Some Thoughts on the Internet ‘Progressives’

I’ve always had a problem with the internet ‘progressives.’ I have never liked the term progressive, particularly since I’m not ashamed to call myself a liberal (here’s one reason why). I haven’t blogged much about the YearlyKos convention and ensuing controversy (being a lefty blogger, albeit a small one, I suppose I am the actual subject matter of much of that commentary). But a couple of posts have really made it clear to me why I’m not excited at all by the internet progressives.

It’s the same reason I’m not excited by the mainstream Democratic Party as a whole: they don’t seem to stand for much of anything. Bloggers like Kos constantly remind people that the lefty blogosphere isn’t liberal (sounds kinda like the DLC doesn’t it?). Actually to say that the internet progressives don’t stand for much of anything is unfair. It’s just that what most of what the internet progressives stand for is what any sane, reality-based person should stand for:

  1. When trying to stop Bin Laden, you should not invade the wrong country, particularly when there is ample reason to expect the ensuing occupation to go sideways.
  2. Scientists and other experts, when presenting highly vetted and substantiated information about the reality we are confronted with, should not be denigrated (e.g., global warming).
  3. The government should not be in the forced childbirth or pregnancy-as-punishment business.
  4. Rampant corruption sucks and is harmful to the country’s interests.
  5. ‘Faith-based’, wingnuttian approaches, when unsupported or contradicted by evidence, suck and are harmful to the country’s interests.
  6. Slandering war heroes is wrong.
  7. Eliminationist rhetoric is wrong.
  8. Hating black people and interracial couples is wrong.
  9. Hating Latinos, and in particular Mexicans, is wrong.
  10. Hating gay people is wrong.
  11. The Enlightenment, overall, was a good thing.
  12. The libidophobic ‘religious’ right is idiotic, not to mention often hypocritical.
  13. Giving Paris Hilton a tax cut when there are so many unmet needs is wrong.
  14. Some kind of universal healthcare is needed (although the more conservative elements of the progressive movement might not actually agree with this point).

Other than the Paris Hilton item (which is usually couched in non-ideological terms), and universal healthcare, which was proposed in 1939, there really is no underlying philosophy in this list other than basic human decency (which, mind you, is too often in short supply). You don’t get points for holding these views in my book because it’s what any decent, rational, and sane person should do. Sadly, the Republican Party has realized there’s a lot of political advantage to be gained by advocating batshit loopy positions, but in a reasonable universe, we wouldn’t be ‘debating’ these points (and frankly, we should just stop ‘debating’ them and just start countering the propaganda and the ‘mainstream’ media that spew it).

(An aside: This reminds me of the Rabbinic midrash where the sages asked why Noah isn’t elevated to the level of Abraham or Moses. After all, Noah was “a righteous man in his generation.” To paraphrase the rabbis, they responded that Noah lived in a pretty crappy generation.)

What you’ll notice missing from this list are any proposals that would seriously alter the relationship of citizens to massed economic power. Before you say, “Oh the Mad Biologist is going off into lefty bizarro world”, keep in mind that most of the problems we face, from healthcare, to information privacy, to environmental degradation, stem in part, if not entirely, from the imbalance between capital and labor, or between capital and the individual citizen. Here’s what you don’t hear about very much in the lefty blogosphere:

  1. The necessary and morally just role of government in moving towards (if not reaching) full employment.
  2. A more progressive income tax (leaving aside the issue of how much revenue should be generated).
  3. More tax revenue from corporate sources.
  4. Raising wages, particularly of those in the service industries (which are the fastest and largest sectors of job growth, such as it is under Little Lord Pontchartrain).
  5. Affordable housing, for both homeowners and renters.

To the internet progressives’ credit, there is a recognized need for investment in technological development (this is the Internet after all). But, at its core, the internet progressive economic plan-to the extent that there is one-is the now-classic neoliberal paradigm. As Nathan Newman writes about Mark Warner, who is a favorite of both Kos and Jerome Armstrong (boldface mine):

On the positive, Warner’s speech to the convention was more than a list of talking points. It was a narrative about bringing Virginia together around expanding health care for the poor and delivering jobs to communities suffering from deindustrialization. He also made the case that energy-efficiency at home is a job creator, far better than buying overseas oil which creates few jobs at home– and that’s one of the smartest themes any candidate should be making.

