Populism & Progressivism-Pt1: Obama As Classic Progressive

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Dec 15, 2007 at 18:21

Continuing a theme of my diary earlier today, "IQ Measures Modernization, Not Intelligence", here's a further elaboration on the thesis that part of what we need to do is "take account of how people are automatically slicing up the world, if we want to talk to them about slicing it up a bit differently."

I want to talk about slicing things up on several different levels: how we slice up the world when we use the word "progressive," how populists and progressives slice up the world differently, and how liberals and movement conservatives slice up the populist/progressive dualism differently. 

What got me thinking about this was the recent return of questions about Obama's progressive bona fides following his attack on Paul Krugman.  One analysis I've been particularly sympathetic over time has come from Chris Bowers, who finds Obama's positions to be generally progressive-though not earthshaking-but finds his manner, his way of conducting himself as a political actor to be lacking.  This came to an extreme head earlier this week in his post "What Really Bothers Me About Obama", which both accentuates the praise, specifically for Obama's new media strategy, as well as the criticism.  What's particularly appealing about this analysis is that I think that a lot of Obama supporters would actually agree with the overall analysis (if not this particular post), but would interpret it differently on two counts-first, by decrying the focus on maner as superficial, even arbitrary and hiding a "hidden agenda" on Chris's part (so well hidden that they can't even say what it is), and second, by turning what Chris sees as minuses into plusses ("how to get things done").

In this diary, I want to try to provide some historical and cultural depth to frame this analysis, and in doing so address these two interpretative differences.  As a bonus, possibly, just possibly, I might bring about some small degree of agreement. 

My thesis is simply stated:  Obama really is a progressive, in the classic, early-20th Century sense, and this is where some of the problems with him come from.  "Progressive" in this sense has some continuity with more recent usages, but some significant differences as well.  That's because the term "progressive" was revived in the late 60s and early 70s in a somewhat different sense-it was used as a counter-identification by those coming out of the anti-war, civil rights/black power and women's liberation movements, to distinguish themselves from Cold War/corporate liberals who had basically captured the term "liberal" for themselves.

I plan to return to this genesis in a future diary.  But for now, Obama's early vocal opposition linked with his intentional distancing from the anti-war movement clearly marks a divide in his own thinking that makes no sense in terms of 1960s vintage progressivism, but makes a lot more sense in terms of early 20th-Century progressivism.

To be a "progressive" in this late-20th Century sense was actually more insurgent and populist than it was historically connected with the original sense of "progressive," even though their were legitimate continuities as well, which were clearly visible, for example in the pages of The Progressive magazine, as well as in Naderite wing of the progressive movement as it gained strength in the 1970s.  These new progressives represented a reconfiguring politics that did not fit neatly into what had gone before-but that's rather typical of the way that American politics has always developed, reweaving threads from different skeins together.  Furthermore, they had much more in common with others-such a left-leaning labor activists-who had stronger, unbroken lineages, than was widely recognized at the time.

While the new progressives self-identified as such as far back as the late 60s, the term was not widely picked up on in the broader political press, which made it ripe for appropriation by their exact opposites-conservative pro-business Democrats who were increasingly worried by the influence of progressives on mainstream establishment liberalism from the later 70s onward.  Thus it was that when the DLC was finally formally established, following a series of earlier, more ad-hoc incarnations, it created as its think tank "The Progressive Policy Institute," which had virtually nothing progressive about it, save for some of the least appealing aspects of early 20th Century "progressivism."  While Barack Obama is nowhere near as regressive as the DLC, this bifrucated usage of the term "progressive" is key to understanding much of the confusion that surrounds claims and counter-claims about his status as a progressive.

Paul Rosenberg :: Populism & Progressivism-Pt1: Obama As Classic Progressive
Purpose of This Diary

This diary is not intended to provide a detailed critique of Obama, but rather to clarify what I see as a background matrix of concerns and tensions which many on both sides may only be peripherally aware of.  In turn, the background that it discusses has broader implications for our politics that go well beyond Obama and presidential politics more generally, which I will explore further in a follow-up diary.  Thus, while occassioned by recent criticisms, it is more concerned with trying to situate them in a larger framework, the underlying logic of which is far more central to this diary than Obama himself.  Obama's importance is (1) his importance and (2) his intriguing fidelity to the earlier progressive model.  In short, yes, he's a hot topic, but he really does help focus attention on something much more general, that touches on many other subjects.

Prelude: Recapitulating Bowers' Critique

As I said above, "What Really Bothers Me About Obama", is congruent with the overall thrust that Chris Bowers has had in evaluating Obama over the past year or more, but accentuating both polarities, while narrowing his focus:

Barack Obama is simultaneously the best and worst Democratic candidate for new progressive media and new progressive institutions. Where his campaign is good, it is very good in this area, especially around media policy and earning support from users of new media. However, where his campaign is bad in this area, it is very bad, including in engaging direct attacks against multiple progressive and new media figures....

This is a campaign that appears willing to go negative against a wide range of progressive media figures should those figures step out of line and criticize Obama campaign decisions....

It isn't just about attacking progressive media figures, either.... Overall, the willingness to attack progressive media figures, the poor blogosphere outreach, the willingness to triangulate against left-wing strawmen, and incessant, beltway-pundit friendly talk about the need to "fix" Social Security, combine to paint a pretty stark picture of the Obama campaign's relationship with progressive media and new progressive institutions. That is to say, he doesn't like those new institutions, and is instead making friends with the more established media infrastructure.

Obama actually seems to be doing a good job in this area, as he receives significantly more positive media than any other Presidential candidate. Certainly, showing a distaste for the dirty hippies and real concern over the need to "fix" Social Security can make you a lot of friends among media figures who have the ability to sway public opinion. Obama's improvement in the polls over the past six or seven weeks must be strongly connected to the media favoring him above all other presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican.

This is the sort of criticism that Obama partisans will claim has very little to do with policy positions, and thus is largely ad hominem (against the man), in the broadest sense-not an example of a fallacious ad hominem attack, but a criticism of Obama that does not square with his policy positions.  There is some genuine merit to this claim, as well as some incredible blindness.  Politics, after all, is as much about alliances, who your friends and enemies are, as it is about policies.  In the real world, one cannot separate the two.  And Obama has a decidedly odd habit of repeatedly bashing his supposed friends, often using the exact same rhetoric as their sworn enemies.

My argument here is that this behaviour is decidedly less odd if one conceives of Obama as an early-1900s Progressive, rather than a late 1900s Progressive, and sees those whom he takes pot-shots at as often (though not always) representing Populist tendencies that he finds dangerous.  Further, the "not always" cases include instances where Obama-again, similarly to the early-1900s Progressives-situationally adopts specific Populist positions, the way that Progressives adopted and furthered Populists' prohibitionist crusade, for example.  Obama's attack on phantom secular leftists suppressing religious self-expression is an example of such situtational Populism on his part.

And so I turn to explicating the background, and the primary text I use comes-appropriately enough, given Obama's background-comes from a discussion of Populism, Progressivism and Constitutional law.

Background: Populism and Progressivism Compared, Jack Balkin Edition

A very good description of the tensions between populist and progressive attitudes can be found in Jack Balkin's Yale Law Review article, "Populism and Progressivism as Constitutional Categories".  Balkin is the proprieter of one of the oldest (if not the oldest) law-centered blogs, "Balkinization. Digby linked to this article back in 2005 (she saw Kraftwerk the same month, I'm so jealous!), and what she wrote then is still worth taking a look at, but my take is slightly different than hers, and my purpose differs even more.  Still, I will reference her below, so it's not a bad idea to read the whole thing.  After all, it's Digby.

Balkin sees value as well as shortcomings in both populism and progressivism.  Digby highlighted the dark side of populism-and with good reason.  But populism also has a strong egalitarian bent, as well as a respect for the autonomy of ordinary people, and progressivism has its flaws as well.  Moreover, the historical movements that gave rise to these terms were closely related, as Balkin notes:

By "populism" and "progressivism," I mean to invoke the spirit of two successive reform movements in American history, the first primarily agrarian and the second urban.(26) Despite their differences, progressivism and populism had many similarities, so much so in fact that the two are easily confused. Many of the reforms advocated by populists in the late nineteenth century -- for example, direct election of senators, the eight-hour day, graduated income taxation, and currency reform -- were put in place by progressives in the early twentieth century, albeit for somewhat different reasons.(27) Thus, although I am particularly interested in the ways in which populism and progressivism diverge, the two should not be seen as diametrically opposed. They were and are often uneasy allies, but allies they have been nevertheless. Moreover, when I speak of "populism" and "progressivism" today, I am necessarily extrapolating from events in American history to offer principles that might help us understand trends in contemporary political debates. This is an exercise in the description of ideal types; few people can be said to match the portraits I offer in all respects.(28)

Although populism and progressivism share a desire for reform, they diverge most significantly in their attitudes towards the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of the mass of ordinary citizens. They take different views about ordinary citizens' private activities, their cultural attachments, and the possibility of their participation in mass politics.

To put it succinctly, progressives tend to think that people need fixing before they can be decent citizens. But populists have a sensible counter-argument, Balkin explains:

Yet populism also demands recognition that citizens may have good reasons to neglect politics. This inattention may reflect the comparative urgency of the demands of everyday life, or a belief that government adequately albeit imperfectly serves their interests. However, it may also reflect the growing judgment that government is the seat of corruption, privilege, cronyism, and injustice. At some point, this indignation will surface in popular political action, and when it occurs, it must be given its due. From a populist perspective, an alternation between periods of relative inattention and episodes of popular uprising is not a pathological but a normal feature of democratic life. It symbolizes the people's simultaneous recognition that they ultimately rule and that their government is usually in the hands of people who systematically forget this fact. The model of populist democracy is not prolonged dialogue but periodic revolution.

Of course, progressives disagree:

This alternation between inattention and outrage looks quite different and very disturbing from the perspective of progressivism. Citizen activism is supposed to be continuous and sustained rather than concentrated in brief moments of outrage, just as sustained rational deliberation is to be preferred to sporadic outbursts and expostulations. Some progressives may seek revolutionary changes in society, but in its preference for sustained democratic deliberation, progressivism is decidedly antirevolutionary.

Faced with recurrent political apathy, progressivism has traditionally decried civic sloth and preached the gospel of public participation. Yet precisely at those moments when the citizenry is most eager and engaged, progressives are rarely pleased with the results. An energized populace is, unfortunately, empowered by popular sentiment and popular passion. Progressivism tends to be suspicious of such energy, thinking it usually badly informed and misdirected by clever manipulation.(187) Thus progressivism finds itself continually hoping for an active citizenry, but perpetually in fear that it will get what it wishes for.

