s existence. This will continue until such time as economic crisis forces a reconfiguration – which will not favor the junior partner in the party in general – or until progressives develop a parallel party apparatus.

The task before progressives is as simple to conceive as it will be difficult to execute. We have to build our own organization, outside of — and where necessary, antagonistic toward "establishment Democrats." The details of how to do this are once again easy to conceptualize. We need grassroots activists delivering a consistent message, including developing our own alternative means of delivering that message — assuming hostility from our own "centrist" allies, and of course, the corporate media. As I have previously indicated, in my post the other day, the stakes and tenor of the conflict may get a lot rougher than the present smear tactics. If the powers that be understand their task — to make certain that their bad alternative is the only alternative — they will be fairly forced to prevent the emergence of any other alternative, by any means fair or foul. So our task is to develop a strategy and tactics for “asymmetric” political conflict.

To develop this capability, we need the following simple ingredients. We need a vision of what our democratic society ought to look like, and how it ought to function. We need a "tactical doctrine" to deliver that vision. Most importantly, we need some "unit cohesion" among our activists — especially if things get rough, which they probably will.

Where do we get those things? Progressive manifestos are a dime a dozen. Hell, some of us developed one here — that we will probably be sharing before too much longer. Such manifestos generally have zero impact. Here’s why. Corporate America and its wingnut spear carriers have something we don’t. They have something called a "world view." They have what David Stockman, who you may recall was Reagan’s budget director 25 years ago, called a vision of "how the world works." This is a common attack on us progressives. We have "wants" for things like universal health care and a living wage for working people. But we don’t have any "principles." We don’t understand "how the world works," so that our list of "wants" can be dismissed as idealistic and naive. Or so we are told.

This is the real success of the Republican propaganda machine, and it’s forty years of continuous ideological effort. It is the real triumph of the Strauss cultists, namely, that they have even managed to convince centrist Democrats that the oligarchic rule of the investor class is "inevitable." We have lost this "war of ideas" largely because most of us never knew we were fighting one. No one on the left has done what Leo Strauss was working on all the way back in 1949, namely, putting together a political philosophy — a theory of "how the world works" — that builds political cohesiveness from the ground up. If there is one idea Leo Strauss and his fellow wingnuts ever had that was true, it is the simple insight that "ideas matter." The fact that we live a world of nascent corporate feudalism, engineered by Strauss’ disciples, is living proof of the power of that insight.

As a matter of fact, the ideas that matter don’t have to be particularly good ideas. If there is no articulated alternative, those ideas just have to exist. The far right has a worldview, they know they have a worldview, and they understand the importance of that worldview. We have a worldview, as well. But most of us are barely aware of it, can’t articulate it, and don’t appreciate its central importance. That’s why we’re losing. So before we set forth our vision, and start organizing around it, we need to do something more basic. We need to go back to school, and reacquaint ourselves with the philosophical roots of our own political tradition. We need to rediscover not just words like "democracy," "equality" and "justice," but what those words mean, what our forebears understood about them, why they rejected the rule of oligarchs to start with, and most importantly, why they were right.

As I have said so many times, we absolutely do have ideas — good ideas. In fact, we progressives have a basic intuitive insight about the fundamental nature of society and government. That intuition is what makes us instinctively recoil in disgust at rightwing ideology. All we need to do is get in touch with that intuition, and make explicit what is intuitive. We need to learn those few simple principles that explain what makes us progressives — and that explains why we can never surrender to the oligarchs. It turns out that I have thinking about this for thirty years. I believe that I have finally figured out how how to explain it. I will give you a day or two to digest this introduction, and then I will show you what that fundamental progressive philosophy looks like.

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