Words of Advice From A Liberal to “Progressives.”

WCGreen has a piece causing all kinds of wailing and gnashing of teeth over at DemocraticUnderground:

“American Liberalism has it roots in the progressive movements that sprouted up around Abolitionists, who, if you remember your history, were mostly motivated by a belief in the All Mighty and a deep conviction that Slavery of any kind was contrary to the Biblical teachings of Jesus…

From abolitionist victories came the fight against corporate power, then called trust. This was the focal point that pulled in the Suffragette movement as well as those calling for public schools, public health programs, a federal income tax and a federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate the safety of the food system. People were dying, after all.

One key factor in all of this was that this urge to reform came from eastern Republicans and Midwestern populists. All through this spasm of “do-gooderness” ran a thread of religion, especially Catholic and Jewish, but also the more liberal protestant sects such as Unitarians. The Union movement was embraced by the immigrant Catholic and Jewish workers.

Now, Liberalism seems to have forgotten its roots. The first word out of any Liberal should be how to recapture lost workers rights. For if our men and women can’t go to work and be treated with respect and are paid a living wage, what matters if they are gay or straight? What matters if you have the right to bear arms if you can’t even afford to purchase one?

Second, we need to reenergize the fight against monopoly ownership and support candidates who are willing to stand up for the corruption that consolidated corporate power has wrought upon this great country.

That’s it. All else will fall into place.

After the 1994 election, I went to a progressive convention in Detroit to find out how we could re-energize the Democratic Party. It was good idea, I thought, cathartic even. But after the initial bitch and moan session, they decided to break off into small working groups. The folks on stage, and this was a huge hall, about 1,500 people, started to count off the various caucuses and where they would meet. Gays over here, Lesbians over there, Pro-choice down in front, Hispanics over by the podium, you get the drift…. And they went on for a while and I it dawned on me right then and there why we had lost. I remember raising my hand, an out of place white guy in a suit, and the “facilitator” called on me and I said, in a half hearted attempt to bring a little humor to this wake, “Excuse me, where do the slightly pissed off white guys go?”

The three days were spent in workshops that were right out of a Newt Gingrich attack ad. A lot of feeling was discussed with little to no agenda developed.

It was then that I knew the Democratic Party was going to be in the wilderness for some time.

The people who were the backbone of the party were nudged out, the workers, the Catholics, the middle class were literally jettisoned in favor of lifestyle politics that was as foreign to them as America was to their immigrant ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong. I am strongly pro-choice and for the rights of gay couples to join in any union they wish. No one should be denied rights in the country, period.

But if we continue to be held captive by special interests groups that demand absolute fealty to their cause, we are doomed as a majority political party. And just where does that get our agenda?

People who claim, on this board, that Harold Ford or Bob Casey are the second coming of Hitler because they are Christian or Pro-Life or are against Gay Marriage had better wake up and smell the coffee.

Ask yourself this, would you rather remain forever in the minority, fighting the windmills in your mind, or would you rather have a seat at the table. Your choice.” (end)

I could let this stand on it’s on without comment. Honestly, what else is there to say? The writer is spot on with the observation that the Democratic party has been held hostage by multiple special interest groups, each demanding to have their ideas put forth. And even though his experience with this only begins in 1994, the problem began in the late 60s. Some people claim the Democratic party has no idea what they stand for, and that claim is pretty much accurate. Over the last 40 years, we’ve tried to stand for so much that no dominant definition of the Democrats has stuck in the public’s mind.

I’d like to draw your attention to an article by Michael Tomasky from earlier this year in which the author contends that Democrats should make “the common good” the prevailing theme of progressive politics and reign in the interest-group and group “rights” orientation that have held back our party for four decades. In regards to the Democrat’s historic opportunity to regain control of one of both house of Congress, Tomasky writes…

To seize this moment, the Democrats need to think differently — to stop focusing on their grab bag of small-bore proposals that so often seek not to offend and that accept conservative terms of debate. And to do that, they need to begin by looking to their history, for in that history there is an idea about liberal governance that amounts to more than the million-little-pieces, interest-group approach to politics that has recently come under deserved scrutiny and that can clearly offer the most compelling progressive response to the radical individualism of the Bush era.

For many years — during their years of dominance and success, the period of the New Deal up through the first part of the Great Society — the Democrats practiced a brand of liberalism quite different from today’s. Yes, it certainly sought to expand both rights and prosperity. But it did something more: That liberalism was built around the idea — the philosophical principle — that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.

This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance — not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. Any rank-and-file liberal is a liberal because she or he somehow or another, through reading or experience or both, came to believe in this principle. And every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level, she or he believes this, too.

Like WCGreen, Ed Kilgore of the DLC has his own personal experience to share on the matter:

It’s important to remember how central the interest group/group rights framework was to the Left until just this juncture of history. Back in 1988, one of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s best known prerorations invoked his grandmother’s beautiful quilts as a metaphor for the Democratic Party, and then proceeded through a litany of “the groups” (everyone from small business people and farmers to gays and lesbians), addressing each with the warning: “Your patch is too small.” I can remember listening to this powerful litany on the floor of the 1988 Convention in Atlanta and thinking: “Is that who we are? Just a bunch of groups linking arms to protect their stuff?”

So a tip of the hat to WCGreen for having the courage to say what needed to be said in the far left den of DemocraticUnderground.


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