We have seen this schizophrenia before. It is the simultaneous trust of the democratic process in the abstract coupled with a distrust of the same process when goaded and controlled by ordinary citizens. Populism's vision of normal politics is progressivism's nightmare -- a citizenry that sporadically takes power into its own hands without adequate preparation and sufficient education in proper values. Yet from populism's standpoint the progressive dream is hardly heavenly -- for it is premised on disdain and disrespect for popular will and civic energy. It is a participation with only idealized participants, a democratic culture without a demos.

Elsewhere, Balkin further fleshes out populists' contrary attitudes, which I believe are good to keep in mind, as progressives tend to devalue or overlook them, since they don't translate well into a progressive issue framework:

Because of its concern about corruption and its insistence that people have control over the structures of power that affect them, populism has historically been suspicious of elites -- whether academic, social, or political -- and their claims to expertise and superior judgment. It has been especially skeptical of factual expertise that parades as moral or political expertise.

The purpose of government has both a public and a private aspect for populists. Government exists to provide individuals and their families and communities with a chance to live their own lives in dignity, and to allow them to form relationships with others free from the hand of powerful public and private forces. Although this description appears to privilege private interest and association, populism has an equally important public side: It demands that ordinary people have a say in the decisions that affect them, that they be able to participate in those structures of power that shape their daily lives. Thus, populism is based on a particular conception of self-rule and self-determination, one in which the active participation of the citizenry -- when they choose to participate -- is encouraged and facilitated. This interrelation between the public and private aspects of populism is crucial to understanding its distinctive character.

People want to be part of governance, but what they want from government is respect for their ways of living. People wish to participate in government, but they do not wish to be manipulated and shaped by some master plan for effective governance. They want the opportunity to have a say in what affects them, but they also wish to be allowed to live their lives, raise their children, and pursue their own vision of happiness -- whether in families, friendships, or communities -- free from the hand of bureaucratic planning or corporate overreaching.

Finally, before moving on from Balkin's article as background, it's worth taking note of one more point he makes;

The distinction between populism and progressivism is orthogonal to the more familiar distinction between "left" and "right." An opposition between progressivism and populism exists wholly within left-liberal discourse, just as one exists within the discourse of conservatives; we might say that the two sets of oppositions form a box of four.(24)

The footnote notes:

24. For example, in the 1896 election the concept of "the progressive society" -- one devoted to rational progress, civic duty, and social order -- was offered by the Republican defenders of the values of the Gilded Age against what was thought to be a dangerous populist insurgency. See LAWRENCE GOODWYN, THE POPULIST MOMENT: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AGRARIAN REVOLT IN AMERICA 272-73 (1978).

We tend to hear a great deal about rightwing populism, which is hardly an accident, since leftwing populism is arguably the most threatening force in American politics, as far as America's political elites are concerned, and rightwing populism is the most effective way to disrupt leftwing populism.  But as Balkin argues here, there is a distinctly left-wing populist tradition that cannot be fairly dismissed through guilt-by-association with rightwing populism.  Similarly-though it sounds oxymoronic-there is also a rightwing progressive tradition, as well.  Indeed, this has been the very essence of the rightwing media-think-tank-industrial complex built up since the 1970s, which has been so central to the advancement of conservative hegemony.  There is no real "progress" in any form that readers of Open Left would recognize, but there is the creation of an ever more elaborate elitist rationale underscored by claims about the common good-all of which is quite typical of progressive politics.

Digby's Piece

In the post where Digby links to Balkin's article, the very beginning is particularly relevant to the argument I'm about to make.  It goes something like this:

Via Daniel Munz, who's pinch hitting over at Ezra's place, I see that my old pal "Mudcat" Saunders is offering some more good advice to Democrats:
    "Bubba doesn't call them illegal immigrants. He calls them illegal aliens. If the Democrats put illegal aliens in their bait can, we're going to come home with a bunch of white males in the boat."
The thing is, he's absolutely right. To put together this great new populist revival everybody's talking about, where we get the boys in the pick-up trucks to start voting their "self-interest," we're probably going to need to get up a new nativist movement to go along with it. That's pretty much how populism has always been played in the past, particularly in the south. Certainly, you can rail against the moneyed elites, but there is little evidence that it will work unless you provide somebody on the bottom that the good ole boys can really stomp. As Jack Balkin wrote in this fascinating piece on populism and progressivism:
    History teaches us that populism has recurring pathologies; it is especially important to recognize and counteract them. These dangers are particularly obvious to academics and other intellectual elites: They include fascism, nativism, anti-intellectualism, persecution of unpopular minorities, exaltation of the mediocre, and romantic exaggeration of the wisdom and virtue of the masses.
Is it any wonder that the right has been more successful in recently in inflaming the populist impulse in America? They are not squeamish about using just those pathologies --- and only those pathologies -- to gain populist credibility in spite of a blatant lack of populist policy.

Now, I agree with this analysis something like 90-95%.  That other 5-10% has a name: John Edwards.  And for me, it's absolutely striking how all the Versailles talk about the Democrats' need to reach out to white working class men occurs in an alternate universe where there is no John Edwards, and what little Versailles talk there is about John Edwards occurs in an alternative universe where there is no Mudcat Sanders.  In short:  the pathologies of populism vastly overshadow the sound aspects in terms of political salience, but there's an enormous amount of political, social and cultural work that's gone into producing this situation-a situation in which this appears to be perfectly normal, when it is actually anything but.  This is not to claim that John Edwards is perfect-merely that he is there, despite all of Versailles' deep-seated desire to pretend that he is not.

Progessivism and Populism: The Matrix Crystalized

With this background in place, I'm now ready to extract a maxtrix of ideas that I think can help illuminate what is going on with Barack Obama:

(1) As Balkin notes, populism and progressivism both transcend right and left.  This does not mean that right- and left-wing versions are similar or interchangeable, or anything else.  It merely means that they exist.

(2) Populism and progressivism share some concerns while differing over others.  Areas of difference tend to be deeper than mere disagreement, they tend to differences on conception: where they disagree, populists and progressives tend to talk right past one another.

(3) However, this does not have to be so.  Progressives need not be so at odds with populists.  Instead of trying to reform the people for an ideal form of citizenship, for example, progressives can look for collaborative approaches toward creating better structures that facilitate both populist and progressive goals.

One potential example would be adoption of the Swiss system of initiatives, which is significantly more sophisticated than the American imitation.  The Swiss system uses popular initiatives to put items on the public agenda, but allows the legislature to substitute its own proposals-if validated by the public in subsequent elections.  It thus combines a populist respect for broad public participation in demanding that "attention must be paid" with a progressive respect for inclusive, far-sighted deliberative processes.

(4)  Populism and progressivism change over time.  They are living traditions, with core characteristics that endure over time, but what makes them particularly salient at one point in time can be quite different from what makes them salient at another.

(5) Bringing one or more issues to the fore can have the effect of "branding" populism or progressivism with that issue and related attitudes, and this can have a significant distorting effect on the inherent internal logic, creating a political dynamic that draws from foundations that could, under different circumstances, lead in a very different direction.

In this election cycle, immigration-a relatively low-salience topic-has been continuously used to promote a rightwing populist slant.  Failure to challenge this is deeply threatening to the natural demographic base of the future Democratic majority, as Chris has written about many times.  In contrast, failure to talk about single-payer health care, instead getting entangled in a morass of technocratic (i.e. "progressive-friendly) plans that fail to fundamentally transform the system, has significantly reduced the populist impact of a very high salience topic.

(6) No one is a pure Progressive or pure Populist.  As Balkin notes, he is talking about "ideal types."  There are all different manner of admixtures.  But, for reasons I've touched on, Obama does seem to be a particularly distinct example of the Progressive ideal type-especially in contrast to more recent usages of the term.

(7) Although many netroots participants are quite knowledgeable, and may even have a full-blown progressive mindset, as opposed to a populist one, the nature of the netroots over-all is populist, reflecting the values described by Balkin above.  (One sees this particularly vividly in a number of historically significant blogs-in Eric Alterman's Altercation, with its ongoing discussions of Bruce Springsteen, in Kos's biographical history, and blogs outside of Dkos, dealing with sports, motherhood and faith, in FireDogLake and Huffington Post's deep connections to popular culture, etc.) Thus, there is a distinct cross-wiring between the traditional assumptions that progressive elites are more deeply knoweldgeable than populist masses.  When it comes to all manner of Bush Administration scandals, as well as policy alternatives that are simply "unthinkable," the populist netroots are far more knowledgeable than the progressive elites of Versailles, as Glenn Greenwald routinely makes painfully clear.

(8)  There is a widespread mis-perception in the netroots that mis-identifies 1960s and later "progressive" movements ("progressive" in the "not Cold War liberal" sense) with relatively isolated, though well-heeled,  national organizations that are part of institutional Versailles, and are "progressive" in Balkin's "progressive vs. populist" sense.  In fact, these movements were actually much more populist than progressive, propelled from the grassroots up.  However, for various reasons they were not coherently institutionalized with an organizational density comparable to the economic populist institutions of the labor movement that was the defining legacy of the 1930s. 

Yet, there are still a large number of activists and organizations at the local and statewide level that retain a significant populist flavor around issues of peace, gender, the environment, etc.  This includes such ostensibly "non-political" organizations as breat cancer survivor groups, for example, that are directly descended from the women's grassroots healthcare movement epitomized by Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.  As Wikipedia notes:

The booklet was originally intended as the basis for a women's health course, the first to be written for women by women. The health seminar that inspired the booklet was organized in 1969 by Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston's Emmanuel College. "We weren't encouraged to ask questions, but to depend on the so-called experts," Hawley told Women's eNews. "Not having a say in our own health care frustrated and angered us. We didn't have the information we needed, so we decided to find it on our own."

It just doesn't get much more populist than that.

(9) The netroots mis-perception in #8 is feed by the fact that national blogs tend to highlight confrontations with Versailles progressive elite institutions, while having relatively little occasion to discuss local, grassroots, more populist manifestations that actually involve far more people, if not a comparable degree of political influence.

(10) The progressive elite belief is that educated elites can solve the big problems, but that ignorant, emotionally divided masses get in the way and muck things up.  Sometimes this is true.  But more often it is merely a rationalization for thwarting or ignoring populist demands.  In fact, since the 1970s, political elites have grown significantly more polarized than the population at large has.  The long-standing grassroots conservative support for the welfare state that has popped its head out recently via the Huckabee campaign is an example of a broad mass concensus that's quite at odds with elite divisions.

(11) Barack Obama is a typical member of the progressive elite, who engages in a number of populist rhetorical moves to seek product differentiation in electoral marketplace, while generating minimal internal tension within the progressive elite, thereby generating a high level of favorable coverage-at least until the GOP attacks begin in earnest, which is inevitable if he becomes the nominee.

(a) Obama echoes the elite disdain for the netroots.  He finds it lacking in interest, despite the fact that online discourse is orders of magnitude more sophisticated and well-informed than offline political discourse. Rather than seek to work with existing netroots structures, he seeks to set up his own.

