Monday, December 24, 2007

Why the “new progressive movement” is fucked



Well, maybe that’s a little too strong. It’s sometimes hard to tell what all the hoopla is about when it comes to the great progressive ascendancy that’s supposedly underway, but it’s clear that something is happening and there are a few genuinely hopeful signs.

For one thing, many liberals seem to be shedding the crippling allergy toward the left that was such a debilitating feature of Cold War-era liberalism. Some of the old shibboleths about American foreign policy are being slowly shaken off and it is now possible to occasionally stumble on once-verboeten terms like “imperialism” in the pages of respectable liberal outlets.

Of course, these verdant shoots of spring are products of the political awakening that has unfolded in the Bush years. When I started writing about politics in the mid-to-late 1990’s, the political landscape was much different. As I saw it, on this side of the valley was The Left, of which I considered myself a part. On the other side of the valley were the neoliberal centrists who played liberals on TV: fake liberals - like Cokie Roberts or Thomas Friedman. And in between there was a great empty expanse. Now that expanse is being populated by genuine liberals - bloggers like Eschaton, columnists like Paul Krugman and commentators like the younger staff of the American Prospect. All of this is good news.

So why do I say that the new progressive movement is fucked? Because they have no ideology. They lack any semblance of a creed. Now, naturally, the progressives would vigorously dispute this. Of course we have a creed! We believe in universal healthcare, combating global warming, protecting the right to abortion… [etc., ad infinitum] But that’s not a creed, it’s a list of policies. And of course, what happens when you have only a list of policies as your lodestar is that crafty politicians come along who loudly claim to embrace your goals before quietly vitiating them with a lobbyist’s scalpel and reams of fine print.

The minute these new progressives try to put their creed into words, it melts into a flavorless mush of insensible campaign rhetoric, the kind imperishably satirized by the Simpsons in an episode broadcast during the 1996 Clinton-Dole campaign. The space alien Kodos, doing his best to impersonate an American politician in a live televised debate, delivers his opening statement:

My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball. But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward! Upward not forward! And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

Now, don’t accuse me of making blanket statements without backing them up. I’m going to do no less than prove my point scientifically! A good way to illustrate what I’m talking about is to compare the mission statements of two think tanks. The first is the Center for American Progress, a central hub of the new progressivism. The second is that hallowed bastion of the conservative movement, the Heritage Foundation.

Here I will apply what I believe to be a useful technique of rhetorical analysis. Political scientists like to speak of positional issues and valence issues. The first are statements that clearly demarcate people according to their particular ideology. If a politician says “I believe gay marriage is a sinful abomination,” that's a positional statement - it puts him squarely in one camp and separates him clearly from millions of people who support gay marriage. By contrast, when a politician says, “I believe in a strong economy,” he's using a valence issue. Pretty much everyone wants a “strong economy,” whatever that means.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to reproduce each think tank’s mission statement below. Position-speak will be displayed in red. Valence-speak will be in blue. The acid test is whether or not a politician with the opposite ideology could comfortably mouth the same words. If he could, it's mere valence-speak.

Now, one caveat. In one sense, all political discourse is valence-speak. We all try to put our ideas into words that our audience will be most likely to accept. The anti-abortion movement obviously chose the moniker “pro-life” because everyone would like to think of themselves, in some sense, as pro-“life.” (Same goes for “pro-choice.”) But declaring oneself “pro-life” is nevertheless unmistakably positional, and for a very simple reason: Everyone understands exactly what it means. There is no warm, fuzzy ambiguity about it. It means only one thing: “I want to restrict abortions.”

Sometimes, however, rhetoric can be deliberately ambiguous. It can seem to point somewhat to a particular ideological position without being entirely clear. Such language is weakly positional and it will appear in green. Finally, an obvious point: My coding is ultimately, to some extent, subjective. So I'll deliberately give CAP the benefit of the doubt.

Okay, here goes. First up, the Heritage Foundation statement, which is short and sweet:

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

There you have it. In Heritage’s brief statement, bold, clear, straightforward ideology – red predominates by a wide margin, with just a hint of blue sprinkled in.

Next up we have the Center for American Progress, which rambles on and on (already a bad sign):

As progressives we believe that America should be a country of boundless opportunity—where all people can better themselves through education, hard work, and the freedom to pursue their dreams. We believe this will only be achieved with an open and effective government that champions the common good over narrow self-interest, harnesses the strength of our diversity, and secures the rights and safety of its people.

Real progress will be achieved only through innovative solutions borne of open collaboration.

To realize our vision we must:

Build an opportunity nation where every hard-working person, regardless of background, can realize their dreams through education, decent work and fair play.

Reawaken America’s conscience, our sense of shared and personal responsibility, to build healthy, vibrant communities.

Reform government so that it is of, by and for the people: open, effective, and committed to the common good.

Use America’s strength to bring the world together, not pull it apart.

CAP’s blurb is a sea of meaningless blue nonsense. “Innovative solutions borne of open collaboration”? Even the language I generously coded as positional - "harness the strength of our diversity," "bring the world together" - is basically reheated PR-speak that one could find in any quarterly report to the shareholders.

The conclusion is inescapable: Liberals just don’t have a creed that they feel comfortable expressing in direct and straightforward language. Now, why is this? There are two reasons, I suspect. First, it’s partly a legacy of postwar ADA-style liberalism, which frequently went out of its way to depict itself as a non-ideology; a program of technocratic pragmatism and cautious experimentation - the Vital Center, in other words.

But I think the deeper reason is that if liberals tried honestly to formulate their principles in abstract terms, they would quickly discover how poorly they echo the American vernacular. Many swing-voting Americans would simply recoil from them. After all, Americans are, in the famous phrase, programmatically liberal but ideologically conservative. The hard fact is that this country’s political culture has evolved in such a way that what passes for harmless valence-talk here is actually quite right-wing, when you think about it.

For a progressive movement aspiring to ascendancy, facing that fact, and how it came to be so, would require a searching reexamination of great swaths of the hallowed American history and tradition that liberals seem to feel a constant need to pay reverent homage to – the Constitution, the Democratic Party, any number of past liberal heroes.

Much easier to keep talking about “building healthy and vibrant communities.”

49 comments:

A Different Matt said...

When I read stuff like this, I think of these two quotes from Matt Taibbi and Karl Rove:

"No matter what [the left] claims for a self image, in reality it’s the saddest collection of cowering, ineffectual ninnies ever assembled under one banner on God’s green earth. And its ugly little secret is that it really doesn’t mind being in the position it’s in – politically irrelevant and permanently relegated to the sidelines, tucked into its cozy little cottage industry of polysyllabic, ivory tower criticism. When you get right to it, the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West side cocktail party for the college-graduate classes."

and Rove's quote:

"Many times the people I see criticizing him are, you know, sort of elite, effete snobs who can't hold a candle to [President Bush]. What they don't like about him is that he is common sense, that he is Middle America."

The left has some serious problems; critics, apologists, and dispassionate observers all know and exploit those problems. The question is, who can change the left's impotence, and how?

Church Secretary said...

Great blog. I like the approach you are taking in this post, but I feel there is something important you're omitting. It is characterized by the Heritage Foundation's mission statement: yes, it is short and sweet, but every statement describes virtually the direct opposite of what conservatives have been doing since before the Heritage Foundation existed. CAP's statement, while fuzzy, at least attempts to be more honest.

I think this distinction is crucial, because it goes a long way to explaining this dichotomy that you illuminate:

Americans are, in the famous phrase, programmatically liberal but ideologically conservative.

