93 online
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 16 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 2/28/14

Has the Left Surrendered? The Overdue Conversation We Need

By       (Page 1 of 4 pages)   81 comments
Message Richard Eskow
Become a Fan
  (15 fans)

Has the American left ceased to exist as a viable political force by surrendering its power to a corporatized Democratic Party? That's the argument put forward by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr., first in an essay for Harper's magazine and then in a televised follow-up interview with Bill Moyers.

Reed's essay, "Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals," has a blunt message which might be summarized as follows: The fault, dear liberals, lies not in our political stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings. It's not necessarily a new thought, but it packs a punch, especially as Reed has organized and expressed it.

"Nothing Left" is an incisive, pointed cri du coeur with the potential to jumpstart some long-overdue conversations. And if there's one thing the left needs, it's a serious talk about its future. The alternative is the continued fragmentation of an inchoate movement, accompanied by a never-ending rightward shift in American politics and the continued ascendancy of corporate economic power.

Reed's analysis, while stated harshly at times, is very much on point. There's very little "left" left in American politics. But his outlook seems overly pessimistic, and it runs the risk of discouraging the very people who might someday help rebuild an American left. They're more likely to come together around a concrete agenda built on leftist principles such as job creation, fair wages, and a stronger social safety net. It's possible to be positive without being Pollyanna-ish.

To be sure, things are bad and getting worse. No argument here. But something is also afoot in the land, and it would be a mistake to dismiss it. The sudden popularity of the Occupy movement showed us that, despite its sudden and mysterious collapse, a "99 percent" agenda resonates. Liberals have scored a few victories lately by stepping outside the party framework. And despite the lack of an organized left, left policies enjoy surprising popular support.

Those policies could provide the framework for a leftist resurgence.

The Way We Were

Reed begins by noting that "for nearly all the 20th century there was a dynamic left in the United States grounded in the belief that unrestrained capitalism generated unacceptable social costs."

That's an important observation, especially at a time when leaders of the Democratic Party -- the only nominally liberal large-scale entity in the nation -- routinely celebrate that mythical entity known as the "free market."

Reed notes that the labor movement and the ideological left exerted great influence on American politics for many decades (although they sometimes worked at cross-purposes in the 1960s, to their mutual detriment). But the left's influence unquestionably faded. Why? Reed points to an increasing defensiveness among liberals during the 1980s and early 1990s, and adds that this defensiveness "increasingly came to define left-wing journalistic commentary and criticism."

This defensiveness became so deeply ingrained among Democratic leaders that it continued to guide their decision-making after the 2008 election, even after voters soundly repudiated conservatism and awarded the party all three branches of government.

Nor was the independent left able to capitalize on that election. Why has it become so weak? Reed points to the "subdued" labor movement and the fact that "social activists have made their peace with neoliberalism and adjusted their horizons accordingly."

The left has moved away from real-world policy objectives, he argues, and has increasingly focused on more symbolic goals like "celebrating appointments of individual women to public office and challenging the corporate glass ceiling."

There is also a lost sense of optimism, which Reed successfully captures by quoting historian Russell Jacoby on the lost vision of a movement which once believed that "the future could fundamentally surpass the present."

"Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society," Reed quotes Jacoby, "the (current) left ineluctably retreats to smaller ideas, seeking to expand the options within the existing society."

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3  |  4

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Well Said 7   Must Read 5   Valuable 5  
Rate It | View Ratings

Richard Eskow Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Related Topic(s): Courage; Democratic; Leftist; Liberals; Politics, Add Tags
Add to My Group(s)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

How to Fix the Fed: Dismiss Dimon, Boot the Bankers, and Can the Corporations

The Top 12 Political Fallacies of 2012

Pawn: The Real George Zimmerman Story

What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way

"His Own Man's" Man: Jeb Bush and the Return of Wolfowitz

"F" The Bureaucracy! The White House Can Help Homeowners Right Now

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend