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Basically, he grew up.

Dissent writer Danny Goldberg offers a criticism of “professional progressives,” while defending the “spiritual side” of politics.  The article is a couple of months old, but I’m catching up.

An excerpt:

In a post for the Daily Beast Michelle Goldberg lamented, “Drum circles and clusters of earnest incense-burning meditators ensure that stereotypes about the hippie left remain alive.” At Esquire, Charles Pierce worried that few could “see past all the dreadlocks and hear…over the drum circles.” Michael Smerconish asked on the MSNBC show Hardball if middle Americans “in their Barcalounger” could relate to drum circles. The New Republic’s Alex Klein chimed in, “In the course of my Friday afternoon occupation, I saw two drum circles, four dogs, two saxophones, three babies….Wall Street survived.” And the host of MSNBC’s Up, Chris Hayes (editor at large of the Nation), recently reassured his guests Naomi Klein and Van Jones that although he supported the political agenda of the protest he wasn’t going to “beat the drum” or “give you a free hug,” to knowing laughter.

Yet it is precisely the mystical utopian energy that most professional progressives so smugly dismiss that has aroused a salient, mass political consciousness on economic issues—something that had eluded even the most lucid progressives in the Obama era.

Since the mythology of the 1960s hangs over so much of the analysis of the Wall Street protests, it’s worth reviewing what actually happened then. Media legend lumps sixties radicals and hippies together, but from the very beginning most leaders on the left looked at the hippie culture as, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a saboteur of pragmatic progressive politics. Hippies saw most radicals as delusional and often dangerously angry control freaks. Bad vibes.

Not that there is anything magic about the word “hippie…..”

The arguments aren’t anything new, but they are directed to a younger generation urban-based old left milieu who missed the “Old Left/New Left” debates of the 60s and 70s for whom, believe it or not, the subject matter is fresh.  It provides a great intro to a post I’m working on about the New York democratic socialist old left intellectualism which I’ll post sometime within the next week or so.

A minor point to the article, but so very annoying, is the perpetuation of the myth that Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” was written in earnest.  People!  It was a joke!  It was satire!  Irony!  Remember my 50 liberal country songs?  Why do you think I included it?  There was actually quite the discussion on it in the thread.

Judis is known in left circles as a “socialist conservative” and is even accused of DLC/Blue Dog tendencies in the more liberal left.  For the past three decades he’s been the voice the more orthodox left loves to hate, because he always calls for moderate tones in politics with an incrementalist approach to progress.  He is the one calling for support of Democrats who can win and has often “punched the hippie,” at least on cultural issues (although activists jumped the gun during the 1980s when he called for the left to reclaim “family values” when a lot of them unfortunately didn’t bother to read the article before issuing knee-jerk responses).  He is the last wonk you would expect to call Obama a wimp for pushing compromise, but there it is.  During the 1990s, I had arguments with socialist friends about whether Judis is legitimately even “liberal” anymore, and when I pointed out that he still identifies as a “socialist,” one friend laughed and said, “just wait about 10 years.”  Well, it’s been about 17, and this is what he’s writing:

THIS IS IMPORTANT because Obama may now be facing his own crisis of the Union. Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.

Read the rest of the uncharacteristic opinion.  Maybe he isn’t a leftist anymore.  Maybe that’s how goofy the GOP has become.

On top of being right on, the montage is a work of art.  You can tell that he’s very proud of his staff.  And you can understand why Fox News is hitting back at Jon Stewart of late.

The Dissent article is a month old, so the facts are a bit dated, but the question remains relevant.  Maybe nuclear power, if we employ it at all, should be relegated to totalitarian, or at least authoritarian, regimes.

A sample:

JAPAN’S CURRENT troubles could plausibly be said to stem from one of the foundational principles of the liberal worldview. Liberal democracy—and this, after all, is the very reason why many of its advocates regard it as the only legitimate form of government—is an individualistic creed.

What exactly this individualism amounts to is subject to much debate. But liberal individualism does seem to include at least two distinctive claims. First, liberal democracies are supposed to protect individuals against the potentially life-threatening demands of the collectivity. Whereas other regimes would happily sacrifice one of their own to serve the common good, liberal countries recognize that they cannot legitimately ask their citizens to make vast sacrifices from which those same citizens will never profit. Second, liberal countries think that the coercive power of the state is only justified insofar as citizens have—tacitly or explicitly—consented to them. Thus, what liberal countries can ask their citizens to do is limited by what their citizens can reasonably be said to have agreed to.

Both of these claims seem to offer an initial explanation for why the Japanese response to the evolving nuclear crisis has been so tepid. An authoritarian regime might simply have made some of its citizens sacrifice their lives for the collectivity. This is what happened at Chernobyl: the Soviet Union felt no need even to inform its citizens of the dangers they faced by continuing to stay at the plant, trying to stop it from melting down.

The article would make a great chapter in Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom.

