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It's time Democrats of this generation found their voice, and united behind a clear self-description, and a correspondingly truthful description of their adversaries, for the long fight to come.

Many at Dailykos I suspect would accept the label progressive, even if we have others we prefer. Despite all our differences among ourselves and with other less progressive Democrats, I submit that we can make that terminology the common identity of all Democrats, and the defining term of resistance to Republican oppression.

I came out of a Democratic tradition where liberal was the great word. I remain a proud and unrepentant liberal like my parents, despite everything the right has done to try to sully that term in my lifetime. I am old enough to remember when they red-baited liberals in the McCarthy era. I saw my father take William F. Buckley to the woodshed for doing it, and I would never surrender the semantics of that good word to them. I am a liberal first.

But it is not enough to be liberal, which means, in its essence, tolerant and open-minded. It is a precondition -- necessary but not sufficient -- to what Democrats must be. Of course we must tolerate the widest diversity of views (even the oppressive ones), but we must also progress. We must roll back Republican oppression.

And oppression is what it is. We know that Republican policies are nothing less than deliberate oppression of nearly everyone except the over-privileged, oppression greased on both sides. In a time of economic decay and upheaval, even under a Democratic president and congressional majorities, these oppressive policies are still working very well.

Read Bob Herbert, or any thoughtful progressive commentator, and why they keep working is clear. What we have in this country is disproportionate possession, by the wealthy few, of the rights and resources supposedly inalienable to us all. As long as wealth is so unevenly distributed, it will continue to get more so -- exactly the way carbon builds up in the atmosphere, and the planet is oppressively warmed. The emergent environmental catastrophe and the corruption of our democracy are not just analogies for each other, they are the same process with the same cause.

In our lifetimes we have seen redistribution of wealth -- theft -- by the wealthy from the middle class and the poor. Perhaps 1% of the world's wealthiest individuals wield a controlling interest in the world's affairs. Perhaps 5% make 90% of the world's mischief, undermining democracy and increasing oppression. As the wealth of the vastly over-privileged rises, the planet's temperature does, too.

If this characterization sounds like class warfare, it is a war the already over-privileged began by relentlessly attacking the rest of us. It is a war which has never been declared -- oh no, that would have been imprudent. Instead it has been an unrelenting series of sneak attacks. The perpetrators are rarely visible and never held fully responsible for their influence. But one only has to follow the money to know exactly who the oppressors have to be.

The obscenely wealthy, with their servants and would-be imitators, are the world's new royalty, the heirs to everything democracy in its original conception sought to abolish. There are no kings and sultans any more, and only a few scattered absolute dictators remain -- and such is the bitter taste of the twentieth century's long struggle to suppress them that those who remain have little future. But oppression remains as vigorous and as concentrated as ever. It has only gone into hiding behind polite fictions, blandly named but devilish institutions, and above all limited-liability corporations. It is more cowardly than the rulers of old, but craftier. Mostly it is much, much wealthier. No monarch ever had a billion dollars.

A man with a billion dollars is a modern king. He has powers no man should be allowed to have over others, whether he exploits them or not. He is not elected, nor accountable, yet he influences the destinies of millions. He can ensure his preeminence and that of his heirs without providing anything of value to society in return. The loan of his capital is not a thing of intrinsic value. It is simply a convention by which he is empowered to oppress the rest of us.

I suppose there are men with that kind of power who can be trusted to do good. But it is dangerous and irresponsible, and the cause of most of our present societal ills, that we permit and indeed protect such arrangements under law. For every George Soros, there are thousands of his power who cannot be trusted to serve anything except, primarily or solely, their own self-interest, to the detriment of us all.

Even more corrosive than individual great wealth are corporate concentrations of wealth. Our laws permit the wealthy and anyone with excess capital to delegate its power to agents, those modern corporate executives, such that both agent and principal escape all real responsibility for the exercise of the concentrated power that results. Nothing is demanded of such officers except that they return profits. The law allows them vastly more influence over the law itself than the rest of us have. All of us end up beholden to them for our jobs or livelihood, one way or another. The very "health" of our economy becomes a function of their profits, to which we must acquiesce or suffer.

