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A Response to the Recent oped Article on the new progressiveism

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Response to the Article: Progressives Need To Stand for Something Positive and New: a new Progressive stance

On its face, and on paper, the author's rather abstract idea -- to remake progressivism along the lines of a solid new left-right condominium radiating outward from the American political center, one that will somehow become a well-oiled machine optimized to attack the corporate juggernaut bearing down on our democracy -- appears to make good logical, if little common or historical, sense. It is in fact just a recycling of an idea that Ralph Nader raised in his recent book "Unstoppable." It is an idea that needs both laboratory and battle testing.

Its larger more overarching goal of course is the hope that the new coalition can close the income gap -- which, according to today's progressive thinking, is now America's number one problem. And although it is left unsaid, and thus as an exercise for the reader, we are to presume that this new left-right condominium, attacking "crony capitalism" from a solidified position in America's political center, will indeed fix the hole at the center of our rapidly declining representative democracy.

However, as I see it, this piece, like Ralph Nader's recent book, simply "flips the bird at" the vulgar tolerance of corporate money and the unbridled mandate that "Citizens United" has given to our crony capitalists. If nothing else, unlimited money has put the crony capitalists in the engine house of American democracy where they will be ensconced for the foreseeable future. In 6,000 words, this article simply waves its hands at that, arguably, much more important problem.

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In fact, I would argue that the left-right condominium might just make that situation worse, since we already know from Mr. Obama's example, that progressives will be playing from a greatly weakened hand, needing the conservatives much more than they themselves will be needed. And as Mr. Obama has shown, having to play a weaker hand from a weakened position on the political chess board, is a losing proposition for the home team.

We already know that in such a coalition the far right will be calling all the shots, since holding on to their vulgar ideological precepts will be an existential matter for them. By definition, and a key precept for them, is to die rather than change. The idea of a "common good," despite being written into the U.S. Constitution is no longer one of their precepts. To them, it is now a vile and vulgar notion. Progressives on the other hand, are infinitely flexible, malleable, believe in change as a fundamental precept, and also believe strongly in the common good. But if the unalloyed truth be told, they do not yet have any precepts that they would die for -- not to mention, would fight the Republicans to the death for.

Progressives, in the author's proposed left-right coalition, will simply be trying to hold the coalition together, just as Mr. Obama did for the first six years of his administration as he tried to negotiate his way to a kind of "imagined idealized bipartisanism."
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Beginning from a position of extreme weakness, forces progressives to have to coexist on a tenuous downwardly leaning slippery slope, just as was the case with Mr. Obama. Their job of holding on to one's own precepts for dear life, while keeping the coalition from breaking up, will be an but impossible challenge. And of course being able to coexist on a precarious edge, already presupposes that said progressives, have, can identify, and then can competently articulate, their own precepts worth going to the mat for. Although a couple were alluded to, no such precepts were clearly identified in this article.

And more importantly, in nearly eight years of his dealings with the reptilian faction of the Republican Party, Mr. Obama has yet to identify any such progressive precepts himself. In fact, he has argued just the opposite, that to do so is to engage in "ideological warfare." (Come again, Mr President? American politics is about nothing if not about ideology, and ideological warfare, racial ideological warfare, in fact.)

Thus, is it unfair to ask the author: Where is either the moral or practical basis for progressive principles to win over racist conservatives? How will Republicans, who no longer believe in a "common good," who have their identity tied securely to the philosophy of the robber barons, and have never seen a progressive that they do not hate, going to be seduced into joining a coalition to promote the very common good that they profess to want to destroy? Indeed, how will poor whites, who since Bacon's Rebellion, have seen it in their emotional best interest, if not always in their economic best interest, to side with the corporate juggernaut, going be lure away from this 350-year old irrational fetish? Realistically, where is the progressive leverage needed to gain the upper hand in the proposed left-right coalition?

Why was the Issue of Race Omitted?

Despite the fact that the author left no room in his treatise for "authentic black progressive" views like my own, I nevertheless was expecting (at least on paper), that his ideas would resonate with those that people like me hold. After all, we are all in the same desperate search to find answers to the same problems. However, for many historical reasons that should have been obvious from the start, I found this 6,000 word analysis to be disturbingly unconvincing.

