Are Progressives Just Kinder, Gentler Conservatives?

A while ago, I described how I feel estranged from the internet Progressives:

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.

I bring this up because Jerome a Paris, over at Daily Kos, asks “Is DailyKos a rightwing website?”

He then describes the typical response to two issues he regularly raises, wages and clean energy:

Whenever I write about possible policy options that would be (partial) solutions to our looming crisis, there is always a noisy proportion of kossacks that complains that my proposal would unfairly hurt them, and that I don’t understand about the USA, how big it is, or how necessary a car is for their job, or their shopping, or how wind would spoil their view, etc, ad nauseam.

Whenever I write about unions, government regulations, workers’s rights, I get similarly hammered for not understanding economics (or blasted away with arguments about French unemployment, or various looming European crises like population, pensions, …). I am permanently amazed by the lack of attention on the websites for issues like poverty, inequality, workers’ rights, and by the hostile comments on my diaries on such topics (if they even manage to get noticed) which sound just like anything you’d hear from rightwing commenters in Europe.

Even on many progressive sites, the stagnation and decline in wages is chalked up to impersonal market and technological changes: the standard, conservative neo-liberal arguments. There are, of course, glimmerings of liberalism, particularly when it comes to CEO salaries. One only has to read Gretchen Morgenson’s columns in the NY Times to realize this. She’s created her own cottage industry detailing how ludicrous executive compensation is, not because of market or technological forces, but in spite of them. Between stacked boards of directors and compensation committees, executives pay themselves exorbitant sums because they have the power to do so. There are no mysterious macroeconomic forces at work here.

However, this same reasoning, for some odd reason, isn’t applied to workers. The simple reason why wages are stagnant (and over longer periods have declined in real dollars) is because workers lack the power to force a better deal. How many times have you read ‘moderate’ and progressive pundits and editorial boards opine about how unions have to be brought under control. I have no idea what the ‘fair’ or ‘just’ salary for a fireman is, but the important point, is neither do these anti-union pundits. How much pay is unreasonable for a schoolteacher? Or a policeman? Or a delivery man?

That these issues are avoided with the dodge of ecomonic neo-liberalism by many progressives, rather than being openly discussed is a significant reason I refuse to call myself a progressive. I’m more than willing to make common cause with the reality-based coalition that calls itself progressive. But, in many respects, these progressives are quite conservative. A simple embrace of technology and what appears modern is by itself not antiethical to conservatism, particularly if those technologies are harnessed to maintain or increase inequity. Modern progressivism (at least the part that just isn’t renamed New Deal/Great Society liberalism) does not have any serious answers for what I think are some of the challenges currently facing us:

What you’ll notice missing from this [progressive] 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.

I’m glad many people can agree that ignoring basic scientific fact, hating gay people, invading the wrong fucking country, and all of the other faith-based Tinkerbell inanities are foolish. But that’s just what any decent and sane person should think. It doesn’t address the growing inequity in American society. And hell, much of conservative thought thinks inequity is a good thing.

That’s why I’m an unrepentant liberal, and not a progressive.

Update: Jerome a Paris has a followup post:

That’s been the most surprising element in the thread: people expressing outrage at me for insulting them by calling them rightwing while simultaneously explaining their own policy preferences on various things and making it clear that these preferences can in no way be described as leftwing (I seriously doubt that being anti-union, anti-regulation or anti-subsidies for rail, for instance, can be called leftwing even in the USA).

After all, kos has made clear his libertarian leanings. Many formerly conservative politicians and pundits are being welcomed heartily in the Democratic party to fight the Bush administration (James Webb was a former Reagan senior official, for instance) – and as I’ve mentioned before, on economic issues, kossacks are much more to the right (or centirst, if you prefer) than you might guess for a supposedly lefty website.

Which means that some conservative ideas (call them “sane” conservative ideas) are not seen as incompatible with the Democratic party and allying with people who hold these (traditional rightwing) ideas is a smart compromise when the goal is to get rid of the extremist rightwing administration you currently have. So to my mind, rightwing ideas were to some extent approved by people on this site or, if not approved, at least considered as not unreasonable in the current context, and thus it did not strike me as an insult to use that term.

But the question remains: is dailyKos, and the Democratic party, moving significantly to the right when embracing such people and groups in the current fight, and their underlying ideas? My answer is “it looks like it”, but I did not comment on whether it was a good or a bad thing. The reaction to my diary shows that I’m not the only one asking this question, with many clearly answering “yes, too far”, while the outraged reaction of others suggests that they think that dkos and the Democrats should in no way be called “rightwing”, thus suggesting that there are limits to such a rightward drift, even if it is located in different places by different people. Being “to the left” is a good thing, the question remaining “to the left of what”?

I guess the good news is that there are a lot of people who don’t want to be identified as ‘conservative.’

This entry was posted in Conservatives, Democrats, Economics, Progressives. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are Progressives Just Kinder, Gentler Conservatives?

  1. Markk says:

    This is weird – have these websites stolen the word “Progressive” from when I grew up? Coming from Wisconsin (Progressive Party Senator LaFollette, Progressive aligned socialist Milwaukee mayor Zeidler) I always felt the exact opposite of your two terms – “liberalism” was more concerned with the value issues and Progressives were more concerned about the economics and power relationships in the country. Is this now turned around on the Web? I don’t read political web sites much, but this is interesting.

  2. Greg says:

    People who endorse the same values endorsed by “libertarians” used to be called “rightwing” or “reactionary”.

  3. edward says:

    I agree with what you have to say. One thing I didn’t see you mention is how “free trade” has hurt labor. Initially, I thought free trade was a great idea. However, the problem is that while companies can shift production all over, even to countries that allow virtual slave labor, the labor unions can’t go into every country. I remember reading how people who tried to unionize the factories just in Mexico were run out or worse. I consider myself a capitalist, but labor needs to have a voice, and right now it has virtually none. One answer to multi-national corporations would be multi-national labor unions, but that’s generally seen as too politically subversive.

  4. Coin says:

    “Progressive” is a really not very well defined term. It can, and usually does, mean whatever people want it to mean at the moment they use it. In practice I think “progressive” is basically the term for anyone who is in some sense left-wing but is for whatever reason uncomfortable identifying with the word “liberal”.
    In the meantime, I’d question:
    1. Whether the list of “progressive” issues you are working off here are in fact a good description of what being “progressive” means.
    2. Whether dailykos is representative of “progressives”.
    3. Whether it’s even possible to meaningfully derive a consensus opinion off of dailykos, which is a large site with many users, some of which may not believe the exact same things as the other users.

Comments are closed.