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This is the first part of a series on the restoration of Progressivism in American politics.

“It’s a very simple system. You have the Republicans who are the conservatives and you have the Democrats who are also the conservatives.”

When I heard those words in a Political Science class at the Sorbonne, my impressionable 20-year old self was stunned.  I had just delivered a dissertation analyzing and comparing the two-party system in America with the multi-party system in France.   With just a few words, the prof demolished the premise of my argument that the two-party system was inherently more stable.  

It was 1979.  I had never heard anyone ever say what this prof said.   The strengths (and weaknesses) of the political system in America derived from the limited choice available in a one-party state.  In his rebuttal, every principle he taught during the semester was in play. He was correct and I was most grateful to have the equivalent of a “B” as my grade at the end of the course.  Once back home in America, I wasn’t allowed to repeat the nonsense of an old Political Science professor from the Sorbonne, of all places.  Rubbish!

After all these years, the idea of Democrats and Republicans as one political party comes to the surface here in America.  It’s always served with bitterness and cynicism.   I don’t welcome the recognition of party uniformity when I hear about it now.  I give no support to this idea.  Why not?

The foundation of political science, as taught outside the States, is engagement. Without engagement, we revert to the archaic political systems of centuries ago, or we divert into dead ends that must fail because progress ends.  

The idea of party uniformity is delivered as the inevitable rational and logical conclusion reached after careful observation and analysis.  From the conclusion, there’s nothing more to say and nothing more to do.   It’s a nihilist surrender and the opposite of Progressivism.  

When I hear or see the words, " Democrats or Republicans.  It makes no difference,"  I want to add, "The End!"  It's as final as death.  More often than not, the individuals mourning the loss are Progressives.  Here, there's a contradiction in terms.  Progressives, by definition, are concerned with the future.  They have a plan.  They never die.  They live to fight another day.  

(Coming soon:  The Left Has No Clear Governing Philosophy (Part 2:  The Missing Agenda)

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

    by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:27:39 PM PDT

  •  I've Incessantly Said the Dems Became a Conservatv (4+ / 0-)

    party in the 1970's, something your professor was onto long before me at the time. So I'm with him and severe critics of the Democrats who are progressive/liberal/all-point-further-left on that much.

    But that does not AT ALL mean the 2 parties are the same or one party or uniform.

    A related important point is that the left is not conservative, and conservative is not left. The left in America is very small and has been out of power in terms of advancing the bottom 80% overall, since the Beatles were still recording.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:39:01 PM PDT

    •  Sounds like we agree? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brown Thrasher

      I think you may have commented on some of the diaries appearing on kos about Democrats taking the offense position.  At the same time I'm inspired by the disillusioned progressive (taking them at their word on that) whose heart is in the right place.  Just as Democrats can seize the narrative from Republican criticism and attacks by asking, "What would you do better," Progressives can seize the narrative from the disillusioned by asking the same thing.  What should have been done in last few years that wasn't?  What did you want that you didn't get?  

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:15:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If I understand you correctly (3+ / 0-)

    your 1979 professor's analysis has permanently shaped your idea re: Republicans and Democrats.  And then you write:

    The foundation of political science, as taught outside the States, is engagement. Without engagement, we revert to the archaic political systems of centuries ago, or we divert into dead ends that must fail because progress ends.  
    Utterly astonishing in an odd sort of way.

    Vi er alle norske " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:42:45 PM PDT

    •  "if" is such a very big word (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Angry Architect

      I thought I was overexplaining, but apparently not.

      The prof  was asking whether the opposition or alternative views have a place in the American system or if they're excluded.  Questions about how the left participates were prevalent in the 60's and 70's.  

      Today when people complain about the lack of differentiation, they often talk about withholding their vote, and discourage other people from voting too.  They're not concerned with participation and disparage it. They're suggesting non-participation.  

      I can listen to people who complain that there's not enough difference.  I can't support non-participation.

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:40:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Great conversation! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftreborn

        Non-participation is like saying the only way to win is not to play, but - of course - there is no "victory" in opting out -- no change, no evolution, and no progress.

        Even when the electorate is presented with a third choice, such as with the candidacy of Ralph Nader, we see that dilution of support for the "lessor-of two-evils" (Democratic Party) candidate may contribute to the election of the Republican candidate who can do far more damage via influence over such institutions as the US supreme court.

        It is increasingly common to hear it said that the US two party system presents two sides of the same coin - That coin is the currency of a corporatist, fascist realm.

        I would love to have better choices (quality and number) of candidates for political office, but I think that we must excise the influence of $ from the electoral process.

