alien & sedition.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
  Don't Hate the Game

The Poor Man points approvingly to this great comment by Phoenix Woman, who laments the traditional distaste among so many on the American left for serious engagement in electoral politics.
I think the eagerness to eat our own stems from a fundamental difference in how the right and left operate in this country. The farther left one goes, the more likely one is to have a very cynical and morale-destroying view of politics, one that serves to keep one from engaging. [...] This distaste for deep involvement in democracy is part and parcel of American progressivism and has been since its inception. (I used to be part of an e-mail list called "Socialist Liberty", filled with the sort of people who equated Paul Wellstone with Jesse Helms; whenever any prominent Socialist or Communist such as David McReynolds dared run for political office, even as a Socialist or Communist, he or she would get TONS of flak from other Soc/Coms for selling out and buying into a corrupt system that needed to be left alone to die of its own foul weight.) And this distaste has only got stronger: Many lefty/progressive groups over the years have got out of electoral politics altogether, even as righty/religious groups have got MORE political...

The bitter irony of the American left's long distaste for/retreat from electoral politics -- a stance that only in the last couple of election cycles is starting to turn around -- is not just that this is happening even as the right-wing churches and other conservative groups are getting more involved in Republican politics; it is that money and time spent in politics pays better dividends in terms of getting what you want than in almost any other field of endeavor. Here's an example, paraphrased from memory from a writer whose name escapes me (otherwise I'd be linking directly to him):

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett want to spend thirty-odd billion on charitable causes around the world, when just one billion given to, say, DFA would ensure that truly progressive Democrats not only took over the party, but had the resources to go fully mano-a-mano with the Republicans in every single district -- and that would ensure the election of politicians who would back policies that would do much more lasting good than even a thirty-odd-billion-dollar charity could accomplish.
Based on my own experience, the self-defeating leftist rejection of serious politics is an obvious and corrosive phenomenon, but what I also like about Phoenix Woman's post is the way she ties it to the same problem from a different angle: the problem with "non-political" philanthropy. The massive amounts of money given in charitable endeavors could in very many cases be more efficiently and more effectively focused on achieving change in government.

The whole point of being a liberal or socialist is the belief that truly universalist, collective action is the surest way to guarantee human well-being and happiness, and that government is the only feasible organizing point for that action. But to use government to protect and improve people's lives, you have to control government. Leftist rejection of political engagement is a form of self-rejection, and an abandonment of the very message we should be trying to send to folks like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The commenters at the Poor Man's site pretty much savage Phoenix Woman (consensus: "she's full of shit") - largely, it seems, on the basis of a couple of questionable historical points she makes about Saul Alinsky, and about the German Socialists. The only substantive argument against her point, though, seems to be that the left doesn't reject politics, either because Hey: who are all those people "putting their bodies on the line" during the anti-Globalization movement?? - or, because, Hey: campaigning for the Greens is doing electoral politics, numbnuts!

Well, I put my body on the line (literally) for all kinds of causes in my college and post college days. I realize now that my time would have been far better spent learning to organize a precinct and practicing voter contact and campaign strategy.

And sorry, but working for the Green Party does not constitute serious engagement in electoral politics. In fact, it demonstrates a pigheaded refusal to understand electoral politics. There's a (very minor) place in the American political ecology for third parties, but except for a brief period in the mid-nineteenth century that's been a side issue at best - and the Greens are, for all intents and purposes, completely useless to the American body politic.

The way it works in American politics is: there are two major parties. A social movement that wants to make policy picks one of the parties, works to gain influence within that party while still maintaining a broad enough coalition to win elections, and . . . wins elections. That's it. That's all it takes. But it's hard work and by its nature involves a constant give and take between principle and compromise.

If you want to improve the world, that's the game you have to play, no matter how ugly, disappointing, or impure it can seem. As progressives, we have the opportunity to use the Democratic party to achieve our policy goals. So there are two kinds of progressives in this country: those who take that opportunity seriously, and those who don't. I have no use for the latter.


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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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