Monday, October 10, 2005

What IS a progressive?

As shrill as I may get from time to time, I suppose I should enlist this blog in the PBA and move Thong to more appropriately neutral territory. Just now, I am feeling lazy.

Then again, I have to look around and see what the rest of the world will hear if what I say is "progressive". Lately, Brooks was pining for the Progressive ideals of T. Roosevelt and Dennis of the Moderate Republican took up the call for a Progressive movement. Clearly Brooks had no heart for it and quit his essay with a call for a National Progressive Jugend and rededication to "America's exceptional mission" to ram democracy down the throats of any nation with oil riches. [ok, he didn't put it that way exactly but you might read between the lines...Brooks has been attempting to dillute the meaning of "progressive" for a while now. ]

I can't give you a usable link to the Brooks Op Ed piece itself as NYTimes has taken the unfortunate tack of CHARGING for selected content, mostly OpEd articles [like Brooks was worth it?] so settle for the link to Moderate Republican where Dennis can get in trouble with NYTimes if any trouble is to be had. Brooks ended his piece by saying "When I cut myself loose from the push and shove of today's weary political titans, and go back to basics, I find myself strangely invigorated."
Strangely indeed.

I append my comment to Dennis, confessing my deepest misgivings about the fate of liberals who don't hide their politacal colors. The reason for the post is really that I want to entertain a bit more discussion about what "progressive" means to the average voter. This will be hard since I am not likely in all eternity to get more than 2 or 3 visits to this page from anything resembling an average voter. BUT its an important question or it will become one when the word "progressive" appears next to a candidate's name on a ballot.

========== that comment =============

Dennis and Bullmoose:
Thanks for the longish Brooks quote here. My reading, and my writing, are too often confined to the Progressive Blogging Alliance where many are marching single file into oncoming traffic up the white line dividing the lane and the shoulder. [image meant to convey the idea of being far enough left to mostly become roadkill: brave and lovely people!] I am glad someone remembers that the label progressive once had a meaning. Though I don't know the relative sizes of the divisions, I am under the impression that the recent decades of sound byte journalism have split the body politic into the active minded who read whole articles or even books of political analysis [and read blogs like yours] and the inactive minded who are very much at the mercy of a PR wizard like Rove. While I converse in this medium, I am usually talking to the active minded. I should make that "politically active minded" so as not to imply the non participants are dumb in all aspects...they may only be more burnt out than Brooks complains of being.

There are problems with trying to resurrect interest and understanding of "Progressive" as you and Brooks present it. A small problem would be the turf issue: Socialists who like the Progressive label ["progress" means rational improvements in an unsatisfactory political or social scheme] will say you are stealing their best ideas and their label. Or it could go the other way and oligarchy-conservatives could easily smear a "progressive party" start up of the sort I think you mean with a campaign of "its just a euphemism for the L word". That points to the bigger problem: its just a label. Two labels is all this country has been able to handle. The inactive minded voters will need 4 or 5 Katrina's, a few more Bin Ladens, unemployment of 10% all topped of by 2 or 3 more Enrons and the appointment of Bush's bookie to run the FBI in order to snap them out of the two-party trance. Election reform removing the winner-take-all process that shapes the evolution of two-party politics could only be rammed through legislatures over the dead bodies of the two major parties. McCain has a wiff of the progressive about him when he earnestly trys to pry the grip of corporate money off of party politics...but he has not succeeded.

I am socially liberal, I don't mind paying taxes, I expect my country to be as careful with its checkbook as laws and banks require me to be with mine. For somewhat different reasons, I pine for a Progressive movement as much as Mr. Brooks.

Different reasons? I am with him all the way down to this paragraph:

"I know, having learned it from Lincoln and Roosevelt, that individual initiative should always be tied to national union. I know we need a national service program to bind our segmented youth through citizenship. I know we need to protect the natural heritage that defines us. I know America has to persevere in its exceptional mission to promote freedom, and the effort to promote democracy in the Arab world is one of the most difficult and noble endeavors any great power has undertaken."

