|But if the left is tied to a Democratic strategy that, at least since the Clinton Administration, tries to win elections by absorbing much of the right’s social vision and agenda, before long the notion of a political left will have no meaning. For all intents and purposes, that is what has occurred. If the right sets the terms of debate for the Democrats, and the Democrats set the terms of debate for the left, then what can it mean to be on the political left? The terms “left” and “progressive” — and in practical usage the latter is only a milquetoast version of the former — now signify a cultural sensibility rather than a reasoned critique of the existing social order. Because only the right proceeds from a clear, practical utopian vision, “left” has come to mean little more than “not right.”
The left has no particular place it wants to go. And, to rehash an old quip, if you have no destination, any direction can seem as good as any other. The left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency (youth/students; undocumented immigrants; the Iraqi labor movement; the Zapatistas; the urban “precariat”; green whatever; the black/Latino/LGBT “community”; the grassroots, the netroots, and the blogosphere; this season’s worthless Democrat; Occupy; a “Trotskyist” software engineer elected to the Seattle City Council) to another. It lacks focus and stability; its métier is bearing witness, demonstrating solidarity, and the event or the gesture. Its reflex is to “send messages” to those in power, to make statements, and to stand with or for the oppressed.
This dilettantish politics is partly the heritage of a generation of defeat and marginalization, of decades without any possibility of challenging power or influencing policy. So the left operates with no learning curve and is therefore always vulnerable to the new enthusiasm. It long ago lost the ability to move forward under its own steam. Far from being avant-garde, the self-styled left in the United States seems content to draw its inspiration, hopefulness, and confidence from outside its own ranks, and lives only on the outer fringes of American politics, as congeries of individuals in the interstices of more mainstream institutions.
With the two parties converging in policy, the areas of fundamental disagreement that separate them become too arcane and too remote from most people’s experience to inspire any commitment, much less popular action. Strategies and allegiances become mercurial and opportunistic, and politics becomes ever more candidate-centered and driven by worshipful exuberance about individuals or, more accurately, the idealized and evanescent personae—the political holograms—their packagers project. […]
The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left. Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless. There are no magical interventions, shortcuts, or technical fixes. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program—and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or The New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races. It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2013—John Roberts has always had it in for the Voting Rights Act:
|Three decades ago, when John Roberts, now chief justice of the Supreme Court, was just a Reagan-hired grunt in the conservative movement's efforts to roll back the clock on progressive achievements, he became the point man for defeating the 1982 renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Which has led close observers to expect that he will be part of a majority of five that will all but demolish the act based on the case the court heard oral arguments on Wednesday.<...>
Now, with Shelby in the dock, the hope of activists is that perhaps Roberts has moderated his stance. But in a ruling in 2009, he seemed to echo Reagan's view that there could not forever be "punishment" of the South for past behavior. One modification of the law that leaned in the critics' direction in the 1982 renewal gave jurisdictions the option of bailing out of Section 5 if they could prove they no longer needed to be under federal supervision. Roberts stated in that 2009 case that the Justice Department had made the bailout provision "all but a nullity." But in the years since that decision, more than a hundred jurisdictions have bailed out. Shelby County hasn't been able to argue it deserves a bailout because in 2006, it gerrymandered away the district of the only black city council member in one county town.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Traditional media gets hold of the Jindal-Malloy NGA confrontation. Guess what? "Both sides!" Greg Dworkin gives us reason to hate "fact checking" again. Conservatives attempt to rationalize Arizona. When did conscientious objection become a zero-consequences free pass, anyway? More on the lunatic lobbying for a bill banning gays from the NFL. Ian Millhiser connects the current "religious liberty" objection to racism. HuffPo & TPM on the Brown Univ. student who shut down the RI NRA. Sort of. More corruption too blatant to feel real: a documentary on the judge who took kickbacks from private prison operators for oversentencing kids.