There's but one compelling, existential question for marginalized leftwing politics: will progressive clout be higher or lower when 2015 ends? If not, why not? Imagine the trend when the next inauguration caps another cash-stuffed, election fiasco: how much will the left have to cheer about? Whither the left (or the liberal middle) when Jeb and Hillary or their ilk possess the White House for four or eight years?
Reality is front and center: progressive Democrats can't even match the seditious Tea Party, fronting dozens of primary challenges against entrenched, "inevitable" GOP candidates. Does not the status quo, when notching another victory without fierce opposition, add to its entrenchment?
That dilemma dramatizes our most vexing question: if progressives can't gain ground during today's hard times, full of disasters at home and abroad, then when? If progressives don't gain when the right lurches between disgrace and farce, gloating with lies that scandalize reality, then when? Bright spots surface, but what notable change, especially on income distribution, speaks to unified progressive activism? If politics are truly in "Worse Shape Than We Thought," why aren't progressives gaining ground as
"huge numbers of Americans are now wary of both major political parties and increasingly upset about prospects in the long term. Many are convinced that a few big interests control policy. They crave effective action to reverse long term economic decline and runaway economic inequality, but nothing . . . will be offered to them by either of America's money-driven major parties."
Yankee Firebrands, Notable by Absence
Bottom line: if disorganized progressivism can't leverage this blatant "craving" for action, so much for reform, let alone systemic change. Or finding strong national leadership. Where are our conspicuous, Yankee insurgents, like England's Russell Brand, who call for "revolution" from the outside in? Not sustained inequality, nor unfair taxation, government gridlock, nor police injustice infuse an expanding protest movement that paints all the dots. What articulate, powerful TV interviewer will replace the departing Bill Moyers? What disruptive cable pundit even replaced Keith Obermann? See any new George Carlins lately, blending incendiary satire and politics?
When does a clear-thinking, inspired movement, recalling unified '60's protests, extend the rage against rogue cops stealing more than civil rights from so many minority youngsters? Or serial killers machine- gunning children? Must we wait for Pope Francis' U.S. visit next year to widely indict unbridled greed, speak for the poor, or remind Christians what defines their own stated compassion? There are stalwart leftwing voices, like Amy Goodman, but no unified vanguard awards progressive politics a national stage.
First, the Left Must Change
Is it a pipe-dream to propose the left come together, admit failures, and redirect priorities and methods? Can we honestly grade ourselves, explaining why so many remarkable brains, with high energy and decent money, have failed to gain traction? Like our government's five-decade debacle towards Cuba, the left soldiers on but delivers no great obstacle against the greatest reactionary onslaught since the 19th C.
If shredded economic opportunity, regressive taxation, or dismal outlooks for their children don't move the middle or lower classes from despondency to protest, what will? If shrunken voting, women's and workers' rights don't rock the boat, what will? Fracking? Keystone pipeline? Fast-track for TPP, the next NAFTA? More murder in the streets?
Certainly, current cable ratings signal no turnaround, as earnest liberals are swamped by FOX wingnuts: the Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell Shows hit all-time audience lows while "O'Reilly Factor" marks its 15th consecutive year as the No. 1 cable news program. Okay, MSNBC draws the most diverse audience, top-ranked for Hispanics and African-Americans, with seven times more black viewers than FOX, but hardly enough.
Reform times are tough, with endless fat cat money, media conglomerates, and the unholy alliance of corporatism and governance. But that existed in the Gilded Age, too, without stopping irrepressible reformers, shifting from abolition to women's voting rights, labor abuses, rampant monopolies, even the vagaries of temperance. Most upsetting isn't losing on policy or specific legislation, but failing to mount meaningful populist campaigns against outrageous abuses, large and small.
My point is simple: if the left is failing, should we not stop the presses, reason together, create bridges, and try something different? We still don't get George Lakoff's brilliant messaging/framing advice, "This is why conservatives win: George Lakoff explains the importance of framing -- and what Democrats need to learn." If nothing changes, let's concede the progressive movement had its day, peaking during the 20th Century, today the "poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more."
While online work informs the choir, the larger congregation is unmoved, distressed but manifestly not embracing leftwing language, presentation, and sentiment. Does the left change the world without changing itself? A few ideas to stimulate discussion:
1) Focus on Simple Ideas and Big Fixes: Confront climate change with desperately needed (green) infrastructure. Invest in training, jobs, stimulus. Tax the rich, stop crony corporatism. Redeem voting and women's rights. Defend the efficiency of government and the glory of community.