One could say this means we are functional hypocrites. That's why conservative double-talk is so effective at unifying their base (at least for as long as it takes at the polls); it's easier to sell lies when your target audience is so used to lying to themselves. With progressives, on the other hand, what you accurately describe as an incoherent mish-mash of policy platforms is just the manifestation of how people who are a little more thoughtful tend to organize themselves. Trying to unite progressives is like herding cats; if that is a bad thing, then the problem is not with progressives but with the political system which can't handle them.

The streamlined corruption that thrives on what you call "valence-speak" is proving itself to be unsustainable. I believe we will either grow up and reject this self-deluding dog and pony show, or we will devolve into a self-immolating arc of fascism. We're already trending hard toward the latter.

Elayne said...

Do you think part of the avoidance of positional-speak in favor of valence-speak on the liberal end is partly due to how successful conservatives' recent vicious attacks on liberals have been? It doesn't seem like liberals in power have quite figured out that they're going to be viciously attacked no matter what they say, so they may as well say something with meaning and welcome oppositional enmity. Or is it the liberal instinct to be so all-inclusive that they have to be open to "other points of view" even when the opposition clearly feels no such magnanimity?

Woody (Tokin' Lib'rul/Rogue Scholar & O'erall Helluvafella!) said...

One point:
In the foto at the top of the blog, the CHimp is 'scanning' the Korean DMZ through binocs the lens-caps on which were still in place over the lenses. Kinda hard to scan anything like that.
Unless the implicature is what you're getting at...

slim said...

How about these:

• No more wars of aggression.

• No more military occupations.

• Health care is a right of all Americans. Medicare has proven the most efficient means of paying for healthcare and punishing fraud. Medicare should be available universally to all Americans.

• American innovation can overcome our dependence on fossil fuels and can build a new manufacturing base in the U.S.

• Illegal immigration will end when there is zero-tolerance prosecution of employers. Punishing immigrants does not solve the problem.

• NAFTA and the WTO are bad for American jobs, bad for immigration policy, and bad for developing economies.

• Protecting the environment is good for the economy as well as for our health.

• Media must be re-regulated and the large media conglomerates must be broken up in order to protect democracy.

• We must re-regulate banks and the financial markets to avoid the market failures that have recurred again and again under Republican regimes.

Just to name a few...

I'm not sure which of these would chap the ass of the average "programmatically liberal but ideologically conservative" American, especially with the dollar and the economy in the toilet, Iraq in a mess, and healthcare taking more and more out of the economy every year.

Matthew Saroff said...

I agree with what you are saying.

Part of the problem is that too many Liberals allowed the right to translate the term into "N***er Lover" 30 years ago.

If you let the other side define your name, what the hell do you stand for.

Let me quote the late, great Steve Gilliard:
I'm a fighting liberal

You know, I've studied history, I've read about America and you know something, if it weren't for liberals, we'd be living in a dark, evil country, far worse than anything Bush could conjure up. A world where children were told to piss on the side of the road because they weren't fit to pee in a white outhouse, where women had to get back alley abortions and where rape was a joke, unless the alleged criminal was black, whereupon he was hung from a tree and castrated.

What has conservatism given America? A stable social order? A peaceful homelife? Respect for law and order? No. Hell, no. It hasn't given us anything we didn't have and it wants to take away our freedoms.

The Founding Fathers, as flawed as they were, slaveowners and pornographers, smugglers and terrorists, understood one thing, a man's path to God needed no help from the state. Is the religion of these conservatives so fragile that they need the state to prop it up, to tell us how to pray and think? Is that what they stand for? Is that their America?

Conservatism plays on fear and thrives on lies and dishonesty. I grew up with honest, decent conservatives and those people have been replaced by the party of greed. It is one thing to want less government interference and smaller, fiscally responsible government. It is another thing entirely to be a corporate whore, selling out to the highest bidder because the CEO fattens your campaign chest. They are building an America which cannot be sustained. One based on the benefit of the few at the cost of the many. The indifferent boss who hires too few people and works them to death or until they break down sick. Cheap labor capitalism has replaced common sense. "Globalism" which is really guise for exploitation, replaced fair trade, which is nothing like fair for the trapped semi-slaves of the maquliadoras. In the Texas border towns, hundreds of these women have been used as sex slaves and then apparently killed,the FBI powerless to do anything as the criminals sit in Mexico untouched by law.

For the better part of a decade, the conservatives made liberal a dirty word. Well, it isn't. It represents the best and most noble nature of what America stands for: equitable government services, old age pensions, health care, education, fair trials and humane imprisonment. It is the heart and soul of what made American different and better than other countries. Not only an escape from oppression, but the opportunity to thrive in land free of tradition and the repression that can bring. We offered a democracy which didn't enshrine the rich and made them feel they had an obligation to their workers.

Bush and the people around him disdain that. They think, by accident of birth and circumstance, they were meant to rule the world and those who did not agree would suffer.

Liberal does not and has not meant weak until the conservatives said it did. Was Martin Luther King weak? Bobby Kennedy? Gene McCarthy? It was the liberals who remade this country and ended legal segregation and legal sexism. Not the conservatives, who wanted to hold on to the old ways.

It's time to regain the sprit of FDR and Truman and the people around them. People who believed in the public good over private gain. It is time to stop apologizing for being a liberal and be proud to fight for your beliefs. No more shying away or being defined by other people. Liberals believe in a strong defense and punishment for crime. But not preemption and pointless jail sentences. We believe no American should be turned away from a hospital because they are too poor or lack a proper legal defense. We believe that people should make enough from one job to live on, to spend time on raising their family. We believe that individuals and not the state should dictate who gets married and why. The best way to defend marriage is to expand, not restrict it.

It was the liberals who opposed the Nazis while the conservatives were plotting to get their brown shirts or fund Hitler. It was the liberals who warned about Spain and fought there, who joined the RAF to fight the Germans, who brought democracy to Germany and Japan. Let us not forget it was the conservatives who opposed defending America until the Germans sank our ships. They would have done nothing as Britain came under Nazi control. It was they who supported Joe McCarthy and his baseless, drink fueled claims.

Without liberals, there would be no modern America, just a Nazi sattlelite state. Liberals weak on defense? Liberals created America's defense. The conservatives only need vets at election time.

It is time to stop looking for an accomodation with the right. They want none for us. They want to win, at any price. So, you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?

Frank said...

Slim - I'd only change a couple things in your list. First, in the point about NAFTA, CAFTA, etc. making it clear that they should be scrapped. Yes, they're bad, but bad without action is just a pie in the sky statement. Second, I'd make a point similar to the point about banks and media for the vaunted military-industrial complex and point out that de-funding this sector in favor of R&D in energy, re-industrialization, etc. is the way to go. Finally, I'd put in a point about protection of the environment and sustainability. The re-industrialization that takes place must be sustainable and non-poluting (again, a good goal for American ingenuity).

Matthew S. _ the speech you posted was long on why the other side is bad and why we're good, with little meat on *what we stand for*. It's a very "blue" tome, in the words of the blogger. Not that it's bad and not moving, just a little light.

t4toby said...

What happened to my comment from earlier?

The Scanner said...

t4toby: Hey, I wouldn't know how to delete a comment even if I wanted to!

To all: I'll be joining the fray later tonight. Thanks for all the comments.

Grodge said...

The Heritage Foundation is full of ideologues, CAP is not.

Ideologies are great to ponder and refine, but they are terrible to use as a template for governing a diverse nation. Pragmatism, ie, borrowing from various ideologies, makes for better government through consensus building.