But let me return to his argument about bringing jobs to rural Virginia. He painted a nice story about education and retraining leading to software jobs springing up in rural towns, especially if supported by strong investments in broadband locally.

All to the good as far as it goes. But the story hides one of the big lies of DLCish economic policy, which is that the key to improving wages is just more education and more training. While that’s ONE good thing to do, the hard reality is that a large portion of new job creation in the future will not be high-tech jobs but traditional service jobs. Warner had essentially NOTHING in his speech about how to raise wages for those in traditional service or remaining manufacturing jobs, no mention of the minimum wage or other policies to help the workers who will make up the vast bulk of new jobs.

This is why I feel disconnected from the internet progressives-there is no discussion of this issue. For me, this is not simply a policy issue, or a clever way to reach out to millions of voters (although it is both those things), it is a moral one. One of the implicit assumptions of the neo-liberal consensus, which is a conservative economic worldview, is that those who are not doing well ultimately have themselves to blame. In this mindset, unemployment, underemployment, and low wages for ‘menial’ work are not structural equities, but the results of personal failings. Certainly, many neo-liberals are not that harsh–no Social Darwinists they–so there is the hope of salvation by job training. If you study hard enough, there is the hope that you will be saved through education-never mind that most jobs will not be ‘information’ jobs, but service jobs.

If you truly believe in the notion of integrity through hard work, raising wages for all, regardless of the type of job that person has, is just. Martin Luther King once said:

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

Until the internet progressives start emphasizing this, I don’t think they will be able to cross the digital divide to where most Americans are. And they won’t have reached this Democrat either.

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13 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Internet ‘Progressives’

  1. John says:

    Nice one, Mike. One of your best rants to date.

  2. coturnix says:

    Sounds like John Edwards platform to me….

  3. tng says:

    Very nice statement of liberal principles. I hope you consider sending this in to Carnival of the Liberals. There’s still time to get it in for tomorrow’s edition. The deadline isn’t till 7PM EST.

  4. Paul -V- says:

    This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a very long time.
    Great job.

  5. Dave the Urbanite says:

    Very good summary. Now just remove the jabs/meanness toward religion from first list to make a winning political platform. How do Democrats, liberals, and progressives expect to win while calling more than half the country stupid for their belief in God? Your points should be that everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs and the government should stay out of that.

  6. Joe Aleks says:

    You got it right on the sadly neglected points- particularly full employment as being esssential to economic or environmental sustainability.
    You do reflect, however, the distorted memes of our “progressive” viewpoints (and their opposition as well) that there are such things as sexual orientation that define people as gay or pedophile or various other things that should be private if they exist at all; as well as the other major misbelief that women might choose to end a pregnancy by means of obsolete surgical procedures such as abortion if they were in fact given true free choice in such matters, including the available but unused option of embryo transplant and freezing.
    If the progressives could shuck the jive of the second paragraph above and focus on the realities of the first paragraph above, they might actually make some progress.
    I wonder if the real powers that be will allow this to post to remain. If they do, then they feel very secure in their sucess of creating real life Lilliputian big- endian vs little- endian pseudo controversies that obfuscate the real issues.

  7. Spike says:

    I guess I’m not a liberal, I only scored 4 1/2 out of 14:
    1. Yes.
    2. Yes.
    3. Neither should the government be in the business of providing forced termination of the life of an innocent.
    4. Yes.
    5. Yes, with the qualifier, “when used as rationale for political policy.” When used as rationale for personal policy – It’s your neck.
    6. Yes, as a subset of “Slandering people is wrong.”
    7. See 8
    8. See 9
    9. See 10
    10. Are these the only people we shouldn’t hate?
    11. The Age of Reason was better.
    12. See 5.
    13. The alternative should be to give everyone a tax cut so we can meet our needs.
    14. Since not everyone needs it, it’s not universal. You should be more accurate in what you mean, “There is a group of people who cannot afford basic health services, and the only way I can think of taking care of that problem is by making everyone use the government as their health insurance provider.”
    On the second quiz, I only scored 1 + 1/2 + 1/2 = 2 out of 10:
    1. While moving towards full employment is necessay and morally just, it is not a role of government.
    2. No income tax would be better (see #13 above)
    3. Yes.
    4. Yes – but not by government fiat.
    5. Yes – but not by government fiat.
    I guess I want the same results that liberals want, but I don’t think the ends justify the means. I wonder why liberals don’t just go to one of those great liberal states in Europe where these things already exist? I know that -I- would be on the next boat if I could find a more libertarian country than this.

