Archive for December 8th, 2013

Lip-Service Progressivism

by lizard

In the primary fight between the two Johns to see who will lose to Steve Daines, the term “progressive” is being scrutinized in regards to Bohlinger. Pogie’s latest post is a good example of trying to protect the progressive turf from what looks like an opportunistic re-branding by Bohlinger.

It might help to try and define what we mean by the term progressive. I found this list of policy positions useful:

So who is a progressive? You might be one if

• You think health care is a basic human right, and that single-payer national health insurance is a worthwhile reform on our way toward creating a non-profit national health care service.

• You think that human rights ought always to trump property rights.

• You think U.S. military spending is an obscene waste of resources, and that the only freedom this spending protects is the freedom of economic elites to exploit working people all around the planet.

• You think U.S. troops should be brought home not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from all 130 countries in which the U.S. has military bases.

• You think political leaders who engage in “preemptive war” and invasions should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged against the standards of international law established at Nuremberg after World War Two.

• You think public education should be free, not just from kindergarten through high school, but as far as a person is willing and able to go.

• You think that electoral reform should include instant run-off voting, publicly-financed elections, easy ballot access for all parties, and proportional representation.

• You think that electoral democracy is not enough, and that democracy must also be participatory and extend to workplaces.

• You think that strengthening the rights of all workers to unionize and bargain collectively is a useful step toward full economic democracy.

• You think that as a society we have a collective obligation to provide everyone who is willing and able to work with a job that pays a living wage and offers dignity.

• You think that a class system which forces some people to do dirty, dangerous, boring work all the time, while others get to do clean, safe, interesting work all the time, can never deliver social justice.

• You think that regulating big corporations isn’t enough, and that such corporations, if they are allowed to exist at all, must either serve the common good or be put into public receivership.

• You think that the legal doctrine granting corporations the same constitutional rights as natural persons is absurd and must be overturned.

• You think it’s wrong to allow individuals to accumulate wealth without limits, and that the highest incomes should be capped well before they begin to threaten community and democracy.

• You think that wealth, not just income, should be taxed.

• You think it’s crazy to use the Old Testament as a policy guide for the 21st century.

• You believe in celebrating diversity, while also recognizing that having women and people of color proportionately represented among the class of oppressors is not the goal we should be aiming for.

• You think that the state has no right to kill, and that putting people to death to show that killing is wrong will always be a self-defeating policy.

• You think that anyone who desires the reins of power that come with high political office should, by reason of that desire, be seen as unfit for the job.

• You think that instead of more leaders, we need fewer followers.

• You think that national borders, while sometimes establishing territories of safety, more often establish territories of exploitation, much like gang turf.

• You are open to considering how the privileges you enjoy because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or physical ability might come at the expense of others.

• You believe that voting every few years is a weak form of political participation, and that achieving social justice requires concerted effort before, during, and after elections.

• You think that, ideally, no one would have more wealth more than they need until everyone has at least as much as they need to live a safe, happy, decent life.

• You recognize that an economic system which requires continuous expansion, destroys the environment, relies on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels, exacerbates inequality, and leads to war after war is unsustainable and must be replaced. Score a bonus point if you understand that sticking to the existing system is what’s unrealistic.

So with these positions in mind, let’s take a look at another supposedly progressive politician, the mayor-elect of New York city, Bill de Blasio; a man who has claimed he will be “aggressive” in implementing progressive reform:

After a full week without public events, Bill de Blasio emerged Saturday morning at Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, where the new mayor-elect rallied cheering supporters with a promise of “aggressive” progressive change.

And in order to effect change, Mr. de Blasio stressed that he would need the audience to stick with him in the fight.

“I’m going to need you every step of the way,” he told the crowd, citing his plans to tax-the-rich and curtail the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic. “The Rev is my witness: I will not be shy about coming back here and saying, ‘Now it’s time. I need you to make your voices heard.’ Because we are going to get on with a very, not only progressive, but aggressive agenda.”

Mr. de Blasio nevertheless cautioned that there would be “powerful forces” mobilizing against him and that enacting his progressive agenda would not be easy. (Speaking to reporters after the event, Mr. de Blasio said getting elected was “in many ways the easy part” of the process.)

“We have seen too many times that we achieve a great election victory and then forget that it’s just the beginning of the work,” he told the audience. “Progressive change is not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s called ‘progressive change’ for a reason. Implicitly, it means we’re moving away from the status quo and that status quo has a lot of people invested in it–and powerful people and powerful forces.”

This is nice sounding rhetoric from Bill de Blasio, but it’s just that, rhetoric. To actually be a progressive, one should probably try and match progressive rhetoric with progressive action. When it comes to curtailing the racist policy of stop and frisk, for example, selecting William Bratton to once again lead the NYPD is a tremendous slap in the face to those who hoped de Blasio wasn’t just another lip-service progressive. Under Bratton’s tenure with the LAPD, for example, the use of stop and frisk tactics has continued to expand:

The use of stop-and-frisk surged under Bratton in Los Angeles. The new NYPD head defends its use but has likened it to chemotherapy, saying that it must be utilized in proper doses.

“We have a situation in this city at this time that is so unfortunate,” Bratton said. “At a time when police and community should be so much closer together, that there should be a bond of legitimacy and trust between them, it’s not the case in so many communities in this city. It’s unfortunate. But it can be corrected.”

To illustrate his commitment to improving relations with the community, Bratton displayed the children’s book “Your Police,” which he said he began checking out regularly from the Boston Public Library as a youth.

“I’ve taken this book everywhere I’ve ever gone, every department, it’s always proudly displayed because it had such profound influence on me,” he said. “On the last page of this book, it reads, ‘We must always remember that whenever you see a policeman, he is your friend.'”

William Bratton is a big believer in the Broken Windows theory of policing, a theory credited for the reduction of crime rates New York experienced in the 90’s. Last January, I wrote a post highlighting a fascinating Mother Jones article correlating drops in crime rates with the removal of lead.

The findings of the research questions whether Broken Windows policing should get all the credit, which is incredibly important, considering Broken Windows policing has proliferated across the country. In Missoula, for example, Broken Windows has provided the justification for criminalizing panhandling and pedestrian interference. The idea is to aggressively go after petty crimes, like vandalism and panhandling, because if you don’t, then crime will escalate to more serious offenses.

It appears Bill de Blasio is just another disingenuous politician who talks the talk, then walks back the walk without fighting for progressive principles.

Progressivism needs to be more than a branding tool for political campaigns. The politicians who claim to adhere to these principles, but then sell out the first chance they get, are doing tremendous damage to the principles that stand in stark contrast to the Washington consensus of rampant corporatism.

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