Monday, February 8, 2016

On the Holy War Over Who Gets to be a Progressive

This fight over who is the 'true progressive' is certainly Bernie preaching to his base. I used to have intense arguments with firebaggers at Jane Hamsher's old Firedoglake over whether or not President Obama is a 'true progressive.'

But what is emerging is that a True Progressive is a figure who has never existed in the Democratic party at all. This is someone who never got paid for a speech or ever took money from a bank. It's the desire for a purist President.

As we saw in my last post, even great progressive Presidents like Woodrow Wilson and FDR failed the TP test as they both had major Wall St. donors.

This gets to the point that traditionally the Dems have been pluralists. Wall St like labor or other interest groups-the NAACP, environmental groups. Planned Parenthood, etc.-gets a seat at the table.

As President Obama notes:

"More often, as Obama plainly said to anybody paying attention in his famous 2008 “Yes We Can” speech, “they get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair.”

Part of it also goes to a philosophical fight over 'bigness.' The AEI actually has a very good piece on the history of the progressive movement.

"The early Progressives were united in their concern about big business, but the agreement ended there. The movement was deeply split between two wings: the radicals, who (echoing Jefferson a century earlier) thought bigness was an evil to be fought on principle, and a more pragmatic wing (more in the mold of Hamilton) who saw the rise of big corporations as inevitable and even positive — a phenomenon not so much to be resisted as to be accommodated and even promoted."

"The principal combatants in this political and intellectual battle were no slouches. The radicals were led by Louis Brandeis, plaintiff’s lawyer, muckraker, and ultimately Supreme Court Justice. Brandeis famously bemoaned “the curse of bigness,” and opined that “If the Lord had intended things to be big, he would have made man bigger — in brains and character.” Brandeis inspired William Jennings Bryan (who favored a Federal law capping the size of corporations) and served as chief economic adviser to Woodrow Wilson (who nationalized big chunks of the economy during World War I) until Wilson put him on the high court in 1916."

Opposing Brandeis for the accommodationists or pragmatists was Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic and author of “The Promise of American Life” (1909). Arguing that “the huge corporations have contributed to American economic efficiency,” Croly promoted a reform agenda that included legalizing and empowering labor unions and strengthening the regulatory state — that is, rationalizing the emergence of Big Business by promoting the rise of Big Labor and creating Big Government. Croly’s views initially were embraced by the (Teddy) Roosevelt wing of the Republican Party, and, 30 years later, by Teddy’s distant cousin Franklin, who mostly resisted calls to break up big companies or nationalize significant chunks of the economy and instead promoted the growth of government while trying (without success) to grow the industrial economy."

As you can see, the hate of bigness in principle goes back to William Jennings Brian, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Jefferson.

But there is clearly a divide between liberals like Croly who believed that huge corporations are also big contributors to American life as opposed to Brandeis who thinks bigness per se is the problem. '

The traditionally Democratic view has been Croly's. Huge corporations also benefit society and the economy though they have to be strongly regulated.

The author is pessimistic-he thinks the progressive movement is headed for a crackup. My guess is as a conservative he's happy to be a little pessimistic.

"Given the depth of the divisions, it’s hard to see either candidate re-uniting the two wings of the Progressive Movement. Inspired by Obama’s rhetoric, the radicals are now irrevocably committed to the transformation he heralded but did not deliver: socializing health care and higher education; breaking up the banks; punishing big business for sins real and imagined; taxing — really taxing — the top one percent. Harkening back to Brandeis and Bryant, the Sanders agenda represents the path not chosen by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and by virtually every Democrat leader since."

It could be. The Bernie folks are the same ones who thought Obama was s sellout all along. Recall Bernie did endorse Bill Press.

Maybe these emoprogs could leave the party? But maybe not. Maybe the Dems figure a way to alleviate divisions in the years after Hillary becomes President.

And a big part of it comes down to wages. While the economy has come back in the Obama years, wages haven't. Until wages go up again there will be the problem of rising polarization and radicalism on both sides.

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