(b) He echoes rightwing pseudo-populist attacks on left-wing elitist bogey-men, such as "some Democrats" who denigrate religion.

(c) He disdains left-wing populist causes, analyses and instutions.  (For example, his deeply disengenuous statement that he's "not one of those people who cynically believes Bush went in only for the oil," which I criticized in detail in my diary just over a year ago, "Obama vs. ISG: Yes Blood For Oil!".)

(d) Rather than blame political polarization on political elites, who are objectively more polarized than those they represent-and, in particular, conservative elites who are batshit crazy increasingly out of touch with their own base-he seeks to shift blame onto an entire generation.

(12) As result of #11, Obama's positions on the issues look a lot better than he does as a prospective political actor, since the overall consequences are that he disdains, rather than connects with progressive populist sentiments.  This is particularly striking, given the fact that his very existence as a viable presidential candidate is entirely dependent on the progressive populist advances of the past 40 years.  He does appeal intensely on an individual level, but this "Oprah" style of "pop-star" appeal-now thoroughly concertized in Oprah's endorsement and campaign appearances with him-is actually quite different from issue-based progressive populist appeals.  On the one hand, his aspirations are relatively constrained within the limits of the progressive technocratic vision.  On the other hand, his belief that cumulatively such changes can add up to far more than the sum of their parts runs into the problem that such synergy does not just happen-especially when deeply entrenched special interests are powerfully opposed.


All the above is only a prelude to a wider political critic I hope to present in some forthcoming diaries, but it serves to surface some very deep divisions that-as Balkin pointed notes-do not map well onto normal left-right divides, but that also do map much more harmoniously onto how conservatives articulate their politics than they map onto how progressives articulate theirs.  This post, following Balkin's lead, has been overwhelmingly focused on Populist/Progressive tensions on the left side of the aisle, and the divisions there are significant.  Obama is very much an illustrative exempler of them.  He is by no means the cause.  My next post in this series will try to dig deeper into how the right has done a much better job of harmonizing these tensions, as opposed to the left.

But for now we can say that Obama's politics is significantly less contradictory and confusing if we think in terms of these 100-year-old categories, as opposed to the categories of more recent decades.  And perhaps that is a contributing subconscious factor behind Obama's recurrent jabs at Baby Boomers.  He simply feels much more at home in the political configurations of the early 1900s than he does in the political configurations of today-a rather surprising thing to say about the first mainstream-annointed black presidential candidate.

Tags: , , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

I agreed with Bowers's analysis (0.00 / 0)
more than I do with this one. I just don't see this disdain for the "average guy" from Obama that you write of. Disdain for the netroots, maybe, but that's not the same thing. Was there an intelligentsia independent of "Versailles" in these earlier eras? That's what I think the netroots would correspond with. He may not like the netroots, but he has no problem with engaging the "average voter". The netroots are apparently not to his taste -- he wrote a diary on DKos back in 2005 attempting to engage in substantive debate (I encourage reading it if you haven't, by the way, because the topic is quite relevant to this discussion), but didn't really follow up. I don't claim to know why, but good for him. At the same time, he's engaging with and has a large base of support from the wider pool of grassroots voters outside of the "netroots". Going by the DKos diary, his differences with the netroots are in the means, not the ends; and while the subject of those differences may be similar to that of those between classical "Populists" and "Progressives", I don't think the substance is the same. Specifically, he opposes an all out politics of battle-to-the-death partisanship because of his faith in the good sense of the "average citizen", as opposed to lack of it. (See also his efforts toward information and empowerment of the masses via government transparency and disclosure.)

I Did Read That Diary (4.00 / 1)
But that was a long time ago.  So maybe it's time I looked at it again.  Thanks for reminding me.

As for your question:

"Was there an intelligentsia independent of "Versailles" in these earlier eras?

The answer is: yes, absolutely! It was called the "Chautauqua Movement", and featured, among its highest luminaries, figures such as Mark Twain and William James, who were leaders of the Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed the Spanish-American War.

Let me take advantage of a formulation you used to rephrase what I'm trying to get at:

He may not like the netroots, but he has no problem with engaging the "average voter". The netroots are apparently not to his taste --

The average voter as isolated individual is precisely what the progressive mindset is most comfortable with, and loves to idealize.  It's the mass of voters, all riled up about something that gives them the heebee-jeebees.  And this is how I saw Obama's relationship not just to the netroots, but also to the anti-war movement when he disparaged it in his "No blood for oil" reference, about which I wrote, in part:

This is larger context for Obama's remark dismissing "those people who cynically believes Bush went in only for the oil."  As Chris said, who are those people?  I've gone to anti-war demonstrations, I've attended weekly peace vigils.  I've talked with people carrying "No Blood For Oil" signs.  Even I haven't met anyone who "believes Bush went in only for the oil."  The point of those signs is not to claim that this was Bush's only reason-that would be absurd.  The signs are meant to point out a reason that the official discussion routinely ignores, and refuses to discuss, except to ridicule-just the way Obama did.

Of course, at a basic level, everyone knows that Iraq is about oil.  There are only two reasons we originally got involved in that part of the world: Oil and to deny the Soviets a warm-water port.  Israel only became important as a result of those first two reasons.  Our oil obsession caused us to overthrow the Mossadegh regime in Iran in 1953-a promising democracy that we would give our eye teeth to have back today, at least, if we had any sense.  Which, of course, we don't.  In Afghanistan, our anti-Soviet obsession caused us to team up with the most extremist elements of the Mujahadeen, and partner with bin Laden.  The problems we face today are almost entirely of our own making-the result of narrow, short-sighted, knee-jerk responses to situations that were far less threatening to us than the situations we face today, situations our reactive policies have created.

But if oil is half the reason we're in the Middle East to begin with, oil also plays a very specific role in this very specific war...

Obama's glib disparagement of the anti-war movement is something I will never forget, and it is, for me, an archetypal jab the very best in American populism.

Specifically, he opposes an all out politics of battle-to-the-death partisanship because of his faith in the good sense of the "average citizen", as opposed to lack of it.

That's his official line, of course.  But one is certainly entitled to ask if it really holds water.  (Particularly since there's a world of difference between GOP partisans impeaching Bill Clinton for purely private behavior, and Dem partisans actually refusing to even investigate Bush for a list of impeachment-level scandals as long as your arm.)  For example, how exactly does he have such faith in the average voter, when disparages the entire Baby Boom generation?  That's a whole lot of average voters who apparently only count some of the time, and this is pretty much of a parallel to what Balkin has to say about how the Progressives liked their voters in theory a whole lot more than they liked them when they showed up in the flesh in large numbers.

Anyway, my aim here is not necessarily to convince you that Obama's critics are right, but you get you to understand what they are saying, reduce the "talking past each other" factor, at least a little bit.  And drawing historical parallels is one of the best, time-tested ways of doing that.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
an enlightening question could be: (0.00 / 0)
How would you classify Hillary Clinton in this framework, especially given that you say it's Obama who is close to the "idealized progressive"? To me, it's Clinton who really typifies some of the attitudes you describe in the article. (I don't think "elitist" is ever something I would freely associate with "Obama".)

[ Parent ]
As I read this VERY though provoking essay (0.00 / 0)
last night, I went to check the DKOS rec list.

I found two pro-Obama diaries.

The simple truth is that I don't think Obama has a problem with the netroots - I think he has a problem with the netroot leadership.

[ Parent ]
Although (0.00 / 0)
(A) Obama himself says he has a problem with the netroots.  He found DKos boring. Not Kos, but DKos.

(B) Even with Clinton's relatively deep unpopularity online, Obama has struggled to match Edwards online.  You look at the long-term polling results, and I think it's pretty obvious that Obama's popularity in the blogosphere lags behind what it is elsewhere.

(C) Now that I've attacked your point twice, let me turn around and say, "That's sort of my point, isn't it?"  I mean, I did argue that the netroots are full of wonky types, and wonkishnish has strong classical progressive affinities. 

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Ad hominem? (0.00 / 0)
Last night I was reading a diary on Kos lauding Obama as potentially th President who knew more about the "founding documents" than any other President.  When one commenter rapidly beat me to the bunch:  Madison wrote much of the Constitution and Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence the inevitable Obama counter attack ensued.  Obama acolytes even threw in, unasked, a slur at JFK which was totally off topic:  Obama played as the sixth man on a state championship basketball team while JFK only tossed a fpptball around. 

For some reason, a lot of this disturbs me.  I see no reason to take swings at JFK, FDR, Jefferson, Madison, or Lincoln.  It demeans Obama and makes him into a meany at the same time.  Further, the athletic thing instantly brings up Gerald Ford, a legitimate first team all America football player and not a great President.  It also, sad to say, jogged my memory.  I have seen this before.  It was the stories about Mao and Castro in the 1970s (and maybe the 60s as well).  Mao as the great swimmer setting "records" as an old geezer while floating on some Chinese river.  Castro boasting how he was a major league quality pitchwe as a youth.

The Presidential heroes of your earlier progressive period are Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  I have always been more partial to TR for two reasons: TR was the first American President to back a labor union (the coal miners) and Wilson resegregated DC while TR actually inviited Booker T. Washington to the White House.  Both have strikingly good and bad points and had different views as to issues like regulation of business.  Is size in and of itself, something to be combatted or must a business exhibit bad acts before it is broken up?  In this current world, we have huge players who also conduct bad behavior so this is kind of theoretical. 

In my own internal historical museum, the key issues of that Progressive era were the regulation and breaking up of business predators and the start of consumer rights, labor rights, and a more activist government.  Which campaign is playing this song?  I sure have not heard it. 

If You're Not Critical, You're Not Paying Attention! (0.00 / 0)
There's a reason why I'm looking mostly to preconditions for a critical argument here.  I don't want to get into who could beat who in a game of marathon croquet, Martian-style.  (Yes, I admit it.  I was a croquet enthusiast as a kid.  It was those damn pictures in Alice In Wonderland what did it!  I could never pick up a mallet without thinking of flamingos.  And I always loved flamingos, anyway. Remember CJ's codename on West Wing was "flamingo"?  Ah, but I digress from my digression's digression... and without even explaining the whole "Martian-style" reference, which is left as an excercise for the reader.)

However, there is a real problem, as highlighted by the examples you cite--any movement large enough to get a name all its own is bound to be large enough to have lots of internal tensions and divisions, if not downright contradictions, and so how do you accurately describe it?  Well, questions like that are why God invented graduate school.

But I do promise to write more, discuss some other short-comings of progressivism ("good government" as scheme to exclude socialists, for example), and give more occassions for you to further elaborate, which, in turn, I will enjoy reading.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Obama has a blue ox, better at pinball than Tommy (0.00 / 0)
That was me who wrote the "slur" about JFK (I didn't know playing football with your brothers was a slur but whatever). I was adding a comment as a half tongue-in-cheek coda to somebody who gave a quick summary of Obama's resume in a diary that, as many (including Obama 'acolytes') pointed out in the comments, may have been a bit over the top in suggesting Obama knows more about the Constitution than the men who wrote it.

