This is probably the most difficult diary I've ever felt I should write here. I've spent quite a lot of time here, met some people I admire and some I can't stand. But, the time spent here was generally pleasant and interesting (h/t to BiPM and triciawyse). So I don't take any pleasure in saying that, over the last few months, at least, I find myself coming here less and less. I think this site has lost its way. It's full of emotions, but the brains have sloshed out through the ears.
Perhaps I'm making too much of it, since I am not a US resident nor citizen, but an interested observer I came here for the laughs (which are still here) and for the debate. Certainly, rational discourse was never perfect (and can never be perfect), but back then Daily Kos tended towards equilibrium: The site would go pear-shaped, but eventually calmer posters prevailed, the admins busted a few heads from time to time, and rational discourse returned, at least to a certain extent.
Nowadays - this isn't a new phenomenon, but one which has been around by my count since 2008, and has become worse over time - this site, and, I would argue, the progressive movement in general, hasn't been able to find that equilibrium. Now it's all outrage, all the time. My computer had broken down, for example, during the Cenkpocalypse, and it took more than a week before I set up an internet connection on my notebook. What did I see? Another Cenkpocalypse. Now, at the time I agreed with Mr Salvatore (in the interest of full disclosure), but I think the broader point is that it's pathetic that a crap diary from a two-bit pundit should be able to send the site into meltdown mode for a couple of days.
The reasons for this, I think, are twofold: Democratic victories exposed deep divisions in the movement, both in terms of goals and strategy. Furthermore, the recession and associated suffering tend to hystericise public discourse, and it becomes populistic in the worst sense of the word: Complex matters are simplified, convenient solutions are proposed, regardless of their flaws and even viability. Dissent and criticism become viewed with contempt.
Now, I will not criticise anyone who is hurt by this recession (I'm not for now - knock on wood), but from the point of view of achieving political goals, anger just won't cut it. The teabaggers have it easy; their less savoury ideas are glossed over by a friendly media, and their economic policies are close enough to conventional wisdom that they can always double down on them when they fail, claiming failure was due to their not going down enough, creating a vicious downward spiral to a breaking point.
The left in general and progressives in particular have no such luxury, given the hostile media and conventional wisdom. Lackwit populistic measures won't cut it. Results need to be delivered. In a way, the situation isn't dissimilar to what Lenin faced after the revolution, when he wrote Chto Delat': The bolsheviks took over. Great, but what now, Sparky? How do you get from where you are to communism? In fact, progressives aren't just faced with such questions: They haven't taken over, democratically, of course, not even the Democratic Party.
It pains me to say this, but progressives are really short of ideas in many cases: Reinstate Glass-Steagal, repeal CFMA, revoke... re, re, re. That's not new ideas; that's recycling the same old ones, regardless of flaws and advantages. There's nothing new about them. And when progressives have new ideas, for example during the healthcare debate, they were utterly unable to implement them (see below). Finally, this approach makes progressives almost exclusively fight defensive battles: Protect social security. Protect unemployment insurance (why not advocate permanent social assistance for the unemployed?). Protect against the erosion of environmental standards. Playing only defence inevitably means you'll lose. It's just a question of when.
Thing is, in some cases progressive positions have become just as ossified and dogmatic as the right's supply-siderism. I'll give two examples. Just the other day, people were smugly saying that tax cuts can't spur growth. This will, I'm sure, be news to both monetarists and Keynesians, since neither side for the most part claimed that (temporary) tax cuts or deficit spending cannot get an economy out of recession. They differed on the relative effectiveness of both approaches and the various ways of implementing said approaches. Now, you could very well make the case that the tax cuts' effect would be negligible or suboptimal or that attendant disadvantages don't outweigh the advantages or that they would be harmful in the current type of recession. But the statement above had no such nuance. In its own way, it's just as bad the supply-sider claim that tax cuts always increase revenue (they don't). Both represent a convenient, populistic bastardisation of a policy.
Another example: Free trade. Yes, let the developed world close its borders because of labour arbitrage. Thing is, free trade did help pull about a billion people out of povery even with labour arbitrage. Both the neoclassical argument (millions of people's lives have been improved) and the left's counterargument (free trade causes an erosion of social rights) can be valid at the same time.
