The Nature of the Political Contest

We have established that the contest between left and right is a contest between two fundamentally antagonistic social world views. At bottom, the right believes in the ancient world-view of social hierarchy. The left believes in the modern world view of equality, liberty and social justice. We have further established that the right has built an effective and widespread organization to advance its hierarchical world-view. If we believe in industrial democracy, the right is bent on establishing what can best be described as industrial feudalism. Ultimately, they will fail, because industrialization and technological advancement are naturally democratizing cultural forces.

Meanwhile, their organization has the capability of creating a great deal of general misery, as they go kicking and screaming to the ash heap of history. Therefore, while it may not be necessary, it is certainly desirable for those of us on the left to organize ourselves to minimize the right’s capacity for destruction. The Nazi’s after all, ultimately lost. But not before 50,000,000 soldiers and civilians died. Think of the destruction the world could have been spared if the left in Weimar Germany had figured out how to effectively oppose Nazism in the 1920’s – before things got out of hand.

If you don’t think things can get out of hand in this country, take a look at our history. What was the Ku Klux Klan if not an American version of the Stormtroopers. As for more “moderate” right wingers – what is their general opinion about the “dirty war” in Argentina, Agusto Pinochet, Roberto D’Aubuisson, Anastasio Samoza, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Baby Doc Duvalier and any number of other right-wing hoodlums these people have supported over the past fifty years. Now go read some Ann Coulter, and ask yourself, is this woman, and the people who listen to her going to have a problem deciding that what was good for Chile is also good for America?. The question isn’t whether right-wing authoritarianism is the direction we’re headed. The question is whether it is too late to stop it.

If you are like me, and you have decided that on the way to a free, egalitarian socially just society, you don’t care to take a detour through Pinochet’s Chile, then you are simply going to have to learn how to confront and neutralize the well-financed, well-organized and highly disciplined forces of the far right. The way that you do that is by understanding the nature of the political struggle, and learning how to win that struggle now, while the struggle is still waged by civilized means. That means that you are going to have to learn the art of political debate.

The goal of the conservatives for the past forty years has been so-called “realignment”. I call it a regime change. So far in American history, we have had two of them – the first in 1861 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the second in 1932 with the election of Franklin Roosevelt. It is not for nothing that these two men count as two of the greatest American presidents. They began a fundamental restructuring of what the government was, and how it related to society. The conservatives seek such a restructuring, and I believe ultimately so will we on the left.

The restructuring or “realignment” is really a fundamental rethinking by people in society. But it isn’t a “restructuring” for everybody. Many people are only vaguely aware that their perception of things had changed. Many people in 1936, lived in a role of the Federal government was vastly enlarged over what it had been in 1926. They didn’t sit down on a rock and say, “gee, I wonder if we ought to vastly expand the role of the federal government?” It was presented to them as a “done deal” – and they accepted it as not only necessary, but desirable. Ten years earlier, they might have rejected the idea. They might even have cited “socialism” as the reason – even as they rejected attacks on the New Deal as “socialism” ten years later. Many of those people, would not be able to give you a coherent reason why their political sensibility changed. But it did.

Changing people’s political sensibility has been the goal of the far right for fifty years. It is the reason for building their political organizations, specifically their agit-prop organization. Because that change in political sensibility – among people in the middle – is what will make any “realignment’ possible. Political debate is about winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of people in the middle.

It is absolutely not about changing the minds of your opponents. Except for the occasional “conversion’, their minds are pretty well made up. In fact, in the case of right wingers, indoctrinated in the ideology and tactics of the right, they have already figured this out about you. They are arguing with you, but they aren’t arguing to you. Their audience is the guy sitting in his “lazy boy” after work, drinking a brewski, and reading the letters to the editor of his local paper. Guess what. That’s your audience, too. That’s the guy whose political sensibility you care about.

Left, right or center all successful political leaders and organizers have understood the central importance of the culture and worldview of the so-called “common man”. Antonio Gramsci spoke of the need to root a leftist movement in the culture of a nation. Mao said to “swim among the people as a fish swims in the sea.” Hitler outlines the detailed tactics to find “the way into the heart of the broad masses”. And just to round things out with a leader most people admire, it was Abraham Lincoln who said that “God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them.”

Accordingly, the goal of any leftist organization or movement has to be to win broad understanding and approval for a left of center world-view and agenda among a broad cross section of society. That means building a broad consensus the fundamentals of equality and democracy – as opposed to hierarchy and oligarchy. Then it means applying that world view to the particulars of the political debate – translating a broad vision in to specific policies and an agenda for governing.

Which makes the next step to begin to frame the issues with two goals in mind. First, your goal is appeal to the practical and moderate views of people in the middle. Second, you want to advance a general awareness of the importance – and the inevitability – of a more democratic and egalitarian society. As you begin to frame the terms of the debate, something interesting will happen. You will find yourself abandoning a variety of leftist approaches from the past, that just frankly weren’t very good ideas. Next, you will discover a leftist application for a variety of ideas and approaches, the right would love to claim as their own exclusive domain. What you wind up with is a highly pragmatic and very concrete agenda, that even where it is “radical” will make sense and appeals to the ordinary voter.

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