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General News    H2'ed 3/20/14

One Man's Analysis of Adolph Reed's Harper's Magazine Article

Message Herbert Calhoun
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In a summary analysis of Dr. Reed's March 2014 Harper's Magazine Article, the reader will discover that the voice of both the Labor movement and the "political left" crested towards the end of FDR's New Deal. However, due in large part to the "Reagan Revolution," the power of the labor unions waned, and the GOP's right-slanted agenda had begun to dictate the terms of engagement on the U.S. political playing field. This forced the Democrats into an increasingly defensive posture. As they retreated, the goal posts for both the left, liberals, neo-liberals, progressives and the Democratic Party, steadily moved rightward, until, with no one having noticed, they had all passed to the right center of the political spectrum.
Acquiescing to a seemingly higher but invisible hand, a political power and calculus that completely baffled the Democrats, these "Left fragments," all began to "fold like a deck of cards." The most important aspect of this "folding process" was that they all moved lock-stock-and barrel under the Democratic Party tent, where they were forced to lower their sights and goals; subordinate their agendas to that of the Party; learn how to play the kind of "small ball" politics that has made Mr. Obama infamous, and worst of all, they were forced to forfeit their collective voice in democratic strategy and public discourse. 
The author claims that the source of this narrowing process has a complex genealogy, one that was so complex in fact that he failed to elaborate on it at all? Although, throughout his analysis, he repeatedly hinted that it had something to do with the Reagan Revolution, he failed to spell out exactly what it was? What he did not fail to notice however, was that its most conspicuous expression and most salient element was the eventual subordination of the Democratic Party's agenda to that of the Republican Party. Predictably, this led to an atrophy of political imagination on the left, showing up in approaches to strategy, lack of long-term goals and planning, and lack of long-term organizing. Why the author failed to mention in this list, the need also to clarify the basic precepts and philosophy on the left, escapes me?
With the left's retreat widespread, the Liberals panicked, choosing "electoralitis" over pursuit of an independent, principled, substantive and action-oriented political course. For them, each election cycle had now become an existential matter of survival. Elections became the "yen and yang" of their existence. 
But the Democratic Party, knowing that the left had this need to be attached to something, anything, saw its vulnerability, and exploited it to the hilt. Quickly, they tightened the screws around the left's manhood, and extracted a "no critique and no dissent pledge" as the price of membership into the democratic family. (If you don't believe it, just ask Professor Cornel West, or TV show host and Commentator, Tavis Smiley.)
To the question left hanging in the air, as to "why the left would endure such a painful, public and expensive insult and humiliation," the author said that without the Democrats acting as brakes on Republican excesses, what the left could expect otherwise would be a lot less than if the democrats were not there at all? 
In short, the new democratic reality was a case of proving a negative -- that the Democrats would always be "the best of the worse." This had become a permanent fait accompli encoded in democratic blood but enforced by Republican conservative ideology, dogma and rules. The new fact of democratic life was that the political playing field had been permanently altered, down-sized, and forever turned rightward, where there simply was no room for the left, progressives, liberals, neo-liberals, or the Democrats, or anyone else for that matter, and there just was nothing anyone could do about it. 
And since the Democrats were no longer able to take the GOP on mano-a-mano, they simply tended to bury their heads in the sand and began engaging in self-justifying and self-injuring excuses, dissembling rationalizations and false braggadocio about the exploits of past Democratic Presidents. Especially about Bill Clinton, whose programs, when Dr. Reed looked carefully at them under the hood, were composed of little more than "warmed-over Republican ideas," ideas that in retrospect, and looking at Clinton and Obama appointments, and even Clinton's own admissions, were indeed pilfered from the standard Republican play book.
Throughout the article, Republican successes, excesses and the formidableness of its political machinery, when compared with the anemic Jerry-rigged and dysfunctional Democratic machinery, was repeatedly pointed to as a theme and as a reason why the Democrats ought to get used to playing "small ball" and "incremental politics" on the Republican side of the Chess board -- just as Mr. Obama had so expertly shown them how to do throughout his tenure. The left too must learn and get used to taking whatever the Republican traffic will bear, and learn to become satisfied with whatever crumbs the Republicans are willing to leave on the floor under the table.
Into this mix, riding from Chicago to the White House on a cloud of dust and high on his white horse, comes the Democratic savior for a day, the black prince himself, the hologram of every left-leaning progressive, and every race sensitive white voter in America: the pre-awarded Noble Prize-winning, race neutral Barack Obama. Armed with a sheaf of speeches about audacious and other kinds of hope in one hand, and progressive tasting cotton candy, laced with hints of black and Latin power in the other hand, Obama mounted the electoral throne to save the day with his own brand of bipartisan transcendent spiritual holy water.  But his was religious emanations no one was buying.
For Mr. Obama, the honeymoon period was over even before it had begun. Name-calling, a Birther witch-hunt, and thumbing one's nose at the presidency, suddenly became fashionable. Despite this, Mr. Obama began his own slow and uncertain "bipartisan compromise Kabuki dance" with the Republicans throughout his first term: He bowed, scraped, jettisoned his base, acted as if he were a black abstraction beneath his "angry black man" persona. He zigged and zagged, tapped danced around every important issue, and even groveled incessantly with his best "Man-tan Moreland imitation" before the Republican owned Court. 
