Monday, September 3, 2007

Are You Progressive?

Let it begin. Day One. I swear I’ll keep most of these short and to the essence, although this, as the first, will be one of the longer ones.

I know I should start these 100 days with a post on Labor, but I have to kick this off with a look at The Big Picture: What is a progressive?

The opposition to radical bastardized conservatism is, finally, clearly ascendant, and its leadership, including us, are calling ourselves Progressives. Forget for a moment that the number of Americans identifying themselves as Liberal, not progressive, is at a 35 year high. I suspect that’s because the general public still cannot define what Progressivism is. But I am worried, worried that the Progressive movement as it has existed since its reincarnation in 1968 is being diluted by the flood of people jumping onto the band wagon, and morphing into an amorphous catchall for anything that opposes George and Jeb Bush Republicanism. I could be wrong. Please, comment about this.

The modern Progressive movement developed in 1968 when McCarthy and Robert Kennedy split from the Liberal Democratic Establishment of LBJ and Hubert Humphrey and others who were perpetuating the Vietnam War. (Historical point: American Progressivism emerged in 1912 as an agrarian reaction to urbanization and industrialization in the Republican Party, which splintered into Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. Robert La Follette carried the banner in 1924 and Henry Wallace in 1948, opposing Truman’s Cold War militarism. The FPC is an inheritor of this historical continuity).

So Progressivism split from Liberalism in 1968, and developed into additional issues. The two were distinctly different. Are they now? Tell me, what is the difference between a Liberal and a Progressive? And which are you? Are you a Progressive merely because Liberalism went out of fashion? Are you merely rebranding Liberalism?

In 1976 I canvassed hundreds upon hundreds of homes for Progressive Tom Hayden for the U.S. Senate in California against Liberal Democrat incumbent John Tunney in the Democratic primary who originally won because he was the son of a famous boxer. Great credentials, huh? I walked the Hispanic working class West side of Santa Barbara, CA. Hayden was the militant anti-Vietnam War protestor who was tried in the Chicago 7 trial of war protestors at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Hayden won a surprising 40% in the primary. Tunney was then defeated by radical right winger Sam Hayakawa. We Progressives blamed Tunney for the loss because he was a Washington D.C. Limousine Liberal who had lost touch with middle and lower class working people.

One last story: from 1976-80 I wrote for a Progressive weekly newspaper in Santa Barbara. We called our paper a Progressive paper, not a liberal paper, because we saw ourselves somewhat to the left of Liberal.

Okay, I’ll start to wrap.

What was the difference between Tom Hayden and our paper, and John Tunney and a Liberal newspaper? And what is the difference today, in my mind?

Liberals tend to be wealthy, or well to do attorneys who cater to an exclusive clientele who can afford $250 an hour for their legal rights, and have lavish lifestyles, homes and haircuts and drink $100 bottles of wine. They don’t understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. Or the Liberal is a politician who identifies with the economic interests of these Liberals, advocates for them and is rewarded with the lavish campaign contributions that enable them to run advertising campaigns and win elections. The Clintons are the classic example of this style of Liberalism, and they have much company. Look toward YOUR elected officials. Progressives tend to be middle middle class, working class or lower income. They tend to grassroots politics, unionism, movement politics and the non-profits. Of course there are exceptions.

Liberals accomodate powerful economic interests. Progressives are more willing to challenge them on behalf of middle and lower income people.

Liberals tend to accomodate and compromise with “conservative” interests, be it national security, social issues or civil liberties. Progressives are more willing to challenge these.

Liberals want to tweak our democratic system. Progressives want a major overhaul.

Liberals worry about winning their elections on their tepid platforms and take controversies off the table. Progressives think that upholding the Rule of Law, our Constitution as we have known it for so long, and the separation of powers, is more important, by holding hearings on articles of impeachment of Bush and Cheney as co-defendants.

Liberals support U.S. invasions, though they may no longer initiate them. Progressives oppose ideological right wing wars, from the start.

Liberals have turned against the Invasion of Iraq because we’re losing the occupation. Progressives opposed the war from the start because it is wrong to invade other countries.

Liberals accomodate and compromise with militarism. Progressives want a rollback.

Because of all of the above, Liberals are unsure of their principles since they are conflicted. They apologize when they have said no wrong. They frame their debate on conservative ground. They cannot defend themselves from right wing attack and so they cower in fear and seek to appease right wing politics with their vacilating policies and rhetoric. They cannot take the offensive. They are always waging defense.

My next 99 posts will all flow from today’s post.

Tell us. Are you a Progressive or a Liberal? Or are you a Moderate? Or am I all washed up?

Now let’s get to our picnic. Will you be sipping beer or $30 wine?

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