My purpose in making the off-hand "Obama, basketball champ" comment was A) Obama has the quality of vigor (perceived or otherwise) that serves politicians well (Reagan on horse, JFK tossing a football) and B) he didn't use his physical appeal in place of his smarts even though he had the opportunity to do so.

I'll stipulate Obama has never done anything in the ballpark of serving in WWII and captaining a PT boat in the Navy and saving a man's life like JFK. I didn't mean to denigrate JFK, just make a general comment highlighting Obama's good judgement in not relying on his athletic skills and pushing himself academically.

John McCain

[ Parent ]
Yes, But Can He Knit??? (4.00 / 1)
All attempts to read deeper meaning into the above will be dealt with appropriately by The Force.

And I'm not even a Star Wars fan.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Thanks (0.00 / 0)
The clarification is helpful.  Of course, championships are not needed for vigorous.  TR walked the press corps to exhaustion and W chops wood while Barney watches.  The championship sort of obscures this.  Reminds me of a scene from the old Robert Redford movie, "The Candidate."  IIRC, Redford's character used to be a basketball player but had spent so much time on campaigning that he was pretty lame when it came to staging a photo op.

Vigorous becomes an issue should McCain or Thompson win the GOP nomination.

[ Parent ]
Great Analysis (4.00 / 1)
This provides a great way to analyze some of the fissures in left/liberal/progressive efforts.

Let me add an example that might illuminate this split some more. In the 1960s civil rights movement, the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Council (SNCC) was radically egalitarian and focused on grassroots empowerment. In contrast, the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) was very hierarchical, relied on  strong leadership from Martin Luther King and local ministers, and focused on more top-level change. As I understand it, the NAACP also has a more elite, incremental change-orientation. So, if I'm understanding this, SNCC was more populist and SCLC and NAACP were more progressive. There were many fissures between these organizations, but I believe they managed to work together.

I also see these same splits in myself. I've mostly worked with outsider groups which demanded radical participatory democracy and relied on dramatic protest demonstrations to bring about change. But I also appreciate  wonkish analysis and cautious incremental advances made through legal channels negotiated by elite technocratic powerbrokers. I like the passion and radical demands of populists and their egalitarian impulses, but also want calm, rational analysis and strict adherence to progressive ideals.

I find it odd that Barak Obama would take an elite progressive stance given his background as a community organizer. The community organizing movement seems very much based on grassroots populism.

I wonder if Obama has these two sides too and has simply chosen the progressive side since Edwards was staking out the more populist side.

Good Points (0.00 / 0)
It's worth noting that Ella Baker worked for the SCLC, but was the key person responsible for the establishment of SNCC.  As woman working closely with a group of high-powered black ministers, she knew exactly what she was doing in fostering a dramatically different sort of organization for youth to organize themselves around a very different model.  Baker is one of the great unsung heros of the Civil Rights Movement.

Regrding the value of both styles of organizing, I agree 100%.  In fact, I have the privilege of knowing an excellent environmental justice organizer who does a damn good job of embodying both.  He's an excellent rabble-rouser, and writes the most extensive comments on environmental impacts reports that anyone has ever seen--even more than groups like the NRDC.

As for finding Obama odd, given his background, I think it's best to remember that he went to Harvard Law before that.  There is a fairly broad history of people from dispossesed communities (either directly or perhaps even more often symbolically) gaining advantage like that, and then returning to those communities to "give back."  It does not necessarily mean that they are truly "of" those communities.  Indeed, it can mean precisely that they are not, that they see themselves as distanced from them, and seek to establish a mutually-defining relationship with them.

Thus, the problem is more that we tend not to hear such stories in sufficient quantity to recognize that there is a well-established pattern here--a pattern that is not at all limited to African Americans.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
SCLC, SNCC, and Class (4.00 / 1)
This may be taking us too far afield, here.  But in my work on social class and social action, I've looked pretty closely at the SCLC and SNCC. 

What's interesting about SNCC is that it was structured and led by an educated elite.  The first two key members of SNCC met while discussing existential philosophy, for example.  And SNCC broke apart in part because of tensions between "local people" organizers and the elite who wanted to maintain a vision of largely structureless and leaderless organizing.

Middle-intellectuals tend to genuflect before Ella Baker.  And she is surely worthy of celebration for many reasons.  But not necessarily because she constructed a movement that, in its practices and strategies, grew out of the perspectives of the people being organized.  Lance Hill's Deacons for Defense argues convincingly, I think, that power began to emerge in the South in many cases when the working-class fraternal organizations, emerging out of local traditions and durable, hierarchical leadership, took over.  Of course it's much more complicated than that.  (And, of course, there's the working-class black power movement that followed, but that's for another day . . . .)

SCLC was led by a different segment of the black middle class, and was much more working-class in practice and structure. 

The SNCC/SCLC divide is not the same as the progressive/populist divide.  But there are important similarities nonetheless. 

The problem comes when we don't understand the complexities involved in the differences between these different approaches.  Perhaps most importantly, preferences for one or the other (progressive/populist; SNCC/SCLC) are linked to the cultural backgrounds we emerge from. 

The danger, I think, is that the lauded example of Ella Baker, especially, provides an opportunity for relatively privileged folks to glom on to a model of social action that fits with what they would already like to believe about social change.  To the extent that the Baker example provides cover for middle-class neo-progressives to keep acting like uncritical middle-class progressives, it's a problem.  They can point to Baker and say, "look, I'm like her, and she was down with the people, so I'm down with the people too."

Does this have anything to do with Obama?  Maybe, since the Baker model of organizing provides a way to be an "organizer" and maintain pretty traditional middle-class professional cultural values at the same time.  But I'd have to go back and read more about Obama and his particular approach to organizing.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Obviously You've Read & Thought More About This Than Me (0.00 / 0)
It's been years since I've read much movement history.  But my understanding of Baker's role was primarily as facilitator at a very crucial point in time, and my praise of her wasn't intended as singling out a privileged model.  Anyone who has read much movement history knows that there were many, many unsung heros of the movement.  She was, however, a particularly significant one because of where she was situated.  I am quite aware that there was a very long "prehistory" before the commonly-recognized emergence of the civil rights movement, dating back, really, all the way to the slave revolts and formation of the first maroon societies.  There never was a time when people weren't in struggle.  So I wasn't intending to slight or ignore the roles of people on the ground, which clearly was always already engaged in struggle.

The role of organizers, as I understand it, could be roughly characterized as transforming struggle into movement.  And this was not something they did as a result of special virtue on their part, but simply as a function of the fact that the space had opened up in which that sort of function now became possible--also as the result of ongoing struggle, as well as changed historical circumstances.

As for "what's this got to do with Obama?"  I'm like you, I really don't know enough about his personal organizing history, and it seems very far removed in time and circumstance.  In this diary, I'm trying to paint with a broad brush, and you've come in with this tiny little finger-nail polish applicator.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Obama on organizing (0.00 / 0)
FYI - Obama wrote a chapter on organizing in the 1990 book After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. Obama was in law school at the time and only a year or so removed from the day-to-day work of being an organizer.

John McCain

[ Parent ]
Organizing was a Stretch (0.00 / 0)
Right.  I'm not sure this detail is that relevant.

However, you are being too vague about what organizers do.  In general, they work within specific traditions with very specific training as to how to generate power.  Baker's folks worked within a fairly clear model of how to organize that matches quite well with the progressive vision.  This was significantly different than the Alinsky model, which focuses on "leaders" and mass collective action.

Looking at a Nation article about Obama, it turns out that he worked with a Gamaliel Foundation organizing group, and I also work with a Gamaliel group.  Gamaliel is very much an Alinsky-based organization, and their approach is non-progressive in many ways (about confrontation, conflict, and a conviction pounded into people that powerful people never give you anything for free). 

An interesting quote from the article indicates that while Obama was a good Alinsky organizer, even when he was immersed within this model it didn't really fit his personality:

"Obama's politics of transcendent unity, which has appealed to many voters, has its roots in his work as a "bridge builder," in the words of the Rev. Anthony Van Zanten, overcoming the gulf within DCP between Catholic and Protestant churches. But this vision of harmony also reflects Obama's distaste for conflict. "Personality-wise, Barack did not like direct confrontation," Kellman says. "He was a very nice young man, very polite. It was a stretch for him to do Alinsky techniques. He was more comfortable in dialogue with people. But challenging power was not an issue for him. Lack of civility was."" From: http://www.thenation...

This seems to fit quite well with your discussion.  If he resisted the necessity of confrontation even when working within a model where the need for confrontation is constantly emphasized (they even learn a very specific language about how to talk about power) then how can we expect him to understand it in DC?  The "progressive" impulse in Obama seems very strong.

Anyway, you are right that you don't need to go back and deal with the organizing issue.  But it does seem potentially interesting and relevant if you did.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Thanks For This Info (4.00 / 1)
I really appreciate it, although functionally right now it only serves to confirm what I already felt.  My gut feeling about Obama has long been that his anti-confrontational attitude was formed well before adulthood, and this seems to strongly confirm it.

This would make him a very good president, perhaps, after two terms of a fighter like Edwards had significantly changed the basic operating assumptions of the entire political system.  (Not saying that Edwards, per se, inevitably would succeed, just saying he plausibly could.) It makes Obama an incredibly poor choice now, since he is fundamentally incapable of understanding the political situation as it exists in America today.  When lambs lie down with lions, lions get lunch delivered, free.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
There is one similarity (0.00 / 0)
between MLK and Obama that may be worth noting: both went to elite institutions in Boston (Obama HLS, MLK a PHD at BU). 

Let me be really clear: I am not comparing them.  What I am saying is that a Southern African American who got a PhD in the 1950's and the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review might look at the world with an elitist mindset.

[ Parent ]
Progressivism, Populism, and Class (4.00 / 4)
I find much of this post convincing, but I want to complicate the analysis of the distinction between progressivism and populism.

It is crucial to understand that progressivism at the turn of the 20th century was very much the perspective held by the professional middle class--this was true in the churches (the social gospel) as in the political sphere.  In a simple sense, the progressives wanted everyone to become middle class, culturally, in the same way that they were, although this was an idealized vision of middle class culture, to be sure. 

The progressives had very little experience with the working class, except for their encounters in settlement houses and elsewhere.  Even those who worked most closely with the working class, like Jane Addams, were resistant to unions and to the necessity for aggressive conflict in the public sphere.  This led to approaches like the National Civic Foundation, which tried to get labor and owners together to talk, and which was largely a failure, not surprisingly.  If we can talk things out in our professional institutions, the progressives thought, why can't "they" talk it out too.  They never quite understood that you can't have productive dialogue when there is unequal power.