Surely the author is not unaware of some of the key racial facts of America's political history. To wit: that from Bacon's 1676 Rebellion (the only instance in American history of a black-white/left-right coalition that nearly worked), to virtually writing slavery out of the U.S. Constitution in 1776, to the Progressive's compromise of 1876 that got Rutherford B. Hayes elected and shut down Reconstruction on terms favorable to the seditious South (a stab in the back of freed blacks), to the Dred Scott Decision, to pogroms and lynchings of blacks throughout the 1920s-30s, to a half century of Jim Crow, sharecropping and prison work release programs, to Strom Thurmond's Dixicrats who took over the Republican Party in 1948, to Richard Nixon's Goldwater inspired "Southern strategy," to Ronald Reagan's Philadelphia Mississippi speech opening the campaign for his second term, and his war on drugs, to his "three strikes and you are out" answer to crime, to Bill Clinton's bowing to Newt Gingrich's appeal to end welfare as we know it, to the nearly 1.5 million black men in U.S. prisons, to Barack Obama's and Eric Holder's cowardly attempt to sidestep every black issue on their agenda for the last eight years, race has been at the very center of American politics.

Thus, is it not fair to ask: What kind of willful blindness that afflicts progressives for them to think that America's political problems can be solved without even a single mention of the one issue continuously at the center of American politics: the issue of race? By ignoring the issue of race -- literally "air-brushing" it out of the equation and out of all political discourse -- the author also ignores 250 years of race-based American political history. How, may I ask, can a political progressive intent on rebuilding progressivism on a more solid moral foundation, be found guilty of doing this?

Perhaps the author is just following the lead of our failed "stand-in" for progressive views now holding office, the "lead from behind Machiavellian trickster," Mr. Barack Obama. Mr. Obama's tenure, if it has proven nothing else, has proven that leaving race out of the equation, and out of the American political dialogue, if not completely off the table, immensely simplifies a racial reality that so far has seemed to yield to no known solutions.

Thus, perhaps the author thinks it better for progressives to continue just as Mr. Obama has done for the last eight years: simply ignore the racial realities on the ground in America's increasingly embarrassing and isolated inner cities, and hope that by "hook-or-crook," we will make it through without a major racial eruption; and that progressives can somehow join-up with their counterparts on the other side of the political divide, that is, with their racist counterparts, the racist conservative Republicans, and save this nation from itself. How moral is that really?

But sadly, no matter how much progressives like Mr. Obama, Ralph Nader, or this author, try to either minimize, or worse, try to ignore the realities of race on the ground, as the recent events in Baltimore dramatically showed, race simply will not go away. The wretchedness of the inner cities can lie dormant and neglected only for so long, and then, as if out of the blue, these realities will again rise and reassert themselves.

The author then speaks eloquently of a new progressive morality, one that leads with a pure progressive heart, a more human American political movement. Am I wrong in thinking that the first item on the agenda of such a new revamped more self-conscious progressive movement should be that of addressing the embarrassing situation of poverty in the U.S. in general, but in particular addressing all of the joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness in all the lives of those who live in America's inner cities?

Or, has that new "more human progressive morality" already being coopted and deployed by Mr. Obama when he leaned so heavily in the direction of the middle-class that there frankly was no room left on the table, or on his agenda, to even mention the poor? What the poor received from the Obama administration was a lot of "symbol pie," in the form church visits and having Reverend Al Sharpton on MSNBC. Being charitable, one might also want to throw in the unintended table-scraps left over as spinoffs from Mr. Obama's obsession with the middle class. Am I the only one who has never seen or heard of Mr. Obama ever actually addressing the poor in America's inner cities? Those who voted for him at the 95% level?

It is no longer just a matter of optics that on a progressive President's watch -- a black one no less -- that while we have seen him speaking to Morons (who voted for him at the 10% level), and Native Americans (who voted for him only at the 23% level), we have yet to see him speak to any black citizens in any of America's inner cities, especially not Baltimore (which voted for him at the 94% level). I have seen him speak in factories in suburbs near inner cities, and in churches during the election cycle, but never to inner city residents who elected him themselves. And just for the record, in a recent visit to Page, Arizona, in the bars of the Navaho nation, I discovered that the tribal brothers refer to Mr. Obama's ACA, not as Obama Care, but as "Obama Scare?"

It is also not just a matter of optics either that almost every week since the Trayon Martin's murder by a Florida "play-rent-a-cop," at least one other black male, usually a kid, has been gun down in the inner city streets by a white cop. In every such instance, we have become aware of these "justified homicides" only through private cell-phone cameras. Which seems to be the only way the inner city residents, who are dying at the hands of trained racist police murderers, can begin to "police the police."