Suddenly the very articulate Mr. Brooks goes all vague. What DO these mean:
  1. national service program [how long did Mr Brooks serve in the armed forces?]
  2. protect our national heritage? In the Boston area that would mean stopping development of Hanscom AFB so that Minuteman National Park would not shudder under the glidepath of jetliners.
  3. America's exceptional mission: excuse me? The constitution sets forth our mission and the first, and by most accounts the most revered steward of that document urged us in strongest terms to avoid foriegn entanglements...and THAT George W meant avoiding political and military interventions and adventures, not trade, which as a colonist he knew damn well we needed desperately. The next "mission" that turned up in American politics was "manifest destiny" , an election slogan of Jackson Democrats prior to the Civil War. Shouldn't we finish up one mission before going onto liberate the entire world? I say annex Canada! [and we'd recoup all those draft dodgers!...yes, I am having a hard time taking his suggestion seriously]

The comparison by commenters of these vague solutions to political devices of the Nazis does not surprise me. I do not recognize those 3 programs as the "Lost tradition of American politics". I wish he could get back to the topic. At that paragraph, I conclude Brooks only meant to raise the issue of the absence of a progressive choice on ballots and then drop it for another topic. I too write good like that much them NewYorks Time pay Mr. Brooks?


Ricia said...

"Or it could go the other way and oligarchy-conservatives could easily smear a "progressive party" start up of the sort I think you mean with a campaign of "its just a euphemism for the L word"."

- In Canada we have a party that is the result of a merger between right-centre, hard-right, and fundamentalist parties.. When the deal was done, they decided to call it the "Progressive Conservative Party of Canada".

- Canada has almost, nearly, completely, been annexed. With little glee but with little resistance in fact.

Glad to have found your blog(s). Thanks.

GreenSmile said...

And I am glad you have a sense of humor...probably a necessary survival skill when you have been saddled with the drunken 800 pound gorilla of world politics for a neighbor.

I will endeavor to merit your occasional future visits.

I should study Canadian politics a bit more closely. Was this merger of right leaning [or had they fallen over completely] parties a convenient alliance to forge [in some sense of that word] a parlimentary majority or was it a shotgun wedding in the presence of dwindling memberships?

Ricia said...

Both (convenient but, hard to sell - then shotgun as a very multi-party-breaking election was approaching that would have truly fragmented 'the right'). A fairly recent event actually. Funny to think we were soooo close to victory (fragmenting the 'right')...

The result however, is that we can now enjoy the two-party race up here too, and expect to see it this way for a long time yet to come. We too get divied up in the polls as "liberal" or "conservative" (akin to the democrats or republicans, respectively). And this of course generates a broad range of misleading and ill-defined / re-defined words (such as liberal and conservative... and... progressive.).

There are actually many parties to vote for but the merger kind of locked us all into a so-called "strategic voting" position and for the most part, supports a continual decline in voter turnout... Sounds familiar, yes?

GreenSmile said...

Familiar. Depressingly familiar.
Take any writing about politics, as professional and mainstream as you please and read it. Words like "conservative" will stud such documents as if the author was certain that all readers would have the same understanding. Here is a current sample and yet, I do NOT feel like I know what the word means. If I get any clue, I will surely post my finding.

I am under the impression that the emergence of two-party power schemes when there is not any law saying what parties there ought to exist is a long term consequence of the electoral math: simple majority or plurality and winner-take-all. I hear the Aussies do the math a bit different. How many beasts in their political zoo? I gotta go see.

Ricia said...

Yes, electorial math and much efforted political strategy and propaganda. All combined, well, it's working.

It seems that politics is all about Hegelian debate and circumstances now... An emphasis on binary concepts, language, dliberations. There is only 'yes' and 'no', right and left, (or down south it seems ya can throw in "good" and "evil" too) and everyone is playing to / within the confines of this fundamentalist logic. What's truly wrong and dishearting (for me) is that it is the so-called 'right' (the neo-con) that has set the terms and parameters of that logic, 'the other' party just bounces off whatever they produce.

I think, though I may be confused, that Australia started using proportional democracy (is it true?). Something "another" party here is avocating with at least some resemblance of success.