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      I woke up last night feeling like I was suffocating, because in my dream I was. It began in a church, or an old university lecture hall. Antique. And everyone in attendance was being asked to say little prayers honoring Jesus. Everyone was reciting little prayers that are common among the devout. But when it was my turn, I stood and exclaimed: Jesus was a ph […]
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Do Progressives have an ideology?

When I first discovered the blogosphere I was in awe of some of the big bloggers and I considered Digby to be one of the smartest and wisest political writers I had ever read. I’m sad to say that my opinion of her has diminished substantially the past couple years, in part because of posts like this:

[A]s a matter of policy I don’t know that the public option actually means much anymore. But as a matter of politics, it’s very important. Powerful people, from outside and inside the Party are desperate that the liberals are not seen to win this battle. It changes the balance of power in ways that extend far beyond the health care debate and they know it.

There is more to the post, but the gist of her argument is that the Democrats need to enact something they can call “health care reform” because they need a symbolic victory. So what if it costs too much, does too little, enriches the health insurance companies and impairs a woman’s right to choose. It’s a “win” for our side!

The other day Digby wrote:

If progressives want to change politics in this country they are going to have to do it not just in institutional terms, but in rhetorical and ideological terms as well. It’s not like we haven’t talked about this before. Until the 2008 presidential campaign, it was one of the primary issues we talked about — changing the terms of the debate, educating the people, giving voters something to believe in and care about. But for some reason, on the progressive side all we seem to care about these days is poll numbers and institutional reform.

I think those things are important, but they aren’t the whole story. If the Republicans make a comeback — a big “if,” in the short term — they will do it because they have spent the last thirty years indoctrinating the American people into a certain way of thinking. It doesn’t give them a permanent hold on power,obviously, because at some point their bad ideas have consequences. But unless somebody explains why those bad ideas were the reason for the bad consequences, they can manipulate the electorate into believing that the problem wasn’t the ideas but the implementation. Since the people are comfortable with those ideas — and nobody’s offering a real alternative — when a crisis hits they naturally gravitate to the ideology they have internalized without even knowing it.

I’m not sure why we lost that thread on the progressive side. Part of it was that Obama ran a very clever campaign that sort of sounded like it was a new way forward, but it was more about symbolism and process than new ideas. And symbolism won’t help you when the shit is raining down. But it’s time we activists started thinking about it again. It’s a long term project that needs to be undertaken once and for all and I would guess that unless we do it, the Republicans will always be able to recover smartly from their defeats and the reform agenda will never get off the ground.

I generally agree with that first paragraph except the last sentence. Progressives seem to care about a few other things besides poll numbers and institutional reform. They care about winning elections, advancing their own interests and demonizing anyone who disagrees with them. And they really don’t care about institutional reform.

When the Republicans make a comeback (and sooner or later they will) their efforts at propaganda and indoctrination will be a factor, but that won’t be the only reason. If that comeback takes place by 2012 it will be primarily due to the failure of Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership to competently govern the nation.

Digby is on the right track in that final paragraph, but she makes it sound as if she and the other progressive activists played no role in Obama’s rise to power. Obama did not destroy the progressive movement, they did it to themselves and Digby was an participant in the meltdown.

I’m not a progressive, I’m a liberal. Some people believe that liberal and progressive are two names for the same ideology. I disagree.

The basic premise of liberal ideology is that the power of government can and should be used to make the world a better place for everyone. Liberalism is founded upon the ideals of democratic government and principles of logic, reason, morality and ethics. Liberalism is not a specific set of policies and programs, nor is it a political party.

Progressivism is founded upon personalities, partisanship and political strategy. None of those things provides a solid foundation. As a famous liberal once said:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Modern progressivism is a reaction to movement conservatism and the former defines itself in opposition to the latter. In truth it is simply political tribalism. Progressives are generally “for” whatever conservatives are “against” and they reflexively oppose conservative leaders while reflexively supporting anyone who calls themselves a progressive.

While progressives claim to be morally and ethically superior to conservatives their principles are mainly for show. One only need look at the 2008 election to see that progressives will quickly abandon their principles whenever they are inconvenient or interfere with achieving goals.

Philosophical discussions often focus on moral dilemmas, where one must choose between competing principles such as where someone must choose between stealing food and letting their child starve. But the conflict for progressives in 2008 was between doing the right thing and winning, and doing the right thing lost.

Besides the lack of a principled foundation, progressives made a number of mistakes. First of all they aligned themselves with a political party that did not reciprocate. The progressives made the mistake of assuming that if they helped the Democrats regain power that the Democrats would support a progressive agenda.

Then they fell for Obama – hook, line and sinker. The warning signs were there but they ignored them. Worst of all is that not only do the progressives keep getting played, they keep coming up with rationalizations for supporting the players.

