Nudging Obama

Formerly "Obama Watch" Keeping the promise of change

The Progressive Populist Liberal

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A populist, progressive and liberal democratic party will be different from the one we have now. For a long time, the Democratic Party forgot progressivism – it was the missing piece of the Clinton Years. Schlesinger noted it. What Clinton brought back was populist rhetoric, even though the populists didn’t vote for him the first election – they didn’t vote against him, the way they had voted against Dukakis in 1988. But what was it in service of? While there were vague nostrums about bridges to the 21st century, and a few concrete actions, Clinton left behind no legacy, because he didn’t have the progressive impulse to change how things worked on a fundamental level.

This is why the word progressive has been thrown around such a great deal in the last five years – it was the component of the legendary Democratic Party that was palpably absent. Gore and Kerry didn’t exude progressivism – but Dean and Clark do, Feingold does. Progressivism forms the core of the Democratic Party, because it is the mortar that holds the bricks together. Once the mortar sets, it is very difficult to knock the bricks over.

What needs rehabilitation now, is liberalism. Populists make promises, liberals keep them. The way to pay for the social goods that people want, is to have a means of directing the national effort towards those goods, with a the least cost to the most people. Liberalism without progressivism is in a quandry – the best way to accomplish this is to tax the rich. No one gets less happiness out of a dollar than a person who has a billion of them. Heck, he doesn’t even know how many of them he really has.

Liberalism has become stodgy. It has begun to forget its own basic premise – and that is that the world needs to be looked at fresh every day, in the reports coming in from the field, in the numbers, in its systematic nature – and dealt with fresh every single day. Some days you are going to raise taxes, some days cut them, some days create programs, other days bring them to an end. The constant balancing of tensions is the nature of liberalism. You can win elections on your gut, but you can’t govern on your belly.

Liberal institutions need shaking up, they need to have the flooding light an energy that progressivism brings with it forced into every office, every room, every meeting. Liberal institutions have to realize that liberalism isn’t about being the best wonk in the class to get ahead, or creating money flows that keep members reelected. It’s about the people, finding the best future out of the realistic futures that are out there.

Progressives knew instinctively that Bush was bad news, even if they didn’t know how in all the details. Liberals who had forgotten progressivism, or populists who wanted no truck with liberalism, could be fooled by platitudes about humble foreign policy and compassionate conservatism.

This is an example of how a divided Democratic Party can be beaten by a unified Republican Party. You can buy populist votes with pork, you can bamboozle Liberals with big promises, you can run Progressives in circles over false problems – but only if they don’t talk to each other, or better yet, are made to see each other as enemies for the same pie. As long as there is a basic belief that the Democratic Party is populist or progressive or liberal – then the infighting alone keeps the Republicans happy.

Republican infighting is just starting to be on display – the libertarians are defecting, first over the war, then over the lack of progress on dismantling the government, and now over domestic spying. But it is Democratic infighting that has become a way of life.

It’s also important to get things in the right place. Populism doesn’t come up with good solutions, because populists love unilateral action. Well, sometimes you are in a position of being able to act unilaterally and get ahead, but usually you aren’t. Progressivism often jumps the wrong way on gut issues – Republicans live by playing the gay card, because that is an issue they know that Progressives have to think about a stance on, and that hesitation is visible to the populist mass. It’s “flip flopping” or “waffling”. Liberalism will sit and fiddle with org charts and spreadsheets, until there is fire under its feet.

And the final step is to get integrated. The Republican operative looks smooth because he’s integrated. He has a gut level belief in his being better than everyone else – that’s the smarmy smirk they all wear. In his heart he’s a reactionary – if modern liberalism was for it, he’s agin it – except of course for anything that makes money or blows up arabs. And in his head, he’s constantly looking for an upside angle – a way to heard people forward into borrowing more money, running their savings down even further and skimming off the profits. He or she has a certain look, because he has faith that as long as the cattle stampede into the slaughter house, he will do just fine. He’s only got three jobs: keep the cattle stupid, keep the cattle moving, and keep the wheels of the machine turning.

An integrated Democrat will have Clinton’s ability to speak from the gut, Dean’s ability to make change a moral imperative, and Krugman’s way of looking at the whole picture. He or she too will have a certain look, because he two has only three jobs: educate the public, organize the public, peer into the future to find the best place to lead them. People will respond to this, because, when broken down, most of the public doesn’t hate liberals, it just doesn’t see the left as an integrated force that is delivering change for the public benefit from top to bottom.

So those are the three pillars of victory – Populist in our gut, Progressive in our hearts – and Liberal in our heads. All at once, no excuses. 

from Pillars of Victory: Populist, Progressive, Liberal


Written by bearmarketnews

April 15, 2009 at 2:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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