Now, this has an interesting implication: Sure, you can simply close your borders, but this would screw the Third World, and make few friends there. Demanding modern labour and environmental standards from everyone would price out the poorest of the poor, which have nothing to offer but cheap labour and resources, condemning them to poverty. This fact perversely facilitates labour arbitrage, since the protectionist position of workers in the developed world kills any solidarity between them and the workers in the developing world. After all, the former implicitly want to beggar the latter.
I would argue that the International was successful precisely because it was universal: If a capitalist were to decide that he was tired of dealing with Jaures and were to move his factories to Germany, he would have to deal with Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht. Not exactly an improvement. So why not, for example, demand an additional regulation of free trade: The undeveloped could trade more or less freely (with low tariffs) but as a state would develop and meet certain economic indicators, it would have to meet certain social and environmental standards (for example, when a state's GDP/capita reaches $1000, it has five years to guarantee the drugs from the WHO's Programme on Essential drugs to at least 80% of its population) or its goods would face punitive tariffs. To ensure impartiality, an international institution could be used to determine this, and this approach could fit under a (reformed) WTO framework or under a new international organisation.
I think the current climate, on Daily Kos and generally, can be summed up by a diarist on the recommended list who said, "I bring you these truths." Why, Mr Lightbringer, I didn't know you had an exclusive franchise on God's own truth and boundless intellect. Such language is subtly corrosive, since it precludes criticism: If something is completely true, criticism must be error, lie, or spin.
Now, I don't ask you agree with me. The examples were used to show that matters aren't simple, that a policy can have innumerable consequences, and that there are many legitimate interests at stake whatever one does. Since progressives don't have the luxury of conventional wisdom, they should pay attention to detail and analysis.
Progressives can't get their ideas passed, and haven't been able to. Great. We all know that. But what are progressives going to do about it? Moaning that Obama is a member of teh Oligarchy who doesn't care about the common people (an impressive feat of telepathy, by the way) isn't going to do much. The question is what to do to ensure your policies are enacted.
As much as I hate to say it, I think the Tea Party showed a viable approach: A gathering of crackpots has managed to become an important political force because they managed to stage coups within their own party. Sure, they lost the Republicans three Senatorial seats, but the electoral season was still a victory for the Republicans, and the teabaggers have unfortunately become a political force.
Of course, the Democratic Party can be declared dead, but abandonment alone won't make progressives win. The Democractic party has tacked to the right with every loss. Is the alternative a third party? Probably not by itself. In a first-past-the-post voting system, two competitive parties on one side of the political spectrum almost ensure the other side wins, so parties merge. In order to have another viable political party, one has to collapse. This means that anyone who thinks the Democratic Party is hopeless really should be setting up another party's infrastructure, finding out which Congressmen would be willing to defect, and which segments of the Democratic Party's infrastructure could be taken over by a third party.
I don't see it happening. Neither do I see any movement on the primary Obama front, despite some quite virulent rhetoric. Tell me, which progressive hero is being groomed for that role? Republican contenders have already been preparing for their runs. 2012 isn't far away. And that's quite apart from the question of whether it makes political sense to primary the man.
More generally, have progressives utilised their resources to get their message out? I don't see it. Sure, the traditional media is hostile to progressives. How many magazines and newspapers have progressive organisations started? The alliance with universities? How many professors are being asked to travel the US and hold public lectures? How many samizdats are being handed out on city streets? And please, let's stop fetishising blogs. The only thing they've done is to make truth a matter of taste: Progressives cluster here, the right-wingers on Free Republic. They both hold the Truth in their raging hands.
Now, I may have come across harshly. I'm sorry, but this smug "everything is shit and I hate both parties and the President and the media and..." attitude, while certainly comforting, won't prevent the loss of a single job or do one iota to protect the environment. If progressives are a movement, they really should start acting like one. It's going to be an uphill battle as it is, As for Daily Kos, this is simply one of innumerable appeals to reason.
Oh, and Obama supporters (again, I'm not as hostile to Obama as many here, but I'm not too fond of him, either), really, you can be snide and dismissive with the best of them. I could write another diary on the thin-skinedness of supporters. The President screwed up some things, did well on others.
I realise this won't be popular, but I felt I should write this diary, anyway. This place had and still has potential. But if it stays all outrage, all the time, nothing will come of it, and the same goes to the progressive movement in general. Anger is probably here to stay, but focused anger coupled with reason and organisation is better than rage.
4. A Final Note
I'm not advocating for or against Obama or a certain policy. My argument is with the anger. The content is, in the context of this diary, quite irrelevant to me.