I am less familiar with the populist movement.  However, Charles Postel's recent book, the Populist Vision, makes it clear that the populist movement, in structure, very much followed a working-class hierarchical model.  It did not really operate like a bottom-up democracy in the manner that an idealist might have wished.  And the populists were closely linked to the labor movement in a manner the progressives never were.  In some states, labor was the most important part of the progressive movement. 

So I would argue that these are much more diametrically opposed perspectives than you make out here, or that Bowers makes out.  The progressives never really understood what it meant to be working-class, what it meant to be subjected to the kind of controls that demanded a collective, mostly unitary, and aggressive response through the unions. 

Whether or where Obama fits into this dichotomy is not clear to me.  And his positioning is complicated by the fact that he worked as a community organizer, drawing on traditions like Saul Alinsky's.  In many ways, especially today, the Alinsky vision straddles this dichotomy, complicating it even more in ways you don't address, here. 

Key writings on the class basis of the progressive movement are: McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, and Stromquist, Reinventing the People.

If anyone is interested, I have written on social class and progressivism here: http://www.tcrecord....
and here:

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

I Think That's Clarifying, Rather Than Complicating (0.00 / 0)
I was going to get into the very same subjects more in my next post, so I might just blockquote a few paragraphs of what you've written.  It's quite true that the Populists were by-in-large much more oppositional outsiders (living on the prarie frontier, no less!) while the Progressives were typically rationalist insiders (7th generation New Englanders and what-not) who had collectively lost status with the rise of the Gilded Age oligrarchs.

This initial post drew quite deliberately from Balkin's work, which is not representative of the full-blooded history, but looks at the traditions through the self-acknowledged progressive/elitist lens.  In making this choice, I was going out of my way to give the classical progressives a sympathetic presenttion.  My next post I planned to take a more critical view.

So, thanks for hurrying the process along a bit.  I'll definitely check out your links.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"Populism" and Populist movements (4.00 / 1)
the populist movement, in structure, very much followed a working-class hierarchical model. It did not really operate like a bottom-up democracy in the manner that an idealist might have wished.

We must understand this aspect of "populism." A large community of people who become temporarily but passionately engaged in politics is a potent source of political energy, but in practice that energy must be focused to have any effect. Even popular groups need leaders.

Sometimes those leaders rise from within the community, and sometimes they may come from outside; in either case, the thoughts, speech, and actions of individual leaders can have a shaping effect on a populist movement. Leaders interpret events to the movement's members and coordinate their actions. Some movements may end up effectively serving the interests of the people who power them; others may betray those interests.

The upshot is that one cannot successfully engage a populist political movement (either to oppose it or to cooperate with it) by analyzing the actual interests of the people in it. Instead, one must engage the representation of those interests, which are framed by the movement itself or by its leader(s).

There is at least theoretically a time early in a populist movement when its interests are malleable and subject to framing by emerging leaders. I would argue that this is where Edwards finds himself with respect to left-wing populists right now; he is framing a specific set of "populist" interests (using the "two Americas" trope) and trying to get a movement to coalesce around those interests with himself as its leader.

Obama, by contrast, would prefer that populist energy coalesce around an anti-Bush and anti-"politics as usual" set of interests; that would allow him to ride the wave of populist political energy to power at the expense of Clinton and of the Republicans, without shouldering him with an obligation to serve any group's specific set of interests once he gains office.

I refer to "a" populist movement in this comment because I think populism is best understood neither as a unitary force in national politics, nor as a divided community with a shared "populist" attitude. Instead, we should see the simultaneous existence of many populist movements at varying stages of development and with varying degrees of influence. Few of them ever become large enough or powerful enough to have a discernible impact on national politics. The most obvious recent example of one that did, of course, was conservative evangelical churchgoers; this is also an excellent example of how a populist movement can be hijacked by demagogues who betray its interests.

[ Parent ]
Approaching Meta-Theory Saturation Point Here... (0.00 / 0)
Speaking just for myself, I think this about reaches the point at which we all have to stand back and acknowledge that our theoretical constructs are entitities unto themselves, and that no one of them is or can be "true" in an unproblematic "objective" sense.

For example, I would argue--in fact, had already planned to argue in a forthcoming diary--that the religious right should be understood in terms of a "conservative progressive" manipulation of populist impulses.  There is a particular reason for me making such an argument as part of a larger gestalt, which hinges on how I see left and right constellations of populism and "progressivism" differing from one another.

But while this strikes me as fundamentally incompatible with the analysis you offer at the end of this comment, I don't think we actually have to compare the two, since they come out of two entirely different gestalts, both of which have their own interpretive validity relative to different critical purposes.

In other words, "Are we post-modern enough yet?"

"Yes, Zippy, I think we are."

Having said that, I do think we can converge on your interpretation of Obama vs. Edwards, and this is a very important point, that I would interpret in terms of Edwards committing himself to vision that binds him to a movement and a community, whilst Obama is committing himself to an idealized process.  Further, I would argue that these are precisely the sorts of roles that ideal types of populist and progressive leaders, respectively, typically engage in.

How does that look from where you stand?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
As documented in "What's the matter with Kansas" (0.00 / 0)
the conservative populist impulse is firmly routed in religion.

This I think is a key missing piece in your excellent comment.  Populism has historically embraced religion, while progressives have historically been suspicious of it. William Jennings Bryan, the founder of American Populism at the turn of the century did, after all, wind up in court arguing against evolution.

There is further complexity : historically the African American left has been based in the African Americam Church. As such you can argue that the contradiction between populists and progressives that exists in the white community DID NOT exist to near the degree that it has in the African American Community.

In fact, I think you can argue that much of Obama's political tactics are informed by the need (and I think Obama takes this personally) to reconcile progressive elitism with the religeous African American Community. 

[ Parent ]
True, But... (0.00 / 0)
I think that Obama is very much driven by his own personal history here.  I don't think the need to reconcile is nearly as great in the real world as it is in Obama's psyche.

Take me as an example. I'm an atheist, but I've lived in the LA area for three decades now, and have had repeated activist involvement with our communities of color.  I spend most of the 1980s working with Central American solidarity groups.  (I created the database for the Southern California Interfaith Taskforce on Central America). I was deeply involved in the 1988 Jesse Jackson campiagn (I wrote the "Jews for Jackson" ad that ran in the LA Weekly).  I write a good deal about environmental justice issues.  I deal with religious leadership from these communities, as well as with many deeply religious individuals.  And I never have a problem with any of them.  Never. Period. End of story.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Religion and Race (0.00 / 0)
Interesting discussion.

We need to be careful when we speak so generally about "religion" and "race."  This is an issue I've been exploring, and it's something that most academics and organizers don't understand very well (and I don't either, yet). 

In general, those involved in organizing and political action on the left are the mainline middle-class churches.  It's important to understand that churches are some of the most class segregated spaces in America.  The right wing is based in a very different set of churches, coming out of a very different set of traditions.  And then there are churches that aren't involved in politics at all, which are overlap much with the right-wing political churches. Evangelicals are much more complicated than we generally see them on the left, we can already see these tensions fracturing the right (although you should never count them out).

So we need to be careful when we talk about "religion" in general on either the left or the right.

I took a stab at talking about how race and class affects community organizing on the left in the cities here:

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
I was trying not to go off the theoretical deep end (0.00 / 0)
I think your characterization of the difference between Edwards and Obama agrees with mine; I'd just emphasize that both men have defined their positions for pragmatic political reasons, and that they are both defining themselves (in different ways) in relation to growing (impending?) leftist populist movement.

I really do want to stay grounded in the political realities and not wander off into meta-land. To do so, I want to emphasize this point: people's interests and values give energy to their political action. Representations of those interests and values (master narratives, tribal definitions, characterizations of certain actors as admirable or harmful, etc.) give shape and direction to political action. If you want to engage with populist movements in order to change power structures (and I think you do), you need to understand this difference and act with it in mind. Understanding this gives you leverage and helps you decide how to act.

Intellectuals always risk getting hypnotized by the ideas at play, and maybe you're right that that's happening to us. But we're also political actors, and for political actors, understanding the difference between populist and progressive mindsets is valuable mainly to the extent that it helps us (decide how to) act. Otherwise, it's only useful for getting the next degree.

[ Parent ]
Sorry For Being Unclear (0.00 / 0)
I'm afraid I came off too cute.

I agree with everything you've just said.  The cash value of what I meant to say in my previous comment was that there are differences I don't care to get into because (1) they are overshadowed by our points of agreement and (2) they might not even matter in terms of what each of us is primarily interested in.

I hope that clears things up.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Okay - so how does this fit in... (4.00 / 1)
Whether you think of Obama in terms of now or 100 years ago...

What do you think he was thinking when he went to Connecticut to campaign for Lieberman? Is there any lofty principle involved? Or is it just good old political hackery and pandering? Don't you consider it a massive betrayal of all the people who have been trying to end the war - against all odds?

Where does Obama's gospel tour with that freak Donnie McClurkin fit in to your analysis of Populist/Progressive tensions? Isn't he just pandering to the religious right? Or do you want to frame it as if he's building a bridge to the conservative states in the interests of being a populist?

The point is: do you agree with what he stands for and what he is doing?
I don't.

I don't like his vote for the Patriot Act.
I don't like his support for Lieberman.
I don't like the bill he co-sponsored that was a play for the Illinois coal industry and would further exacerbate global warming.
I don't like his co-sponsorship of S.970 which calls for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (the Iranian army) to be labeled as a "terrorist organization". (See Section 3, paragraph)

You can frame things however you like.
No one has confronted Obama on these issues.
Certainly no one in the "progressive" blogosphere has.

So some people are drawn to support the Obama campaign for reasons that are their own. They don't care much about what he says or does. It is some kind of mass-hypnosis. It is a result of the extent to which the body politic has numbed and deadened its' sensitivities after seven years of the horror story that is the present administration coupled with the present comatose congress and press.

Mars, Venus, Or Denebula? (0.00 / 0)
I've got considerable sympathy for your anger, despite disagreeing with you on basic matters of fact.  People in the progressive blogosphere most definitely have confronted Obama on most, if not all of the issues you raise--certainly on his support for Lieberman, and his pandering with McLurkin, I've weighed in on both, and I was part of a chorus of voices both times.

As for S.970, an obscure blogger named Jane Hamsher wrote on some blog named the Huffington Post:

Barack Obama took potshots at Hillary Clinton for her "yea" vote on  the warmongering Kyl-Lieberman bill -- a vote he ducked and said nothing about until it became clear that it was a political liability. Considering he was one of the co-sponsors of the equally bellicose anti-Iranian S.970 bill earlier in the year, his claim that he would have voted against it had he only bothered to show up becomes somewhat less than convincing.

Okay, there's your S.970 condemnation, but Jane's on a roll, and I can't stop quoting her now...