The capitalist system, that permits profits from passive investment in return for taking some risk, is not an entirely oppressive innovation. Once it was a great progressive invention. It broke the backs of the old titled royalty, and was in many ways an engine of early democracy. In Britain and in the American colonies it was an essential force in the changes that enabled democracy to begin here. To this day it enables much innovation. The internet we are using right now as our new-found social network is a product of Silicon Valley investment fever, as much as it is of any enlightened government policy or social movement.

What is oppressive is to allow capitalism to go to its extreme. The same could be said of any method. I once spent time in a village in Fiji which could only be called communist, though use of that term would have greatly offended its inhabitants, who have been staunchly pro-western since World War II and before. It was a local, grass-roots, traditional communism which really worked sustainably. 85% of the land in the nation was owned communally and administered by and for the local people. Land was always made available for private cultivation by any adult individual, but it could not be sold out of the village. It might well be given eventually to his heir to work, or if he had none, to someone else in the village, or more land would be made available if he had multiple heirs, so that a family's inheritance was never diminished. The land could not be abused and exploited, for it was the enduring property of the tribe. The elders would discuss everything that was done with it among themselves. This was a very traditional society with village chiefs and royal families, but it approximated what Marx was after better than the Soviet Union ever did. The point is that is was not extreme. It did not elevate the village chief to the power of a Stalin. It did not proscribe individual initiative or even royal titles. But the chief's role was to be responsible to the village, and it was not an easy role, or an unaccountable one. He worked hard to earn the respect of the village.

The dreams progressives have of a sustainable future would do well to take object lessons from societies which have actually achieved it, in local places, all over the world. We Americans never have. We are the last people who should be object lessons or instructors in the methods of sustainability, whether agriculturally, environmentally, or socially. Perhaps we have some useful experience with the problems of democracy, but we do not yet know how to live together in one without letting it get out of balance. We continually invite oppression of ourselves and our environment, and export that oppression around the world -- deliberately if we are wealthy and serving our own interests, and carelessly if we are less wealthy and merely adjuncts to processes we do not have enough influence over, or do not care about.

Most of all, it is not progressive, it is supremely oppressive, that we permit the unlimited aggregation of property wealth in the world. We once had a progressive income tax in this country, and a progressive estate tax, and a progressive capital gains tax. It is not an accident that these innovations were the ones destroyed by the Republicans over the last fifty years. They were always the primary targets of their oppressive policies. They remain what the game is all about.

A subtle game it is they have played well. We must call them on it. If the great but savage victories of the twentieth century were over the powers of naked authoritarianism, sheer dictatorial right-wing fascism and its mirror-image on the left, the social progress of the twenty-first will be all about taming the power of obscene wealth. It is not yet, but it should be, criminal to be more than a certain degree of wealthy in proportion to one's fellow men. There is nothing wrong with differences, or the struggle for means, and no one is his right mind would expect life to be utterly fair or all men to share equally. But we can and must expunge the great unfairness that elevates monumental selfishness to royal stature, privileging great concentrators of wealth above all other movers in society, or else they will quite literally destroy the world, if not in our time then in the lifetimes of our children or their children.

The often criminally over-privileged now have agents on our Supreme Court who claim that their obscene property rights are protected as are rights of free speech. It was Potter Stewart who said, "Money isn't speech. Money is property." By protecting unlimited property rights as speech the Court has allowed extreme wealth to buy rights for itself: to morph into a whole range of rights properly inalienable only to individuals, such as first amendment rights. A corporation or wealthy individual may now freely buy more free speech rights than you and I can. A corporation or wealthy individual can buy more congressional and judicial influence than you and I can. And they do. One of Barack Obama's finest moments was when he took the Roberts Court to task in his state of the union address for the injustice of Citizens United. When was the last time a president, even a Democrat, dared challenge the wealthy on such stark terms? It was before World War II, and his name was Roosevelt.

It is not going to be clear to all Americans right away that great concentrations of wealth are to be feared and opposed. We are not going to hear it on every politician's lips, at least while we finance our campaigns as we currently do. But it should be no secret to any of us. It should be our common bond. It should be the message we all try to get out, whatever other tactics we disagree about. The Meg Whitman's and BP's of the world should be our first and easiest targets. It should be the common work of our lifetimes, to diminish and curtail the power of concentrated wealth in the world, as the precondition to a more perfect union and to survival on this planet.

To that end, let us be progressives. And let us call the Republicans what they are, the oppressives, the agents of what is surely criminal advantage, great concentrations of wealth wherever they exist, whether the law has caught up with them and deprecated them yet or not.

