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Sun Mar 2, 2014, 12:37 AM

The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals

For nearly all the twentieth century there was a dynamic left in the United States grounded in the belief that unrestrained capitalism generated unacceptable social costs. That left crested in influence between 1935 and 1945, when it anchored a coalition centered in the labor movement, most significantly within the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It was a prominent voice in the Democratic Party of the era, and at the federal level its high point may have come in 1944, when FDR propounded what he called “a second Bill of Rights.” Among these rights, Roosevelt proclaimed, were the right to a “useful and remunerative job,” “adequate medical care,” and “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.”

The labor-left alliance remained a meaningful presence in American politics through the 1960s. What have become known as the social movements of the Sixties — civil rights activism, protests against the Vietnam War, and a renewed women’s movement — were vitally linked to that egalitarian left. Those movements drew institutional resources, including organizing talents and committed activists, from that older left and built on both the legislative and the ideological victories it had won. But during the 1980s and early 1990s, fears of a relentless Republican juggernaut pressured those left of center to take a defensive stance, focusing on the immediate goal of electing Democrats to stem or slow the rightward tide. At the same time, business interests, in concert with the Republican right and supported by an emerging wing of neoliberal Democrats, set out to roll back as many as possible of the social protections and regulations the left had won. As this defensiveness overtook leftist interest groups, institutions, and opinion leaders, it increasingly came to define left-wing journalistic commentary and criticism. New editorial voices — for example, The American Prospect — emerged to articulate the views of an intellectual left that defined itself as liberal rather than radical. To be sure, this shift was not absolute. Such publications as New Labor Forum, New Politics, Science & Society, Monthly Review, and others maintained an oppositional stance, and the Great Recession has encouraged new outlets such as Jacobin and Endnotes. But the American left moved increasingly toward the middle.

Today, the labor movement has been largely subdued, and social activists have made their peace with neoliberalism and adjusted their horizons accordingly. Within the women’s movement, goals have shifted from practical objectives such as comparable worth and universal child care in the 1980s to celebrating appointments of individual women to public office and challenging the corporate glass ceiling. Dominant figures in the antiwar movement have long since accepted the framework of American military interventionism. The movement for racial justice has shifted its focus from inequality to “disparity,” while neatly evading any critique of the structures that produce inequality.

The sources of this narrowing of social vision are complex. But its most conspicuous expression is subordination to the agenda of a Democratic Party whose center has moved steadily rightward since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Although it is typically defended in a language of political practicality and sophistication, this shift requires, as the historian Russell Jacoby notes, giving up “a belief that the future could fundamentally surpass the present,” which traditionally has been an essential foundation of leftist thought and practice. “Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society,” Jacoby observes in The End of Utopia, “the left ineluctably retreats to smaller ideas, seeking to expand the options within the existing society.”

http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-long-slow-surrender-of-american-liberals/

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Response to Redfairen (Original post)

Sun Mar 2, 2014, 01:13 AM

1. subordination to the agenda of a DEM Party whose center has moved steadily rightward since Reagan

 

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Response to blkmusclmachine (Reply #1)

Sun Mar 2, 2014, 06:45 AM

3. all people stood by and let 'raygun' 'fire' those thousands (air traffic controllers)

We all have to 'back' people when their rights are stepped on even if their issue means nothing to us personally.

To be neutral about some issue, not to say a word also aids the enemy. I like the way President O is flexible, he can learn to adapt, he has learned to adapt to the mountain of crap the RW piles on him. He sends in bills that reflect his adaptability. His admin. , his committees have exposed and in many cases have now stopped a lot of the long-time RW problems that harmed America.

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Response to Redfairen (Original post)

Sun Mar 2, 2014, 06:10 AM

2. A good opinion article however, personally- I'll never surrender, or roll over in submission.

Can't let the RW get away with anything that is discrimination or bypasses Americans BASIC right to freedom, liberty, happiness even if the 'RW'ish change doesn't effect your life at all.

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Response to Redfairen (Original post)

Sun Mar 2, 2014, 10:31 AM

4. I've always thought what happened was this:

Communism absolutely terrified the Ruling Class. They saw how a mass uprising could actually reach into their homes and injure their families. If even the mighty Romanovs could be shot and thrown into a ditch, what about the poor Astors? So they decided to throw a few bones to the working class, in the form of better labor conditions and compensation, in order to appease them and head off any possibility of revolution in the US. Much as in more-recent times, a company will offer employees the same compensation as union workers, so long as they don't form a union.

So long as the USSR existed, the Ruling Class remained afraid of the potential for Communist revolution in the USA, and continued to begrudgingly grant a few concessions to the people to stave off the Red Terror. But once the USSR became history, the motivation for these concessions was negated, and the Ruling Class was free to act as they pleased, starting with demolishing all the "progress" that had been made when they were wetting their pants with fear. And they can pay the rest of us back for all their perceived slights and humiliations.

It's a gross over-simplification, of course, and doesn't nearly cover all the subject, but I think there is something to it.

-- Mal

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