But ducking votes and then engaging in historical revisionism seems to be a pattern with Obama. He likewise didn't show up for the MoveOn condemnation vote, which he later said was an attempt to score "cheap political points" -- even though he showed up and voted "yea" on the Barbara Boxer cheap political points bill that very morning. Now he wants us to think he's pro-choice because he ducked yet again, voting "present" on important abortion legislation in Illinois -- ostensibly to "give cover" to Democrats in vulnerable districts who couldn't afford to vote "yea" themselves.

Oh please. Would this pass muster if Obama had failed to support important civil rights legislation to give cover to Democrats who lived in districts with lots of bigots? Somehow I don't think so.

So, yeah, all us progressive bloggers are fraidy cat to say anything critical of Obama, like you say:

You can frame things however you like.
No one has confronted Obama on these issues.
Certainly no one in the "progressive" blogosphere has.

Just answer me one question:  What planet are you from?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
To answer your question... (0.00 / 0)
I have considered myself to be an earthling. I know I am currently a resident of the earth. I am perfectly willing to consider, however, that my origins might derive from some other sphere.

Your reply to my post concentrates on the sentence is which I claimed that no one in the "progressive" blogosphere has confronted Obama on the issues I mentioned. You mention Hamsher's post in Huffpo and your own in OpenLeft.
I read Hamsher's post and agreed with what she had to say. I did not see the post you mention in which you criticized Obama for his support of Lieberman.
If you would care to provide a link I would be happy to read it.

I did not mean to offend you.  However, as you point out, Obama has been getting virtually nothing but uncritical praise from the press. I would add also that the few times I have read something critical of Obama, it is invariably accompanied by a caveat that the author nevertheless finds Obama talented, exciting, or some other warhorse of praise. Clinton, for example, gets no such treatment in the daily articles that excoriate her.

But I honestly can't understand the thrust of your article. For example - when you say:
"... Obama has a decidedly odd habit of repeatedly bashing his supposed friends, often using the exact same rhetoric as their sworn enemies." You go on to say that your "... argument here is that this behaviour is decidedly less odd if one conceives of Obama as an early-1900s Progressive, rather than a late 1900s Progressive, and sees those whom he takes pot-shots at as often (though not always) representing Populist tendencies that he finds dangerous."

I would argue that "odd behavior" is odd behavior. Period.
You can say that in some other time period that Obama's (or anybody's for that manner) would be explainable. But what good does it do us?

To restate but one criticism I have of Obama: He went to Connecticut to campaign for Lieberman. He is posing as the poster fellow for the anti-war movement. This is not only a stunning bit of hypocrisy - in any era - but since I care deeply about ending the Iraq war this stance of Obama's is such a red flag that I could never consider voting for him.

I get the feeling that this behavior of Obama's doesn't disturb you to the degree it does me. Perhaps I'm wrong. If he can betray the anti-war movement with such ease, why would I trust him on any issue that I cared about?

I think Obama's support for Lieberman, and his call to voters to reelect Lieberman so that he could continue "working in our behalf" to be at best an example of playing the game - at the expense of young people in harm's way. How did we feel about Trent Lott when he went to Mississippi and praised Strom Thurmond? Would we accept the premise that ol' Trent really was in favor of civil rights and was just stroking a colleague?

I honestly don't understand the motivation for your article.
Do you agree with the positions that Obama has taken with respect to Lieberman, the Patriot Act, McClurkin, S.970, calling Iran a continuing "threat" because Iran "supports Hamas and Hezbollah"? If you disagree with these positions, do you still consider Obama worthy of your vote? Why would you wish to explain these typical examples of a typical politician by transferring them to some other period in time when they might not seem so transparently self-serving?

[ Parent ]
The Motivation of My Article Is Simple (0.00 / 0)
First, I suggest that you read my diary from about a year ago, "Obama vs. ISG: Yes Blood For Oil!", which begins thus:

On Dec 04, Chris Bowers post, "The Two Obamas and Me, Part One" contrasted the principle-driven Obama who first inspired tremendous netroots support with the compromise-driven Obama who now seems intent on demonizing the very people who helped get him his start.

You write:

I think Obama's support for Lieberman, and his call to voters to reelect Lieberman so that he could continue "working in our behalf" to be at best an example of playing the game - at the expense of young people in harm's way.

To which I say, "Well, duh!"

The question is, why doesn't everyone feel that way?  And furthermore, why doesn't Obama even feel the need to explain himself?  There are huge disconnects in our political system which are not limited to the other side, and I am trying to understand them.  They are not, unfortunately, new. They are, in fact, rather similar to Woodrow Wilson's about face, from campaigning in 1916 with the slogan, "He Kept Us Out Of War," to his ardent push in 1917 to not only drag us into war, but to jail anyone who objected to it. (Most notably, Eugene Debs, who hadn't run as the Socialist candidate for President in 1916. Had he run, based on his showings in 1912 and 1920, it's highly likely that Wilson would have lost in 1916.)

Finally, you note;

I would argue that "odd behavior" is odd behavior. Period.
You can say that in some other time period that Obama's (or anybody's for that manner) would be explainable. But what good does it do us?

First off, understanding is always valuable in and of itself.  And I am not really saying that his behavior would be more explainable than in our time.  I am saying that it is more understandable as typical of a kind of behavior at that time.  But, for example, Wilson's zig-zagging on WWI is just as odd as Obama on the Iraq War.

Secondly, when I say this behavior is "odd," I am engaging in dry understatement, to say the very least.

Thirdly, the contradictions here are no less morally troubling than the prospects of voting for Hubert Humphrey in 1968.  But the reulting victory of Richard Nixon--enabled, in part by Nixon and Kissinger's treasonous sabotaging of the Paris Peace Talks--had consequences so profoundly evil and damaging to our country that they frankly unimagineable in 1968.

The conclusion is simple: electoral politics is not, in general (though it can be, sometimes), about voting for what is morally right.  It's about voting against what is morally most wrong.  It is political activism outside the electoral arena--issue activism--that works to change that.  That is what I care about most, by a large margin.  But there are times when you have to attend to what is desperately needed, regardless of what you want.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"...electoral politics is not in general about voting for what is morally right." (0.00 / 0)
"It's about voting against what is morally most wrong."

Well, we disagree, Paul. This is the same old habit of going into the voting booth and holding your nose. It hasn't gotten us anywhere, in my opinion.

You quote me as saying:
"I think Obama's support for Lieberman, and his call to voters to reelect Lieberman so that he could continue "working in our behalf" to be at best an example of playing the game - at the expense of young people in harm's way.

Your rather patronizing reply was "Well, duh!"

You then continue to ask, "The question is, why doesn't everyone feel that way?  And furthermore, why doesn't Obama even feel the need to explain himself?"

This is exactly what I have been talking about. The answer to your question is that he has not been directly confronted on this and similar issues. Compared to the grilling Clinton received about illegals' getting drivers' licenses, the worst Obama got was a question asking about the large number of former members of the Clinton administration who are advising him about foreign policy...and he didn't even answer that question directly.

As I mentioned, ever in the blogosphere, he has not been confronted - with the few exceptions you mentioned.

The question we should be asking, in my opinion, is why he has not been confronted? If no one is asking, it is not likely that Obama would "feel the need to explain himself."

And about your article explaining Obama's behavior as it might be seen in a decades ago context, would you consider writing such a tract to explain Hillary Clinton's behavior? 


[ Parent ]
Purity Is Evil (0.00 / 0)
Purity is what kept the German Communists and Social Democrats from uniting and stopping Hitler.  They, too, held your position and opposed mine:

"It's about voting against what is morally most wrong."

Well, we disagree, Paul. This is the same old habit of going into the voting booth and holding your nose. It hasn't gotten us anywhere, in my opinion.

I disagree 100%.  It's kept us out of the ovens, for one thing.  And in my book, that's a lot.

But the main thing is that you have divorced this from my main point, which is that non-electoral politics is far more important.  Non-electoral politics is what puts the ball on the 1-yard line.  It's 99% of the work.  And you want to argue with me because you disagree with me about the last 1%.  Well, if we'd done our job on the 99%, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Oh my. (0.00 / 0)
I find it difficult to believe that you are proposing voting for the least worst - and saying that not doing that resulted in Hitler!

Playing along with Hitler resulted in Hitler. Obviously, we disagree.

You are arguing against "purity". I like purity. In non-electoral politics, my hero is Malcolm X.
He was pure. He said the same thing to everyone. Black or white. He was honest. He was spontaneous. He spoke with his heart and his intellect. I recommend that you read, or preferably listen to his speeches and you will see what I mean.
Purity inspires me. Middle of the road pandering is exhausting and impersonal. In art, Bach inspires me. His music is pure. Pure music mixed with
commercial b.s. winds up being pure b.s. I think that pure political thought mixed with pandering winds up being completely corrupt.

We have drifted so far from reality in politics that we can accept someone like Obama as something new when in fact he is hardly that.

It seems to me that Obama's actions can be explained very simply.
He will say what he thinks he needs to say and he will do what he thinks (or is told by his advisors) that he needs to do. Hardly original. Maybe it will work for him. And he is being given a red carpet by the left and just about everyone else.

I would also add that you have chosen not to directly answer my questions:
I am asking because you have spent a lot of time, thought and energy attempting to make sense out of Obama's "odd" behavior. I am interested in your answers because I am interested in your motivation - but I certainly understand if you don't want to be bothered.

My questions:
Do you agree with the positions that Obama has taken with respect to Lieberman, the Patriot Act, McClurkin, S.970, calling Iran a continuing "threat" because Iran "supports Hamas and Hezbollah"? If you disagree with these positions, do you still consider Obama worthy of your vote and/or your energies? Why would you wish to explain these typical and ordinary examples of pandering by a typical and ordinary politician by transferring them to some other period in time when they might not seem so transparently self-serving?

In your terms, how does Obama's flights of fancy contribute to anything at all?  How do his predictable shenanigans help to "put the ball on the 1 yard line"?

[ Parent ]
Why Are You Being Willfully Obtuse??? (0.00 / 0)
I am highly critical of Obama, as the piece I wrote one year ago should clearly tell you.  Not only do I disagree with his positions on "with respect to Lieberman, the Patriot Act, McClurkin, S.970, calling Iran a continuing 'threat' because Iran 'supports Hamas and Hezbollah'?" I have a good deal more to criticize about him as well, as that diary should tell you.

I don't know where you got the idea I was arguing that he was the one putting the ball on the 1-yard line, because I never said anything of the sort.  And I also know that you know nothing of the politics of late Weimer Germany, and how Hitler came to power, since you've responded out of a pre-determined schema that has nothing to do with what actually happened.

If you read the Wikipedia entry on the Nazi Party, you will find telling passages such as these:

By 1930 the German economy was beset with mass unemployment and widespread business failures. The SPD [Social Democrat] and the KPD [Communist] parties were bitterly divided and unable to formulate an effective solution; this gave the Nazis their opportunity, and Hitler's message, blaming the crisis on the Jewish financiers and the Bolsheviks (also controlled by the Jews) resonated with wide sections of the electorate....