  8. I wonder why liberals don’t just go to one of those great liberal states in Europe where these things already exist?
    I moved (back) to Canada in 2004. Health care with greater coverage than a PPO covered by personal income taxes less than in the US system. Sales tax is through the roof here, but that’s mostlty because I live in a region that has been hit hard by declining fish stocks and overseas amalgamation of the local industry.
    Well said Mike. I would add to that list of economic reforms trade reform as well: reinstating consistant universal tariffs on goods and services based on labour wages, allowing for overseas trade while protecting labour from exploitation.

  9. patience says:

    Haven’t you figured out that there is no such thing as policy or policy advocacy while under a republican administration?
    What’s the point of having a policy discussion when the party in power is actively strip mining legislative authority, agency regulative authority, while destroying the economy? Have you been reading any Ron Suskind these last 6 years? The government is being run by out of control powermongers and you want to quibble over policy emphasis? Are you out of your f-ing mind?
    Priority 1. Get rid of the republicans in the house and/or the senate. Without a house or senate majority all your talk is just castles in the air. The ‘progressives’ which you dismiss from your armchair are actually working toward getting real candidates elected so you can have the luxury of arguing government policy.
    Unless you want to directly help get people who will be responive to you into office, SHUT THE HELL UP.

  10. Patience,
    I’m not ‘building castles in the air.’ By their own admission, most of the pragmatists emphasize that Democrats are losing primarly on issues of style and political savvy, and not substance. So why not fight for Democrats who aren’t neo-liberals, but actually have economic programs that make a difference? What’s the point of electing ‘progressives’ who are really just Republican lite and are incapable of building a lasting majority because their policies won’t make a long lasting change in Americans’ daily lives? I’ve learned from watching Southern Democrats (like Mark Warner) that they never move to the left after being elected. Why would they? It’s not how they were elected. In other words, to use your phrase, they won’t be responsive to us.
    By the way, I have a long history of donating and volunteering for Democratic campaigns and GOTV groups, but I’m tired of being played for a sucker by conservative Democrats. My point is that progressives should not completely embrace the party apparatchiks.
    By the way, Webb is now backing off his stance on Iraq now that the primary is over. Way to punk yourself…

  11. brero says:

    It’s not wrong to think that the “sanitation worker” is not equal with the doctor or lawyer. And I don’t see how you would go about raising wages for all.

  12. JS says:

    It’s not wrong to think that the “sanitation worker” is not equal with the doctor or lawyer. And I don’t see how you would go about raising wages for all.

    As to the first point, I fail to see why not. Whether one should strive for economic equality between the two jobs is a question my personal jury is still out on (and how you should measure it – lifetime income vs. yearly income, etc. is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish). But then again, I’m an academic, so my view of that particular matter may be just a mite slanted…
    As for your second point, that’s actually rather simpler:
    Point the first: Make sure you have something approximating a democratic form of government.
    Point the second: Make sure you have labour unions that are actually worth a damn.
    Point the third: Make sure you have a progressive taxation system.
    Point the fourth: Make sure that you have an adequate social security net and pension system.
    Point the fifth: Make sure that you have adequate, free education and health care.
    Point the sixth: Make sure you have working environment laws that are actually worth a damn (OK, not technically about income, but sure as sure a benefit mostly to traditionally low-income jobs).
    I may have missed a couple of points, but that’s pretty much the recipe that’s worked for Scandinavia…
    – JS

  13. JS says:

    Oh, I did miss one point: Make sure that you’ve got environmental safeguards that are actually worth a damn. Firstly, they pay off – big time. Secondly, if you fail to enact them, the lowest incomes will tend to loose more than the higher (but note, please, that not even the higher incomes can really expect to gain from lax environmental standards)
    – JS

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