Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Who Is Progressive?

Hillary Clinton's speech at the Take Back America conference (TBA) yesterday triggered a debate over who is a progressive. This is relevant for progressive strategy since while many centrists and leftists call themselves 'progressive', they don't seem to have too much in common. Likewise, many contributions to 'progressive' strategy, most notably The Politics of Definition (see previous post), don't differentiate between 'progressives' and 'Democrats' when they talk about the need for a common philosophy. By blurring what appears to be a crucial distinction, such analyses can lead to greater confusion rather than clarity.

Norman Solomon asks Why Pretend that Hillary Clinton Is Progressive? He questions why TBA, which promotes itself as the largest 'progressive' gathering of the year, invites Clinton to speak, but not Jonathan Tasini, who is running against her in this year's Democratic primary in New York, and who, as a longtime union activist, is considered by Solomon, Howard Zinn and many others as a 'true progressive':

But the people who "do consider Hillary progressive" could mostly be divided into two categories -- those who are Fox-News-attuned enough to believe any non-Republican is a far leftist, and those who are left-leaning but don't realize how viciously opportunistic Sen. Clinton has been. Today, in keeping with her political character, she welcomes the fund-raising support of reactionary media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
He concludes:
In the interests of truth-in-labeling, shouldn't Hillary Clinton be described as anti-progressive?

Even Teddy Roosevelt ran as a 'progressive' in 1912. (The pictured Progressive Roosevelt Battle Flag now hangs in 3rd floor hallway of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA.)

It is also well known that the vast majority of the netroots are highly critical of Clinton. Markos Moulitsas has been very explicit on this in his recent article for the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton: Too Much of a Clinton Democrat?

The focus of the current debate is the growing conflict over Iraq policy among Democrats and 'progressives.' For a good background on reactions to her speech, see Clinton Booed on Iraq in today's The Hill. Today's New York Times highlights the division between leading Democrats: Clinton and Kerry Show Democratic Divide on Troop Withdrawal. While Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Codepink, complains in Counterpunch that the organizers of TBA did not keep their promise to let them criticize her, Shawn Macomber of The American Spectator downplays the importance of the 'antiwar protesters' in today's National Review Online (NRO). John Podhoretz in yesterday's The Corner, the NRO's blog, even went so far to assert:
There's a lot of talk about how Hillary's rep on the far Left has taken such a hit that she's going to have trouble getting the Democratic nomination. Come on. How does sounding responsible and sober about America's policy in Iraq hurt her? Scenes like this, if they continue through the campaign season, are going to get her elected.

If a co-founder of the Weekly Standard and contributor to Fox News compliments 'progressive' politicians on their Iraq policy, it ends up making more than a few other 'progressives' suspicious.

But the crucial differences are not only between individual candidates and single issues, but also concern organizations and overall political strategy. This critical difference between different types of progressives is well documented. Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future (CAF), which organizes TBA, sees CAF and its allies, such as MoveOn and USAction, as a 'winning counterweight' against the DLC and other centrist groups:
The lesson we drew from the Clinton administration is that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party … needs to be better organized in order to be heard, especially given the influence of groups like the DLC and corporate influence in general.
And he adds:
The Democratic Party is a big tent, but the vast majority of Democrats are progressives. (my emphasis)

In direct contrast, DLC senior fellow Marshall Wittmann warns:
The danger to the Democratic Party right now is, they’re lurching to the left and leaving behind the middle. It’s to Hillary’s credit that she’s steering a centrist course even if it upsets some on the left, because that’s the only way the party is going to be back in control of Congress and win the White House. (my emphasis)

The time-honored battle between different types of 'progressives' over primacy in the Democratic Party seems to intensify. How much potential is there to build bridges between them for the sake of greater integration, unity of purpose, and hence effectiveness?


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