Originally posted to samizdat on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 02:54 PM PDT.

Poll

Progressive tax policy should effectively limit individual wealth to:

5%2 votes
8%3 votes
11%4 votes
5%2 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes
37%13 votes
22%8 votes
0%0 votes

| 35 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RosyFinch

    "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

    by samizdat on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 02:54:45 PM PDT

  •  tip jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    allep10

    Is this how you are supposed to do a tip jar? I never have understood how tips work.

    "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

    by samizdat on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 02:56:44 PM PDT

  •  Well, it would mean more if Democrats... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluesheep

    ...actually protected those who are the targets of the oppression.

    •  right on. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rserven

      Actually, they should not only protect from oppression but also stop actively oppressing.

      What party has the White House and Senate and House majorities right now? They OWN DADT. That's bipartisan oppression.

      http://www.storyofstuff.com/ When it gets harder to love, love harder! - Van Jones

      by bluesheep on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 03:12:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually I favor "Regressive"... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shesk

    ...to characterize the GOP'ers, as in this definition of their mission: (to "regress")

    "...movement backward to a previous and especially worse or more primitive state or condition..."

    As for taxation, they favor regressive taxation.

    A tax that takes a larger percentage from low-income people than from high-income people. A regressive tax is generally a tax that is applied uniformly. This means that it hits lower-income individuals harder.

    Boehner & Co= true regressives.

  •  Would you restrict Bill Gates and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shesk, FiredUpInCA

    Warren Buffet from generating wealth and trying to make the world better by distributing that wealth in an efficient and compassionate manner?  

    There are valid economic reasons for not limiting individual weath.  Even if it were possible to cap wealth in this country, it would not improve the lives of average americans.  Just one example of a secondary effect: all those with the ability to increase their wealth would move to another country leaving the U.S. with much less capital for investment.  Investment by firms leads to jobs and GDP growth.  That's one of the problems right now - firms are holding on to their cash, not investing.  

    And no, I'm not a capitalist pig or conservative troll.

    (Is it OK to use "capitalist pig?"  Am I showing my age?)

    •  I agree it's impractical (0+ / 0-)

      A good question. (I certainly don't think you are a capitalist pig or a troll!)

      I dont' say I know how to institute such a societal change. I agree unless it were enforced internationally it wouldn't work. All I was asking in the poll was, if it could be done, would you want to progressively tax out of existence the rich? And if so how do you define rich?

      Personally I don't think the world needs Bill Gates to have $50 billion so he can distribute some of that to good works. We could have taxed away most of that, progressively as his wealth grew, and put it to good works ourselves, and there never would have been such a personal fortune, so what. Many smaller fortunes came out of Microsoft. The point of a progressive tax code is the motivation to innovate remains if you can become a millionare even if you can't become a billionaire. Arguably it's even greater if you can never reach that state of total, obscene, I can't possibly spend it all wealth.

      As long as we had a democratic way of deciding what to spend the taxes on, progressive taxes would be better than leaving it up to Bill's foundation. Bill's near-monopoly over a huge fraction of the profits from personal computers didn't make the computer industry stronger, or promote innovation, it just concentrated wealth in a few hands -- and in some cases I would argue that defeated competing innovation. Though that's another big subject, anti-trust law, separate from personal wealth and tax law.

      "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

      by samizdat on Sun Aug 01, 2010 at 01:13:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is probably DK blasphemy, but I do (0+ / 0-)

        think that Bill and Melinda Gates are distributing that cash more wisely and efficiently than an entrenched bureaucratic government agency would.  I don't think the decision about how to spend tax money will ever be left to progressives.  

        I also don't think a truly progressive tax code would increase overall wealth.  I do think that the SS wage cap should be phased out, though.  

  •  Oh this is a new cute one... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shesk, tomonthebay, FiredUpInCA

    You're only a self-proclaimed "true progressive" if you believe The State should limit the ability of individuals to prosper.

    Oh - and the opposite of "progressive" is "regressive".

    I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD - hatemailapalooza, 052210

    by punditician on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 04:02:43 PM PDT

    •  Hurts, doesn't it? (0+ / 0-)

      That's why I like this framing. It really smarts to be called "oppressive". If you're a Republican.

