The basis of progressive politics is commitment to democracy. The root of democracy is the demos -- the undifferentiated mass of common people. Without this commitment, this basis, progressive politics reveals itself to be anything but progressive. Such toxic variants of self-described progressivism are not hard to find, and their effects undercut the hopes and work of progressives everywhere.
Take an anonymous trip through the bulletin boards on the internet that cater to people of ostensibly progressive political inclinations. Read the posts at Democratic Underground, Smirking Chimp, Alternet, Utne, and similar sites. You will not have to look long or far to find expressions of contempt for “the American people” in terms ranging from dismissive to ardently hateful.
The internet is not everything, and bulletin boards are not the final word in politics. However, they also are not nothing, and do at this point constitute a significant venue for the exchange of political views. What they present cannot be disregarded as a merely incidental or marginal symptom of extreme antidemocratic sentiments. They are, in fact, a symptom of longstanding, deep malaise in ostensibly progressive ranks.
Beyond the internet boards, consider the disconnect that so often appears between the analysis and conclusion of progressively oriented sites. Buzzflash, Common Dreams, The Nation, The Progressive, and a host of others often present clear, insightful analyses of the political forces in our nation and world. They speak openly of the substantial faults of the so-called Democratic Party and its various public representatives, including recognition that the DP is beholden to the same corporate interests that fund the other “major” political party. These same analyses are typically followed by recommendations to hold various parts of one’s anatomy and vote for the very same corporately bonded “democrats” whose venality has just been detailed.
What happened? If a political group is seen as consciously serving the interests of war, transferring wealth from the poor to the already rich, continuing the degradation of the natural environment, and accelerating the assault on our remaining civil liberties, why would any self-styled progressive come to the conclusion to support such an outfit? It seems reminiscent of faith-based politics where the disconnect can at least be explained by reference to sources not subject to reason. Progressivism, however, is not contingent on theological underpinnings, and thus should be liable to rational examination and logical review.
The recent “ABB” psychosis is simply the most recent crystallization of this irrationality. Beginning from progressive concerns about the real political crisis in this country -- and ultimately, the world -- many groups and individuals involved in the work of peace, racial liberation, global justice and other laudable efforts turned their focus to electing Senators Kerry and Edwards. What rational process leads a progressive from good and obvious premises to support for an ultra-rich, pro-war opponent of equal rights under law for all citizens, a consistent supporter of economic globalization, outsourcing, and the rest of the corporate servicing that is dragging the majority population in the United States into Second World status?
Many people have suggested that this was due to the belief that the United States was either on the brink of becoming or actually has turned into a fascist state. For persons laboring under such overheated imaginings, it is only necessary to refer them to any of the many available texts describing what real fascism brought to their respective populations. There do not exist routine, widespread assassinations in this country; there are not camps where political and social deviants are routinely rounded up, detained, and ultimately killed; there is not the universal suppression of opposition voices and views in print, on the internet, and via other means. It is time for persons who seriously subscribe to the belief that we live in a fascist country to do some intensive reading…or get medical help. Such obviously overstated and even delusional views have led to correspondingly deluded political conclusions…in the case of the recent campaign, to the support of the “antifascist” corporate hucksters of the Democratic Party.
Somewhat akin to the previous perspective is the thought that the disconnect between analysis and conclusion can best be explained by simple fear. So afraid of the Bush government were self-styled progressives, that they became logically paralyzed, unable to reason to a position of continued opposition, instead succumbing to the ABB capitulation. The virtue of this explanation is that it makes humanly comprehensible the otherwise seemingly inexplicable mutation of progressives into foot soldiers for the status quo. We all know what fear is, and know its power. While such an explanation rightfully elicits sympathy, it finesses the crucial question of not only progressivism, but of reason itself. If fear can so grip activists that they become unable to reason their way out of signing on to the very process that they set out to oppose and transform, then what good is reason?
It does no good to wag an admonishing finger at terror-stricken people, nor is it consistent with a democratic ethos. We are all in this together, and those who might be tempted to feel high and mighty about having resisted the recent lemming-like rush to the ABB cliffside should take stock of their own attitudes. What is needed is a dose of humility and a calm reaffirmation that when we abandon reason, we have left the reality-based community. When such an abandonment occurs, far more than progressivism has been discarded. In the face of all manner of real and impending problems, there is no substitute for keeping a grip on facts and a focus on the accessibility of truth through reasoned analysis.
There are many ways to surrender to hysteria and they all lead to the betrayal of progressive politics. Squarely facing this with a self-critical splash of cold water leads us back to the decision we made when we first embarked upon our respective political journeys: our commitment to make a world where happiness and justice can coexist in harmony. It is a choice each must make, and that requires periodic renewal. In this time of anomie, confusion, and despair, let us explicitly take up once more the cause of reason and our commitment to the concerns that led us into politics in the first place.
Dan Raphael has been an activist since the Vietnam war was heating up, and is a member of the Green Party of the United States.
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