Tag Archives: Left

Moderation Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I really loved the introduction to Eugene Robinson’s July 2d column.

Never-Trump Republicans and independents may be shocked to hear this, but the Democratic Party is likely to nominate a Democrat for president. That means they’re not going to nominate someone who thinks exactly like a Never-Trump Republican….

I, for one, have pretty much had it with the chorus of center-right voices braying that the Democrats are heading for certain doom — and the nation for four more years of President Donald Trump — if the party picks a nominee who actually embraces the party’s ideals. Elections are choices.

As Robinson notes, these Never Trumpers will have to decide whether to vote for the eventual nominee, “in the interest of ending our long national nightmare,” or “stick with a president who kowtows to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.” (To which I would add: And is manifestly unfit for any public office.)

A recent, more academic version of Robinson’s argument was made by Jeffrey Isaacs in Public Seminar. Isaacs notes that a number of conservatives have strongly opposed Trump, “distancing or even divorcing themselves from the Trumpist Republican Party” and promoting a centrist politics of “moderation.”

He then goes on to make a very important point:

While they are “against Trump,” and indeed sincere in their basic commitment to constitutional democracy, they do not go very far in their critique of Trumpism, laying too much responsibility at the feet of Trump himself, and not enough at the feet of a political-economic system in need of substantial reform, and even less at the feet of the Republican Party, and its long-term rightward shift, which has brought us to our current crisis.

Isaacs points to the punditry decrying Democrats’ supposed lurch to the left, and its insistence that only “moderation” will defeat Trump.

progressives do not need to be “schooled” about this by conservatives who have been cast adrift by Trumpist barbarism and are now seeking a politically safe harbor….

There is something very self-righteous, and indeed immoderate, about the way that some “Never Trump” conservatives have been writing about these challenges.

Isaacs particularly takes David Brooks to task for one of his recent, self-important columns.

What Brooks fails to note is that this polarization has a very long history and that, as most serious political analysts have long observed, it is a history of asymmetrical polarization. The Republican Party, in short, has moved much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has moved to the left… Trump is an exceptional and exceptionally terrible and dangerous President. But Trump became President by bending the Republican Party to his will, rather easily bringing its own deeply racist, sexist, and inegalitarian tendencies out into the open, and then exulting in and intensifying them. There is a clear line linking Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Palin, eight years of rather vicious anti-Obama obstructionism, and Trumpism. And conservative and neoconservative writers who often offered aid and comfort to these forces, working for Republican leaders and editing pro-Republican journals, thus played an important role in the rise of Trump, even as they quickly became horrified by the monster they had helped to create.

Isaacs emphasizes the reality that Republicans have moved much farther to the right than Democrats have moved left. (The reality is that–despite hysterical accusations from the GOP and Fox News– America doesn’t have an actual Left, at least not as Europeans define that term. We have at most a center-Left.)

Because the partisan polarization has been so markedly asymmetrical, and because the Republican move to the right has involved so many especially egregious assaults on democracy— from a deliberate political strategy of voting rights abridgment to immigration restriction to assaults on reproductive freedom to support for the militarization of policing to the gutting of environmental regulation and social citizenship — and because all of these things came together in a perfect storm to bring us Trumpism, a strong and passionate resistance has emerged on the left.

This resistance is an explicable reaction to the manifestly reactionary nature of Trumpism. It is a political mobilization that is necessary in order to defeat Trumpism, which will require not median-voter centrism but the energizing of activist campaigns across the country capable of contesting abridgements of voting rights and mobilizing millions of new voters. And it is an ethically exemplary form of democratic civic activism and political empowerment. This does not make it perfect or above criticism. Indeed, this resistance contains a multiplicity of tendencies and is characterized by sometimes serious divisions and debates. But it is a resistance nonetheless, and one fueled by broadly progressive impulses and commitments to greater political, social, and economic democracy.

You really need to read the whole thing.

The Problem With Labels

I’ve written previously about the problem labels present for political discourse. Rather than a means of communication–labels are used to insult, to foreclose communication.

When I was younger, the insult was “liberal,” and when that lost its potency, the Right  substituted “socialist.”

You can make a pretty convincing argument that people throwing these terms around are utterly unable to define them. (When Putin asserted that western liberalism had outlived its usefulness Trump’s embarrassing response disclosed he hasn’t the foggiest notion what western liberalism is.)

Paul Krugman addressed the intentional misuse of economic terminology in a recent column

The Democratic Party has clearly moved left in recent years, but none of the presidential candidates are anything close to being actual socialists — no, not even Bernie Sanders, whose embrace of the label is really more about branding (“I’m anti-establishment!”) than substance.

