In my previous post, I outlined three ways that progressives could change the face of American politics: (1) A movement within the Democratic Party, (2) A true third party movement, or (3) An independent movement that forces the Democrats to shift to the left.
These three methods, however, depend on one assumption. They require that we maintain the liberal-conservative axis that has dominated American politics for at least a century. Some progressives, however, are coming to believe that the key to meaningful change is to bring this familiar paradigm to an end. For us to forge a new political reality in the coming years and decades, we will need to find some new labels to help us define the American people.
This does not mean that we will operate in a non-partisan, category-free fantasy world. But it does mean that the lines of partisanship will be shifting, and that those who adjust and embrace the new categories will succeed in the new era. With this paradigm shift in mind, here are three new political dichotomies that are emerging:
(1) Corporatist vs. Populist
The idea that large corporations and their lobbyists have hijacked the American political system is far from new, and neither is the awareness that both Republicans and Democrats have been bought by corporate donations. Nonetheless, too many progressives are still breaking down the problem of corporatism along party lines, believing that the Republicans are the real problem and that the “true Democrats” can still work a solution.
Obama's first term (beholden to big corps in many ways) has cured many progressives of this notion. We need to see the issue as no longer Democrats vs. Republicans, but as those who work for big business (which is almost everyone currently in Washington) vs. those who fight for the people.
(2) Globalist vs. Localist
This dichotomy distinguishes those who see value in greater connectivity and greater inter-dependency between the various regions of the world from those who appreciate local diversity and independence.
From the abusive globalist economics of the IMF and transnational corporations; to the increasingly globalist politics emerging from organizations such as the UN and the EU; to the monoculture that is slowly spreading like a virus through mass media and cultural imperialism – in all of these ways, the world is becoming a new Tower of Babel.
But many people are fighting back against globalism and the rise of corporate dominance – as is evidenced in our country by the local food movement and the renewal of the isolationist spirit. “Small is beautiful” is an emerging slogan of this resistance that warms my heart.
(3) Materialist vs. Spiritualist
I won’t say much about these categories yet, but they are very different than “secular vs. religious.” They have nothing to do with the institutions of organized religion, and everything to do with the way we live our daily lives. Are we pursuing greater financial wealth and material gain for ourselves, or are we living self-sacrificial lives that seek to improve the welfare of others?
If we can begin to break down our culture into these and other new categories, instead of just saying that it’s liberal vs. conservative or left vs. right to the death, we will be many steps down the road of building a new and more progressive way of doing politics.
And here's the key: The Democratic Party can stick with the old paradigm, or it can begin to work according to new dichotomies. Perhaps it will take a strong independent movement to convince them.