Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Climate Change

Mark Schmitt's recent post on TPM Cafe, The End of Checklist Liberalism, uses the prism of the Lieberman self-immolation as a focus for something much larger, something I've been trying to put my finger on for the last few months:

The second reason is that Lamont supporters actually aren’t ideologues. They aren’t looking for the party to be more liberal on traditional dimensions. They’re looking for it to be more of a party. They want to put issues on the table that don’t have an interest group behind them - like Lieberman’s support for the bankruptcy bill -- because they are part of a broader vision. And I think that’s what blows the mind of the traditional Dems. They can handle a challenge from the left, on predictable, narrow-constituency terms. But where do these other issues come from? These are “elitist insurgents,” as Broder puts it - since when do they care about bankruptcy? What if all of a sudden you couldn’t count on Democratic women just because you said that right things about choice - what if they started to vote on the whole range of issues that affect women’s economic and personal opportunities?

But caring about bankruptcy, even if you’re not teetering on the brink of it or a bankruptcy lawyer yourself, is part of a vision of a just society. And a vision of a just society - not just the single-issue push-buttons of a bunch of constituency groups - is what a center-left political party ought to be about. And at the end of this fight, I don’t expect that we’ll have a more leftist Democratic Party, but one that can at least begin to get beyond checklist liberalism.

I'd change the first sentence to read "people won't put up with Lieberman anymore" from "Lamont supporters" (hey, I'm just reading the polls...), but the rest captures an attitudinal change that has come over many, not just the left, in the country. Political climate change.

The left often wonders at the right's ability to pander to and mobilize conservative fundamentalists (who are not necessarily religious) with social or lifestyle issues even as they use power to expand and entrench corporate and economic elite positions. I think that is because they are appealing to a sense of interrelated conditions that together do harm to the fundamentalists' preferred way of life. Though I abhor their vision of what makes a society good, I can see the power of that appeal and why they will follow those who promise to defend it. (On a side note, the Rethuglican bait-n-switch may be running its course, as illustrated by the NYT article on Rev. Gregory A. Boyd last weekend. Carpetbagger's commentary on this is good, as is Kevin Drum's.)

What has consumed the left for a long time, frankly, is a lack of a wide vision of the just society. The parts have all been there, but, after the triumph and the failures of the movements of the 50s and 60s, when we saw our leaders murdered and our youth sent off to pointless deaths in a far country, the left's pursuit of this vision has been muted - cautious, legalistic, narrowly drawn. After Nixon's downfall, it seemed wise to cool passions, regroup, and move politely forward. The interest politics Mark mentions above came to the fore in great part because they had boundaries.

What is happening? The left is turning into Al Gore. Older, heavier, battered by the events of our times, dragging our real and virtual laptops around to explain that the ground beneath our feet has changed, that the passions of our youth weren't wrong, and that the time to act is NOW. It's not just a woman's right to choose, but having choices worth making.

I'm not sure that "traditional Dems" don't get it. I read Clinton's words of advice to Holy Joe (attributed and suspected) more along the lines of giving advice that won't be heard, so not putting much effort in it. What got people excited by Clinton (besides the fact that he has Elvis) was the way in which he could invoke that vision of a better, more just, more hopeful America, not one of military might and swagger, but of generosity and proportion. As with global warming, it was too easily subsumed to political and economic expediency.

Kevin Drum, also reading Schmitt's article, says,

it basically suggests an explicit turn to a European parliamentary model of party governance without the formal structure of an actual parliamentary system. Democrats take on the role of a social democratic party with a broader agenda than just pleasing a small core of interest groups, but the flip side is that loyalty to that agenda is more-or-less absolute. The idea that you sometimes cross party lines to work with the opposition goes from being a sign of grace to being literally unthinkable.

Is this good or bad? I haven't made up my mind. But we're about 90% of the way there anyway, and it may be that the final 10% isn't really that big a deal. And if Mark is right that a broader concern for social democratic policies is one outcome of this, it would be well worth it.

The radical right was the first to reject the civility of a centrist polity, and has won significant power because of its boldness. Schmitt wrote about this (and I blogged it) about two months ago. The key will be making the left into a social democratic block, and keep the Neo-Naderites, for whom no politician is pure enough, or the fake Greens, who love the color of money and not much else, from alienating the center portion of the center-left coalition through petulance and vigilantism.

Global warning, fossil-fuel dependence, anti-modern fundamentalist terrorism, economic stability, middle-class security, medical care - this forms a powerful web of key traditional liberal positions, but given a half-turn (and thus new life) by the events of Bush's administration. Perhaps we could not have had this conceptual realignment without the authoritarian ascendency, but it is real.

And there's climate change for the better.


1 comment:

julifolo said...

I think Katrina/Wilma was what pulled a lot of people's head out of the sand. It inched me a bit further radical. For me, science fiction started the process -- Downbelow Station had described people-like-me as fleeding refugees ...

It's not all altruism. I consider it a large dose of self-preservation. I'm OK right now, but if we don't work toward treating people more fairly, things are going to explode and be worse for everyone.