The beat political leaders have ALL been progressive/ pragmatists. Heck, even Nixon, as bad as he was, put his ideologies aside to open relations with Communist China and start the EPA.

Bush's administration is the most stridently ideological in my memory, and it is clearly the least effective. From abstinence-only education, to faith-based initiatives and neocon foreign policy, strict adherence to ideologies have failed to build consensus and have failed to provide practical solutions to real-world problems.

Thank goodness CAP is not ideological!

Good post-- I like the concept of blue and red-- although I would put a few more green phrases in the CAP mission statement, to wit:

"... where every hard-working person, regardless of background, can realize their dreams through education, decent work and fair play." We can infer that this is code for more middle class entitlements and subsidies for specific industries.

t4toby said...

I think your spam filter caught it because of a link.

Mr. Smith said...

grodge said: "Bush's administration is the most stridently ideological in my memory, and it is clearly the least effective.

Least effective in what regard?

From where I'm sitting - under the watchful, omnipresent eye of my unaccountable government and without so much as a micron of political representation - the Bush Administration, empowered at every turn by whatever rubberstamp Congress happens to be in session, has been nothing less than wildly effective.

Grodge said...

Well, Mr. Smith,

I suppose effectiveness is in the eye of the beholder. If you are a recipient of one of the government's no-bid war contracts, I guess this administration has been very effective.

But if you are a citizen who sees benefit to such things as rule of law, civil liberties, bank regulation, enforcement of our borders, international diplomacy and protection of such structures as the World Trade Center, then Bush has been an unmitigated disaster.

If Orwell is correct in his surmise that all governments are oligarchies, then the Bush oligarchy can claim responsibility for the last eight years.

M Aurelius said...

I dunno. The line between programmatic and ideological is not so clear to me. Let's see:

"Principles of free enterprise"
Means: We will let you do whatever you want to make money, regardless of health and safety.

"limited government"
Means: We won't use your money to pay welfare to brown people who don't work like you do. It certainly does not mean we won't listen to your every phone call.

"Traditional American values"
Sounds valence to me. Sure, it's a codephrase, but too generic.

"Strong national defense"
Means: We will buy a lot of weapons and kill foreigners for various reasons or none at all. Especially the foreigners who look foreign, are poor, and are sitting on mineral wealth of some kind.

These sound like specific policy positions to me, with a veneer of ideology.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've been hearing this same nonsense for years now, that the righties are better at someting because they put things into these little bite-sized slogans that people don't have to think about too hard.

Which is essentially what you're saying here with the red-blue quotes, showing how the conservatives come right out and say "limited government" or etc.

The problem is of course that what they say is all complete bullshit. Spending billions upon billions of dollars on stupid wars is not limited government. And on and on.

I saw Rove just recently and he actually had the nerve to still mouth the "big-spending Democrats" line, which is so beyond justification at this point in the age of Republican over-spending that it's beyond absurd. His "attack your oponent's strength" strategy is another way of saying "just make stuff up, people are idiots and they'll believe it because it's on TV and it's in short sentences".

The Democrats have been cowed, don't get me wrong. They've been beating the same war drums as Bush and co., and are only slowly waking up, a little, here and there, out of that insane dream.

However the idea that progressives should spout the same meaningless sound bites to spoon feed ideas to the public is an advertising exec's moronic fantasy. We need less of this kind of dumbing down, not more.

The Scanner said...

Matt Stoller’s comment at Tiny Revolution is interesting and a good, honest rebuttal. To defend my honor, while I knew CAP was a Clintonista outfit, I thought it was seen as representing the more liberal instincts of ClintonWorld – in other words, I assumed people in Stoller’s circles saw it as an ally and so I guess on this point I stand corrected. I have to say, though, that I view this – “our ideological underpinnings are still being worked out” – as a partial confirmation of my argument. And I think that Stoller’s stress on “partisanship” is misplaced. If you’re trying to take over a *party* from the hostile forces that control it, is partisanship the answer? Caving to Republicans is bad because Republicans are conservative, not because they’re Republicans, no? When conservatives were trying to take over the GOP, they insisted on fealty to conservative principles. How do you insist on fealty to [ideology to be worked out]?

Matthew Saroff:

You know, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead. In any case, it sounds like Gilliard was a spirited fighter and he and I would no doubt be in agreement on most of the immediate issues of the day. But the stuff of his you’ve quoted – god, I almost don’t know where to start. It sort of proves my point for me:

[The Founding Fathers, as flawed as they were…understood one thing, a man's path to God needed no help from the state. Is the religion of these conservatives so fragile that they need the state to prop it up, to tell us how to pray and think?...] Now, I’m guessing this is about abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, etc. Maybe I’m missing something, but did the founding fathers, for all their wonderful qualities, believe in a right to abortion, gay marriage or a ban on organized prayer in school? I’m afraid the founding fathers are of no help here. In fact, they’re no help generally. All this compulsive Fourth-of-July invoking of hallowed American mythology - liberals who do this are only doing their opponents’ work for them. The terrible news is that the founding fathers were probably *against* gay marriage, just like John Ashcroft is. In fact, on most of these issues, they were a lot closer to Ashcroft than to Paul Wellstone. And that’s perfectly natural since the founding fathers lived in the fucking eighteenth century. If you want some powerful and brilliant arguments against monarchies, mercantilism, state privileges for landed nobility, etc. - the founding fathers are your guys. But if you’re trying to distill some principles to help us with most of the questions before us in 2007 then it’s advisable to shut the hell up about the founding fathers!

…[It is one thing to want less government interference and smaller, fiscally responsible government. It is another thing entirely to be a corporate whore.] This is a wonderful, elegant argument for a more principled, honest conservatism. In fact, this is an argument that grassroots right-wingers, angry at the corruption of the Republican leaders, have been making constantly since the 2006 elections, if not before – just listen to talk radio or read the National Review online. This is an argument that was made by John Shadegg in his bid for the GOP leadership in the House. That it’s part of a liberal manifesto suggests deep, deep confusion to me.

...
“For the better part of a decade, the conservatives made liberal a dirty word. Well, it isn't…. It is the heart and soul of what made American different and better than other countries. Not only an escape from oppression, but the opportunity to thrive in land free of tradition and the repression that can bring. We offered a democracy which didn't enshrine the rich and made them feel they had an obligation to their workers.” I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader.


Anonymous said...

[You know, I've been hearing this same nonsense for years now, that the righties are better at someting because they put things into these little bite-sized slogans that people don't have to think about too hard.]

I think this misses the point. The Heritage blurb was written in sound bites because it’s a one-paragraph mission statement – that’s what it’s supposed to be. (The CAP statement is also written in soundbites, though they’re interminable and awkward.) But if you want to read the extended versions, they’re easily available from your local conservative book club. Each of these slogans can be and has been distilled from long, ponderous conservative tomes that explicate these philosophies at great length, citing sources both recent and vintage (like the founding fathers). You can say that modern conservatism is bullshit – and I do! – but you can’t say it lacks an extensively worked-out world view. They have paid good money to hire the best intellectuals they could buy. (And it should be pointed out that just because they’re paid to write that stuff, doesn’t mean most of them don’t sincerely believe it.) Conservative doctrine is now so well expounded and disseminated, each of us could write a lengthy, polished essay explaining – let’s say - the meaning of the term “culture of dependency” in our sleep. These are not just slogans, they’re detailed analyses that unite a set of moral priorities (personal responsibility takes precedence over the alleviation of want) with a model of how the world works (individual initiative is stifled by economic guarantees).


