Sunday, September 7, 2008
Progressive! Yes, we are Progressive -- Populists!
I haven't dealt with this topic for a while, but Digby has a thought provoking post up about the need for Democrats to reclaim their Progressive Populist roots and have done with over-intellectualizing everything.
Of course the problem is that terms like "progressive" and "populist" have no real meaning any more. On the internet, anyone opposed to Bush and Cheney is by default a "Progressive". And the "Progressive Agenda" consists primarily of getting rid of Bush and Cheney -- eventually.
"Populists," on the other hand, are seen primarily as dangers to the realm and privilege and therefore are to be ignored or dismissed. Or they are to be used and manipulated for pecuniary and political gain. Don't think the interenet isn't about status and privilege? Ha!
I'd like to think that "Progressive Populism" is possible, but it honestly hasn't been -- at least in urban areas -- since the beginning of Progressivism a century ago as a Republican elite response/reaction to the Democratic (and largely rural) Populism that threatened to turn the United States into a paradise for the rural proletariat. Can't have that. Progressivism is "elitist" by definition. Populism is anti-elitist on the surface, but has long been devoted to authoritarianism.
See the problem?
As I've said before, Internet Progressivism (as opposed to academic Progressivism) is essentially a mask for slightly leftish Libertarianism. This became fairly if not completely clear during the recent police actions in St. Paul, and to a lesser extent Denver, that were designed primarily to suppress free speech and assembly rights and to assert overwhelming government/private security force against a handful of obstreperous skinny youth, citizens, journalists, and lawyers during the national conventions of the major political parties.
Police forces were arrayed overbearingly against "anarchist/terrorists" -- which means everyone who does not instantly obey commands barked from Authority. The excuse for the police action was a spate of very minor vandalism in St. Paul. Over 800 were arrested, thousands were tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, harassed with explosives, beaten, bludgeoned, pepper-sprayed, and maced. Prior to the start of the convention in St. Paul, authorities acting on questionable warrants and paid informants conducted numerous raids on housing units and assembly sites where these "anarchist/terrorists" were plotting and planning their supposedly "criminal" protests. These raids continued through the convention.
Some "Progressive" A-List internet sites covered these issues and actions extensively. FDL and Glenn Greenwald's Salon venue particularly. It's fairly unusual for the main lefty blogosphere to take more than passing interest in the passe activity of "protest demonstrations," so it was somewhat surprising that there was so much interest in the actions of police and protestors in St. Paul last week. Especially when the protestors were such icky-dirty no account hippies.
But then it became clear: for the bloggers, this was really an issue of constitutional rights, primarily the rights of journalists and lawyers -- many of whom were arrested or harassed during the week -- and secondarily the rights of mere citizens. The focus on "rights" as opposed to the issues being addressed by the protests (which were hardly mentioned at all) is a tip off that a libertarian interest was being followed. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not "Progressive."
And yet, on the internet, it is. For on the internet, the conflation of leftish libertarianism and Progressivism is universal and almost complete. And they are not even remotely the same thing.
Now we're seeing an attempted conflation of Progressivism (aka leftish Libertarianism) and Populism. And that could get really ugly. As is pointed out in Digby's post linked above Populism has been hijacked by the wingnuts, and we ("Progressives") need to start getting it back from them.
Uhhh... now hold on there, sport.
Corporatists and Imperialists have highjacked Populism, not wingnuts. Populism has always been infested with wingnuttery and religious lunacy. Read up on it. Or, if you're old enough, remember. Populism was a dynamo for the Democratic Party a long time ago, but Populism was never quite what some academics and bloggers seem to think it was, a White Working Class movement. No, it was primarily a White Rural movement; the urban white working classes (at least from the mid 19th century to the Depression in the 20th) were revolutionaries, socialists, communists, anarchists, and what have you, but they were not Populists. Populism is now and has always been fiscally imprudent but culturally conservative, even reactionary. Thus, when corporatists and imperialists divorced themselves from the Progressives who had been their chief policy operatives and implementers until the Reagan Era, it was all but axiomatic they would shift to a Populist (reactionary and now largely Republican due to the Southern Strategy) "base" to carry on their quest for Ultimate Power.
The Urban Working Class is still largely Democratic, though their numbers and powers are waning. The successor to the Populists, the Suburban White lower middle class (rural America having been essentially depopulated since the heyday of Populism), has become a rich field for Republican exploitation. That's the field Democrats want to "get back."
To do it, Democratic strategists are always willing to throw away any and (almost) all long time Democratic constituencies in order to appeal to the lumpenproles of the white lower middle class suburbanites who have been conditioned for decades -- by their churches if not by their working and living environments -- to favor the Republican "small government, rule of law, self-reliance, God loving" party.
The problem is that Democratic strategists believe the only way to get back the white lower middle class suburbanites is to pretend to be Republicans.
It isn't working.
Next post, I'll try to suggest some alternatives.