The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by weakening the traditional nationalist parties, the DNVP and the DVP, leaving the Nazis as the chief alternative to the discredited SPD and the Zentrum, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the KPD and the continued decline of the economy all played into Hitler's hands. He now came to be seen as de facto leader of the opposition, and donations poured into the Nazi Party's coffers....

During 1931 and into 1932 Germany's political crisis deepened. In March 1932 Hitler ran for President against the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg, polling 30.1 percent in the first round and 36.8 percent in the second. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and KPD paramilitaries (who also fought each other) [emphasis added] reduced some German cities to combat zones....

At the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4 percent and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the KPD between them won 52 percent of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Stalin's directives, the KPD maintained its policy of treating the SPD as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nazis. Later, both the SPD and the KPD accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.

As Buffy, The Vampire Slayer says, "Those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school."

In short, I have a great deal of sympathy with your fundamental orientaiton, but not with your failure to bring those basic perceptions together into a sensible critique.  Nor do I have any sympathy with your ignorance of history.  You are lashing out at others who are saying things quite similar to you, and that's never a good sign, as the real history of Germany in the 1930s attests.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Malcom not Strategic? (4.00 / 1)
"Twenty-two million black victims of Americanism are waking up and they're gaining a new political consciousness, becoming politically mature. And as they become -- develop this political maturity, they're able to see the recent trends in these political elections. They see that the whites are so evenly divided that every time they vote the race is so close they have to go back and count the votes all over again. And that...which means that any block, any minority that has a block of votes that stick together is in a STRATEGIC position. Either way you go, that's who gets it. You're -- You're in a position to determine who will go to the White House and who will stay in the dog house."
--Malcom X, "The Ballot or the Bullet" caps added.

People like Malcom X were effective BECAUSE THEY WERE STRATEGIC. 

Purity = failure for people on the bottom. 

Only those who are very privileged or very powerful can be even moderately successful with purity.  It's no accident that most of the purity party Greens are middle class whites--many of them often not very high income, but usually by choice.  And they don't care if they lose, unlike those really affected by the social programs that will be lost.

Spontaneity by people with less power is usually a stance.  Almost none of the events of the civil rights movement were spontaneous, for example, even though they "sold" them as spontaneous for strategic reasons.  I'm no expert on X, but as I understand it, he practiced his spontaneity for a long time.  At the same time as he was promoting something in "spontaneous" vigor, he might be privately rethinking the same ideas.  This doesn't mean he was being dishonest, or scripted.

The right wing is often "pure," but most of the key leaders use this "purity" as a strategic tool.  Hannah Arendt talked about how people like "Hitler" could be pure and totally self-contradictory at the same time.  If you are sure you are right, then you are free to say whatever you want.  There's a lot of evidence about fundamentalists that supports this general idea.  Hitler's followers didn't worry about Hitler's self-contradictions.  They knew he was "right." 

I'm not really a political wonk like most of the people here, so I don't follow the statements of the candidates in that much detail.  But I'm willing to bet that if you looked closely, you would find that Obama is no more pure than Huckabee.  Probably less.  (People like Nader are more like the kind of purity your are talking about.)  And that's not a bad thing.  He has a goal, and he's moving towards it.  This doesn't mean that everything is calculated in some simple way.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Furthermore... (0.00 / 0)
As Malcolm came to a sort of rapproachment with King, it was largely because he came to appreciate King's strategic logic, and how their two approaches were converging.  (This was LONG King became outspoken against the warm, since Malcolm was assasinated in 1965--which, by the way, is what inspired me to publish my first political writings at the age of 15, beyond a few earlier letters to the editor.  The trope that it was somehow fitting that he was killed on "National Brotherhood Week" drove me to fury, and fury drove me to publish.)

James Baldwin helped as a go-between, too, as I understand it.  But it was basically about the strategic openings.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Once again, we disagree. (0.00 / 0)
I think Malcolm was drawn to King because King had a good heart.
Malcolm did not agree with the strategy of black people letting themselves get beaten by cops.

[ Parent ]
no, Obama is not Progressive (4.00 / 1)
I find this also so odious, they are ignoring his voting record and policy statements.

No, Obama is not a Progressive.

I wrote a Obama votes and policy statement piece on guest worker Visas and trade.

This guy is so bought and paid for by the Silicon valley lobbyists it's almost as bad as Hillary and Giuliani if that's possible.

What the hell is going on here these days when fundamental labor economics, labor positions and such a major component, Trade with it's massive deficit, the threat to the US dollar and overall US PPP (purchase power parity),  are conveniently ignored?

It's really disheartening.  I feel I'm in a room full of people, with a lot of money who clearly do not have to worry about paying their bills, with their noses buried in some sort of Academic abstract definition texts, all the while ignoring that huge elephant in the room called middle class economic issues.  They even deny that shit smell or the big poop puddles that are littering the floor for working America to drown in. 


The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
You Make Excellent, Excellent Points, Robert (0.00 / 0)
But that actually dovetails quite well with what I'm talking about, and gets to the very heart of why I wrote it.

The Progressives were overall quite hostile to the immigrant working class, particularly their socialism and desire to form unions.  The location of the class lines may have shifted somewhat, but there is a similar devaluation of people who actually work for a living, a similar disconnect between process-oriented solutions conceived in a vaccuum and the nitty-gritty real world.

Don't forget what Upton Sinclair said of The Jungle and the impact it had on what was essentially the progressive mind-set of the day: "I aimed for their heart, but hit their stomach."  Well, he only hit what was there.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
no seriously (4.00 / 1)
I'm really up on my labor economics and it's not the same thing as the "immigrant" class.  You are twisting my words.

Obama is open borders.  There, I said it.  He really is and while recently PSN/La Raza/US Chamnber of Commerce/AILA/ITAA/SEIU agenda is trying to claim open border is "Progressive", it's just another "pour catchup over the crap" technique since the term progressive is now completely co-opted and ill defined.

If you do open borders you will have a race to the bottom on steroids and will create a subclass of serfs/slaves the US hasn't seen since 1862.  You will also pull down people who are citizens in terms of wages, job security, opportunity, workers. 

That's precisely, precisely what corporations want (they also love to offshore outsourcing any costs associated with workers),  and the fact that you have in the WTO, GATS mode 4 the desire to trade people (services as commodities to be traded are people) should clue you in.

But, anyone, anyone who has cracked even an undergraduate labor economics text knows you are not going to make the law of supply and demand suddenly invert. 

On H-1B alone I link to so many world leading experts on this topic, most are Democrats by the way, EPI researchers and this is also an AFL-CIO issue. 

The reason the SEIU is arguing for amnesty is first and foremost membership and frankly over the domestic labor market realities, the unions realized much of their growth is from illegal labor and the other aspect is illegal labor and guest worker Visas are much more exploitable. 

But to increase influxes in immigration, legal and not, the laws of supply and demand kick in, such as they already have.

This is why "comprehensive" immigration reform, which is loaded with guest worker Visas, no actual enforcement and very expensive I might add was written by the US Chamber of Commerce and the ITAA (NASSCOM as well through Bill Gates).
It's about cheap labor and why the AFL-CIO opposed the bill.

This is what I mean, there are so hard, cold statistics, even GAO reports and someone claims anything to do with this is "blame the immigrant class" and it's pure, absolute bunk for the most of Americans.  It's also a well known strategy by the open border "activists" and it's absolutely inane from a labor economics viewpoint.

Did anyone notice that Bernie Sanders, the ultimate worker representative, socialist, opposed comprehensive immigration reform?  The reason is this is absolutely not any sort of legislation that either protects workers or puts American workers not at risk for labor arbitrage. (and yes Sanders is for "amnesty").

When are people going to realize that's a very well known globalist (or call that one an Oligarchy!) strategy and goal.  I've literally seen power point slides talking about how corporate controlled (and they can control it purely as they move manufacturing around the globe) migration is a "win-win".  When they (COO/CEO/CFO of corporations) say win-win they are talking about reducing wages, they are talking about reducing their labor costs.  In high tech, labor costs are extensive.  They are talking about increasing young, cheap supply, their global migration agenda and offshore outsourcing benefits, health care, pensions, anything they can shed.

Somehow I don't think forcing people to migrate around the globe, to cheaper PPP nation-states, or more expensive PPP nation-states where they pay the migrants "cheaper",  is a real winner for the people themselves.


The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
I'm Sorry I'm Not Making Myself Clear (0.00 / 0)
And maybe it's just that I need to get back to work on my follow-up diaries so that my underlying thesis is clearer.

I'm not arguing with what you are saying.  I've been aware of the H-1B visa situation for several years now, and I expressed complete agreement with your analysis of what's going on today.  On globalization more generally,  I first organized letter-writing to Congress against NAFTA back in 1990 or so. Our difference lies in how we see the early 1900s progressives, and the relationship of their thinking to Obama--and others--today.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
ah, sorry back (0.00 / 0)
I was arguing on a mailing list at the same time I wrote this reply, in comments about  this new "agenda" (I think coming from JBS/Glenn Beck), claiming globalism, corporatism (capitalism, oligarchy) is now being spun as "socialism" and I got a little testy and it leaked over to this thread.  It's amazing these people are now trying to spin WTO, trade agreements as "socialist" and therefore "bad" and in the same breath say that universal health care is "socialist" and therefore "bad". 


The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
No Problem! (4.00 / 1)
One thing I've got a long-term interest in is how these sorts of fantasy narratives mutate over time, in ways that usually have plenty of precursors, even as they add new twists.

Thus, for example, the far right Birchers and those who came before them in a similar vein have always conflated Marxism/socialism and international capitalism. (It's all the Jooz, don'thca know! Which is why Marx called anti-Semitism "the socialism of fools.")

But the late 80s/early 90s Patriot Movement, where such ideas had their most recent high-profile incarnation, was quite willing to shelve such theorizing, for the most part, when Bush first came to power.  So, while the narratives are always there, ready for reactivation, their relative salience varies wildly, as does the nature of other narratives they connect up with.

One thing that's particularly interesting to me is Ron Paul's role in all this.  The original populists were vehemently opposed to the gold standard (see William Jennings Bryan's most famous speech, for example, the "Cross of Gold"), but Ron Paul's "populism" is gold-obsessed at its core.  What's common between the two is deep distrust of the international banking system.  But the cure-alls are diametrically opposed.  Of course, there's much much more to this story, but this one point is a fascinating nugget in and of itself.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Wow. (4.00 / 2)
Again a fascinating essay Paul. I can't say I agree with all of it and I think some of it is outright wrong but let me offer a few thoughts for now.