So what do you think?  Does a liberal democracy have the right to demand the ultimate sacrifice?  Not just potential death as in when you enlist.  But certain death – for the greater good?  Can a liberal democracy with values reinforcing individual autonomy adequately address crisis of such nature?  The author believes so, but is a little vague on the method of obtaining the sacrifice.  A system of voluntary sacrifice offers no guarantees.

That’s how my good friend John Rogers describes it, and coming across this clip from the last season supports the description.  It’s a fantasy in a couple of respects – that two intelligent party nominees for President would agree to a free-form debate with unlimited exchange without obsession over precisely how much time each gets.  It’s a fantasy that the Republicans would nominate a free-thinking pro-choice Republican capable of plausible depiction by Alan Alda.  And it is the ultimate fantasy of how we wanted Michael Dukakis to respond against George Bush, Sr. way back in that debate of 1988 when the former’s ACLU membership was brought up.



Of course, it doesn’t beat this fantasy response Gore ought to have made to Bush as Bartlet does to James Brolin’s depiction of a Bush-like pol (several years before his son depicted the real thing in W).  The theme is underscored by the lead-up to the debate where his staff and wife try every trick to pull a cerebral President out of his head.  Of course, the real fantasy is that voters actually want someone in office smarter than them, and would not be turned off by Bartlett’s smug sense of liberal superiority.

Addendum: Bernie Sanders tries to bring class issues back into national discourse.  Thanks to PAN for the notice.



She stood up by refusing to stand up.

The pundits all talk about it, and apparently it’s deliberate.  They aren’t fighting back comprehensively.  The national party orgs are sending money to individual campaigns, and their 537s are financing ads with local issue emphasis.  But there is no Democratic Party message, probably because the incumbents who are in trouble are mostly blue dogs and DLCers – conservative Democrats who don’t want a message they can’t sell to Republican-heavy districts.

So it came as a surprise to me in an interview with Nancy Pelosi I caught after watching the Giants’ win.  She said that one of the best kept secrets is that the private sector jobs created in the first 8 months of 2010 exceed those created during the entire 8 years of Bush rule.  That’s a profound statement, which goes to long term liberal narrative that while the modern right wing still emphasizes nationalism in rhetoric it has no problem with sacrificing jobs in the interest of economic internationalism, because while wages are national dividends are international.  Keeping jobs in the country is not even in the Republican platform – certainly not prominently anyway.  It’s a basic equation.  We cannot keep jobs in the country as long as free trade agreements lack standards and force us to compete with near-slave labor.  It is frustrating that so many of the very victims of the situation are so caught up in the culture war that they can’t, or won’t, see it.  Hence the reddening of West Virginia, once one of the bluest of the union states, who like their governor but don’t want him to be Senator because he shares party membership with the scary Muslim black guy in the White House.

The Democrats are going to lose big on Tuesday.  Perhaps not as big as the media had been hyping, but big anyway, because they are too timid and lack vision and “audacity” which they can sell to a public suffering the hangover of Reagan’s deregulation, Clinton’s economic globalization, and Bush’s perennial wars.

Eugene Goodheart recently wrote about what he sees as the grave political misunderstandings of Obama’s left wing critics, and he raises some excellent points.  Yes, there are structural limitations as well as political and cultural limitations to what a president can do.  The Democrats represent an amalgam of political and cultural interests, while the Republicans are much more homogeneous.  It makes consensus and party discipline much more difficult for Democrats than Republicans.  Add to this that the US despite the progress remains a inherently conservative country, ultimately fearful of government intervention at any level unless it takes the form of an invasion of another country or building roads which support at least the illusion of individual freedom of movement.  Everything else government offers is suspect, no matter how successful counterpart programs may be in other countries.

The basic irony here is that financial crisis makes many Americans more culturally conservative.  Keynesianism has saved the economy time and again, used by FDR and Reagan, but it is not credited because there is no long term narrative, probably because such a narrative is culturally difficult to sell.  Republicans have been successful in whittling down the economic recovery measures, converting to deficit concern after 8 years of apathy on the issue, and ensuring that any new spending is “paid for” which guarantees that no additional money make its way into the economy.  Most Americans forget that the bailout for lenders predated Obama and contained no measures for accountability in how the money would be spent by recipients.  And the stimulus package was too little, and too heavy on tax reductions and not enough on labor-intensive multipliers.  It was enough to forestall a depression, and generate the largest private sector job growth expansion in a decade, but it did not pull enough people out of unemployment to prevent massive foreclosures and pain.

In The Case for Barack Obama, the Rolling Stone points out that:

… the passions of Obama’s base have been deflated by the compromises he made to secure historic gains like the Recovery Act, health care reform and Wall Street regulation, that gloom cannot obscure the essential point: This president has delivered more sweeping, progressive change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic administrations did in 12 years. “When you look at what will last in history,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells Rolling Stone, “Obama has more notches on the presidential belt.”

So why don’t we know about it?  Obama is the king of the soft-sell.  I think he will be reelected in 2012, and maybe given the realities left by Bush and the corporate free-for-all, the mid-term losses were inevitable.

