In a related point, one of the chief rebuttals I’ve seen to my column is that the lefty blogs aren’t actually all that lefty. This is true if you consider only their policy agenda in a vacuum. But it’s not true if you take account of their political style, which is distinctly New Left. It’s a paranoid, Manichean worldview brimming with humorless rage. The fact that the contemporary blog-based left, unlike the McGovernite New Left, lacks a well-formed radical program is some measure of comfort. However, I think there’s lots of evidence to suggest that this style of thinking is suggestive of a tendency to move in more radical directions over time. That, of course, is exactly what happened to the New Left, many of whose members starting off as relatively sensible liberals, or left-liberals before veering into the abyss.
I’d like to address this idea that the New Left veered off into the abyss. In what area was McGovern’s program radical? What part of McGovern’s program has been discredited? Let’s look at the record:
McGovern ran on a platform that advocated unilateral withdrawal from the Vietnam War in exchange for the return of American prisoners of war and amnesty for draft evaders who had left the country, an “anti-war” platform that was presaged in 1970 by McGovern’s sponsorship of the McGovern-Hatfield amendment, seeking to end U.S. participation in the war by Congressional action.
Other planks of McGovern’s platform included an across-the-board, 37% reduction in defense spending over three years, a “demogrant” program giving $1,000 to every citizen in America, that was later changed to creating a $6,500 guaranteed minimum income for Americans, and was later dropped from the platform. In addition, McGovern supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
We wound up leaving Vietnam in exchange for prisoners of war, and we granted amnesty to the draft dodgers. And, as McGovern stated more recently, he wasn’t exactly calling for amnesty in 1972.
“I could not favor amnesty as long as the war was in progress, but once it was over, I’d grant amnesty both to those who planned the war and those who refused to participate. I think that’s a somewhat conservative position.”
McGovern supported abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. That put him firmly on the left, but did it make him a radical? Perhaps the only major issue where McGovern’s platform still seems radical was in his call for the decriminalization of marijuana. Thinking it is unreasonable to put people in jail for smoking pot might make you a radical…I guess…but, if so, it’s a crying shame.
As we look around our current landscape, (in spite of the Reagan Revolution), the left-wing blogosphere is defending the rights of women that McGovern supported; we are calling for the withdrawal of our troops from a disastrous war in Asia, just as McGovern did. We are calling for increased focus on social services, paid for, in part, by the savings we will reap by decreasing our enourmous outlays for military spending. Sounds familiar.
Now…these policy positions are not radical. What they are, is risky. They leave us vulnerable to demagoguery. Any call for a withdrawal can be called appeasement. A call for a reduction in defense spending can be called weak and irresponsible. A rigorous defense of women’s rights can create regional liabilities that hurt our chances for winning elections in certain areas of the country. It’s always a challenge to call for higher taxes. The difference between 1972 and 2006 is that we have the ability, thru the blogosphere, to counter the demagoguery that so effectively marginalized us and led to the Reagan Revolution. And for me that’s the whole point of blogging. It’s a tool. If we don’t use this tool to bring the center of American politics back toward the McGovern left, then what the fuck are we doing? We are progressive, are we not? Are we here to elect more Democrats like Joe Lieberman that shrug off torture? Like John Kerry that authorizes wars he doesn’t want to be fought? Like Joe Biden that signs Bankruptcy Bills into law? Like Jane Harman who won’t defend our fourth amendment rights?
Because if that is all we are going to do, we might as well go be poll workers and phone bankers. No! This is about empowering people. It’s about giving a fairer representation of what ordinary folks want than is presented to us by people like Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, and other former Democratic operatives that frame the national debate.
We’re here not only to combat the lies of the Bush administration, but to combat the false centrism that has become the paradigm within which our policies are shackled. When Kerry and Hillary are seen as extremists in the Beltway presentation of the news, our job is to point out they are moderates…thru and thru. Jonathan Chait thinks our defeats have come through radical policy positions. If radical policy positions were self-defeating, Bush never would have stood a chance of re-election. Bush is the radical. If calling for a sane and accountable government is allowed to be characterized as radical, then there is little hope for America. If Chait really considers himself a Democrat he should stop helping to marginalize us and cease his demagoguery. It’s the very existence of the New Republic that makes true progressive politics seem radical.
Most Americans do not want to fight losing wars in Asia based on phony gunboat attacks or forged Italian documents. They want affordable and quality medical care and education, clean streams and soil, a tolerant society, and good, decent paying jobs. It’s not radical. It’s common sense.