Swans Commentary » swans.com September 8, 2008  



Neo-Progressives Sell Out To Democrats


by Joel S. Hirschhorn





(Swans - September 8, 2008)   Before you say it, let me say it: I am espousing a political view that is counter to current mainstream feelings and thought in the "progressive" community. My main thesis is that the support for Barack Obama by so-called progressives is a disgrace, because Obama in no way represents authentic progressive ideals and political reforms. These people are neo-progressives or, less politely, fake progressives. Real progressives should vote for third-party candidates because they are passionately against the two-party plutocracy that has shredded American democracy, promoted bellicose globalism, and pounded the middle class.

I can understand the considerable passion to hand Republicans a defeat this year. I am as anti-Republican as anyone. George W. Bush will surely go down in history as the nation's worst, most corrupt, most incompetent, most dishonest, most elitist, most war-mongering, and most anti-democracy president -- a true disgrace to American ideals.

Still, I am deeply troubled by what I see. All the current fervor among "progressives" to produce a Democratic victory this year reveals a firmly entrenched charade. It has been a clever marketing gimmick by Democrats. A number of organizations, such as Progressive Democrats of America, and Web sites, such as dailykos.com and opednews.com, have succeeded by openly claiming progressive status. All this has been a semantic trick and deception. After so many years of Republican success, these neo-progressives that constitute the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party have sought a new identity. These liberals want to attract independents and the millions of angry, disgusted Americans that explain why over 80 percent of the public says the country is on the wrong track. Face it, progressive sounds good. Neo-progressives, in the end, still believe in the two-party plutocracy and deceive themselves and others that electing Democrats can produce major, substantive political reforms, even now when the Democratically controlled Congress has been a major disappointment, without the courage to take their constitutional responsibilities seriously and impeach George W. Bush.

Rallying behind Obama, these neo-progressives have no hesitancy in supporting mainstream Democrats in the name of defeating Republicans. The hallmark of neo-progressives is their fidelity to lesser-evil voting. No amount of self-delusion can totally hide the truth that Obama and nearly all other Democrats are not true progressives and reformists. Neo-progressives cannot resist lesser-evil voting as a pragmatic strategy, justified in the name of saving the country from yet more years of Republican dominance. Such thinking represents the inability to take a longer term strategic perspective that understands the need to overthrow the two-party plutocracy by nurturing the third-party movement and seeking a Jeffersonian revolution.

Neo-progressives make themselves blind to the fundamental deficiencies of the Democratic Party and its candidates. They refuse to accept the reality that Democrats as well as Republicans are beholden to many special economic interests (so evident this year by their massive presence at both the Democratic and Republican conventions), are both criminally corrupt and dishonest, and when in power both do not seriously pursue what were historic progressive and populist values. All worthy reformist goals are lost in the pseudo-ecstasy of anticipating a Democratic victory this year for the White House and Congress. Objective reality is lost in the heat of anti-Republican anger and frustration. Neo-progressives have let their emotions outgun their deeper intellectual knowledge and principles. They happily stay drunk from drinking Obama Kool-Aid.

True progressives would carefully evaluate individual Democrats for their authenticity as progressives. Very few Democratic candidates would meet this test (think Kucinich). But candidates like Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney would.

History tells true progressives that when in office Democrats will disappoint us. Compared to Republicans, they may appear less corrupted by big-money interests, less dishonest, and less eager to undermine democracy. But such differences are quantitative, not qualitative.

It comes to this: Progressives should be anti-Republican and anti-Democratic. They should want Republicans to lose this year. But they should want ALL congressional incumbents to lose, because (with very few exceptions) ALL incumbents of both parties share the shame of the current Congress. The deeper, more complex question is whether progressives should be so automatically supportive of Democrats, so thrilled about a Democratic victory, such public allies of Democrats. Without the help of the progressive community, the mood of the nation is clearly on the side of defeating ALL incumbents, yet relatively few will be defeated.

Though I can understand why neo-progressives justify voting for Democrats, what troubles me is their outright excitement and vocal support for Obama, as if he is a political messiah and the salvation for the nation. This is what separates progressives from neo-progressives. Neo-progressives want to believe that Democrats will finally deliver the political outcomes that have been dreamed about for a long term. This is delusion-driven hope, based on well founded despair about our political system. Conversely, true progressives know in their hearts and minds that lesser-evil Democrats are not what we really need and that, in the end, they will not truly reform our system. Real progressives will remain committed to finding other political routes to restoring American democracy and bringing justice to our economy, including third parties and the nation's first Article V convention of state delegates that could propose needed constitutional amendments to get reforms.

To sum up, the optimism that neo-progressives have about Obama and Democrats should be curbed by disturbing and painful truth. Obama and Democrats have also been corrupted by many financial special interests (that Obama could select Joe Biden as his running mate proves this because Biden has been in the pocket of a number of special interests); they have no moral or political courage, and show little capacity for building broad public support for making the profound changes this nation desperately needs. Talk about bipartisanship is also a clever device that promotes the status quo for the two-party plutocracy. Obama represents change that no sensible person should believe in.

Nothing shows this more than the malarkey about health care. On the one hand Obama and his supporters talk about the right of Americans to have good, affordable health care, rather than it being a privilege that many cannot afford. But the only true universal health care system that would serve all Americans and stop the siphoning off of vast sums to money to produce hideous profits for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies is to have a single payer system. Obama has not supported this. Moreover, all the talk about health care being a right should have produced explicit support for a constitutional amendment that would make health care a constitutionally protected right as important as protected liberties. But Obama has never had the integrity and courage to even suggest such an amendment.

An Obama "win" this year will be a win for the two-party duopoly. The power elitists and economic royalists who really run the country know how to cope with such political shifts. For them, periodic power shifts between the two major parties stabilizes the system -- and it is the two-party SYSTEM that needs overhaul. Change within this restrictive political system is more illusory than restorative. In fact, the power elites that really run the country may want a Democratic victory. Why? Because it sustains the illusion of American democracy that, in reality, has become fake and delusional, as so many people worldwide now understand. Real progressives will not vote for Obama. They will avoid the cognitive dissonance, disillusionment and embarrassment the neo-progressives will ultimately feel if Obama wins and produces no real systemic reforms even with a strong Democratic majority in both the House and Senate.

What could be a most surprising and delicious result this November is a combined vote for third-party presidential candidates totaling at least 10 percent. This would send a good message to the Democrats and Republicans and the world that Americans are beginning to wake up and starting to seriously reject corrupt, money politics.


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Internal Resources

Irresponsible Americans, by Joel S. Hirschhorn - October 8, 2007

Democracy Versus Stability, by Joel S. Hirschhorn - November 19, 2007

Nightmare Political Scenario, by Joel S. Hirschhorn - April 21, 2008

Fighting Resistance To Voting for Ralph Nader, by Joel S. Hirschhorn - June 16, 2008

Ralph Nader: Character and Integrity

Green & Independent Politics

US Elections & Democracy

Myths & Realities

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Joel S. Hirschhorn was formerly a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior staffer at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association. He now writes about politics and government, and is the author of Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government and Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health And Money.



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Published September 8, 2008