        We need to get money out of politics, we need campaign finance reform, we need shorter elections, federally financed elections…and we need a fair tax system in this country," he says. "Money has such a huge and disproportionate and corrupting influence on politics.
        - David Rothkopf

        I am afraid that until we can achieve this goal, no matter how many choices we think we have, we will only have one choice...

        The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

        by The Angry Architect on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 10:38:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Congress is in no hurry (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Angry Architect

          to remove the influence of special interest money from government.  The other branches of government don't seem any more likely to do it either.  People are disengaging from the system because it has massively failed them.  This is a situation that requires strategy and dedication.  One path is to use the Democratic Party.  The Left needs a voice.   Occupy is the best thing that happened for decades in terms of changing the conversation to topics that can't be ignored.  But it decided to remain outside the political system.

          "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

          by leftreborn on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 11:58:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  It is the two similar parties that are heading to (6+ / 0-)

    And in some ways are already in a dead end.

    For example  what has congress achieved in the last 3 years?
    What is the pronounced aim of Republicans?  To stop Obama.
    Obama continues to attempt bipartisanship with a party determined to stop him on every thing he does.

    That sure looks like a dead end to me.

    Then there is the OWs movement which is outside the 2 parties and which is progressive according to my definition.

    ❧To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:57:26 PM PDT

  •  Your title is a gratuitous downer, IMO (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    Especially since your post concludes like this:

    Progressives, by definition, are concerned with the future.  They have a plan.  They never die.  They live to fight another day.
    What's your point?

    I ♥ President Barack Obama.

    by ericlewis0 on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:39:11 PM PDT

    •  Thank you. The title was chosen for a reason. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      qofdisks

      I know how it seems and it's risky.

      Your observation, that it's a gratuitous downer is one possible response to it.  

      My point is to get other people to think.  "The left has no clear governing philosophy" is a line from another diarist.  
      As a declaration, there was not a single person to step up to the plate and say, " Yes it does have a governing philosphy.  Here's what it is.  It includes X, Y, and Z."

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:59:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  One more thing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mumtaznepal
      This is the first part of a series on the restoration of Progressivism in American politics.
      I thought that this phrase directly under the title would instantly reveal that the diary's purpose was anything but a downer.

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:02:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  to reduce these things to their core variables: (4+ / 0-)

    The whole left-right axis in America can be mapped according to "freedom of money" vs. "freedom of sex."

    The right is in favor of basically unlimited freedom of money and very little freedom of sex.

    The left is in favor of basically unlimited freedom of sex and very little freedom of money.  

    The rest follows from there.  

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:49:48 PM PDT

    •  You are always one of my favorites. (3+ / 0-)

      I know you get the topic of this diary. It's about how we take the offense position.   We've already chatted a bit about seizing the offense in debate or discussion situations.  It goes further.  Debate and discussion is fine but what we really want is accomplishments.  I rarely see anyone propose a list or a platform.  The challenge is:  what do Progressives want apart from stopping the latest rightwing atrocity.

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:09:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What do we fight (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftreborn

        FOR, not just what do we fight against...

        Why have we ceded the moral high-ground to conservatives.

        I'm a godless atheist, but hypothetically, if one were to ask Jesus how to approach certain social challenges, he might suggest a number of approaches which would be considered "progressive".

        In a broad context, we don't often seem to argue these solutions as being morally right and ethically just.

        The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

        by The Angry Architect on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 02:59:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Alinsky's Rule # 12 (0+ / 0-)

          "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative."

          Since the '08 election the GOP has been on the attack.  A sustained professional propaganda effort saturated the public with criticism, lies, confusion, doubt, fallacies, accusations, and namecalling.  In politics, the Republicans know gamesmanship and they only play offense.  There they have an advantage everytime they launch another attack. The Democratic Party defaults to a game of defense where they're constantly drowned out by yet another incoming barrage of lies.

          Now the rightwing must pay the price of its attack.  If you want to fight effectively against them you break the routine and ask what they would do better. Where is their constructive alternative?  With the amount of conviction they express, they better have some amazing proposals. That's how you seize the offensive postiion away from them and make them try to play defense.  They're exposed because they have nothing to offer.  It's important to exploit that weakness.  

          The rightwing propaganda campaign is maturing to the advanced stage where the public helps to spread the message and even some of the Democratic Party supporters jump on the bandwagon.   If they want to use the same tactics promoted by rightwingers, their attacks also come with a price that they must pay.  I ask them to name the legislation that should have been passed, the public policy that should have been achieved and how it could have been done in the constraints of the system.  

          I want to see an activist progressive Left in the US with an agenda and a strategy for achieving it.

          "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

          by leftreborn on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 05:51:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  What has congress achieved in the last 3 years? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    qofdisks, The Angry Architect

    Obstruction of the people's business.

