This post by Philip Primeau at the new-ish blog Big Tent Revue(the nowadays rare conservative blog that's intelligent and, what's more, willing to recognize that the Founding Fathers were not proto-dittoheads) is a great example of something that's come to really bug me about many smarter conservatives' attempts to find common ground with progressives/liberals.
The issue at hand in the post itself isn't actually too important, but just for the sake of it, it's on whether or not progressives should support public unions:
Public unions are the darlings of the American left. The money they raise and the foot soldiers they field are integral to Democratic electoral success.This friendship is taken for granted as a natural extension of liberal-labor solidarity. But does the alliance stand to reason? Do the first principles of the American left – progressive liberals, mainly – really jibe with the aims and guiding philosophy of public unions?
Progressivism’s critique of corporate power has endured; its critique of public union power has faded away. It warrants resuscitation. Public unions are not the evil specters imagined by radical Republicans — yet their obscure and undemocratic habits should offend Americans with progressive sympathies.
Founded to combat cronyism, public unions have become rogue interests dedicated to, fed by, and dependent upon back room deals. The dream of a neutral civil service devoted to the national business is gone.
Progressivism stands for responsive government that listens to the taxpayers and nurtures the collective good. It can not stand for patronage. It can not stand by public unions – at least as long as they are ready and willing to defy the democratic process.
That last line is in reference to an assertion he makes earlier, that the Wisconsin unions, by protesting as they have, are "opposing the public will" and are "actual enemies of our democratically-constructed regime of law and order." I don't really want to go there--because I think that's a really tendentious depiction of the situation in Wisconsin--so I'll just say that anyone who thinks they're going to convince progressives that, despite not being a progressive, they have a better handle than progressives do as to what...progressives should support is going to have a tough time if they're starting-point is characterizing peaceful protestors as "enemies" to the "regime of law and order." Just a hunch.
More importantly, this post is another example in a long line of conservative olive branches to progressives/liberals that fail to take into account the rather considerable focus the latter group tends to have upon the actual world and how people are living in it.
So sticking with this example: there may be more than a little reason to an argument that public unions go against some fundamental progressive goals, but the fact is that public unions in America today represent one of the last lines of defense left for working and middle class people and against insatiable, crude, Ayn-Rand-styled capitalism.
If progressives were to abandon their support of public unions in favor of intellectual purity or what have you, the end result would not be the magical ascension of a left-liberal political coalition that would enact sweeping regulations against corporate malfeasance and offer the bottom 95% of the country some real substantive means to better themselves and their futures. Instead, you'd just have one more class of workers in this country left to the whims of a rather rigged "free market" and unable to prevent draconian wage cuts in favor of tax breaks for millionaires.
And this is a dynamic that I constantly see when conservative (almost always libertarian) commentators start talking about how progressives should be on their side of an issue because of this or that reason. Their argument never, ever has anything to do with how this country's going to look tomorrow or 5 years from now. It's always in the abstract, always focused on ideological purity.
Well, I don't know about all the other progressives/liberals out there, but I really couldn't care less about how internally consistent my views might sound in the warm, plush confines of an upper-level poli-sci classroom. I'm advocating for whatever options are available in the here-and-now to stave off turning the entire country definitively back into the Galtian paradise that was the late 19th-century.
You remember: the Gilded Age, that period of true small government and liberty that gave way to that era of reform; what was it called again? Oh, that's right: the Progressive Era.