Dump the Dems 3a: The Conundrum

I’m going to take a short breather from attacking the Democratic leadership in order to steer you toward a post at Thomas Nephew’s excellent newsrack blog wherein he recounts a recent and somewhat disappointing encounter with Eric Alterman. I do this because between the encounter itself and a few readers’ responses to it, the post pretty much lays out in a nutshell the conundrum facing liberals and progressives when trying to deal with the Dems or trying to decide if they’ve really sold out to corporations, or if it’s all some sort of “strategy” to roll over to the Bush Gang and yelp, “Please, sir, may I have another?” to the man with the whip in the apparent hope that people will feel sorry enough for them to vote Blue in ’08.

The post is titled “Why We’re Liberals” because that’s the name of Alterman’s new book, but it’s also the central question Nephew finds himself asking after a question about impeachment draws this response from Eric. 

In the question and answer session, Alterman was asked about impeachment — and he kind of went off on the guy, comparing impeachment advocates to Nader supporters in 2000, allegedly blind to the consequences of their actions, indirectly complicit in the disasters that followed.

So I joined the short line of questioners, and wound up being the last one. I asked where he saw the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution in his definition of liberalism; in the tension between adhering to principles and focusing on winning the next election, where were the bright lines Alterman was willing to draw to say “this far and no further”, regardless of the cost?

Alterman, as Thomas pointed out later in response to a comment, is “an ally who is great at skewering the right” and has “earned a lot of respect over the years.” The fact that he has accepted the wholesale Democratic surrender of the last few years and defends it despite its manifest abandonment of core liberal values is precisely the dilemma that faces us. How can liberals continue, as Alterman does, to support a political party that no longer seems at all interested in liberal values?

Thomas put the question on himself.

Because, I told him, his answer to the first questioner had me thinking, ‘maybe I’m not a liberal after all.’

But Eric’s answer makes it perfectly plain that Thomas has the question backwards: it isn’t he who isn’t the liberal, it’s the Democratic Party.

So…he sort of squared up and said that to him principles were a form of moral vanity….

(emphasis added)

Principles are a form of vanity?? Really, Eric?

That is precisely the kind of so-called “pragmatic” sophistry that’s been running the Dems since Carter lost to Reagan. Whether he knows it or not, Alterman is aligning himself with the very people who have dumped overboard everything he claims to believe in, and that’s OK with him if it means winning. Anything else is “vanity”.

This actually supports my notion that the Democrats have been so infected by the GOP’s conservative propaganda that they actually believe most of it, making them, as I’ve said many times, little better than Republicans-Lite. If someone as “acute an observer” as him can be buffaloed into abandoning all his principles in favor of a conservative-skewed New Dem “pragmatism”, what can be left of the party we used to know?

Thomas puts it beautifully:

That’s funny, though, because to me that particular principle — rule of law, or “playing by the rules” in 90s Democratic vernacular — is a core liberal value and is not some kind of luxury item we can do without in tough times. Without it, the little guy has no recourse against the high and mighty, whether they’re government officials or CEOs. To me liberalism, plainly put, is saying the little guy should always have a chance to get his grievance heard and to be made whole, and that there’s a public sphere where the big guy with lawyers, guns and money can’t expect to win.

And it seems self-evident to me that that credo starts at the top; the measure of a country isn’t just how it treats its weakest members, but the standards it applies to its most powerful ones. We are plainly failing both tests; I think it’s a single test, and that those failures go hand in hand.


[The Democratic Party] has to all appearances been running a two year stall, a political “four corners” drill running out the clock to an anticipated win in 2008 — a strategy that may not be as clever as its authors thought. Late feints notwithstanding, it has effectively stood by — both before and after 2006 — and let the corruption of the Justice Department go unpunished; it has allowed the Bush administration to play semantic games about the meaning of torture and whether waterboarding fits the definition; it’s doing its level best to find as much as possible about warrantless surveillance to be legal after all — and it’s done nothing meaningful whatsoever to get out of a war built on lies that a majority of us (and a vast majority of self-described liberals) considers to be a disastrous mistake. If that’s liberalism, I want off.

(emphasis added)

So wouldn’t we all. But it isn’t liberalism, that’s the point I’ve been trying to make for months. Thomas is making it for me through classic liberal Alterman: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS NOT LIBERAL. It doesn’t support liberal beliefs or fight for liberal causes, so how can liberals support it?