    What is the pronounced aim of Republicans? To stop Obama-Yes.

    Obama's original aim was to change the way things are being done but I think it has evolved into trying to stay relevant in politics.

    Republicans want to "win" at politics. They don't necessarily want to be good governors. They have found that being extremely aggressive instead of effective will win them the White House. It will also cause them to loose the White House--for a long, long, long time. So the stakes are even higher and they are willing to cheat to win.

    Connect the dots. Republicans cozy up to big money and power and throw their own voters under the bus.

    Democrats have been content to wait-out the game and let the Republicans piss off enough voters so the odds end up in their favor. They have been over-all lazy and far too compromising with the rich and the powerful to do what they were elected to do. Progressives are the only hope for the Democratic Party. Collaboration with the Progressives could be the real difference.

    "We the People" need to nudge Democrats in the direction of working with the Progressives. OWS is the best opportunity we have seen in this country to turn the Democrats away from the corporate interests to people's interests.

    •  I'm not here to defend the Congress. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      qofdisks, Citizenpower

      That's not my job.

      When somebody asks "What has Congress achieved ..."  they get referred to the House and Senate websites which have detailed records of the legislation that was passed.  

      Now it's not enough anymore to dislike what has happened thus far.   It's not enough to speak in general terms either.  It's not enough to characterize groups as you see them.  All those things are fine and a normal part of discourse, but they're not enough.  

      Nudging the Dems to Progressive principles is a baseline position.  It's a given.  What do they need to achieve?  What specific legislation should be passed?  Don't be shy.   (The opposition certainly isn't.)  

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:18:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for reminding me of the reponsibility to (0+ / 0-)

        be specific. I belonged to a legislative watch group for awhile and could see how ineffective our congressman was. I needed that information to help voters to know why they shouldn't vote for him rather than he is "on the other side of the aisle".

  •  no no no. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Angry Architect

    The way I see it - you have to look at the arc of American history to determine the current political spectrum of this country.

    America was founded on Puritannical roots, and therefore our current political spectrum is RELATIVE to our founding. Therefore, as much as we have progressed liberally, America is still largely relatively conservative, and the Democratic party reflects that.  

    Conservatives are simply those who are trying to preserve the status quo.  What is acknowledged as the 'status quo' is always changing - what is accepted by the majority as the norm today wasn't considered the 'norm' 100 years ago.  The 'norm' 100 years ago was a lot more conservative. Yesterday's progressives or liberals would be considered conservatives by todays standards. Therefore, conservatives are always losing.

     This is what is meant when one says that conservatives are on the losing side of history. This is what MLK meant when he said "arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

    Progressivism/liberalism will ALWAYS appear to lose battles in the short term but win the war in the long term, by virtue of not being the 'status quo' which is abundant in mass stupidity & corruption. Stupidity & corruption will ALWAYS conquer progressivism in the short term, only to lose in the long term.

    Progressives/Liberals are never meant to be 'governers  of nations' and never will be - we are only meant to be a national compass that provides moral & economic direction over the long term. It is the nature of the beast.

    •  Progressives also must understand (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Angry Architect

      that a good bulk of  Democrats in FDR's day were relatively socially conservative.  The Dems of that era were economically progressive but would socially align more with today's GOP, as the Democratic Party of that era was the party of the South and the KKK.

      The GOP of that era was socially liberal party of minority & women's rights party.

      The passage of the Civil Rights Act was a disruptive event that shook up the political and economic foundation & of this country and the social / economic political spectrum has changed since.

      Therefore it is important not to make the mistake of   comparing  today's Democrats to Democrats of the New Deal/Great Society to build your case that 'progressives are losing'.

      Progressives need to understand that it is a new game now - the rules of the political game have changed since the passage of the CRA.

    •  Maybe conservatives are always losing (0+ / 0-)

      because they're losers.

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 11:10:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Disagree. Liberalism is losing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chipmo

      Ground. Genuinely losing in hearts and minds of this nation. I remember how it was just post Vietnam. We thought the neocons were utterly defeated. We thought humanity was evolving past violence sexism & racism.  Love had triumphed & we were free.

  •  Cons are instinct-driven, creatures of habit. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftreborn

    They like things to stay the same and be familiar.  They don't handle surprises well.  They are responsible in the sense of being responsive to external and internal prompts, but they don't initiate action. And they don't expect.  While the future is a familiar word, the future is not something they think about, largely because they don't think.  They act instinctively, based on what they feel.

    Whether they generally feel good or bad probably determines which party they feel aligned with.  Which is why we have cons in both major and minor political parties.  The instinct-driven are everywhere.  Their gross numbers are unknown. Their percentage in the Republican party seems to be greater because the authoritarianism of the "father knows best" group attracts people whose feelings often lead them wrong.

