Nicholas Kristof, writing about the election, makes a very serious category error–one that many progressives are making (boldface mine):
Schadenfreude may excuse Democrats’ smiles for a few days, but these trends portend a potential disaster not just for the Republican Party but for the health of our political system. America needs a plausible center-right opposition party to hold Obama’s feet to the fire, not just a collection of Tea Party cranks.
We already have a center-right party: it’s called the Democrats. The Obama Administration, when it had the opportunity to resolve the housing crisis anyway it wanted, did not cramdown mortgages (something the Bush administration thought about doing) or place banks into receivership, but, instead, went with ‘extend-and-pretend’–which is exactly what the banks and Wall Street wanted. Obamacare is conservative legislation, modelled after a plan put forth by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Earlier in his administration, he attempted to triangulate between oil drillers and environmentalists (didn’t work out so well as the Deepwater Horizon blowout happened four days later). The Democrats, in the main, are focused on deficit reduction, not job creation.
This isn’t a semantic issue. Because what I’ve being reading over and over again is that the election is a victory for liberalism, when it is merely a victory for the Coalition of Sane–that is, those opposed to misogynist theocrats (are there any other kind), ‘anti-government’ batshitloonitarians, and recidivist segregationists.
In 2006 (the Stone Age in internet time), I listed some things progressives seemed to agree on–they’ve held up pretty well:
- 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.
- 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).
- The government should not be in the forced childbirth or pregnancy-as-punishment business.
- Rampant corruption sucks and is harmful to the country’s interests.
- ‘Faith-based’, wingnuttian approaches, when unsupported or contradicted by evidence, suck and are harmful to the country’s interests.
- Slandering war heroes is wrong.
- Eliminationist rhetoric is wrong.
- Hating black people and interracial couples is wrong.
- Hating Latinos, and in particular Mexicans, is wrong.
- Hating gay people is wrong.
- The Enlightenment, overall, was a good thing.
- The libidophobic ‘religious’ right is idiotic, not to mention often hypocritical.
- Giving Paris Hilton a tax cut when there are so many unmet needs is wrong.
- Some kind of universal healthcare is needed (although the more conservative elements of the progressive movement might not actually agree with this point).
As far as I’m concerned, that really isn’t liberalism, it’s simply not being an asshole (as assholes seem to be in plentiful supply, this isn’t a bad thing). Here’s what I argued liberalism should stand for (long before Occupy or the Implosion of Big Shitpile):
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.
Maybe there will be some slight tax increases on the wealthy (An aside: The tell won’t be the tax rate on the highest income bracket, it will be how interest is taxed). But in an era where Democrats, especially President Obama, seemed more concerned about long-term deficit reduction than massive un- and underemployment, along with stagnating wages, we need liberals, not simply the absence of wackaloonitarians.
This is what is bothering me: those to the left of center are allowing Obama, who in historical terms would be a Rockefeller Republican, to define the leftward pole of the political debate. It’s bad enough when the right or mainstream media shifts the Overton Window to the right, but we can’t afford to do this to ourselves (I would like the option of being able to retire at 67* myself, but YMMV).
What this the U.S. needs isn’t a sane center-right party–we already have one. What we need is a center-left party. This is the challenges for progressives and liberals.
I only hope the cultural shift demonstrated in this election helps many progressives’ get over their self-inflicted self-mutilation complex (“Come on guys, I’m not a hippie. Really…”). The U.S. needs a left that stands for something for than the glorification of a multicultural neo-liberal meritocracy.
*Are there any pundits who realize that many Americans today won’t receive full Social Security benefits until they turn 67? Fucking morons.