M Aurelius said...

[I dunno. The line between programmatic and ideological is not so clear to me....
These sound like specific policy positions to me, with a veneer of ideology.]

I don’t think so. “Limited government” is a principle. It’s supposed to mean a night-watchman state: The government’s role should be as limited as possible to the police, courts, and military – the goal of protecting persons and property. Promoting equality, eliminating poverty, providing economic security – these are not legitimate goals. Specific policies flow from that – no unions, no state-provided health insurance, no Social Security, etc. But the policies should be distinguished from the principles.


Grodge said...

[The Heritage Foundation is full of ideologues, CAP is not.

Ideologies are great to ponder and refine, but they are terrible to use as a template for governing a diverse nation. Pragmatism, ie, borrowing from various ideologies, makes for better government through consensus building.

The beat political leaders have ALL been progressive/ pragmatists. Heck, even Nixon, as bad as he was, put his ideologies aside to open relations with Communist China and start the EPA.]

An honest question – I’m not trying to be snide: Why not vote for Nixon then?


slim said...

[How about these:

• No more wars of aggression.

• No more military occupations….]

Sounds great, but this is a list of policies. Why not more wars of aggression? Why not more military occupations? On what grounds?

Grodge said...

Scanner:

You ask, An honest question – I’m not trying to be snide: Why not vote for Nixon then?

First of all, I appreciate your appraisal of CAP vs. Heritage. My view is that the Heritage is arrogant enough to present their ideology as something that each of us should desire, without regard for the nuance. They are simplistic to think that, say, "free markets" are the ultimate good. What, no gov't regulation is needed? Look no further than the current subprime mortgage meltdown to see the ramifications of completely free markets. But we keep re-learning the same lesson: Long Term Capital Mgmt bankruptcy in 1998, Savings and Loan crisis in 1980's, etc, etc. Government does have some role and Heritage knows this.

Heritage also calls for
"Traditional American values" in their mission statement. WTF does that mean? Perhaps our legislators should don powdered wigs and waistcoats as well, women and blacks need not have the vote, etc? Heritage borders on being silly in their overly simplified views.

I hope you do not seriously think that I feel we should re-elect Nixon. My point is that even a fraudulent, drug-addicted power-thirsty megalomaniac like Tricky Dick could appreciate the nuance that comes with being chief executive of the US. Bush and Cheney do not; they rule as if this is their laboratory in which to trial all the cockamamie ideologies put forth by ivory tower think tank eggheads like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and inveterate free marketeers. They are criminal.

CAP has a more practical purpose, and thus provides a usable service to society. To compare Heritage and CAP is apples vs oranges.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Church Secretary said...

Scanner, I find myself agreeing with Anonymous here. Are we a giant field full of toddlers, or a nation of adults? If we need easily digestible sound bytes in order to organize ourselves, then are we really capable of handling representative government?

Furthermore, I don't think one should undervalue A's and my point about the conservative 'mission statement' lacking veracity. Santa Claus is an easy concept to teach children, too, but magical thinking isn't giving us good governance any more than it puts presents under the tree (unless you have a preference for self-immolating corporatism smothered with creeping fascism).

The right wing in this country has done a brilliant job of entrenching itself into power, especially over the last half century or so. There are several major reasons for this, but none of them have to do with the ideological fig leaf that is represented by the Heritage Foundation's mission statement. Those conservative 'principles' are nothing but smoke up the ass of those sophisticated conservatives who might have some stylistic qualms about pandering to the unwashed masses of bigots and fundamentalists.

Steve Gilliard was half right: this nation is at its best when it begrudgingly acts in concert with might be considered a liberal worldview. However, I agree with you, Scanner, this country was not founded by men who would stomach much of what liberals currently embrace, neither was it built and expanded by such men.

While liberals are just as capable of self-deception as are conservatives, I don't think we see the world the same way most conservatives do (I'm generalizing for the sake of space, of course; there are many shades of gray). That's why I don't think progressives are ever going to organize themselves into power by choosing leaders who can train dogs to bite themselves. We need an ace cat-herder, and I don't see such a person ever rising out of our current political system. Hence my pessimism and predictions of eventual fascist self-destruction. People who want and can imagine a better world and a more constructive political atmosphere will sit divided and impotent while the greed-heads, authoritarians, and assorted idiots take us all to hell.

Anonymous said...

Scanner wrote:

"You can say that modern conservatism is bullshit – and I do! – but you can’t say it lacks an extensively worked-out world view. They have paid good money to hire the best intellectuals they could buy. (And it should be pointed out that just because they’re paid to write that stuff, doesn’t mean most of them don’t sincerely believe it.)"

(You wrote this in response to what I wrote above)

No, I don't think they believe any such thing, whether written in soundbites or in long flowing treatises. What I mean is that on examination it all falls apart, there's no "get government off our backs" when they're writing about sex or gender or privacy of any kind (I'm using soundbites here just because it's quicker but this applies to the long or short form)

My point is that "An extensively worked-out world view" that's completely full of holes and contradictions, as you acknowledge theirs is, is meaningless. Any paranoid pscyhotic has one of those, that doesn't mean it's viable or desirable to emulate.

I really think this is falling into the trap of buying their own PR that their ideology-driven fantasies of governing are better, or even valid.

Even if it were a real, non-self-cancelling, world view, many of these have failed over history. Having a cunning plan doesn't mean it will work. Or made any sense to begin with.

The real point though is I think they don't actually have the cohesive message or philosophy you claim, I think they claim they do, and you're buying it. I'm not.

Nell said...

Come November 3, 2008, the gulch-full of real liberals of the Digby / Eschaton variety are going to have to take on an executive branch and Congress of their own party, so had better get busy with the working out of those ideological underpinnings.

Can't be done without directly confronting capital, corporate power, and class. But those principles can be expressed pithily and without using any of the c-words -- people vs. powerful is the key. There's some helpful, resonant language in the country's founding documents.

scudbucket said...

I have to agree with Scanner's central thesis: there is an obvious and apparent absence of a coherent ideology underpinning progressive policy positions.

As an example, like many others on the left I believe in progressive taxes on the rich which then get redistributed. But insofar as this policy is generally shared among progressives, the reasons for accepting it are myriad and vague. FOr most people, the reason is simply that redistribution constitutes an effective antidote to excessive corporate (and individual) power.

But that isn't the expression of an ideology, it's merely a policy proposal which ought to be derived from more fundamental principles, some of which sound very unamerican when stated clearly. That the principles can be articulated is quite different from them being articulated (which they aren't).

It's my suspicion that the reason the ideological principles underlying progressivism are infrequently articulated is because they aren't generally accepted.

Anonymous said...

Liberals have allowed the conservatives to define them because liberals are too hung up on the concept of fairness. Well, fuck fairness! We're trying to win back political power so we can escape this incompetently run police state (i.e., Bush as Mussolini) we're currently in and get back to America. Middle class Americans (however you define them) are never going to support policies that can be easily made to look like they were written up by pussies and wimps. Liberals do need to change their language or they're never going to win a national election. Ever. They need to support candidates for reasons other than "she's a woman" or "he's black." We've got a black woman Secretary of State and that's worked out just fucking swimmingly, hasn't it? If you've dyed your nostril hair purple, well, please stand in back of the group photo. We're trying to win an election here.

Tom said...

