By Martin Bosworth
We’re genetically and sociologically oriented to think of things in duality. Two arms, two legs, a base-10 mathematical system that comes from multiplying 5×2. So there has to be a “right” and a “left,” and because the majority of people are right-handed, the “left hand” is considered strange and different. Did you know the word “sinister” originally meant “left”?
Is it any wonder, then that the modern liberal movement is so unable to really grasp the hearts and minds of the people? We’re the “left hand.” Strange, different, abnormal, not the normal part of the body politic, and our influence, while pervasive, is fractious and hard to coalesce into a single unified voice.
A few days ago, Mudcat Saunders took a huge shit on the majority of the progressive Democrat blogosphere, exposing the raw divisions of class and regionalism between the various ideologies under the big tent. Today, Matt Taibbi stabs a shiv in the exposed wound, saying what we’ve been thinking but were afraid to face–liberalism as we know it is dead:
Progressive politicians in Washington frequently complain that the political mainstreamâ€™s abandonment of working-class issues opens the door for Republicans to seize the ignored middle-American electorate, mainly by scaring them with bugaboo images of marrying queers, godless commie academics, dirty bearded eco-terrorists, and so on.
To them, the essentially patrician structure of the political left is mostly a logistical political problem, one that can theoretically be solved, as Sanders solved it in his state, by shunning corporate campaign donors, listening to voters again, and re-emphasizing working-class issues.
But having rich college grads acting as the political representatives of the working class isnâ€™t just bad politics. Itâ€™s also silly. And thereâ€™s probably no political movement in history thatâ€™s been sillier than the modern American left.
The issues of economic populism–the destruction of the manufacturing base of the country, the dismantling of the safety net that buttressed the middle class, and the economic terrorism of credit cards and the horrific bankruptcy laws–these are LIBERAL issues. These are issues of justice and fairness and the right of people to be able to make a living without worrying if one mishap will send them to the poorhouse.
And yet, when your idea of marshaling a response is to send underpaid college students knocking on doors to demand $20 donations, is it any wonder that people will turn away from you? Or that people didn’t care about so-called “free trade” until they started seeing their own jobs on the chopping block?
I resented Saunders calling me out for having the gall to be well-educated, making money, and yet still caring about the welfare of those less well-off. But there is an undeniable truth that liberalism breeds a sort of elitist snobbery just as rampant conservatism does. You can write off checks in the six figures to Giuliani OR Clinton in the next election, but no matter which one you support, you probably won’t be paying attention to the poor guy shining your shoes or chopping up your salad while you put away your checkbook.
These are issues of class and status that cut through political affiliations and parties. America has steadfastly refused to accept that we have a stratified class system, and now, with the erosion of the ability to own a home, keep a job, get health insurance, or avoid crushing debt from credit cards or student loans, we’re seeing that there are no Republicans or Democrats anymore….our ideologies are too complex and diverse for that. There are the haves, the have-nots, and whoever else is left.
Taibbi is saying the same thing I’ve said for years–that it’s time for us to be the leaders. It’s time for us to stand up and embrace new philosophies, new definitions, and new ways of looking at the complexity of our struggles. Instead of subscribing to the eternal infantilization of victimhood or the nagging finger-wagging of typical liberal moralizing, it’s time to move forward. To come up with new arguments, new answers, and new methods of politics, as Howard Dean did. In short, it’s time to progress.
That’s why that while I’m proud to be liberal, I identify as a progressive. Because like Taibbi, I’m all about leaving the old ways behind. It’s the only way our ideas will survive.
ADDENDUM: In reading what I wrote, it bothered me to think that I haven’t explicitly acknowledged the huge successes of the blogosphere in raising political awareness, driving opinion on issues from Iraq to net neutrality to employees’ rights, and getting elections won. That’s the last thing I wanted to convey, so let me make this clear– the blogosphere is probably the strongest force for progressive political change in the last thirty years. No one can deny it now, and it’s broken the field wide open to talk about deeper issues and fight for bigger struggles.