One of the biggest mistakes the A-list progressives made involves arrogance bordering on hubris. They fancied themselves skilled political operatives and devoted too much of their time and energy to strategies for winning rather than policies for governing. They adopted right-wing tactics, and even used them against other Democrats.

Digby asks why progressives lost the thread. The fact is they never had it in the first place.

At the River He Stood

Memphis Sanitation Workers strike for recognition. Their simple signs bearing the powerful message: "I am a man."

Most people remember Martin Luther King, Jr. for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of the civil rights movement and his “I Have a Dream” speech; and rightly so. Often forgotten however, is his work on behalf of the labor movement as he stood with the Memphis Sanitation workers during their strike in 1968.  It was in the midst of this effort, and in this city, where Dr. King was assassinated.

When African American sanitation workers in Memphis began a strike on February 12, 1968, few then suspected the walkout would escalate into one of the climactic struggles of the civil rights and labor movements of the 1960s. By the time the struggle ended with a contract sixty-four days later, the city’s intransigent antiunionism had been defeated. Some thirteen hundred members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1733 had revived a dormant labor movement in Memphis and initiated a wave of public employee union organizing in other parts of the South. Yet the victory came at a great cost, as an assassin’s bullet cut down the strike’s most influential supporter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4. Ever since that date, the city and the nation have struggled to draw meaning out of the strike and King’s death.


The strike came to symbolize the strivings of the working poor and the general demand by the African American community for equality. Arbitrary behavior by white supervisors, refusal by the city government to recognize the union or meet with workers to discuss their grievances, and the hostile reaction to the strike by the city’s white residents all made the strike a racial as well as an economic issue. In a city of 540,000 people, some 40 percent of them black, the election of Mayor Henry Loeb, a Republican fiscal conservative, signaled a refusal on the part of the city’s white residents to take issues of racial equity seriously. Nearly 60 percent of black community residents lived below the poverty line, and they suffered disproportionately high mortality rates and deficits in basic education in a highly segregated school system. Mechanization of cotton production in the countryside and a decline of factory employment for blacks in the city both undergirded the plight of the working poor.

Efforts to secure recognition of public sector labor unions were escalating during the 1960s and 1970s, and overlaid the civil rights battles going on at the same time. In Memphis, the sanitation workers, who were predominantly African American males, were also seeking recognition and representation by AFSCME.

On 1 February 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Sanitation workers, led by garbage-collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, and supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf, demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage.

The union, which had been granted a charter by AFSCME in 1964, had attempted a strike in 1966, but it failed, in large part because workers were unable to arouse the support of Memphis’s religious community or middle class. Conditions for black sanitation workers worsened when Henry Loeb became mayor in January 1968. Loeb refused to take dilapidated trucks out of service or pay overtime when men were forced to work late-night shifts. Sanitation workers earned wages so low that many were on welfare and hundreds relied on food stamps to feed their families.

Their strike sent shock waves through the community and the nation as the workers picketed with simple signs bearing a powerful message: “I am a man.” This idea was prompted by the words of Reverend James Lawson who saw the equality envisioned by our Constitution as girded by the recognition that one’s voice should be heard regardless of skin color or socio-economic status.  He drew parallels between having a voice on the job and having a voice in society because “…at the heart of racism is the idea that a man is not a man.”  It was Reverend Lawson who invited King to Memphis in support of these workers as part of his Poor Peoples Campaign.

The strike polarized the city racially after police attacked a march by sanitation workers and ministers to city hall only a few days after the walkout. Beatings and macings of prominent black leaders galvanized strike support among the city’s black ministers and civil rights community, while most whites rallied to the mayor’s effort to suppress the strike. All these conditions led to the strike’s slogan “I Am A Man,” which represented the basic demand of members of the black community, male and female alike, to be treated as citizens with equal rights.

A wonderful documentary, At the River I Stand,  captures this important struggle and King’s assassination as a combined moment in history.  Here is a brief clip from that video:

The religious community, labor unions, and the civil rights movement joined together in this effort to bring dignity, respect, and a voice to these workers. Martin Luther King marched with the strikers, comforted the strikers, supported the strikers, encouraged the community to support the strikers, and delivered a moving speech to the strikers and the community on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated in that very city.  However, he had also visited the city two weeks prior, on March 18, 1968, addressing the strikers and the community that supported them in their quest for recognition:

“You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs; of 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.” You are reminding not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation, that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”

Returning on April 3rd, he delivered to that community of workers his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, which would also be his final speech.  He concluded that evening with eerily prophetic words:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

On the following day, Walter Cronkite delivered the tragic news.

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in the midst of his efforts to promote justice and a voice on the job for all persons and his efforts to this end should not be forgotten.

Somewhere I read of the freedom assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.

For more information, please click HEREHEREHERE, and  HERE.

Oh, For Cryan Out Loud! Do Dems REALLY Want Coakley To Win???