      Hey, it's a question, I put a poll up there. Room for debate. I tend to think there should be a limit to prosperity, past which it hurts the less prosperous too much. Very rich people and huge corporate concentrations of wealth are too expensive, literally, for the world to support them. They have externalized costs we all pay. Mainly corruption of democracy and all that brings. I think a permanent caste of economic royalty, of actual individuals or families or corporations (fictitious people) is bad for the world - past some degree of concentration, to be debated.

      We can only take little steps toward it, anyway. We won't get to actually make great wealth illegal any time soon. Shouldn't we at least have progressive tax policies that make it increasingly hard to be obscenely rich?

      I know most people don't agree, it's a radical idea. Most subjects of kings didn't agree that kings should be abolished, either. But eventually they overcame their slave thinking and deposed them, and few would now go back.

      "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

      by samizdat on Sun Aug 01, 2010 at 01:28:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rhetoric vs. reality (0+ / 0-)

    Well, it would mean more if Democrats...

    ...actually protected those who are the targets of the oppression.

    So there's this statement and there's this:

    President Barack Obama signed expanded hate crimes legislation into law Wednesday, drawing praise from his attorney general and a tearful response from Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old Wyoming college student who was killed in 1998 because he was gay.

    "After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are," Obama said at an East Room signing ceremony for the legislation, which was part of the 2010 defense appropriations bill.

    and this:

    The President just signed the Tribal Law and Order Act  -- an important step to help the Federal Government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities.

    According to a Department of Justice report, Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. Astoundingly, one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. At the White House Tribal Nations Conference in November 2009, President Obama stated that this shocking figure "is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."

    Last week, Congress took another important step to improve the lives of Native American women by passing the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. The Act includes a strong emphasis on decreasing violence against women in Native communities, and is one of many steps this Administration strongly supports to address the challenges faced by Native women.

    and this:

    The first piece of real legislation Barack Obama  signed as the 44th President of the United States helps ensure that workers discriminated on the basis of gender have a fair chance to sue their employers.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/...

    and this:

    Gay visitation order shows how Obama brings big change with small actions

    By Michael D. Shear
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    President Obama's decision Thursday night to grant same-sex couples hospital visitation rights is the latest and most visible example of a strategy to make concrete steps toward equality for gays and lesbians without sparking a broad cultural debate or a fight with Congress.

    The approach has angered some of the president's fiercest supporters, who are eager for bold change, but other politically savvy activists have encouraged Obama to act in small ways to reshape government rules and regulations on behalf of gays and lesbians.

    Soon after Obama's election, staffers from the Human Rights Campaign presented the transition team with a list of 70 actions the president could take without congressional approval.

    and this:

    It's taken many more years than it should have, but Congress has finally reduced one of the worst inequities in American criminal justice sentencing. For the past quarter-century, the federal sentencing disparity for crack cocaine  offenses were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine. Thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, those penalties will now be only 18 times harsher.

    It's still not fair, and it's still not equal justice. But we'll take it.

    The bill, which will become law as soon as a supportive President Obama signs it, eliminates a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for simple possession of small amounts of crack cocaine.

    This is a noteworthy achievement in and of itself - it's the first time Congress has eliminated a mandatory minimum sentence since the Nixon administration.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/...

    •  I couldn't agree more (0+ / 0-)

      And while we won't make great wealth illegal any time soon, President Obama is also going to let the Bush tax breaks for the rich expire this year, eliminating another great regressive tax theft that contributed mightily to the increasing gap between the wealthy and the middle class.

      Under Bush, the wealthy got wealthier.

      Under Obama, that will continue but more slowly.

      It may be the best anyone can do right now. Anyway it's good work.

      "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

      by samizdat on Sun Aug 01, 2010 at 01:17:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The opposite of Progressive is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shesk

    regressive

    Either you're wit' us or a Guinness -- Brilliant!

    by Unforgiven on Sat Jul 31, 2010 at 06:58:57 PM PDT

  •  I know that! (0+ / 0-)

    I'm not illiterate.

    But I say, call Republicans "oppressive". And Democrats "progressive". Its framing.

    It's like the way Republicans say "Democrat party" so they don't have to yield the concept "democratic" to their adversaries.

    Besides, it's true. They are oppressive. Yeah, they are regressive also, but it's much less damning a label.

    "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

    by samizdat on Sun Aug 01, 2010 at 01:20:54 PM PDT

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