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Mon Feb 24, 2014, 03:19 AM

The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals

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

The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals
By Adolph Reed Jr.

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.”

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Arrow 22 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals (Original post)
jsr Feb 2014 OP
merrily Feb 2014 #1
Doctor_J Feb 2014 #5
malthaussen Feb 2014 #6
Doctor_J Feb 2014 #7
merrily Feb 2014 #10
ReRe Feb 2014 #2
Doctor_J Feb 2014 #8
merrily Feb 2014 #11
BlueMTexpat Feb 2014 #3
merrily Feb 2014 #12
BlueMTexpat Feb 2014 #15
merrily Feb 2014 #16
BlueMTexpat Feb 2014 #17
merrily Feb 2014 #18
BlueMTexpat Feb 2014 #19
merrily Feb 2014 #20
BlueMTexpat Feb 2014 #21
blkmusclmachine Feb 2014 #4
Doctor_J Feb 2014 #9
struggle4progress Feb 2014 #13
Bartleby73 Feb 2014 #14
merrily Feb 2014 #22

Response to jsr (Original post)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 05:59 AM

1. Thank you for your concern, Adolph, but rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated.

BTW, I did not see any mention in the article of the difference between liberals and other Democrats. So, the article is either dishonest or shockingly ill-informed, IMO.

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Response to merrily (Reply #1)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 11:15 AM

5. Really? What was the last major battle we won?

 

Besides electing a self-described moderate republican to the WH in 2008, I mean.

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Response to Doctor_J (Reply #5)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 11:56 AM

6. Guess it depends on your definition of "major."

And of course, on your definition of "won." Some people consider the ACA a major step in the right direction, and also the overturning of DOMA.

-- Mal

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Response to malthaussen (Reply #6)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 01:05 PM

7. The only ones who consider ACA a major victory are the insurance companies

 

a major victory would have been SP HC. A nearly major victory would have been a public option. A minor victory would have been lower the Medicare age to 55.

Implementing a plan concocted by the Heritage Foundation and implemented by Willard Romney is not a liberal win in any definition.

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Response to Doctor_J (Reply #5)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 03:23 AM

10. My answer to that would not be a one or two line post.

The answer (in my mind) is a lot more complicated. For one things, contrary to popular percerption, I don't think liberals in 1964 won much of anything, either; and that statement would take me an essay to try to explain. But this thread is about whether liberals have been complacent for the past 50 years. Or whether they are gone now. I don't think either is true. You and I are here and I am certainly not complacent. Are you?

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Response to jsr (Original post)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 06:07 AM

2. "We're all Republicans now."

Is that what this means? They wish!

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Response to ReRe (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 01:10 PM

8. Well, the leader of the "liberal" party calls himself one

 

that's not a good sign.

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Response to Doctor_J (Reply #8)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 03:24 AM

11. Obama leads the Democratic Party, not the liberal party.

Most of the Democratic Party is not liberal.

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Response to jsr (Original post)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 06:25 AM

3. I rec'd because it is a good read, whether I agree with every single point or not.

Unfortunately, it reflects what I have seen historically, especially since Raygun - and literally running amok under Bush II where overtly unscrupulous (even illegal) behavior became a GOP ideal and too many elected Dems - especially after 9-11 - literally caved in to anything Bush-Cheney wanted. At least until Paul Wellstone, Howard Dean and many vocal others began speaking the courage of their liberal convictions once again and heartening the base once again.

But no, there has not been complete surrender. Not at all. We are still here - and we are coming B-A-A-C-K thanks to some wonderful voices in the party - in elected office and out. Thanks also to the wonders of the internet, which still allows us to reconnect, to share and to know that we are indeed here and ready, willing and able to keep up the good fight.

By the way, how many here have registered to vote in the 2014 elections? That is, after all, the first step to a meaningful comeback. Because it will not happen overnight.

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Response to BlueMTexpat (Reply #3)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 03:28 AM

12. If anyone here who is over 21 was not registered to vote by 2012,

he or she probably should not be posting on a political board.

ETA: Not that I think voting is magical.

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Response to merrily (Reply #12)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 05:44 AM

15. True that voting is not "magical"

but it is the one thing that each one of us must do or, IMHO, we forfeit our right to complain about results.

The thing is that voter registration rules are different in each state. I frankly believe that is unconstitutional for any elections relating to federal office where ONE set of rules should apply or we have Equal Protection concerns.

Depending on state rules, one may actually have to update one's registration each cycle or one may discover that one is ineligible to vote, or at least ineligible to vote in the primaries - which often affect the choices in the general elections later on.

Different rules for keeping one's registration active may apply to me because I reside abroad. But I know that I am required to update my voter registration in MD - which I did just last week - in plenty of time to ensure that I will receive absentee ballots for both primary and general election options.

http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Voting/Register.shtml

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Response to BlueMTexpat (Reply #15)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 06:00 AM

16. Getting an absentee ballot every year is different.

Usually, you register once in a state, whether you register Democrat or another party or indie (called unenrolled" in my state) and it's good unless and until you move out of state. However, if you move out of a polling district, you notify them of the change of address. And, if you need an absentee ballot, you have to fulfill the requirements of getting an absentee ballot. I've had to get one a few times, but it was not considered renewing my registration, just simply applying for an absentee ballot.

I am no expert on Maryland election law, but a quick google suggest that it is much the same. "Any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot."


http://www.elections.state.md.us/voting/absentee.html

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Response to merrily (Reply #16)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 06:50 AM

17. I know that in MD, it used to be that,

so long as one had indeed voted in the most recent prior election, it was automatically presumed that no registration information had changed.

