by Frank Schnittger
Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 08:37:32 PM EST
This started out as a comment on Montereyan's post on American politics: "There Are Two Possible Futures - Ron Paul or Progressivism". It grew so lengthy I felt compelled to publish it as a diary in its own right. However I must caution - I am responding to his paper very much from a European perspective and without an in depth knowledge of US domestic politics. Nevertheless, I felt a different perspective might be useful.
Firstly, the linkage between liberalism and years of relative economic plenty seems proven - certainly in the US - and it was largely the children of the privileged who led that crusade. It always seemed too fragile to survive major wars or recessions which threatened the ruling class itself. These always seemed to lead to a conservative retrenchment.
However liberalism also ran foul of the moral conservatism of those who should have been its natural supporters. Compared to Europe, the American working and middle classes seemed much more religious, morally conservative and wedded to a philosophy of personal self-sufficiency.
Perhaps it is a Catholic Europe versus a Protestant America thing, but Europeans of whatever hue never had the same problem with the state having a much larger paternalistic role in managing their lives.
But what really destroyed liberalism was the wishy washy tolerance and pluralism of its message. It is hard to sell complexity, however virtuous and correct, against the much simpler slogans of the right: freedom, the free market, self-reliance, anti-bureaucracy, anti-Government waste - which appealed to the little guy who felt that his life was being controlled by forces beyond his control. (Little matter that those forces where largely those of big business rather than big government).
The rise of the Latino-Catholic population may well reduce the difference between Europe and America in this regard, but it seems to me that any rise in support for progressive politics has to reduce the lock that the Right has on moral/social conservatives. It is not as if the right has ever done anything effective about the "moral issues", it has simply plugged into that social conservatism for support and then gone off and done its own thing with hardly a backward glance - except at election time.
This is where the liberal/libertarian philosophy might still have something positive to contribute. You can support conservative moral values but not do anything about them in office because to legislate for e.g. school prayer would be unconstitutional or interfere with the individual freedoms protected by the constitution.
But that is just Machiavellian politics to get you over the transition. What of the central thesis of Montereyan's paper that there will, in due course, be a natural demographic majority for a progressive form of politics? Interestingly, that thesis is predicated on the assumption that the US is in terminal and irreversible decline as the world's only superpower. A period of such decline in the past might have been presumed to lead to a right wing revival. Why should the future be any different?
Upwardly mobile African American and Latino voters who support the Democrats now might well switch to the GOP when their success s threatened when times are hard. The unprecedented disgrace of the Nixon era led to only a very brief liberal revival under Carter. The success of Clinton was largely built on his extraordinary charisma and political skills, in re-united Democrats with some of their African American and Southern base, and in succeeding to re-ignite the economy largely through centrist rather than liberal/social democratic policies.
So I wouldn't assume that an American decline will lead, inevitably, to an enormous opportunity for Progressive politics. Certainly the Bush disgrace will lead almost certainly to a Democratic win - probably for Hilary Clinton, but will she be the last in the line of centrist/liberal politicians rather than the first to usher in a new era of more progressive politics?
Certain structural changes will be required if more progressive politics are to consolidate their position, starting with a Congressional as well as a Presidential Democratic win in 2008. Firstly, voter registration will have to be made compulsory, and governed by Federal statute, with strong penalties for partisan state administrations which fail to ensure full registration, and some incentives for people to actually vote. (Voting is compulsory in some countries).
Otherwise the very low turnout of marginalised citizens will continue to inhibit the development of a natural progressive majority. It is a scandal that any country can call itself democratic when the turnout in elections is routinely below 50% and when many adults aren't even registered.
Secondly, campaign finance reform. Just because the Democrats are currently matching the Republicans in fund-raising is no reason to long finger this one. The inbuilt advantage that huge funds gives any candidate is an invitation to special interest groups to suborn the democratic process. Start by making all commercial TV advertising and corporate donations illegal. America is a democracy of citizens, not of corporations. The right to Free speech should be restricted to where the airtime is given free as well! If you have to pay for it, it is hardly free, is it?
Finally give ordinary people something concrete to fight for - like universal public health care. Otherwise, the battle is so much theory and hot air as far as many citizens are concerned.
So in answer to Montereyan's thesis that there are only two possible futures for America: Ron Paul's libertarian conservatism or Progressivism, I would argue that from my European perspective it doesn't look that way at all. The Right has an enormous natural advantage in the simplicity of its message, the potential for fund raising, the level of organisation, and its ability to mobilise its natural supporters.
Most of a Progressive politics natural constituency is currently deactivated - amongst the 50% who don't or can't vote. Even a considerable demographic shift won't change that unless the vast majority of the "new entrants" into citizenship are politically activated and organised in a sustained way. Evan the debacle of the Bush regime may result in little more than a temporary setback for the Right - a Carter interlude - if someone like Obama is elected.
There is, I'm afraid, no substitute for the hard slog of educating, "conscientising", mobilising, and organising the huge underclass who currently don't vote at all and who are held in thrall by a dominant corporate media. A decline in America's global dominance will only squeeze them further. Only the Clintons, it seems from this remove, have the organisational skills that could withstand the onslaught of an enraged Right if their power bases in the media, the military, and corporate America are truly threatened.
The question is, will Hilary even get the Democratic nomination, so splintered is what remains of that once great party. We debated here the pressure Chavez is under in Venezuela, despite his enormous democratic mandates. The Military-industrial complex is now far more powerful than democracy in America itself. A weak reforming President will simply get blown away, by unconstitutional means if necessary. Hilary is America's only best hope, and she is neither a Progressive nor a Conservative.
Sometimes even the longest journeys have to start with a few small faltering steps. Neither Ron Paul nor Progressive politics will triumph in the near terms, and the future is all to play for. But there is absolutely nothing inevitable about it.