And in light of my analysis above, R.S. offers this:

Republican critics have blasted the Recovery Act as a failure because it did not hold unemployment below eight percent, as the president’s economic advisers had promised. And liberal economists accused Obama of failing to fight hard enough to enact a bigger stimulus that would have saved more jobs. But since the original stimulus squeaked through, the president has won a series of stand-alone measures — including three extensions of unemployment benefits, the Cash for Clunkers program, a second round of aid for states and a package of loans and tax cuts for small businesses — that have infused another $170 billion into the economy. The Recovery Act itself, meanwhile, has grown from $787 billion to $814 billion, thanks to provisions that were smartly pegged to metrics like unemployment.

In fact, should Obama secure passage of two new programs he has proposed — $50 billion in infrastructure spending and $200 billion in tax breaks for investments in new equipment — he will have surpassed the $1 trillion stimulus that many liberal economists believed from the beginning was necessary. “As the need became more obvious to people, we were able to take additional steps to accelerate progress,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tells Rolling Stone. The president, in effect, has achieved through patience and pragmatism what he was unlikely to have won through open political warfare.

The Republicans know we are at a cross-roads.  Their narrative does not specifically address recovery actions except the usual tax breaks which their standard-bearers like Rand Paul argue are the only effective stimulus.  But most economists will tell you that tax break stimulus is pretty minimal, and Reagan learned that the hard way in 1981 before pushing a military spending spree in which the deficit grew larger than all previous deficits dating back to George Washington combined, by 1984.  It expanded the economy however, and Reagan won in the most lopsided contest in American history, thanks in large part to well-packaged economic liberalism.  They know that if recovery takes root and is felt before 2012, the transition towards a European style economy will become inevitable.  They are not pledging to put the economy back together in two years.  They are pledging to take Obama down.

I’ll have more to say about it later, but this is why in this time I won’t be voting Green or other third party, and I won’t be endorsing principled Republicans in any statewide or national office race.  The die is cast, and we’re at a crossroads.  You can help make the transition easier on Tuesday.  Or you can help thwart it by 2012.  Really, those are the choices right now.

Kos coverage.

TPM coverage.

CNN coverage.

Fox News coverage (not bad actually).

Glen Beck’s pre-event commentary.

And here’s a right wing video showcasing all of the socialist groups present to the tune of the Internationale.

I’ll post more as I find it.

Addendum: Here’s another photo diary. So far no pictures of Sara Palin with a Hitler mustache.

In this quarter’s issue of Dissent, history Prof Julian Zelizer examines the tension between Obama and the centrists and the liberal left of the Democratic Party with some contextual history.  The question is whether Nancy Pelosi can be to Obama what Robert Wagner was to FDR, or whether she will be what Ted Kennedy was to President Carter (funny that there is no mention of Reid, nor any of the Democratic congressional “leadership” during the 1990s, which was largely hapless). 

Basically, the theme is that the left pushed FDR to be competative in the realm of ideas and the president pushed legislation which mimicked that of his loyal liberal dissent.  Later the left successfully pushed Johnson on the domestic front, but Johnson pushed back in foreign policy, with the 1968 convention tearing the center-left alliance apart.  Carter then opted moderate to hawkish in defiance of Ted Kennedy.  The feud is described in some detail in the middle of the article, consisting of a flashback after the intro depicted a history I missed, probably because I was in high school on my summer break when it happened.

WHEN SENATOR Ted Kennedy walked onto the podium at the 1980 Democratic Convention, the crowd erupted. The senator raised his fist to the Massachusetts delegation. Then he quickly shook President Carter’s hand and walked away without lifting Carter’s arm—the traditional sign of unity at the end of a primary battle. After Kennedy left, the crowd shouted, “We want Ted!” so vigorously that he returned for an encore. At that point, it looked like Carter had to chase Kennedy down to get his attention. Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, took close notice of what had happened. “If that’s the best they can do in unity, they have a long way to go….” Six months later, Reagan trounced him in the election with 489 Electoral College votes.

The awkward scene between Carter and Kennedy culminated four years of tense relations between these two men and, more importantly, between the White House and liberal Democrats in Congress. The fallout was devastating to the party, especially as the conservative movement was gaining steam in the 1970s. Since Carter’s presidency, the relationship between centrist and liberal Democrats has been characterized by mistrust and suspicion.

The revelation though is in the FDR section of the article.  Even he had to be pushed, and often opted for compromise with conservatives even as he was threatening to stack the Supreme Court to get his way.  I’ve examined the differences between Obama and FDR in the past, and unfortunately I think Obama would just as well go the route of Carter, only for two terms.

The article then moves into familiar territory – Obama’s weak will with regard to health care reform and the stimulus.  Although the article ends on a note of hope not justified by any of the data presented, I do have to say I’m encouraged by his strong-arming of BP to put up a bankruptcy-immune 20 billiion escrow fund.  I just wish he’d put a leash on Rahm Emanuel, who I think has given the president some bad advice.

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