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We Need to Win the Debate

gqmartinez's picture

Maybe its just my naive understanding of history, but some of the biggest advances for liberalism in the last hundred years were about more than a single issue. The New Deal resulted in liberal legislation on a whole host of issues. Similarly, the Great Society also resulted in liberal legislation on numerous fronts.

What did both the New Deal and Great Society have in common? They were based on a broad liberal philosophy that allowed Democrats to fight for their goals. Single payer, while a noble effort, will probably not succeed without a more thorough liberal political philosophy winning over the current "Fuck-you society" philosoph of Bush/Obama/GOP/Dem. The best way to combat "conservative populism" is with a well articulated liberal philosophy. And with so much wrong as a result of conservativism, it shouldn't be hard.

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

That said, coalition-building is a worthy goal and technique, so long as one recognizes that the GOP itself has zero interest in it.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I happen to believe that it's easier when a coherent philosophy is at the core. Sure liberals can work with libertarians, but I often see lefties basing their arguments on libertarian talking points rather than liberal principles. That is dangerous. I also think the disintegration of the Democratic Party had a lot to do with using ends to justify means. Since there was no real liberal basis for the "ends" in the first place, we were left with fucking people over for no good reason, in addition to the fundamental flaw of ends justify means philosophy.

No liberal should *ever* accept a fraudulent election. I'm usually not one to make such absolutes, particularly with respect to politics, but that really sticks in my craw. Its our only real means for nonviolent change in a representative democracy and to give it up, even for an "end" we want, damages that one option. Election integrity should be at the core of 21st century liberalism. We have our positions on the issues, but we should use elections as an opportunity to articulate our ideas and principles, never to just "win." 21st century Progressivism wasn't about that, it was about winning elections and assuming everything falls into place from that. Elections are means, not ends.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Franklin Roosevelt was swept into office on the sole platform plank of change. It's hard to realize it now but FDR invented the New Deal after getting to the White House. During the campaign he had promised he would experiment. Once in office he began by proposing wage and price controls for major industry -- you don't get much more fascist than that economically speaking, sheer corporatism. With a little unwanted help from the Supreme Court, President Roosevelt ended up going in a modified direction. The Great Society was an expansion of, or at least a product of, the New Deal and came at a time when American liberalism was the dominant political and intellectual tradition in the country. (See Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media.)

Both 2nd Amendment and pro-life supporters have demonstrated how powerful single issue movements can be in dictating policy to a political party in more recent times. The genius of Movement Conservatism is its bumper sticker simplicity. I'm not a big fan of George Lakoff but he's right when, as Ezra Klein summarized:

... he lauds the [political effectiveness] of the 10 words that define the Republicans – strong defense, free markets, lower taxes, smaller government, family values.

Except for "family values," which are not front and center on the Right these days, the policies which are associated with each of those positions are easily recognized and understood. Left Wing beliefs are nuanced, words like "justice" are highly ambiguous. (See Plato's Republic as a place to start for a definition of "justice.")

The Left should organize around the single issue of Single Payer health care. It's an issue that can earn broad based support, it's unequivocal, it's understandable, and, I really think, it's the issue that best brings together the core supporters of labor rights, election reform, environmental protection, equal rights for women, reproductive choice, minority rights and the opponents of the national security state.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Spot-on.

I do not think Single-Payer should be the only issue, though. The data points the Conservatives use are well-done; let's do what they do (except in a not-evil way, of course).

To that end, I like JeffRoby's post from yesterday. And as a woman who travels the "left" blogosphere, I can tell you this: if women don't have their separate data point, we will be left in the dust. Any movement that doesn't recognize the paramount importance of making the majority of the population equal under the law to the minority of the population (ERA), is not worth my time.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

That term was hopelessly vague in the first place. How do we keep getting saddled with this type of language? Democrats should take the word "reform" out and shoot it. There's still room to say "health insurance reform" or "health care reform" won't work, we have to move ahead and create a modern system, Single Payer Health Care.

"Change" is the Democratic platform plank that's all used up for a generation at this point.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

so that the Dems can pretend the Party is still a friendly haven for liberals.

See: Obama, Barack, the blank screen upon which everyone projects his/her own image.

The vaguer the words are, the harder it is to hold Democratic politicians to account when they screw us to the wall for the 999th time. Hell, the word "progressive" is completely meaningless. There hasn't been a progressive Party for decades. It's just that lefties got tired of being demonized by Rush Limbaugh and ran away from the correct term "liberal." Now, no one knows what a liberal is either.

Ain't our one-party system grand?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

I remember during the '88 general election campaign, some light weight T.V. journalist cornered Michael Dukakis, the quintessential technocratic liberal, by asking him over and over if he was a liberal. Dukakis shrunk up and kept answering that he didn't think labels were useful but, if she must know, he was really more of a progressive ... a progressive in the tradition of Harry Truman.

Pathetic.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Not really. What cemented, and allowed those sweeping changes to happen was *sweeping* changes based on a more broad philosophy. One that valued human life and valued labor. It was a sweeping pro-worker, pro-human dignity agenda. Would the New Deal have been as successful in cementing liberalism if the New Deal were centered around only one issue? Sure, the New Deal came after the election, but it came nonetheless. And it wasn't a single issue. The Great Society was an expansion of liberalism based on valuing human life and the vulnerable (war on poverty, health care for the poor and old). Read some of the speeches from FDR and LBJ. It was sweeping rhetoric, not single issue. Obama was popular because he represented "sweeping change", not just "change on health care". (Of course, we now know he didn't represent change, but he was elected because people hoped he would bring about sweeping change, not change on one issue.)

Movement conservativism was about more than a single issue. The GOP would not have attained power if it wasn't for coalition building of the gun-nuts (to be separated from folks who own guns), the Religious Right, *and* the Grover Norquist Fuck You, I've Got Mine folks. The Religious Right, "guns", and coporatists were fundamentally at odds with each other on several issues but they coalesced and eventually morphed their views to fit with their coalition members. Do you seriously think that, say, the Religious right by itself could have taken over the GOP and been a dominant force without the other coalition members?