Think Scanner is being a bit unfair in choosing a BOGUS example to represent the Progressives. Compare Scanner's pick with the priorities statement from "Progressive Democrats of America" (PDA). Mostly red policy statements; very little blue "valence" statements ===>



PDA Priorities
1. End the War, Redirect Funding
PDA wants all troops withdrawn promptly, and war funds redirected toward social needs at home and humanitarian aid in Iraq. Toward that end, we call on the Democratic-led Congress to use its powers to 1) cut off funding that prolongs the military occupation of Iraq, and 2) fully investigate false White House claims justifying the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If such investigations lead to moves toward impeachment, so be it.
PDA is working closely with members of Congress to enact a fullyfunded, prompt, orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq. We support stand-alone legislation or amendments to defense and appropriations bills that will accomplish that goal. And we support measures in Congress to prevent an attack on Iran and to renounce any interest in Iraqi oil or in permanent military bases in Iraq. We do not support Democratic leadership proposals with prolonged and porous timelines that allow tens of thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq on vaguely-defined “training” or “anti-terrorism” measures. PDA coordinates its “Out of Iraq” efforts with dozens of Congress members, including Reps. Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters.

2. Health Care for All
It is immoral for a country as wealthy as ours to have 45 million people with no health coverage, and tens of millions more with inadequate or overly expensive coverage. It also makes no economic sense; despite spending twice as much as other industrialized nations on healthcare, our system performs poorly because the private U. S. insurance bureaucracy soaks up nearly one-third of all health care money in waste, profits, paperwork and advertising. Poor health and poor health care are drags on the economy and job creation; up to half of all personal bankruptcies are caused by health care crises.

PDA supports Rep. John Conyers bill, H.R. 676, which establishes streamlined, nonprofit national health insurance--enhanced Medicare for All--which would negotiate drug and treatment costs. By replacing private insurers and recouping administrative savings of up to $300 billion per year, this single-payer approach provides topnotch health care to everyone. Care would be privately delivered by healers and hospitals, but publicly financed--with no bills, co-pays, deductibles, denials or medically-induced bankruptcies. PDA also supports health care initiatives at the state and local level that move us toward a nonprofit single-payer system.

Economic Justice
When working people reject their economic interests and vote Republican on wedge issues of abortion and gay rights, it is partly because they haven't heard a Democratic economic agenda that speaks strongly to their needs. PDA proposes to win over "soccer moms," "NASCAR dads" and "swing voters" through an agenda of progressive tax reform, fair trade and economic security measures.

PDA calls on Democrats in Congress to roll back Bush tax breaks for the wealthy--so that the richest 1 percent of Americans (with yearly incomes averaging $1.3 million) will not pocket $300 billion over the next four years. Tax burdens on the middle class can be eased if the wealthy pay their share. PDA supports fair trade that protects workers' rights and the environment, while opposing wage-reducing "free trade" agreements that protect only corporate rights to globally exploit unprotected labor. This year, PDA will work closely with allies like Sen. Sherrod Brown to block renewal of "fast track" authority, which allows the White House to enact trade deals without Congressional amendment.

Along with unfair trade deals like NAFTA, attacks on the right to unionize are a key factor in the decline of America's middle class. PDA endorses the Employee Free Choice Act, which establishes unions in any workplace where a majority of workers sign up. PDA also supports middle-class job creation through federal investment, such as the Apollo Alliance for renewable energy, and investment in wireless Internet networks.


3. Clean, Fair, Transparent Elections
The U.S. election system is in crisis. Big-money interests dominate U.S. politics in ways unknown in other industrialized countries, with social and environmental progress often blocked by officials who cater to big donors to insure re-election funds. Incumbents are unfairly insulated by district gerrymandering and rules obstructing independent candidates and parties. In recent years, voters themselves have faced political and even racial obstacles in casting votes and in getting their votes counted.

Soon after its formation, PDA worked with Rep. John Conyers in exposing the 2004 election irregularities in Ohio that helped elect Bush. PDA activists engaged in "election protection" monitoring during the 2006 voting. We support federal legislation that bans the further use of touch-screen (DRE) voting machines for counting votes, establishes a paper ballot as the official record for deriving voter intent, and requires rigorous mandatory audits of elections. To eliminate big-money dominance, PDA supports comprehensive campaign finance reform at the state and national level, including Clean Money public financing of the public's elections, plus free TV time for candidates. PDA opposes the racially-biased disenfranchisement of felons who've served their time, and supports reforms like "Instant Runoff"/proportional voting, paper ballots which assure more accurate and broader representation than winner-take-all elections.


4. Stop Global Warming
No issue reveals more clearly the flaws of the U.S. political-economic system than global warming--the dominance of greed and corporate power over the public good, and the near-sighted focus on the short-term over the welfare of future generations. The departing Republican chair of the Senate's environment committee used his final meeting in December 2006 to blame Hollywood and the media for "alarmism" and for "hyping" the problem of global warming. But as shown by the stunning success of Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," the public is ready to act to save the planet and to protect our remaining wild places from further degradation in the pursuit of oil. PDA calls on the Democratic majority in Congress to lead boldly in reducing our country's oil dependence and use of fossil fuels by raising auto fuel economy and imposing mandatory caps on carbon pollution while investing in public transportation, energy conservation technologies and alternative energy development. (Such investments create good-paying jobs.)

kelley b. said...

I got your progressive creed right here, baby. It's like Steve Gillard said.

Progressives are People who believe in the public good over private gain.

Progressives believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few.

It's that simple.

Anonymous said...

I know that it is a sad time for people who think of themselves as 'Americans.' Na Hollo has taken you to the cleaners the way he did the people of my tribe long ago.
There will be many sad times ahead for this nation. You are living in the 'ghost world' and anything could happeen from here on out. I have never lived through this, but I heard about it from the old ones. They told me how they came to take them to the Reservation and how they would lie to keep from going. They would tell them that they were 'Black Dutch.'
No man wants to be lied to and kept in a pen but this was all that was offered.
Now, the darkness of the past has come upon you. No one knows who lie and who speaks truth. These times were known to my Asian ancestors as well. They survived. We survive. Perhaps one of the greatest thing the white man ever told the Indians was when they brought some of the Chiefs from the Reservations and bestowed what they considered 'honor' on them by humiliating them because America has always humiliated it's enemies.
The, then, Secretary of the Interior told them to 'Endeavor to
Preserver! Seems like about now, this is all you have. Both political parties (and I use the term VERY lightly) are obviously bought by Big Money. Big Money is not about to listen to your version of the USA in the 21st Century and you ain't got NOBODY lobbying for YOU in Washington, D.C.
So, unless Superman, Aliens from Delta Gorni or, Godzilla stomps out of Tokyo Bay, you're dead air, baby. Might as well learn how to 'Endeavor to Persevere!

Gant said...

I think you are absolutely right about this.

And yet... I can't help but feel that liberal people DO believe in certain deeper principles. It should be possible to distill them into a pithy ideology, rather than windy uninspiring bloviating...

If conservatives hate liberals as much as they do, there must surely be something there that they hate?

The basic impulses behind liberalism seem to be ideals like fairness, meritocracy, compassion, collaboration and accountability - the desire for an open society, rather than a closed one, in which everyone gets what they deserve.

Now, I'm sure that those emotions could be said to apply to both parties. They certainly don't constitute an ideology on their own. But taken seriously, they seem to lead you away from conservatism and towards something else...

Maybe the problem is that modern conservatism claims a monopoly on most of the words for virtue.

AlanSmithee said...

Liberals are not the fucking Left. Pwogwessives are not the fucking Left. There is NO FUCKING LEFT. The Green Party is kinda Left, but your democorporate party has fucked them off the ballot line in almost every state in the Union. So they hardly count, now do they?

Anonymous said...

