Salon.com columnist Michael Lind recently put out a provocative column entitled, Progressives Have A “Wimp" Problem. According to Lind:
"You can say one thing for conservatives—they know what they want and they fight to get it. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same thing for American progressives. They are wimps. When they are not reacting to conservative initiatives, they are hardly acting at all. If it were any more anemic, today’s “progressive movement” would cease to deserve the name, for lack of movement.
I use the term “progressive” in today’s sense, to refer to the mainstream center-left in American politics, which overlaps almost completely with the Democratic party. Within this mainstream, there is a spectrum from centrists like Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, many of whose views would have put them on the Rockefeller Republican center-right a generation ago, to more liberal Democrats (if that is not an oxymoron) like Elizabeth Warren. But just as nearly all Republicans now insist that they are conservatives, so nearly all Democrats today insist they are progressive. Thus we can rephrase the question—why are Democrats so wimpy, while Republicans are so combative?"
Lind goes on to suggest that the reason has to do with the "class composition" of the parties, with Dems mainly pulling in the poor and lower middle class, underclass while the Reepos grab the richest voters, who also are the party of the white middle and upper classes and can exert the most influence on their politicos to do what they demand. The Dems can't, because first, their politicos basically ignore the poor working class - they don't even call them by name any more, all you hear is "Middle class, middle class". And second, the Democrat professional rich class often sides with the Reepos in pursuing similar economic goals. As Lind observes:
"wealthy Democrats would take a major financial hit, if capital gains taxes were taxed at the same rate as wage income, instead of the present privileged lower rate. That is why many Democratic politicians who look to Wall Street for campaign donations and in some cases perhaps future private employment have opposed this reform."
In other words, we see the Neoliberal imperative at work, weakening the party - destroying the bond between the lower class activist base and the upper echelon Wall St. schmoozers. As Lind also points out, which shouldn't be news to anyone: Unlike most Americans, rich and gentry-class progressives would benefit little from all but a radical expansion of Social Security. This is why they'd side with something like Obama's lame Chained CPI proposal. It's the perfect Neoliberal bromide for the 'wine and brie' Dems - and it's also one more reason I left the Democratic party over 15 years ago (and joined the Democratic Socialists), after Clinton and the weasly Dems passed the 'Welfare to Work' Reform' legislation. (I do vote with the Dems when it's the choice between 'cholera' and 'dysentery').
But the point Lind misses is that the class bifurcation is only part of the progressive wimp dynamic. It is also because the Dems contaminated their whole brand back in the Reagan-dominated 80s when they adopted the "Third Way"- DLC - Repub Lite shtick. This undermined their forceful protection and fight for the true Liberal values of Roosevelt and the New Deal and mutated them into aliens - with more in common with moderate Reeps. It also paved the way for their frenzied embrace of the "market" as arbiter of economic reality and eschewing FDR's legacy. In other words, it inspired them to betray that legacy to serve the "free" market idiom.
A more valid take on the emergence of progressive wimps is provided by Michael Tomasky in his (Aug., 2002) article 'Dems Fightin' Words' in The American Prospect. Tomasky observes, accurately I believe - from what I have witnessed - that the Dems (on account of adopting 'Third Way'- triangulation pussyfooting) eschewed political point-making and "hard nosed", no-holds barred political partisanship and replaced it with discussions of fact-based policy points, which appeal to "reason" and "temperance" but do little or nothing for core partisans. These are the very people Dems need to get out to the polls each mid-term election. This is why, again, few will turn out for next year's mid -terms. Why should they? The Dems as a party haven't offered any reasons to go to the polls other than scare-mongering of the bad things that'll happen if their followers don't rise to the occasion.
This gets old after a time. People need to see more, say like fighting like feral dogs to protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts in the next debt deal bargaining. Also, fighting to reinstate those food stamps - the SNAP program - and cease protecting military spending so much just to appear "tough" to repel the Repups continual refrain "not strong on national Defense". Please.
Tomasky attributes this substitution of "rational" policy talk (for good, old-style politicking) to a loss of identity that particularly accelerated with the onset of the Reagan plague years. The problem was that, in making this conscious switch of emphasis, the Dems lost the ability to really fight - verbally. No wonder they are constantly one-upped by Repub PR and spin machines. Worse, they don't even have the balls or the will to formulate a coherent narrative - say to energetically defend higher taxes to pay for what we need, or to aggressively defend expanding Social Security instead of cutting it with some cheesy backdoor dealing. And they sure as shit lack the balls to talk of cutting back seriously on defense and national security spending!
The end product is wimphood. Factored into this is the diminution and loss of an overarching and motivating Dem vision which keeps all the Rs energized and going to the polls- though they may differ on various platform matters and how to implement them (like 'faith-based' charities). As Tomasky notes, the Rs are "unified around a central idea which can be expressed in both positive and negative language: that they are the conservators of liberty and morality, and that liberals are sending the country to hell in overdrive. Whatever Republicans do or don't believe they believe in those two hypotheses. This unity gives them their passion."
Technically, the role of the rich Reepos is simply this: to feed campaign donations into any 'engine' that reinforces and amplifies the memes of their "central idea" - to keep their minions pouring to the polls in droves to teach them godless libs a lesson. There is no way, none at all - the Reeps would win any election with only their one percenters voting. No, the mass of their lower class voters have to be blinded enough to their own economic interests to cooperate.
In effect, the Repubs KNOW what they are fighting for, the Democrats do not. (Else they wouldn't so often splinter in their voting - as with extending the Bush tax cuts,initiating payroll tax cuts and more recently reining in the NAS.) Tomasky argues that the Dems have paid a huge price in lost voters for their turning to "reason and balanced" talk, rather than appealing to emotions (at least some of the time) like the Rs do. In addition, their lack of aggression at critical points during the past 20 years - when they had the opportunity to define themselves- has left many others yawning and not too impressed- hence the conscious choice to be independents - like me.
Tomasky concludes by saying that no, it isn't necessary to "ape the Repubs" or be partisan ALL the time. But it is some of the time, especially when particularly egregious legislation is on offer - and ONE party ought to stand up and be the moral backbone, as opposed to being enablers. A perfect example was a few years back when weak-willed Dems joined the Reeps in legalizing ex post facto the illegal Bush wiretaps. Hence, now proclaiming the invasive NSA surveillance is not a problem because "the new Fisa laws allow it". Yes, after you legalized what was once criminal! This is the sort of thing that drives true partisans (and true liberals) bats, and to seek other political affiliations.
At root, we are screwed by having two parties that endorse the same Neoliberal market paradigm. The only difference is one is a bit crazier than the other, and has more frenzied zealot followers. As Robert McChesney quotes Bill Moyers, in the former's book 'The Problem of the Media':
"Because they coveted the same corporate money, Democrats practically walked away from the politics of struggle"
Sadly, when you're not engaged in the politics of struggle, including vociferously defending the interests of the working poor as much as the middle class, you cannot be anything other than a wimp. Progressives, take note!