Monday, February 8, 2010

"Don't get too upset...and keep supporting Democrats"

That is the message coming in loud and clear from the likes of Dissent these days. I can't imagine a more hopelessly deluded and impotent political position.

On the one hand, liberals like Walzer and Gitlin surely want reforms like single-payer, robust funding for education, higher taxes on the rich, a WPA-like public works program to create jobs, etc.

But when it comes to the question of what it would take to actually achieve these reforms, the Dissent liberals are content to sit back and claim either (1) that "the country isn't ready for them", or (2) that we simply need to ask those in power more politely. In either case, Walzer, Gitlin, et al. are committed to a never-ending apologia for whatever the Democrats do.

Thus it was no surprise to read that the headline for Walzer's contribution to the Dissent forum on Obama's first year was titled "It Could Have Been Worse". Can you imagine a more conservative assesment of the status quo? The message Walzer is articulating is clear: resist the urge to be realistic or sober about Obama's first year. Just keep whispering to yourself the lie that the Democratic Party is a progressive force in contemporary politics. Keep consoling yourself with the fantasy that simply voting for Democrats, supporting "consumer organizations" and so on will be enough to win the reforms people are demanding. But don't expect Walzer to even be too involved in those activities. His conception of political action seems to consist solely in writing tepid, apologetic opinion pieces for Dissent. The less one actually does, the more one implicitly endorses Walzer's politics.


fwoan said...

The Obama administration has been the defining force in my realization that the Democratic Party is simply the left arm of our de facto one-party-system of the status quo. Time and again Americans on the left are baited with great ideas of reform and when they fail we're told that we need to support the Democrats even more for it to work next time - when in actuality there was never any interest in reform in the first place. The only times the Democrats have gone out of their way to introduce substantial reforms was when large parts of the country were threatening revolt, such as the New Deal and the Great Society.

Every election we're told that this election is the "most important" election and to throw away your vote on third party candidates is to hand the election to the conservatives. This attitude only perpetuates the situation our country is in. This sick joke that we keep falling for only ensures the status quo's livelihood. I will be voting third party for the foreseeable future.

T said...

"Time and again Americans on the left are baited with great ideas of reform and when they fail we're told that we need to support the Democrats even more for it to work next time"

I couldn't agree more.

I would only add, though, that I'm not firmly convinced that voting third party is necessarily a subversive political act. I'm all for left-wing political independence from the Dems, it's just that I worry that elections may not be the most effective place to pour leftist political energies. It would be better, in the short term at least, to have organized swaths of people who could exert pressure on whomever has power in Washington.

Nonetheless, I support the long-term struggle to try to create a left-wing electoral alternative to the hopelessly conservative Democratic Party.

fwoan said...

Thanks, T. As for your comments on the viability of electoral victories, I would point you to a question I had on a post you wrote last year (which because I only asked a couple weeks ago, may have gotten lost) on this very subject. Could you please elaborate on this point for me?

Question is here:

Richard said...

I addressed this subject over at American Leftist when Howard Zinn died, observing that his expression of support for Democratic presidential candidates even as he exhorted them to do the right thing, was an abysmal failure. Instead of empowering people, it demoralized them.

But liberals like Gitlin and Walzer have a different problem. Unlike Zinn, who would have had no qualms about the emergence of a mass political movement to compel the enactment of progressive policies, Gitlin and Walzer are only fine with the achievement of progressive policies if they result from activism filtered through non-profits and think tanks to the government. Or, to put it differently, activism safely contained by people like them. If forced to choose between meaningful progressive change as a result of a popular mobilization and no progressive change and no mobilization, they will invariably choose the latter.

For a recent example, we need only look to the November protests at UC Berkeley, and the duplicitous role played by George Lakoff, liberal linquistics darling.

T said...

fwoan: check out that post on electoral politics... I posted a reply on the comment thread there. Let me know what you make of it.

Richard: I agree with your assessment of Gitlin and Co.... it's interesting that in the walzer piece he makes disparaging remarks about "populism", and claims that what's needed is more "consumer organizations". In short: don't take to the streets... just send checks to and purchase less Coca Cola and the political problems of our age will fix themselves.