Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Since our group is all about building a new progressive movement, the cover article for the August Harper's grabbed my eye:  "Liberalism Regained:  Building the Next Progressive Majority--A Forum with Ron D. Daniels, Eric Foner, Ralph Nader, Kevin Phillips, and Frances Fox Piven."  Here are some highlights from the first half of the forum.  The participants agreed that liberals are waking up and taking action in this critical election.  And polls show, according to Foner, that a progressive majority exists on many important issues.  "More than half of Americans believe that the federal government is doing too little to safeguard the environment.  More than half oppose waging preemptive wars.  Almost four fifths believe that it would be worth raising taxes to provide universal health care."  Why, then, does the Democratic Party flop around like a hooked fish, they wonder?  Nader's take on it is: 
Robert Frost once defined a liberal as someone who has trouble arguing his own case.  If you look at the history of our country, the major justice movements have been colored liberal, and their opponents have been colored conservative:  Social security, trade unions, slavery, and so on.  But the Democrats never talk about their victories.  When was the last time you saw a major Democratic candidate brag about how many lives the Democrats saved by pushing through air- and water-pollution laws, auto-safety laws, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Bill?  They don't ever say that.  (Let me remind you here of Tuesday's blog.) 
Given the outstanding history of the liberal movement, their current weakness would be surprising if if weren't so painfully obvious that they aren't fighting the good fight as they used to.  Phillips points out that "Democrats have been anesthetized by campaign contributions. ... Today the Republicans are in trouble, and the main thing they have to keep them from imploding is that the Democrats are not much better." Progressives need a "transformative vision", says Daniels, one advancing the notion that America can be more than it is today for average, ordinary people.  The Democratic Party should advocate a program of basic rights, like the one enjoyed by many social democratic countries in Europe.  Americans really feel that they have the best standard of living in the world.  They don't, but they don't know they don't.  Virtually every nation in  Western Europe has universal health care.  In Sweden, Norway, and Holland, the social bnefits are so generous that poverty has been practically eliminated.  Wages in most European countries now outpace wages in the United States.
Foner appreciates Daniels's vision but wants racial, gender, cultural and environmental issues on the table as well as economic ones.  Nader points out in response, however, that successful progressive movements have had clarity of purpose, in other words a narrow focus."The populist progressive movement, which started in the 1880s, had clarity; it went after the railroads and the banks:  the high price of loans, the high prices of freight." Nader suggests using the living wage for our narrow focus, but the others agree that people who don't make a living wage are often not registered to vote--far less than half of them are.  Stressing that idea is no way to get an electoral majority.  Phillips feels that we stand a better chance of getting an electoral majority by drawing moderates away from the Republican party.  The mess in Iraq, the deficit, campaign finance--all are issues that disturb many Republicans.  He maintains that Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote, drawing mostly from GOP voters, by stressing concerns about the deficit, imperialism overseas, and globalization.  McCain beat Bush in several states by "attacking corporate misbehavior and Republican tax policies, and by blasting the religious right."  In fact, Phillips says:
If moderate Republicans have one thing besides Iraq that makes them want to vote against Bush, it's all these fundamentalists coming out of the woodwork from Armpit, Alabama.  It's this biblical worldview in which Baghdad is the new Babylon.  The average Presbyterian Republican in suburbia thinks those people are wackos.
Surely Phillips isn't suggesting any ideas we'd have trouble agreeing with.  So why aren't we pulling all those Republican moderates across the line?  They'll discuss that question in my next blog.  


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