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.


  1. Progressives are reformers. They think they can tweak the system. The system itself is the problem. It is predatory. Looting by an oligarchy ( a few rich fat cats and their lackeys) is a fixture, not a bug. Voting in a corrupt system is a waste of time.

  2. Craig Moore

    What’s with the sanctity of labels? Who cares? It seems it’s about sound bites and bumper stickers seeking approbation from similar sound bite and bumper sticker people. BTW, what’s with plastering the back end of a vehicle with righteous sounding bumper stickers?

    But, then again, the label is meant to disguise the package.

    • lizard19

      there is suppose to be a foundation of principles underlying the labels, and if there aren’t, then the labels are meaningless. take fiscal conservatism, for example. is it fiscally conservative to shut the government down at a cost of over 20 billion dollars? no, but you won’t hear that pointed out from those on the right because the tea party zealots dominate the conversation.

      beyond the labels, there is a consensus that I think can best be summed up as the consensus of more: more money, more power, and more control. most of us have common interest against that consensus, but we don’t see that because we’re all to distracted by labels, myself included.

  3. Big Swede

    “Imagine no possessions, it isn’t hard to do”. -John Lennon.

    I think your list is great. Needs to be added to the candidates platforms.

    • Big Swede

      By the way here’s a great slide show of progressivism vs evil rampant corporatism.

    • Big Swede

      Don’t stop me. I’m on a roll.

      Imagine there’s no countries
      It isn’t hard to do
      Nothing to kill or die for
      And no religion too
      Imagine all the people
      Living life in fearful servitude…

      • mike

        True story Swede, progs base their policies on feelings and emotion, electing to ignore human nature and rational thinking.

        Though I agree with Liz the state has no right to kill it’s citizens. I also believe the state has no right to steal our money. Progs hate the state when it engages in actions they disagree with, yet believe if true believers like them were the Top Men and running the state the state would be benevolent and all would be unicorns and pixie dust, ignoring historical reality.

        The best government is local because citizens can change it faster (unless your electorate is tilted by out of state voters allowed to vote there).

        Progs think anybody that makes money (in a for profit business) is evil and exploiting the people, yet if you are in a non profit field it’s ok to make a living by getting guilt ridden rich liberals to fund your non profit.

        Progs ignore the fact that history has shown that growing economies lead to better lives for their people (too many to list) and ignore that statist fucks trying to run economies like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela or Cuba are abject failures with their people subject to 25% inflation, crony capitalism and no toilet paper in Venezuela.

        I’ll also agree with Liz that the military industrial complex is sucking our country dry. Read an editorial yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that we have 1.5 million people in the employ of the DOD, 800 grand in uniform and 700 grand contractors, that’s not troops that’s bureaucracy.

        I just find it amusing that progs like Liz think with the right central planners all will be well, that’s fucking insane, central planners are the problem, PERIOD. (Thanks Barry)

  4. The list is good. Needs a change in the monetary system to make any of it work. The people should control the money and how it is spent not the banksters.

  5. Turner

    I agree with the list. Not so sure, tough, about the national boundaries item.

  6. JC

    This about says it all for me today…

  7. d.g.

    Cindy Sheehan (and perhaps Roseann Barr) are the only two who qualify as real progressives. We need the Berrigan brothers.

    • lizard19

      Roseanne Barr believes in Agenda 21. she is an idiot.

  8. Well this might rankle some, but I’m thinking of picking up Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book on Theodore Roosevelt. He was one of the leaders of the Progressive Era.

    Although I could save $19.95 or whatnot and just wait for Speilburg to give me the movie in a year.

  9. Look at your list, Liz. Then look at what I’ve written over these many years and ask yourself why you think and have written that *I* am an enemy of progressives. Progressives, so very often, make the argument that Democrats only serve what gets them elected, and then wail about the fact that Democrats don’t value the progressive vote. Think on that for just a second.

    Diane and others think that progressives aren’t valued and yet they carry elections for Democrats if they only bend at the knee enough to do so. Pthoowee! Democrats want wins. Carry a few more, and ‘progressives’ won’t be serving the D party; they’ll be leading it. Or we can just vote Green …

    • lizard19

      what gets people elected is money, and then our representatives serve that constituency. candidates are judged as viable based on their war chests. I’ve read it at the respectable Dem blogs, so it must be true. but point out the corrupting influence to both parties of money, and you’re called emo-prog and summarily removed from blogrolls because I guess that kind of stuff helps out Republicans.

      • Money does not always win elections. Who spent more, Burns or Tester? Some would have you believe that latter. Others would convince you that it doesn’t matter as long as your principles remain “pure”.

        • lizard19

          yep, Jon Tester, 2006 populist; a big scare for the Big Money establishment. let Dave Sirota take you back to the good old days:

          There are a lot of lessons to learn from this primary. First and foremost, when Democrats take strong positions and courageously stand up to the powers that be, they are rewarded. In the era of money-drenched, consultant-dominated politics, voters are desperate for authenticity – and the best way to show you are authentic is to reject the prepackaged talking points from corporate-funded Washington front-groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and actually stand with ordinary people out here in the heartland.

          Secondly, the era of television advertising totally and completely dominating politics is over, at least in primaries in smaller states. In such races, candidates can meet almost everyone who is going to cast a vote. That means retail politics, field, free media, online organizing and word of mouth become priceless. Early on in this primary, I praised Tester in the American Prospect for seriously embracing the netroots and painting a contrast between himself, the outsider, and his opponent, more of an insider. Over the course of the next many months, he took that to the next level.

          This means that in the future, as the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party (and by extension against the hostile takeover of our government by Big Money interests) rages on between populists and elitists, small-state primaries are going to be the high-profile battlegrounds where our side – the small “d” democrats in the Democratic Party – are going to crash the gates.

          but money wins, in the end. to stay in power, we can see what Tester was willing to do—kill the Dream Act, and break promises to delist wolves, among other disappointments.

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