It is true that Eric Holder and Al Sharpton, the point men for Mr. Obama's racial policies, were forced to show up in Ferguson, Mo. just as the cap on the dynamite was about to explode, and ended up doing an investigation and issuing another typical limp-wrist Obama report. As well, there was the normal proposals for more body cameras and more police training. But this was not a pro-active move on the part of our faux progressive, Mr. Obama's, it was just another one of his signature, "lead from behind" stop-gap actions.

In fact, on the question of police training, recently on the Kojo Nkome show, a Maryland police chief, admitted that the most enduring lesson he had learned in the police academy was how to fear for his life when he was around the very people he was supposed to police. Clearly he fell just short of admitting that police academies were little more than training camps for producing more hardened racists. Thus, it seems to me that following Mr. Obama's lead, of advocating "more police training," is not a way for a new progressive movement to be pro-active on the race issue.

But here is the point: Every lesson of American history for the last 250 years of our existence, has taught us, and continues to teach us that we can ignore race only at our nation's peril. Apparently we have learned nothing from the 650,000 killed in the Civil War, the two hundred years of slavery, or the century of Jim Crow and American style Apartheid?

The fact that there are no simple solutions to fixing the black hole at the center of America's soul and its politics, as Mr. Obama's dull, cowardly, lead from behind, but cold-bloodedly Machiavellian treatment of the issue shows, does not mean that race will go away. The recent events in Baltimore clearly seem to be just the beginning salvo in what is sure to be a new wave of inner city turmoil brought on by the increasing pressures built up from systemic neglect, political duplicity, and mean-spirited and meaningless grand symbolic gestures by progressives like Mr. Obama, providing no real leadership, no real programs or relief to the poor and especially not for inner city ghetto youths and residents. And then by insulting them by "pocketing their votes, and the consciously ignoring them. Thanks Mr. Obama, the bird right back at you!

The progressive agenda included here, sadly, offers no solutions to America's number one problem because it doesn't even acknowledge that the problem exists. This piece suggests that America's number one problem is the lack of a left-right coalition against the corporate elephant trampling like a juggernaut over our democratic rights. But did the author forget that the last time such a coalition sought to challenge this corporate elephant, it was in Nathaniel Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, 339 years ago. And if the truth of American history were ever told, Bacon's rebellion came within a hair of being successful only because black and white slaves had a shared interest in defeating the planter class, and joined in the rebellion on equal terms.

Surely, Mr. Obama cannot miss the colossal irony that no matter what else he does (or does not do), an indelible smear on his legacy will be his failure to throw even a single bone in the direction of America's black citizens? While he recently traveled to Utah to visit the Morons, who voted for him at the 10% level, and to Indian reservation and tribes that voted for him at the 23% level, Baltimore voted for him at the 94% level and was burning at the very time that he was busy telling jokes at his annual Press Club banquet? Is this the new "kinder and gentler," more moral and more human progressivism of which this author speaks?

I believe it is a fundamental mistake for progressive politicians like this author, like Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton, like Ralph Nader, and even Bernie Sanders himself, to ignore the issue of race rather than bite the bullet and admit that failure to deal with it throughout American history, lies at the very core of ALL of that is wrong with this nation. Race is America's number one political problem, not the widening gap in income. At least, the Libertarian, Rand Paul, recognizes the potency of the issue, and is prepared to engage it straight up, even if only on his own terms. Progressives, like this author, and the democratic standard bearers, especially Mr. Obama, believe it is best to ignore or finesse the issue, or worse, make it part of a grand Machiavellian strategy to keep white progressives in check.


But history has a warning for those who like to bury their heads in the proverbial sand: Like Nero's Roman legacy, Baltimore is surely the opening salvo and foreshadowing of a bitter legacy justifiably to be laid at the legacy of our faux progressive president, Mr. Obama's feet.

For it does not take rocket science to see that the coming wave of predictable inner city violence is what is "unstoppable," not this author's, or Ralph Nader's idea of a left-right condominium. Those like Mr. Nader, this author, and Mr. Obama, who are still living in a dream world, where even the thought of dealing with the embarrassing inner city problems is seen as anathema, an unwanted intrusion, will then have a lot to answer for. If this kind of delusional sidestepping of an issue at the very heart of America's conscience is what this author means by a new dedication of the progressive agenda to morality, then say no more, for we have seen it before in the form of Mr. GW Bush's "kinder and gentler conservatism."

 

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
 

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