Monday, September 26, 2011

The inept left

I've said it over and over again: the shallow, milquetoast liberalism restricted to progressivism on social issues (identity and gender issues, for instance) and hobbled by dependence on partisan Democrats will never be a broadly inclusive movement. It can never be more than a limited, status quo echo ignoring basic reform of power structures and larger visions of justice.

But don't take my word for it. A history professor provided a comparison of American populism, left and right, in last weekend's New York Times, and he effectively articulates the limits of liberals that block progressive goals:

the left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions — unions, women’s groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press — in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.

Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.

A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.

I've been told before that a local journalist once described me as "to-the-left-of-left". If the reporter said that to my face I would reply that there is not much left here to be left of. There is no popular movement for challenging the system. I may be "to-the-left-of-left" but it is meaningless relative to what passes for progressivism: fractured, reactive and desperate; dependent on party wonks and politicians who could take or leave movements or the interests of regular people.


  1. Who wrote this? No byline.

  2. This is who wrote it. I copied and pasted it from the NYT link:

    Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown, a co-editor of Dissent and the author of “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.”

  3. Despite the author's sneering at the TEA party, it seems to me that what is desired is a left-of-center brand of TEA party

    (although I don't concede that the TEA party's end game diverges much from that of a non-ideological, worker-center progressive).

    The initial TEA party stripped away abortion, religion & social issues from the conservative cause, leaving a group focussed on taxes, jobs, and the welfare of people. Would that it continue that way.

    This is not dissimilar from noting that liberals who focus on social causes like gay marriage, or other identity politics or who over-reach on the enviroment, do nothing to further the cause of larger progressive goals.