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Comments by YACCS
Monday, August 02, 2004

The New New Left

Goldwater reborn?

The new new left is a pragmatic beast. I've been all over Nader and the Greens because to me, they represent the failed politics of the old. The last vestiges of upper middle class radicalism, which values issues over results. Just look at the energy of the Greens into IRV. Not wage increases, not safer working conditions, not even a boycott of Wal-Mart, one of America's evilest corporations, but IRV, which will change almost nothing for most people. Not even weekend voting.

But for people who despair, there is a new left being built, a lot more like the old left of the '30's, minus the communists and the street fighting. A pragmatic, results oriented, positive left which is working for real change. I don't think it's just a matter of x is against gay marriage. Well, in 1964, I doubt Martin Luther King was for interracial marriage, even if he was banging the white women who had joined the civil rights struggle. A lot of people on the left somehow think their ideas will be instantly accepted with no opposition. Which is more fantasy than reality.

People forget that the changes wrought in the 1930's were won with bloodshed, not by protests. Ford was a battle between workers and union goons and that was with a friendly administration in the White House. It wasn't easy, and it took a world war to cement those changes. Universal college education didn't exist before 1946. Without the GI Bill, the US would be a very different place. And it was Harry Truman who demanded that it cover ALL veterans, not just those who served overseas or in combat. That one act, the free education or low mortgage home changed America far more than a communist revolution would have. It created the broad middle class we have today. It changed who went to Congress and who they worked for.

If you want nationally accepted gay marriage, you have to create the groundwork for it, by electing people who are sympathetic to your cause in Congress. You have to create the conditions for politicians to be courageous. Lyndon Johnson pushed civil rights through because the images from the South were simply unacceptable. It harmed the US to show children being hosed down by firemen and attacked by dogs. LBJ could show courage because to not show courage would be worse.

What we are seeing is a new, grassroots left run by public input. Ralph Nader, for all his good works, amd there were many, was a secretive, top down autocrat. The same can be said for ACORN as well. Despite their rightness of causes, their actual ability to affect change was limited by the ability to work with people and actually do things. Then you have the unfocused ANSWER crowd, protesting everything under the rainbow because anyone who calls for focus is "repressing" people. Despite the success of ACT UP, which forced changed with exactly that focus.

I think the speed of this change came about because of the loss in 2002, the Iraq War and the unparalled success of the Dean campaign, which made being left of center safe again.

It's becoming clear that Dean, despite his failed campaign, is becoming the Goldwater of the left, as much admired for things he doesn't stand for as his willingness to fight. You have to remember, before the 1964 election, the right was seen as the tool of the John Birch Society and other fringe nutters. Even Goldwater was dismissed as a fringe candidate in the most brilliant commercial of any campaign. But he set the groundwork for Nixon and Reagan, even as he eventually moved away from his old positions. Mr.Arch Conservative wound up sponsoring Planned Parenthood in his final years. His movement, by the time of his death, had taken an oddly religous tone, one which didn't sit well with Goldwater. But he made it acceptable to be conservative again.

For instance, while Dean opposed the war, he has never called for immeidiate withdrawal, despite what some of his followers now say. But the myth of Dean as anti-war candidate, has pulled people to actively support Kerry and the Democratic Party.

Yes, Dean, who calls himself a centerist, and with good reason, made it a lot easier for people to embrace the heart of the Democratic Party's principles. He was a white, upper class, prep school boy who attended Yale and looked as radical as your internist, which is what he was. But his message was empowering, mostly because it wasn't about him, but you.

However, Dean wasn't the first and he wasn't alone. Move On deserves credit for both. Formed during the Clinton impeachment, the group was the first to harness support for Democrats. It was also the first to take the battle to the GOP and they hate it to this day. But what Dean did was package a left of center approach to the mainstream. People used the Internet to make connections. Now the Dean people didn't have much to do with it at first, but they used it.

