Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Which Side Are You On?

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 9/18/08]

[Note: For this post I will be using the term progressive in two senses. When used with upper-case, “Progressive” denotes supporters or candidates of the Vermont Progressive Party. When used in lower case, “progressive” denotes followers of the political philosophy of progressivism, which may or may not include supporters of any one party. Sorry for any confusion this may cause.]

So, the Congressional election here in Vermont is interesting to me. The candidates for the sole house seat are Peter Welch, the freshman Democratic incumbent, and Thomas Hermann of the Progressive Party. You’ll notice I didn’t mention a Republican. That’s because there isn’t one running. What this means is that progressives can vote for a third-party candidate without fear of the “spoiler effect” (which I think is a bullshit concept anyway, but that’s a subject for another time).

This election provides a great way for us to see what the progressive movement really believes. Admittedly, Welch isn’t evil; he’s basically progressive. But it really pisses me off that he votes for funding of the Iraq occupation (even while claiming not to) and refuses to support impeachment hearings (which says a lot about his views on the rule of law), and generally carries water for Nancy Pelosi. Hermann is clearly the more progressive of the two, so if you define yourself as a progressive, what reason is there not to support him other than party loyalty?

The thing for progressive to decide is, are we Democrats first and progressives second, or progressives first and Democrats second? I define myself as the latter. My primary concern is with enacting progressive policies, and if that can be best accomplished by getting Democrats in office, then that’s what I’ll work for. That’s why I’ve supported and worked for Democratic campaigns in the past. That’s why I was hopeful when the Dems won the 2006 midterms. But as those same elections showed, there’s a lot more to getting progressive policies than just putting Democrats in office. I’m not inflexible in my positions, but there are some lines I think shouldn’t be crossed, and we should always be pressuring the Dems to do better. If we want change, we need a political movement independent of the Democratic Party. We also need to show them that our votes aren’t a given, which is why I support the Greens and the Progressives.

Many progressives, however, frequently choose party over philosophy. My father-in-law, for instance, is pretty progressive, but probably the only thing Barack Obama could do that would lose his vote is to change party affiliation. It’s pretty sickening watching him jump through logical hoops trying to justify Obama’s bullshit. I have no doubt that if he were here, he’d pick Welch over Hermann, even when one is clearly more progressive and there are no potential negative consequences. And I fear that’s true of a lot of progressives.

Many progressives aren’t even willing to apply serious pressure to Democratic officials or candidates, let alone vote against them. For example, Glenn Greenwald noted a few months back that he got a lot of comments from readers demanding he stop criticizing Obama over his support for the FISA bill, not because they agreed with Obama’s position but because they were afraid it would weaken him. On this and other issues, many progressive Dems say, just hold off until after the election; then it’s war. Personally, I think they’re full of shit. They didn’t do anything after 2006 when the Democratic Congress blew their mandate on the war, free trade, and other issues; they’re certainly not going to move against a Democratic president. He’ll have midterms and re-election to think about, after all.

Too much of the progressive movement is afflicted with what David Sirota called Partisan War Syndrome, the willingness of “the supposedly ‘ideological’ grassroots left to increasingly subvert its overarching ideology on issues in favor of pure partisan concerns.” All that many progressives care about is short-term electoral victory, even if it reinforces the status quo and makes long-term progressive change harder. They put party ahead of ideology, vote for Democrats no matter what they do, and then wonder why the party doesn’t listen to them.

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