But like the basket of cobras we already knew them to be, the Republicans were having none of the  "Kenyan Superman's antics." They just hissed back at him loudly. And except for his controversial ACA, with its embarrassing roll-out, they made him and his faux progressive programs, null-and-void -- reducing him to America's first and only ceremonial president. Last we heard, Mr. Obama had retreated behind the Oval Office desk, and except for coming out for an occasional ribbon-cutting speech, or a feeble taunt at his only friend left on the other side of the world, Vladimir Putin, has not been heard from since? Rumor has it that he is already packing his Nobel prize in a nice secure box and is just biding his time to head back to Illinois, where "Republican-lite Democrats" have real political clout.
What Does Professor Reed's Analysis really mean?
Parody aside, the upshot of Professor Reed's essay is that in the absence of any well-defined principles or precepts that it is willing to fall on its sword for; or substantive programs, or even a semblance of a unifying agenda that it can commit action to, the Democrats, liberals, neo-liberals, and the Progressive Left, can only hope to continue existing if they remain the caboose at the tail end of a speeding morally-challenged ideological Republican train. 
Being unable to admit to themselves that this is the new democratic reality, there is nothing left for them to do but to continue living out their lives on the margins of the Reagan Revolution -- "selling each other wolf tickets." From this unenviable vantage point, they have become little more than spectators in a political drama scripted completely by the GOP, one that they no longer have any say-so in, or control over. Unless they get their act together, and fast, the entire left assemblage will forever be condemned to watch the Republican horror movie -- of a wild unbridled elephant weighted-down with its tax cuts for the rich proposals, privatization schemes, and its Ayn Rand's philosophy, barrel down the center of American Democracy, crushing everything in its path.
We must all be grateful to Dr. Reed for having the courage to give to us, at least once, a clear-headed analysis of the condition of the "democratic project," instead of having to forever rely on the "Nation's" ambivalent mischaracterizations of democratic reality. But that is true only as far as the analysis goes. And depending on where one sits, arguably that is not nearly far enough. There are two areas in particular where this is most clearly the case. 
First, Dr. Reed clams in the middle of his exposition that explaining what the Democrats are up against is too complex? This means therefore that there is little hope of expanding his very limited context so that it covers, and then properly analyzes, the Republican juggernaut that at least for a generation, has been driving the Democrats and the left off the tracks and into the proverbial ditch. Second, his prescription for what the Democrats and the left must do to get back on track -- the short version of which basically is to re-invigorate the labor-left coalition, is not only passé, if not completely anachronistic, but also is just short of anemic. 
I personally do not think the Professor's job is done unless he is able to address both of these questions squarely and in a much larger contextual framework. Declaring them too complex of course begs the question of how the left and the Democrats allowed it to happen to them in the first place.  
As for the second of these, I believe Dr. Roberto M. Unger, one of Mr. Obama's Harvard professors, and Professor Cornel West, who along with Unger has been a constant irritant under the Obama administration's collar, have pointed the direction to a sustainable answer to this complication. In their little book called "The Future of American Progressivism," they more properly diagnosed the problem, analyzed it, and set forth a nine-pronged answer. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to seek out the answers given by these two scholars. (To get a head start, to anyone interested, I have reviewed that book on amazon.com.)
As for the second question that Dr. Reed left unanswered, "Why has the Republican Revolution driven the left and the Democrats off the tracks and into a ditch?," there too is a relatively simple answer: The Republicans, unlike the Democrats, the left, the liberals, the progressives, or the neo-liberals, are clear-eyed and united about what it is they are doing, about the ideas and the philosophy they are committed to, and especially about what they call themselves. 
Like religious zealots, they have no problem falling on their sword and in line, in promoting privatization and further globalization, pushing for the complete elimination of all regulations, declaring corporations people, gerrymandering Congressional Districts so that they are voter-proof, defending racism and tighter immigration controls, lowering taxes on the rich, pursuing an imperialist foreign policy, getting the welfare cheats out of their back pockets, pursuing pre-emptive wars of opportunity, and the continued dismantlement of FDR's "New Deal" social programs. This is no "small ball politics." These are all "big ticket" ideological imperatives that they are clear about. They also have a unified belief in the Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy of: "every man for himself, and a White God for us all," as the perfect substitute for the forefather's notion of a "common national good."  
Whatever one may think about these ideas (and I personally think that by pursing them, every Republican knows that they will completely destroy this country and that every Republican will thus go straight to hell as a result of them), no one can deny that these are big ideas, and that the GOP constitutes a formidable unified army in lock-step, charging over the next hill to pursue a ragtag group of peaceniks, flower children from a bygone generation, burn-out Civil Rights marchers, pot-smokers, a handful of femi-Nazis, and a few fair-whether activists, who are temporary tenants occupying the tents on the grounds near Wall Street, but who are beng ignored even by those whose interests they are defending?  
I have one final question for Dr. Reed: Why have we made it so easy for the reptilian-minded Republicans to covet our nation's sacred treasures? 
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Herbert Calhoun 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

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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