Gotta be honest - I think this entire line of thought could be painted in a big swathe of blue type. The real truth is that position, valence, policy - none of it matters a damn until you fix the actual operative hole in the system.
Right now we have, granted, a bunch of hedging, compromised, inoffensive DLC robots, some slightly less party-line than others, all leading the pack as Democratic Front-runners. Each one guilty of exactly the lily-white mush you spell out above. But line up the positions, valences, and general feet-on-the-ground common sense of one little regarded also-ran, a Mr Kucinich, without attaching them to him specifically, and the vast vast majority of progressives and liberals would not only be nodding enthusiastically but cheering. Of course we all know, Kucinich isn't going to be the candidate. We all know this, but why?
Why?
4 years ago the vast majority of left thinkers and progressives were nodding and cheering to the positions of a certain Mr Dean. Again, he was never really considered a serious runner - even at the strongest point of his ascendancy he was laughed off as angry, deranged and ridiculous, it was only a matter of time before he was taken down.
We all know which groups benefitted most from the destruction of real viable progressive candidates, and always do. What we continue to ignore is the game that is played to do so. We can sit around discussing language, policy, positions - whatever - it is all just jerking off, and they, the real game players, know this.
Let me say it slowly.
The ME - DEE - YA.
Say it with me.
MEEEE - DEEEE - YAAAA.
We can nominate Jesus Effing Christ Almighty His Own Self - and it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference. The machine would grind him down to ridiculousness, or phoniness, or flip-flopiness or whatever label would stick, and he would be finished.
I am so sick of being told - even by progressives - about the evil, cynical genius of the Republican Noise Machine. That they are somehow Machaeivellian in the way they twist our message around and get theirs out. That if only we could get a better message, a subtler message, a smarter message, a more populist message, a less liberal message, a more aggressive message, a more military/southern/goober-friendly message - we would beat them then.
And all the while the guys in suits laugh themselves silly as they sit and watch us twist ourselves in knots, when they know the simple truth...that they have the LOUDEST message.....
After 7 fucking years of disaster, destruction and death - almost daily revelation (to those junkies paying any attention) of massive corruption and crime, endless scandals and evidence of unprecedented incompetence - the sum total of our ACTUAL progress is Air America, Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller, an accumulated step up to almost 10% of the political talk on AM radio alone in the entire nation.
When will we get it through our thick heads - THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY IN A PLACE WHERE RUSH LIMBAUGH CAN EXIST UNCHALLENGED. Hell, I'd argue there can't be any competent discussion of politics at all in a country where someone like Limbaugh or Hannity isn't laughed out of town every time they open their mouths.

Noumenon said...

Each of these slogans can be and has been distilled from long, ponderous conservative tomes that explicate these philosophies at great length, citing sources both recent and vintage (like the founding fathers).

If you go behind any catchphrase in Marxism, there is an academic who's added depth to that, too, right? But it doesn't seem to help them, so an extensively worked-out worldview isn't everything.

Bob said...

The real point though is I think they don't actually have the cohesive message or philosophy you claim, I think they claim they do, and you're buying it. I'm not.

The proof is in the pudding: they won elections year after year, and are still forcing the Democrats to flounder today.

Face it, the Democrats didn't *win* in 2006 - the Republicans LOST.

Advertising 101 case studies show that simple, clear and concise language is the most effective at selling a product. As much as we liberals hate to admit it, we have to sell our ideas. We have to sell our party. More importantly, we have to break through the clutter that commercial advertisers are cranking out like crazy every single minute of the day.

We need to win elections based on our creed, not on intermittent "vote the bums out" backlashes. The Republicans are quickly turning us into the new set of bums with their superior marketing machine.

Tokeloshe said...

Actually, reading those mission statements, here is the thing: The rightwing is over.

Why?

The rightwing mission statement on is nothing but a collection of buzzwords hoping to hop past the SFV's (Stupid F***ing voter's) notice.

What are traditional American values? Torture, doing away with habeas corpus and installing a unitary executive? Or supporting a welfare state for health insurance agents?

Limited government and a strong army are mutually exclusive ideals - a strong army is a much quicker way to suddenly unlimit your government than to simply provide universal healthcare.

And finally free enterprise, the mythical free market, and their one actual solid stance, is something which doesn't work.

Meanwhile the leftwing mission statement includes nice broad ideals like "Decent work" and the right to an education. It also includes securing people's rights and safety - which translates into "We will defend the country without sacrificing the constitution to do it."

Daddy-O said...

The ideology of the Left is this:

Take care of the PEOPLE before you take care of the CORPORATIONS. Key word being BEFORE.

We have been fed lies about supply side policy, and the lies, amazingly, after decades, STILL WORK. Millions of fools still 'believe' that if we cut taxes, we'll balance the budget and create productivity.

It's utter BULLSHIT.

Take care of the PEOPLE FIRST, before the CORPORATIONS, before the 2% of the RICHEST OF THE RICH IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, before the MILITARY, before the POLITICALLY CONNECTED, before the RELIGIOUSLY INSANE, before ANYBODY.

Take care of the PEOPLE FIRST. An easy enough ideology to follow, wouldn't you agree?

Timezoned said...

The real point though is I think they don't actually have the cohesive message or philosophy you claim, I think they claim they do, and you're buying it. I'm not.

Bob said... (in response to me, above. I was "anonymous" twice above but have now grabbed a handle to make this less confusing!)

"The proof is in the pudding: they won elections year after year, and are still forcing the Democrats to flounder today."

The Democrats won every election for years before that, speaking in the same over generalized terms. So? Does that mean that the Democrats were masters of PR once and forgot how? Not likely.

The fact is that this assumption that vapid marketing slogans for the simple-minded public is the reason that Republicans won elections at any period is just guesswork. You don't know this. It's mythology, the one you've bought along with some others. Not all others, some.

Things shifted rightward, there were all kinds of reasons for that.

The entire premise of Scanner's post and then follow-ups is that these were complex and well-thought-out philosophies that won people over, not just slogans. You think it was just the slogans.

I disagree with both of you.

As someone else pointed out, the "media" for lack of a better word, played a huge part. Corporations own almost all of it so they found ways to trumpet their message, the corporate-friendly policies they wanted.

Makes perfect sense. If you have this giant propaganda machine devoted to pushing one side, it will start to have an effect. You could pump out short slogans or long-winded policy statements, but if no one hears them and the loudmouths on the air are all devoted to ridiculing them and defeating them, then of course you'll lose.

Saying "they have better ideas and articulate them better" is buying their nonsense. It's they who have convinced you of this, this is their propaganda precisely. It's always so frustrating seeing even the non-wingers spouting it back, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Americans are "ideologically conservative" because they are capitalists. You can believe in all the warm fuzzy liberal ideals you want to, if you support free-market, everyman for him/herself, American dream style policy, you are a conservative. The only true progressives are those that support alternative forms of economics and economic policy. In this world we live in, economy is the only thing that matters. THAT is what the conservatives get, and that is why they can make definitive statements.

The Scanner said...

pascalpp:

Sure. But how does one do that?

The Scanner said...

Sorry. That was in reply to a comment on a different post.

M Aurelius said...

I don’t think so. “Limited Government” is a principle.

Well, yeah, sure. If a movement conservative utters the phrase he means it as a principle.

But if you hear "limited government" tossed at the NASCAR cheap seats from a GOP wannabe, then it means "we won't spend your money on black welfare queens".

Which is kind of a neat trick, actually. They get to state both a "principle" and dog-whistle encoded policy in a single phrase. Even neater because they don't have the slightest intention of limiting government; only of limiting government-managed benefits.