7 responses to “Dump the Dems 3a: The Conundrum

  1. I was wondering if this would be a good place to maybe consider that CONSTANT campaigning (in addition to other shiny objects) keeps us from thinking about lefty issues and focused on contests. Without public financing of campaigns, the people running are worried about the (money) message that will help them win and once they’re in office, they worry about what to do (and for whom) in order to get money to run again. Nothing gets done in lefty world since lefty ideals aren’t generally running right-wing corporations. As we get pulled farther and farther to the right, “the left” becomes ‘left of what exactly?’. In campaigns, we lefties have no one but seemingly marginal characters to vote for and they are quickly marginalized further by (all forms of) media messages about how far left is too far (tin-foil hat). Lefty=crazy. This sucks.

    PS I’m not sure why I got all excited about this article. Guess maybe I’ve noticed that tradional lefties are getting shoved around a lot in this campaign.

  2. Well, first off your initial responsemis bang 0n: that’s precisely how the corps got control of the whole political process: they bought it. At this point, they pretty much own it. I’ve been saying for at least 3 years (along with eRobin at Fact-esque and others) that we were about to lose our political system if we didn’t get the corporations out of the process with CFR (Campaign Finance Reform). The gutless wonders of the DLC wouldn’t let the party do it in the 90’s with the result that we did in fact lose our democracy to Big Business. It has always been a struggle, but the struggle is over. Unless we do something drastic, we won’t be a democracy again for a very long time.

    Second: CONSTANT campaigning (in addition to other shiny objects) keeps us from thinking about lefty issues and focused on contests.

    That’s what I’ve been trying to say all through this series and will probably go on saying in different ways from different angles. It’s become clear to me that campaigns are virtually meaningless now. It doesn’t matter who wins because as long as Corporate America is calling the shots, the same decisions are going to be made whoever occupies the chair at the moment.

    It is an enormous waste of energy for liberals/progressives/lefty radicals to participate. It’s a way of keeping us busy and out of the way of the PTB. It’s manipulation, sleight-of-hand, hocus-pocus, misdirection. And what galls me the most is that IT’S WORKING! We have been so focused on getting the Democrats back into office that we haven’t had time to fight the radical Pubs or even to notice who the Dems are now. Because the Clintons killed the FDR Democratic Party. Killed it and replaced it with their own peculiar brand of Pub-Lite cowardice and greed.

    I’m writing all this shit because the left wing – which should be enjoying a comeback given that 2/3 of the country now agrees with a liberal agenda in many areas – is in fact on life support because they’ve wasted so much time on the right-wing Dems, not even realizing they are right-wing.

    My hope is that it is finally becoming obvious enough that “tradi[ti]onal lefties are getting shoved around a lot in this campaign” by the 2 Dems that they will finally understand the New Democrats DON’T WANT US.

  3. Hit “Submit” by accident, but I was almost done anyway. I just wanted to give you a preview of what I think we ought to be doing instead: a lot more of this.

  4. Well, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m shocked at how many otherwise intelligent, thoughtful bloggers and radio talkers there are that have hitched their wagons to one candidate or the other. I don’t mind a good debate on the issues, but “the internets” and talk radio are helping to foment the attitude that if one’s candidate doesn’t win, they won’t vote at all or will vote McCain. I gotta love free speech, and I do, but the forest, folks, please remember the forest!

    Your series here has been very helpful and I really appreciate Thomas Nephew’s input as well. Should have mentioned that earlier. A lot to take in.

    Also, eRobin’s movie is great; thanks for the link. .. AND you’re right about making noise.

  5. Mick, thanks for this post.

    I’ll just add — somewhat in response to Laura — that neither Dem presidential candidate has been satisfactory on the issue of impeachment. That’s no reason to vote McCain, of course, it’s just a reason to stay a little skeptical of both of them.

    Clinton — as far as I can tell, googling for “impeachment Clinton” doesn’t help much :) — has said nothing on the matter, but is presumably co-responsible for the lack of support among Dem leadership. For his part, Obama said it would just be a “tit for tat… circus,” and that he would “reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches” — as if we weren’t faced with just such breaches. It’s this kind of Broderesque ‘evenhandedness for its own sake’ stuff that’s part of why I’m not gung-ho for Obama, even if I prefer him on balance.

    However, both had decent answers to a Charlie Savage questionnaire on executive power; how they might actually limit themselves as president is anyone’s guess, but their answers are the ideals they professed and the statements they could be held to.

  6. how they might actually limit themselves as president is anyone’s guess,

    I’m disappointed that neither has said that on Day One they would role back what they could of BushCo’s executive power grabs. Dodd said something to that effect and it impressed me greatly.

    I’m hearing some encouraging impeachment talk around the Siegelman case. Maybe we can still hope.

  7. Pingback: newsrackblog.com » Blog Archive » Why we’re liberals — an impeachment altercation

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