The Netroots:
The netroots are hard to explain but this is how I would do it. They(we?) are a kind of new populist. The netroots big thing is people powered politics. If there was one goal it would be to broaden the power structure and make it more people controlled. However it is not a traditional kind of populism because the netroots demographically is more technocratic and would traditionally fall under the liberal elite. Plus the netroots policy-wise is more progressive if anything at all. But some prominent bloggers (Jerome Armstrong comes to mind) are moderate or centrist. Indeed even bloggers here at OpenLeft have worked for modern centrists (Matt was a blogger for Jon Corzine and Simon Rosenberg). That leads me to my conclusion that the netroots is primarily driven by a ideal of a new kind of more people powered politics and politians that are willing to "fight". Many netroots favorite pols have indeed not been very progressive overall. Even Howard Dean was a generally centrist governor and ran on a pretty centrist platform. Party leaders like Simon Rosenberg enjoy much support in the Netroots despite there centrist policy, people like Corzine, Spitzer and others are also popular despite being relative moderates on policy matters.

Obama however is driven primarily by wonkish policy matters, that explains his appeal to bloggers such as Matthew Yglesias. He also hopes for a new kind of politics and a people kind however his vision imagines a more intellectual , less heated political process. He is a listener where the netroots wants a fighter. He is not necessarily a elitist who disdains social movements, he just hopes for a political process driven by discussion and thoughtful debate not a fighting, protest kind of politics. His experience as a community organizer leads him to work for a broader coalition because he believes a broader coalition of reasonable people (Democrats) will lead to more opportunities for solutions. He is driven by finding solutions to specific problems as opposed to in a general fight. That leads many people to view him as a centrist on policy but in reality he is quite progressive on policy. He just has a different idea on how to get about enacting that policy.

That was quite a ramble and I'm not sure if I made a single point in it.

I am a passionate  Obama supporter. However I don't really share that vision. However in the end I'm picking policy over politics. I wish we had someone like Paul Wellstone who would be right on both but we don't. I think he also represents the best chance to really break with the establishment.

But then again I'm not sure if I real mean any of that or if I made any point.

We live in such a fascinating world.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

As I Said Up-Thread (0.00 / 0)
There are multiple possible perspectives that I think all have some validity.  And I see some in yours.  But I also see limits.

No doubt at all that Jerome is a fairly centrist sort of guy, but then again, he basically gave Chris Bowers the keys to MyDD, and Chris is hardly a centrist.  Furthermore, I'm puzzled that you characterize Spitzer and Corzine as centrists.

In the 107th Congress, Corzine ranked as the #3 liberal on the DW-Nominate scale. He was 5th in the 108th, and tied for 5th in the 109th. 

OTOH, Obama was 21st in the 109th.

That said, I do think that your characterization of the netroots is basically correct--it's more unified around being combatitive than anything else.  Which, I think, is really not such a bad thing.  Are there better things possible?  Sure.  Always are, I suppose. But there are a hell of a lot worse, too.

What I'm trying to do here is pull together an analytic framework that will make better sense of how a wide range of different people see politics--and how they see Barack Obama is one of challenging things that needs explaining, so it's only natural that it's one of the ways into the larger concern, with trying to build a better map of political perceptions.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Enhancing schema (0.00 / 0)
I think this schema you present is a great conversation starter, but I also wonder if there is more to it.

If you imagine these two domains of Progressive and Populist, but add a third which is Pragmatic, on the left side in this case, I think you can go further and describe sub-domains as well.
So, while Progressive is more elite, intellectual and idealist, and Populist is more earthy, emotional and values-based, and Pragmatic is practical, physical and functionality-based, within each one you have sub-domains as well.

Here I'll use two sub-domains (intellectual and emotional) within each primary domain, but you could also do three (intellectual, emotional, physical/practical).

So, within the Progressive intellectual domain, you still have emotionally centered persons, who while existing primarily in that Progressive world, are as persons often doing stuff that is about rallying a movement of sorts, rallying passions, keeping the flame alive.
They form the emotional sub-domain of the intellectual, Progressive domain.
They might do the phone calling for an Emily's List, and rely on emotional connection around idealist themes, when making their pitch.
There is also an intellectual sub-domain, which are perhaps more abstract, technocrat, idealist problem-solvers.

Within Populist domain, you could have 2 or more sub-domains as well.
I'd say the netroots are largely the intellectual sub-domain of the emotional, Populist domain.
So, they are people who like to write, to talk about ideas, to formulate messages, to analyze, to construct.
But at the end of the day, their over-riding reality is loyalty to the emotional, Populist domain, where the question of how sentiment is doing, how the feeling-space is doing, the momentum politically is doing, are all-important.
This causes the netroots to seek to align with the 'meme', the dynamic, living, passion-inspiring idea as a more important factor than any plan or specifics; and further to view as primary the politics of it all.
Because as Populists they feel that who owns the dynamism of the meme, it's emotional quality, and who owns the politics of it all, will have their way.

Within the Populist domain you also have an emotional sub-domain, which is who Mudcat is talking about mostly.
These are populists who keep it very simple as far as facts, statements, symbols, ideas, who follow the gut and the feeling and really don't like politics or politicians at all.
They respond to stuff that will change the game away from control by anyone or anything too far removed from their own personal lived reality, and that of their community.

Netroots have more of a desire to comprehend the politics and the ideas enough, to keep a meme alive politically, as well as a movement.

Within the Pragmatic domain you have an emotional, 'just give me the practical outcome I want, now' sub-domain.
And you have an intellectual, 'realist', 'how-to-get-it-done using today's technologies' sub-domain.

Anyway, there are infinite ways you could divide it up, but hopefully that helps a bit.

Obama does speak more from the emotional sub-domain of the Progressive, intellectual domain.
So it is about hope, passion, inspiration, but there is a sense that it must necessarily connect with the idea-realm on its own terms.
He has the grace to make that space accessible, simple and fun.
His selling point is that in mastering the contentious, tricky, complex, abstract domain of the national debate, and even making it look fun, gracious, he is welcoming all Americans as valid participants in an arena they often feel cut out of, and suggesting that there is a way to make it deliver real results as well.

Edwards is more trying to rally the emotional sub-domain of the Populist, emotional domain.
The ideas he presents are well thought-out, but also geared for stimulative effect.
He doesn't exactly mirror the netroots' version of the intellectual sub-domain of the Populist domain, but has his own version that is reasonably close.
His suggestion is that if you really do speak to peoples raw emotion and values, rallying significant momentum from the base and get the ideas right, you can push through dramatic change.

Hillary is trying to rally the emotional sub-domain of the Pragmatic domain
She claims to have mastered, to the point of simplifying, the realist, intellectual considerations of that domain as well.
Her idea is that by getting the Pragmatic domain working for people, much of the clatter that makes good ideas go nowhere is reduced or eliminated.
Her realism is tied to a promise of better, emotionally satisfying, specific outcomes

Each of these three is then rallying an emotional sub-domain of a primary domain, and claiming to have mastered the corresponding intellectual sub-domain so as to be able to deliver on the emotional promise.
As a side-benefit, each is also suggesting that by getting that primary domain to work, you automatically get the other domains flowing as well, so that the whole is in order, without having to specifically focus or obsess on those other areas.

A fourth primary domain would be style, presence, overall handling of all of it at once, 'being it'
This reflects itself in culture, hipness, ability to flow
And this is revealed under pressure, 'Can you handle it?  How are you overall under changing conditions?  Do you appear to 'get it' regardless of what's happening?'
Surviving and opening up under pressure leads to greater integration as a person, the manifest ability to be with, hang out with and enjoy whatever is going on.
Obama seems to have a lot of this and even to be running somewhat on this sense of style, but also suggesting that we are far enough along in our history and development, that we can all afford to acknowledge our style, our ability to handle it, and thus reclaim a level of power because of that.
Yet all candidates also show an emergent mastery of the fourth domain as they manage to grow, survive and unfold their grace under pressure.

In an age of rapid and unrelenting pressure, leaders who seem most willing and able to unfold this overall ability to handle it and make it look fun, graceful, are needed.
Anybody can do it, but it requires constant willingness.

I would put Biden as intellectual sub-domain of the Pragmatic domain
Richardson as practical sub-domain of the Progressive domain (using a 3 sub-domain approach)
Dodd as emotional sub-domain of the Progressive domain, like Obama, but more edgy in tone and with less of the Style fourth domain emphasized.
Kucinich is similar to Dodd, but even more edgy.
Edginess here meaning emphasizing more far-reaching progressive positions, but also a defiant tone

How's them apples?

Them's Not Apples! Them's A Whole Durned Orchard! (0.00 / 0)
I know.  I picked apples for a living one summer.

And, simply because of the degree of its elaboration, that makes it difficult to integrate with where my analysis is going in terms of history.  Which leads me to say, "Interestingt indeed, but it seems premature for me to try to deal with before I finish what I've started on."

But I will try re-reading it several times to see what might pop out at me as something I can integrate sooner, rather than later.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
History of Town and Gown (4.00 / 1)
When I read the post, I was reminded a lot of the old debates in the Democratic. You could argue that this is the same divide that existed between the Southern-populist wing and the Urban liberal wing of the Democratic party in the middle of the 20th century. After FDR united both wings, Truman was definitely a part of the populist tradition, and had to face the liberal Progressive Party. Truman won anyway, but in 52 and 56 Stevenson, a liberal, could not rally the populist labor and farm vote.

In 60', JFK was a liberal, but connected with the Populists in the West Virginia primary, bridging the divide. In '64, Johnson ran as an unabashed populist.  But he fully embraced Civil Rights, which neutralized the early progressive resistance to him as a Texan.

This was also reflected in Tip O'Neill's congressional district, as in many other urban districts across the nation, as Town (the working class democrats, also known as Reagan Democrats, crucial swing voters), fought Gown (the liberal upper-middle class voters, represented in O'Neill's district represented by Harvard's faculty). It's pretty fair to say that this division within the Democratic Party is over a century old, and shows no sign of dying.

On a more local note, as a Puertorican Popular Democrat, there used to be three parties: the republicans (conservatives), liberals (the same as in the US), and socialists (actually populists). And the populists actually formed an electoral coalition with the republicans, exchanging money for labor peace, at the expense of the worker's benefit.

When the Popular Democrats were formed in 1940, a Tripartite Unification party was formed by the elites who opposed the old tripartite system as well. But the Tripartites tried to take liberal and conservative votes, while the Popular Democrats took liberal and populist votes. The Popular Democrats won a five-way race by plurality after being formed just two years before, with no money. They ruled Puerto Rico for 28 years, until a breakway Republican conservative faction afraid of independence united with Populists hopeful for US welfare funds created the New Progressives (actually conservative and pro-statehood, while the Popular Democrats support Association with the US while preserving our national and cultural identity).

Thanks! (0.00 / 0)
Good points.

I think it's worth noting that the Democrats were actually anti-progressive in many ways prior to Woodrow Wilson, so the split you point to was actually an advance of sorts.  I would agree that integrating those two tendencies is of major importance, as your thumbnail presidential sketch suggests.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]

Open Left Campaigns



Advanced Search

Powered by: SoapBlox