    What's strange is that the instinct-driven, who rely on their emotions for internal directions, are apparently unable to experience empathy or even much sympathy. One would expect the opposite, but perhaps self-centeredness accounts for not being able to relate to others.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 12:16:37 AM PDT

    •  I'd like to hear less about Conservatives and more (0+ / 0-)

      about the Left.  

      I agree that conservatives are driven by emotion, mainly fear and anger, resentment and hate.  They believe that they're constantly under attack from all sides.  Often this has to do with losing position and standing in society.  Their toxic mix of negative emotions doesn't leave much room to feel anything for others.  They do like to feel sorry for themselves, however, and they seem to enjoy playing the victim and nursing imaginary wounds.  

      But enough of them.  I want to hear the Left talk more about the Left.  

      "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

      by leftreborn on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 12:43:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Left/right is a binary paradigm (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Denise Oliver Velez

        that's convenient, but doesn't accurately represent attitudes towards social organization. If one is committed to individual autonomy and voluntary participation in shared-interest groups, a singular category is not going to be sufficient.

        Pros and cons operate in a totally different context from people who engage and share and take turns. Instead of confrontation, it's an alternating or alternative arrangement, dynamic and constantly changing. The directional paradigm really doesn't apply. The binary model is interesting to the extent that it mirrors how our appendages and sensory organs are arranged (if we had just one eye and six legs our perceptions would be different), but it's a lazy way to catalog our environment. Even a tri-partite or triune model doesn't work, in the sense of helping to explain the reality with which we interact.  
        Of course, people don't give a fig for reality can happily adhere to any model they like and fit what they can into it. That's the advantage of being an idealist.  

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 01:39:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Also, it's not possible to hear on a blog. (0+ / 0-)

        Blogs are mainly written, a visual art. If you want to hear things, you've got to turn the radio or TV on or hie yourself to church or mosque.
        Thinkers don't talk a lot.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 01:42:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  hear - intransitive verb: to gain information. (0+ / 0-)

          Also: learn

          I think English may be the only language where the meaning of words is so elastic. That's why English is so hard for people to learn as a second language.

          Example:

          What did you do when you were in Portland?

          I went to hear a band that I really like a lot.

          Oh really?  Who was that?

          Blitzen Trapper.

          Fantastic! I like them too.  How did you hear about them?

          "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln

          by leftreborn on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 02:13:44 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Nevertheless, hearing and reading are (0+ / 0-)

            very different functions and, since 35% of American adults are estimated to be functionally illiterate and, presumably, don't like to read (people tend not to like what they can't do), the distinction needs to be kept in mind when we consider how we influence people.  There's a reason talk radio and talk TV are so popular.  Some people rely on them as their only source of information, other than the neighbors and the chap at the 7/11.

            People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

            by hannah on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 03:05:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I am a liberal but I'd fail you in a political (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens

      science class for that rant.  To claim that favoring tradition and stability over social innovation and progress is somehow irrational or instinctive/emotional just ignores the history of political thought.  

      Where are we, now that we need us most?

      by Frank Knarf on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 11:53:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Super corporations, transnational and wealthy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eataTREE, The Angry Architect

    enough to buy medium sized nation states, is a new thing.

    As power shifts vertically, from nation states to the super corporations, it seems to me that democracy, or enlightenment ideals, has a new challenge, and one that I don't see any party addressing directly.  We're still conducting ourselves as though the nation state will inevitably remain superior to it's most powerful offspring, the super corporation.

    But if things stay on the current trajectory, it would seem that the wealth and power of the super corporation will dwarf the nation state.  If so, I find it difficult to imagine a place for even a weak democracy.

    And I see no signs that progressivism is even beginning to make even the slightest impact on slowing down, much less changing, the shift of power from the state to the non-governmental and ungoverned power of the super corporation.

    So it seems to me that the claim that progressivism may loose battles, but wins the war, may no longer be true as it faces a new foe that confronts it from outside  it's traditional arena of governmental power.  And as such, winning the war takes on new meaning, and hardly seems inevitable.

    What to do?  Beats me.

    •  Yes! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      katiec

      The context of political debate has been diluted, destabilized, corrupted by forces which benefit from the division between citizens. Though a unified "progressive voice" may likely still be washed out in this context, it is, nonetheless, an important "compass" as pointed out earlier in this thread.

      For me (very personally) it is important to know what I am fighting for, but I believe the primary battle is not for those progressive values, but for the very soul of our real and true democracy itself.

      (We must exorcise the demon $ from our body politic before there is any real hope of using a moral compass to chart a course.)

      The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

      by The Angry Architect on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 03:17:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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