Along with all of the other email I got yesterday from Senators John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Bob Menendez, some DNC ijits and Barack Obama, urging me to help support Martha Coakley, I got yet *another* email from Joseph Cryan, the New Jersey Democratic Party Chair. (Note to Cryan: after the 2008 RBC meeting, I asked to be removed from the Democratic party roster. You can take me off your email list, thank you very much.)

So, the Democrats are in full panic mode if they are going to these lengths to get Coakley elected. Oh, yes you are, guys. You’re having an “Oh, $hit!” moment. Because, let’s face it, if you can’t get a liberal Democrat elected in Massachusetts, what the hell is that saying about your party and the Lightbringer you forced on the rest of us to lead us into the era of “Hope and Change!™”?

But look at the content of Cryan’s email:

What can we do to help? Please commit to helping the cause by clicking here: http://my.barackobama.com/CoakleyN2N

You can call voters in Massachusetts and help Martha Coakley continue Senator Ted Kennedy’s remarkable legacy.

As Massachusetts’ first woman senator, Martha Coakley will help advance Kennedy’s legacy – fighting for equal rights, a strong economy, and our families and communities. Without her vote, health care won’t happen.

Ok, here’s the problem with this appeal.  First of all, it makes it look like the entire Democratic party is owned by myBarackObama.  It is not.  Massachusetts and New Jersey did not vote for Obama in the primary of 2008.  He was rammed down our throats until we choked on him and only Massachusetts was actually allowed to cast some of their delegate votes for Hillary at the convention.  If you want our support, putting the Unity Pony’s name on the URL was a baaaad move. (and let me add that I have spoken to a LOT of people, many of them social conservatives, who really wish Hillary Clinton was our president right now.)  Secondly, and this is tied to the first problem, no one likes the health care reform bills proposed by the House or the Senate with Obama’s blessing.  We’re not just talking about Republicans and people who watch Fox News.  They’re going to vote for Brown anyway.  No, we’re talking about Democrats.  Democrats do not like this bill.  In fact, many of them hate this bill.  HATE IT.  And they hate it because it wasn’t written with Democratic principles in mind, which is why, if it passes, it will be a reflection of Barack Obama’s lousy negotiation skills and Max Baucus and friends dismissive attitudes towards Democratic voters who put them in office to Change!™ things.

Democrats hate this bill on so many levels that it’s really hard to know where to begin but let’s just start with the latest travesty, the union exemption from the excise tax.  Do you party people know how damaging that’s going to be to the public perception of unions?  Once again, the White House makes concessions to one group, that is only doing its job to represent its constituents, something Congressional reps should try for a change, and the result is that everyone else who happens to have decent, but not luxurious health care bennies at work will take a hit.  The optics of this whole thing are wrong in so many ways that I can’t believe the party would even let this happen.  Now, you’ve got working people fighting with each other and hating the party’s guts.

You’ve written a bill that locks average struggling people into insurance policies, forbids the vast majority of them from shopping around for better deals, bent over backwards to kiss the asses of the evangelicals on the issue of women’s reproductive rights, imposed an excise tax on those policies with the anticipated result that the benefits themselves will be trimmed for working people and you’ve made everyone mad at the unions for just doing their jobs.  Try to get their endorsement after this once the blowback from non-union people hits them.   You forced them into the untenable position of looking like special interests when they are really just trying to protect the workers who gave up wage increases for better health benefits.  Suddenly, they look like the bad guys.  And now you send out letters to Democrats who haven’t been the least little bit interested in the ridiculous Tea Party movement asking them to help support Coakley for the very same reasons that voters in Massachusetts are pissed off at her.

Have you Democratic big wigs completely lost the plot??

I would LOVE to see another woman in the Senate but I sure am glad I’m not voting in Tuesday’s election.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I’d be seeing so much red when I went to the polls, Brown would win by a landslide.

If you really want Coakley to win, take my advice: Table the health care reform bills and go back to the drawing board.  Take the bills out of contention and Coakley *may* have a fighting chance.  I know that the longer you wait to pass it, the more the Republican message machine will make it harder to pass.  But if it’s already a bill nobody wants, not even your friends, then the Wurlitzer isn’t doing as much damage as you’re doing to yourselves.  Table it, fix it and try again later.  Better later than never.  We’ve got employment issues and a broken economy.  You’re going to need all 60 votes.  Take HCR off the table, tell Michelle Obama to register as a lobbyist for for-profit hospitals just to make it official and start all over again.  Make the announcement today before it’s too late.  This is Massachusetts where the residents are already living with a health care system imposed on them by the state that is very much like the one you want to hang on the rest of us.  There are far more registered Democrats in Massachusetts than there are in other states.  If they are willing to vote in a Republican, it’s not because they bought the “big government” schtick.  It’s because they don’t buy the post-partisan, across-the-aisle, “let’s put everything on the table and negotiate our principles” away, Unity Pony type Democratic way of doing things.

And stop the frickin’ emails already.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2010

Text of the “I Have a Dream Speech,” August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”