Dean then added the third piece to the table, Move on had created an internet audience for liberal causes, the Dean campaign showed how to raise money, and then he got people involved. Raising money isn't hard, but getting people to pick up trash on their own, without central direction, well, no one had seen that before.

I know this must seem boring to the Greens with their interminable meetings and pointless protests, but these groups, using sophisiticated methods of organizing and raising cash, have not only outstripped the third parties, still tied to methods which had seen their best days in the 1960's, but also outdid the right, tied to near communist methods of directing the faithful. Rush, the National Review, they get ideas from the top and spread them downward.The left is taking real grassroots ideas and using them.

The 527's like Move On and ACT have unprecidented levels of outside concensus. Instead of hiring an ad agency, Move on solicited ads from the public and paid to have the winner of their contest broadcast on TV. These are not PACs who raise money from special interests, but from the public.

The new left is resolutely middle class and moderate. It isn't about radical change but incremental reform. Also, by using technology to make human connections, they are less prone to be captive to dogma, because of the constant influx of different voices. And while this process obviously has flaws, it creates on of the ideals of the founding fathers-participatory democracy. Not just in voting, but in setting policy.

Why might this work?

What many on the Green left don't get is that Americans hate politics. They hate partisanship and the loabels Democrat and Republican have enough freight attached to them as is. The reason the Reform Party exploded was that it was a centrist party. The reason it failed was that Ross Perot was an egomaniac who refused to turn his cult into a real party, then Buchanan stepped in.

The one aspect of this new left populism which works is that it is no longer the leader centered model. These people don't need a Nader or an Abbie Hoffman to lead them to the promised land. Decisions are made by group concensus and the groups which run these organizations make no pretense of being leaders of a mass movement. You don't get Harold Ickes talking about his ACT organization.

The Green left may never accept this as a model of reform, but what have their methods gotten them? Candidates who can't get five percent of the vote in a national election, limited power, if any, in America's largest cities. We've tried their "everyone has a voice" model and it leads to petty politics and inaction because the loudest voice wins or bitches so much no one can do anything. When you have an organization like Move On or ACT, with clear goals, it is far easier to organize people to carry them out.

The new groups pose a challenge to both the right and the left. To the right, they are visible demonstrations that their agenda is not dogma prevented from flowering from a liberal media. To the far left, they prove that people will endorse left of center ideas, but not their left of center ideas. Nader and the Greens use the web, but not aggressively, not in the ways Dean did before he had money. It also exposes them as fringe actors. If they can be seen by everyone and most people pass them by to support Dean and people with other views it suggests that their views aren't all that popular to begin with. Which is something they don't seem to get. Just as most people hate the Fallwells of the world, they have just as little time for the fantsies of the left.

I think the most frustrating thing for Nader is his utter rejection by the left. Not just the moderate Democrats, or the union people, but the hard left, liberal and progressive communities. They're backing Kerry like their life depends on it. When one who backs Nader or the Greens pop their heads up in a left blog, they get hammered, their arguments deconstructed. They are given no space to argue, so many people jump down their throats.They try to argue that Kerry is a sell out, that the Dems don't stand for anything, but their arguments usually end with them retreating.

Why? Because Move On, especially, puts the lie to that. When someone compared Bush to Hitler, the readers of the Move On site rejected it wholesale, even as the RNC hyped it. The community rejected the attack, to their credit. But for a lot of people who join ANSWER or even the Greens, they hate that kind of democracy, because they can't get their way. Like Nader, they only like a movement when they get to make the rules. Despite all their talk of the "people", they're afraid of the people, because the people will probably reject their wacky ideas.

I think four years of Bush have made people hungry for action, not words. They're tired of people who say the right things, they want someone who can win and make real changes. Even half a loaf is still bread and it beats no loaf at all. No one imagined that Bush would be such a mediocrity, but he was and most people think he has to go. They're tired of promises. So it's better to invest in people who may do something than people who haven't proven they could do anything.

posted by Steve @ 8:52:00 PM

8:52:00 PM

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