In fact, that is all true for me. No required registration information (name, state address*, foreign address, SSN and DOB) has changed in the past seven years. But I also received notification from my county elections board a couple years ago that, in accordance with a change in the law, I need to re-register for each new election cycle. It's not hard to do. I can register on-line at https://www.votefromabroad.org/

I then only need to print out the completed on-line registration form, sign and date it and mail it in via regular post/special delivery service.

It's worthwhile for EVERYONE to verify whether they need to re-register in their voting state, whether voting absentee or not.

*For an expat, the state address is usually considered to be the US state where one last resided or in which one last voted. In fact, I still own property in MD, pay state and local taxes (as well as the IRS bite, which is offset somewhat by taxes I pay abroad) and occasionally live there as well.

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Response to BlueMTexpat (Reply #17)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 06:54 AM

18. Bottom line, everyone needs to start making sure they will be able to

vote in November, whether it's requesting an absentee ballot or getting an ID if they need one to vote, or notifying someone of a change of address and finding out where a new polling place is located. And that may mean a quick google of current state requirements.

Given all the vote caging and attempted vote caging by Republicans, I am surprised that there are not more efforts in that direction, more PSAs, more organizing people to offer to take the elderly and disabled in for a photo ID if the state requires one, etc.

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Response to merrily (Reply #18)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 07:08 AM

19. I absolutely concur!

This is where Howard Dean's DNC was particularly effective.

Since Dean's departure from the DNC, it is activist voter-centered groups like Dean's DFA (http://www.democracyforamerica.com/) and the late Paul Wellstone's foundation (http://www.wellstone.org/) that do a major part of voter outreach/education. IMO, the DNC, DSCC and DCCC need to provide more information about outreach/education generally rather than simply concentrating on fundraising.

The Democrats Abroad country groups are also quite activist, thankfully. There is the umbrella organization for Democrats Abroad (https://www.democratsabroad.org/) and each country has a local group. The group in Switzerland (https://www.democratsabroad.org/group/switzerland), where I reside, is excellent.

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Response to BlueMTexpat (Reply #19)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 07:12 AM

20. We also lost ACORN, thanks to a faked video and a trigger happy and/or

overly skittish Congress. (Or maybe they wanted an excuse to get rid of ACORN? Who knows?)

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Response to merrily (Reply #20)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 07:17 AM

21. It does make one wonder ... hmmm eom

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Response to jsr (Original post)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 10:12 AM

4. Big Tent Centrism

 

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Response to blkmusclmachine (Reply #4)

Mon Feb 24, 2014, 01:11 PM

9. Don't forget pragmatism

 

our new party slogan is, "it could be worse"

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Response to jsr (Original post)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 04:48 AM

13. Change is, by any account, hard work. It occurs only through a strange combination of

starry-eyed idealism and hard-eyed fact-based analysis; it requires simultaneously fire-in-the-belly moral indignation and the willingness to listen to those who disagree with you; it is always a matter of having not only a vision of the future but a detailed understanding of current material facts and a willingness to try to understand very specific lessons from history

Social commentary, like Reed's, that confines itself to sweeping abstract opinions, is entirely useless for this purpose

It brings to the table only outrage and forgets the importance of very careful attention to facts and very detailed analysis of the facts; it aims at an abstract bottom line -- How very disappointed we should all be in our leaders! -- rather than a dialectical view that seeks opportunities for forward movement and tries to understand the causes of setbacks; and it is not actually oriented towards activism (though it pretends to be), because rather than empowering people with useful facts and tactics it offers only discouragement at leaders

Political movements do not succeed or fail based on the quality of their leaders: good movements continually develop a large number of new potential leaders. This is essential, because whenever the status quo faces a significant challenge, one natural response is to attempt to destroy the leadership in some manner; and this may be done year after year, to leader after leader, until large numbers of people begin to understand how to analyze current conditions based on current facts and start to learn how to plot the strategies for challenging the status quo themselves

I worked to elect and re-elect Obama because he was the better alternative in 2008 and 2012. In 2008, Reed was busily denouncing Obama as a vacuous opportunist. It was empty noise then, and it's empty noise now

Back then, Reed never suggested any clear way forward to a better result: he merely fulminated that he was hardly a Clinton fan and would rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. And Reed today is still not suggesting any particular way forward

Here's what's actually required to win. Get together with some folk who want to win on some issue, learn what you can about it, come up with a specific plan for working the issue this week, do that and see what happens. Figure out what worked and what didn't work. Then try again. You'll get better at it. Eventually, if you're working on a issue that really threatens somebody, they'll fight back and you may get knocked down harder than you expected. Learn from it. And then try again and learn from that too. And then try again

People bled and died for the eight hour day and union rights. People bled and died for the right to vote. Why the fuck should we expect it to be a cakewalk for us? Stop whining. Merely sitting behind a keyboard and typing cynical shit doesn't make anybody smart. The early 20th century progressives would be ashamed to call us their heirs, if that's what we're going to do. The whining isn't edgy or refreshingly Marxist: it's an academic exercise in pseudo-progressive pseudo-Marxist noise-making

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Response to jsr (Original post)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 05:16 AM

14. the party stopped fighting for working people


Democrats are in the pocket of Wall St. I think most people know we won't have a representative democracy until we have publicly financed elections.

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Response to Bartleby73 (Reply #14)

Tue Feb 25, 2014, 07:40 AM

22. And, thanks to the SCOTUS, we won't have that unless we have a Constitutional

amendment. No controversial amendment has passed since the Eisenhower administration--and even something like equal rights for women has been considered controversial. Imagine how controversial an amendment denying the plutocrats their "right" to buy government would be.

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