Splitting Image said...

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

I disagree with your statement that nearly all of these are positional statements. In fact, nearly all of them are valence statements, which the Noise Machine has convinced people imply exactly one position.

Take "a strong national defense". Even Canada supports that, but does it imply support for missile defense?

Not really, for it to do that, you would need to prove that your country was threatened by a missile and the programs you are supporting would alleviate that threat. Republicans have never done so.

The genius of Rove et al is that they have convinced people they have done so, and that statements which are nothing more than mealy-mouthed platitudes are actually firm positions.

The failure of progressives is not that they don't stoop to the same duplicity, it's that they don't call out Rove et al. for doing it.

Mr. Andrea Lewis said...

Humanity basically does the same thing with multiple contexts, we repeat the same phrase eternally stressing different syllables depending on a situation.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the greatest and foulest accomplishment of illegitimate authority> (which imposes illegitimate order) is to cause us to believe that all> authority, and all order, is illegitimate. That is, by imposing ruthless,> capricious, fruitless order, and enforcing it with arbitrary, bureaucratic> violence, the mean and brutish have made it certain we will rebel against> any order at all, even the order of nature and of intelligence. The result> is that we are left with chaos and confusion, hedonism, whimsy, and, worst> of all, with the belief that our goalless indulgences are noble and radical.>> In fact, they are the happiest of distractions from the point of view of> those who would rule us (or at least prevent us from challenging their rule> directly). We are happy because we have escaped their kingdom, but we are> lost because we remain in the wilderness while the mass of our families are> yoked, exploited, and even firmly in service of Moloch, Marduk, Mammon. We -> as partially awakened individuals - are free, fine, but what to do with that> freedom? Is individual liberation an end in itself? And what is its> significance if, as is so often argued, we are all of one Heart and one> Being? If a person claims transcendent consciousness as a haven from worry> and suffering, mustn't he he also claim transcendent consciousness as a> motivation for freeing all sentient beings, and avoid contentment while> "they" - that is, "I" and I upon I - still suffer? If we are one, my> liberation and bliss are empty, or at least insufficient, while others> remain in chains and in pain.>> The question remains unanswered because we have no clear explicit idea about> truth or ultimate meaning - at least no idea that takes us beyond our own> pleasures. Our implicit (and sometimes explicit) belief is that what feels> good is good because meaning is ours to create. And in that, we are no> different from the slavemasters and their sleeping masses, who create> profitable, pleasant realities out of desires and lies. We awaken, and> perhaps we flee the prison, but its walls remain, and grow. They are made of> our rebelliousness, our selfishness, and our lack of knowledge. Along with> authority and order, we have rejected Truth.>> The essential difference between the Christian (or Jew or Muslim), in the> mystical sense, and the followers of the Eastern schools, is that the> Christian sees history as meaningful and believes in a God of meaning and> personality. The Eastern and New Age schools tell us that history is only a> dance of particles and its events essentially empty, with a return to our> origin, Nirvana, literally an extinguishing of the flame of awareness, as> our final goal. With this view we are lost, floating in space without tether> or home, and our criticism of heretics and evildoers holds absolutely no> water. Morality, goodness, truth - all mean nothing in the universe of the> Eastern mystic. They are lies, as are all realities besides ultimate> non-being. To say "the ultimate meaning of the universe is that there is no> meaning" is to say nothing. To say "the ultimate meaning is love; everything> is love," is, again, to say nothing - for if love is everything then it is> nothing at all.>> Only contrast saves us. We say that this here is love, but that there is> not. We say that this one is God but another is not. We say that this is> right and some other action is wrong. If we do not say that, then we can say> nothing in the face of lies, evil, or suffering. In fact, we can say nothing> at all, because all is one and one is all, which means all words (which are> the same as meanings, separations, categories) are just babble, nonsense,> and absurdity. There is no this thing or that thing - there is only the One.> And if we fall on this "truth" as a defense against any of the relative> truths of the material world, then we fall on it as a defense against them> all. If we justify amorality, or an apolitical stance, or a supposedly> spiritual contentment with the "ultimate truth of love" or "the ultimate> truth of meaninglessness" then we must also justify immorality and> dishonesty the same way. How could we do any different without betraying our> nihilistic ontology? If we shrug passively at the prospect of torture or> nuclear war because, after all , "it's all in God's hands" or "all is> perfect in cosmic love" then we must also shrug passively when a brick falls> on our foot, shattering it, or when the police arrest us wrongly, or when> our house is on fire and the fireman says he'd rather stay home and play> cards. And if we bemoan nuclear war, on what basis could that be if all is> empty of meaning in the eyes of the infinite?>> Truly, this is madness, yet it is the foundation and ultimate result of our> dominant paradigm - call it postmodernism, New Age spirituality, liberal> Christiandom, Eastern Mysticism or rational Buddhism; call it what you will> as it leads us into a dark, bottomless spiral of non-existence.>> The way out is through Truth – ultimately, the truth of suffering and its> inescapable meaningful nature – and we reject orthodoxy and authority not> because orthodoxy and authority are always wrong, but because they are wrong> in the particular case. Two plus two will always be four, but the Pope is> not infallible. Mohammed may or may not have heard the Angel Gabriel, but he> certainly lived and died, and his most radical, violent followers are,> without a doubt, ethically in the wrong. Or perhaps they are not. It can be> argued either way, but it cannot be argued at all if there is no such thing> as meaning, and if one is all and all is one. In that case, all my words,> and all yours, are just the guttural sounds of a hairless ape with a> useless, overgrown cortex, and all of life and history a pointless charade.> Our only aspiration can be to return to nonbeing - to reject the gift of> existence in a profound sense.>> The alternative to this view is that God loves us, history has a meaning,> and language is a gift, not a mistake. That is the view I hope you will> adopt.>

principled progressive said...

Possible principles

1. Our first allegiance is not to nations or any particular nation, as nations may sometimes be in error, nor to God, whose will can never be known with certainty by human beings, but to what is right and good – that is, to what is just, what benefits the most people without depriving any person of essential rights or dignity, what is truthful and peaceful and sustainable.
2. That violence is the essential cause of all injustice and unnecessary suffering. Without violence, freedom cannot be deprived. Without violence, injustice cannot be maintained. Without violence, dignity cannot be taken away.
3. Therefore we have made it our singular and immediate goal to rid the world of violence between and among human beings. By focusing all our efforts on this goal, every other goal befitting progressives – justice, sustainability, dignity – is served and fostered.
4. All other issues are open to discussion, yet discussion cannot occur when there is the threat of violence. We make no claim to know what is best for people, communities, nations, or the human species, beyond the elimination of violence.
5. By opposing violence in all cases, we do not ask oppressed people or nations that are attacked to accept their oppression or to be defenseless. Rather, we affirm our belief that violent solutions to problems of violence are no solutions at all, and that they at best change the nature or structure of violence and perhaps trade the places of oppressor and oppressed, and that at worst they escalate brutality and increase suffering. There is always a non-violent solution to a problem of violence, if we are creative, committed, and organized.
6. Violence can only be stopped through peaceful means.
7. Peaceful does not mean non-confrontational, nor does it mean passive. It means that there is no intent to harm, that there is in fact an intent to heal and unify. Peaceful means are those that are non-violent and non-coercive.
8. Peaceful resistance to violence may include causing significant inconvenience or irritation to people who are purveyors of violence or who casually and indirectly support violence, or refuse to stand against violence, which is tantamount to tacit support. The inconvenience of certain people is a small sacrifice when it helps to reduce the physical suffering and oppression of even greater numbers of human beings.
9. Violence can be addressed through mass action done with the intent to heal and unify humanity, and this struggle is our great cause.
10. All who support these principles can contribute to their realization by adding their names, or the names of their organizations, to this statement. No other action is required at this time. No particular political or religious beliefs or affiliations are required or prohibited, except in so far as is necessary to maintain alignment with the above principles, and, in fact, political and religious causes not directly concerned with and contributing to the cessation of human violence are best left aside for now, as our unified attention and intent is required to overcome the endemic of violence that threatens our very survival.