Nobody in these debates wants government ownership of the means of production, which is what socialism used to mean. Most of the candidates are, instead, what Europeans would call “social democrats”: advocates of a private-sector-driven economy, but with a stronger social safety net, enhanced bargaining power for workers and tighter regulation of corporate malfeasance. They want America to be more like Denmark, not more like Venezuela.

Of course, reality won’t keep the GOP from using the term to frighten their base (most of whom couldn’t define socialism if their lives depended on it), and assorted pundits are agonizing over the effectiveness of this strategy in columns with titles like “Are Democrats Moving Too Far To The Left?”

The belief that there is electoral danger in policies that are too “left,” however, rests on what may be a faulty premise: that the 2020 election will be a contest between Left and Right. An interview conducted for the Atlantic with Dave Wasserman, an editor for the Cook Report suggests otherwise.

Wasserman agreed that more extreme positions would be unwise– a platform of completely open borders or the immediate abolition of private health insurance. As he said, there are, of course, limits. But he sees the political battleground as essentially cultural, not ideological.

A few of his observations:

Generally, the tiny sliver of voters in this country who are still persuadable are not highly ideological people. They are fundamentally anti-élite in nature, and they are looking for three characteristics in a candidate for President that don’t have much to do with left-versus-right. And those characteristics are authenticity, being a credible agent for change, and empathy. In other words, does this person understand my daily struggles? And a common thread between Obama and Trump was a common touch.

It’s all relative, but, whether it was having been a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago or a billionaire who ate K.F.C. and went to professional wrestling matches, it struck a chord with those voters….

At this point in 2015, there was a widespread notion that the Republican candidate who wanted to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it was unelectable in a general election. That proved to be false. And we should be careful about making broad pronouncements about platform positions such as Medicare for All or an overhaul of ICE….

Wasserman noted that the bar is much higher for Democrats, thanks to the Electoral College, but he dismissed conventional wisdom about needing to appeal to “moderates” as a result.

I believe too much of the media in Washington, D.C., is viewing candidates’ chances against Trump through a left-versus-right spectrum, or a sliding scale, in which if they nominate Biden they can win middle America, but if they nominate someone too far left they will risk alienating those voters. I don’t view it that way. The reason that, in my opinion, Biden is vulnerable—perhaps more vulnerable than other Democrats in the race [against] Trump—is that I have watched congressional races for the last twelve years, and, over and over again, I have seen candidates with long paper trails and voting records get picked apart for every comment they made twenty or thirty years ago. And that’s what is happening at the moment.

Wasserman dismisses the hope that disillusioned Trump voters will desert him; he says they have become “culturally loyal” to Trump. And he points out that those voters are likelier to live in places where local news is declining—making them more susceptible to aggressive social-media propaganda campaigns.

And he clearly expects the “aggressive” use of social media, like the one Fox employs on Facebook.

The entire interview is worth reading.

The Need for Certainty–Content Optional

A couple of years ago, I ran into a casual friend I hadn’t seen in many years–since college days, in fact.  Back then, in the early 1960s, he’d been a black sheep in his decidedly apolitical family, joining a young socialist group and participating in various protests. I was taken aback to discover that he has remained equally ideological, but is now somewhere to the Right of the Tea Party. Or Genghis Khan.

This sort of switch from far left to far right and/or vice-versa is actually not all that rare.

Libertarians often point out that the political spectrum should not be conceived as linear, going from left to right, but as a circle: at the top, where the left and right meet, are the authoritarians. (They may have different agendas that they want government to impose on the rest of us, but they’re both in favor of having government make the rest of us behave as they think we should…)

There are, of course, people who are authoritarian because they are passionate about a consistent political agenda, and absolutely convinced that it should be imposed because it represents Truth, Justice and the American Way. But there also are people like this old college friend who rather clearly have a need for bright lines and easy certainties–people who find the ambiguities of modern reality intolerable. Much like religious fundamentalists who switch from the literalism of religion A to that of religion B, they are people for whom having a dogma is ultimately more important than the content of that dogma.

The rest of us are left to muddle through contending prescriptions for what ails our body politic, uncomfortably aware that recognizing “it depends,” “I’m not sure” and “it’s more complicated than it seems” lack the appeal of rousing calls to arms.

As another friend of mine says, True Believers are often warriors, but you will search in vain for the armies of the Marching Moderates.

Actually, that may explain Congress….