We are committed to promoting peace within families, communities, nations, and at the global level. We believe peace is more than just the absence of physical violence – it is the presence of love, and of justice, freedom, and dignity, of human cooperation and respect for all life. We are non-partisan and apolitical, and seek to create common ground between varied interests, rather than promoting one interest over another. We seek to cooperate, and to facilitate cooperation, with all people engaged in the promotion of peace. We believe the path to peace begins with conversation and education. We are committed to peace in word and action, as well as in means and ends. We welcome all people, without discrimination, to join in creating peace.

Unity does not mean we all agree on everything, or are all alike, or all make the same choices or have the same beliefs – it means we are at peace with one another, and can agree on some common values that facilitate true unity:

The inalienable dignity of each person
The right to live free from violence
The essential equality of all individuals
The importance of ecological stewardship and sustainability
The ultimate unity of humanity, which transcends boundaries of nation, religion, ethnicity, class and gender.
The need to begin thinking as a species and as a planet, rather than solely as individuals, races, or nations pursuing competing interests.


Unity means that the natural and ideal state of humanity is cooperation.

Unity is the next step in evolution. Humanity began its story as splintered groups and has moved to larger and larger associations. The next natural step is planetary consciousness. Such a consciousness would respect local and regional needs and ways while harmonizing the varied interests of such groups.

The beginnings of this consciousness are in place, and organization is needed to facilitate gatherings of and communications between the millions of people already working for peace. Progressive unity is required to create a community of diverse groups sharing ideas and tools for creating unity and peace in the world, and setting an example for everyone looking for solutions to suffering and conflict.

We are dedicated to the idea that all human beings want peace and unity, but are blocked by beliefs, fears, and unmet needs. Therefore, rather than trying to be right and prove others wrong, the organized left is all about hearing and honoring all needs and developing ways to meet those needs in a peaceful way.

Unity is not about imposing one set of beliefs or values on other people, but rather in discovering the common needs and values that humanity already shares. Everyone wants safety, love, and prosperity. Most of us are willing to live and let live. Organization is about finding the obstacles to peace and unity and overcoming them with practical solutions.

We have available to us the choice of valuing life over death and togetherness over separateness. We believe unity is ultimately what can protect us from the suffering caused by separation and conflict. But unity does not mean marching in lockstep – it means finding a way for all people to live harmoniously while honoring all perspectives and ways of life.


1. The problems of humanity are too great to solve gradually, one at a time, within the current system, which depends on their perpetuation for its own.
2. Instead what is needed is a total transformation of the species from a fear and survival based economic and political structure to one based on creativity and compassion, which secures survival as well as justice and peace.
3. The fundamental issue of violence must be solved first, as war hinders all other pursuits by sapping resources, increasing fear and insecurity, destroying healthy economic and political structures, and preventing cooperation between various peoples.
4. The issue of violence enables all forms of injustice to be perpetuated.
5. Violence prevents reason and compassion from triumphing, as it replaces right with might.
6. Peace between the various nations and peoples – that is, a total ceasefire everywhere possible – would be a profound, concrete shift in the global paradigm, impossible to ignore.
7. Such a peace, established quickly, constitutes a transformational event that, witnessed by the majority of the Earth’s people, would lead to a transformation in the human mind and heart.
8. A global peace would enable all other issues to be negotiated and explored for an indefinite amount of time. As long as violence is not a threat, humanity can surely accomplish anything.
9. For these reasons, all humanitarian and political actions, save for those essential to the immediate survival or safety of people, should be redirected from their current activities towards establishing a global ceasefire. Peace is the single issue around which all activism and diplomacy should organize.

uticas said...

i'm pretty sure a careful gloss of this comment thread reveals just how correct the scanner's analysis is. lots of chatter about not letting "the right" define "the left" through dishonest rhetoric; almost no genuine reflection into how "the left" would define itself, given the opportunity.

and these lists of "principles", enough with the fucking lists. it's not a "principle" if you need to answer the question, "why?"

taliesan said...

That is because the left has always been better in action than in words.

The central principle in the left is not, as one poster put it, non-violence, it is problem solving.

The left therefore does not ignore science or the arguments of the opposition, and the left is more likely to highlight problems because, while the rightwing is more interested in maintaining problems, the left wants them solved.

Take the classic abortion arguments: The classic rightwing argument will tell you that the mother, even if she is a sixteen year old prostitute with a drug problem, should have the child.

Meanwhile, this same sixteen year old prostitute with a drug problem is expected to raise the child on her own, with no social support system, and no help.

When the child grows up to being a menace to society, the rightwing will then use the child as an argument against single parenting, without actually proposing any real solutions to the problem other than to kvetch about the morals of the youth of today.

The classic leftwing argument on the other hand, allows the mother an abortion, and if the mother goes through with the birth, provides help to try and prevent the child becoming a menace to everyone else.

This manifests in education, healthcare, help being provided to the mother, expanding foster care options and striving to make sure that the kid has at least one loving parent available.

This also extends towards allowing gay adoptions, as loving parents you might get teased about are infinitely better, than no parents at all.

While the rightwing moans about an issue, the leftwing tries to find solutions.

That problem solving does not always result in a neat little soundbite is because not all problems have the same solutions.

You can't use government to fix everything - therefore the left cannot proclaim that it is pro big government, properly regulated corporations have their uses and therefore the left cannot proclaim that it is anti corporate.

Further the leftwing position is to actually take the so called valence positions seriously.

While the rightwing issues meaningless soundbites about "limited government" the leftwing actually takes the firm position of "Decent work" - which translates into higher minimum wages, better working conditions and policies designed to protect America's jobs.

While the rightwing can sound off on national defence, the leftwing has noted that the other problem is you do not want to end up under a dictatorship - thus you end up with the proviso of protecting people's rights.

Sure it sounds all very good and reasonable to everyone, because the leftwing position is in fact very good and reasonable.

That you agree with something doesn't make it a weak position or wrong, you aren't as stupid as you think you are and people agreeing with you isn't a terrible thing.

Anonymous said...

There's a little too much emphasis on "message" in this discussion. After some significant progressive change in the 1930s and 1960s, Democrats increasingly organized themselves via government programs. But for various reasons, the engines of those changes -- unions, farmer associations, black churches, etc -- all declined. Meanwhile, righties strengthened themselves thru evangelical churches, niche corporate media, etc.

Until lefties can mobilize natural constituencies, progressives will continue to be dominated by the "Upper West Side" types, academics, etc who have easier access to the system but are not radical enough to really push for significant change.

This means the hard work of organizing the most disadvantaged -- like African Americans or immigrants. There's a place for worrying about "message" in that, but organizing doesn't just mean "I phrase the idea really well so you do what I want." It means involving people enough that they'll pour themselves into it, heart and soul.

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duplex scanner said...

Great conversation. I enjoyed reading of this post. What I think that The failure of progressives is not that they don't stoop to the same duplicity, it's that they don't call out Rove et al. for doing it.