Three Polar Politics In Post-Petroleum America
[2013-11-08: Since Confederates-Moderates-Progressives came up in comments, I thought I'd sticky Stirling's 2009 again, since new Correntians might want to read and comment. I think we're at the third pole ("progressives") but the pole has no name -- "prefigurative left" was obviously wrong! -- and no institutional presence. All we have is right on our side!
[2012-04-20: This hardy perennial from Stirling Newberry just got a link from the SideShow, so I thought I'd repost it to the top of the heap once again. My hat is off to perhaps the best 30,000 foot view of American politics I've ever read. For "progressive," since that term been co-opted by Moderate D weasels (sorry for the redundancy), you might perhaps read "prefigurative left" -- everybody who's sick at heart from the corruption, the looting, and is trying in their everyday practice to make the situation better with solutions that scale. In other words, it's not a matter of policy lists any more, as I wrote two years ago. It's systems.... Read on! --lambert]
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[2010-09-12: If Yves can do Summer Re-Runs, then I can do Fall Classics. This post by Stirling Newberry from 2009-07-09 is one such. Vocabulary note: In using the word Progressive, Stirling does not mean 'career "progressive",' but... the "third pole" in American politics, by which he does not mean anything like the "Third Way." --lambert]
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[2010-04-17: Welcome, Open Left readers! Stirling wrote in 2009. Needless to say, in 2010 self-identified career "progressives" are firmly at the Moderate pole, based on the health insurance company bailout debacle, the news blackout imposed on single payer policy advocates, and a general unwillingness to challenge the Obama administration when it consolidates and rationalizes Bush policies (for example, executive powers) --lambert]
[2009-07-09 I'm leaving this sticky because Stirling's ideas generated such good discussion. --lambert]
[And again Sunday. Generally, I'm agnostic about policy lists, but after looking at what Obama and our tribunes of the people in the blogosphere -- that is, the Moderates -- did to single payer, I'm starting to change my mind. What would be Progressive policy wedge issues that would break up the Confederates and/or the Moderates? I say policy because it might make sense to start from the fresh perspective that "It matters that you're a citizen. It doesn't matter what your fucking social identity markers are -- These are the basics that every citizen should get." --lambert]
It would be easy to hope that this downturn represents the final capitulation of the Bush years, and that once we work away the excess, that there will be a new age after it. However, this is not what the numbers indicate. While selling self-spin and hope may be the province of those who hope to curry favor with the powers that be, or with masses of people desperate to believe that this is as bad as it will get, hard slabs of reality are my stock and trade.
Let me introduce you to post-petroleum thesis.
Economics often tries to get at what is "real" by looking at numbers which float with the ups and downs. These are "nominal" numbers. However, behind almost every attempt to do this, is some hidden or visible thesis of what is really driving people and their decisions. There is, in brief, a thesis behind the synthesis. Since economics does not have appropriate language to describe this, I've come to use the term "thesis" to describe a meta-description which guides economic model making.
The American economy exists in the "Petroleum Paradigm." That paradigm is visible in a host of ways, the fundamental idea is that value is created by turning petroleum into consumption, and using petroleum driven transportation to act as a "wind" that expands the size of the suburban land bubble. Think of it like a balloon, with people driving being the pressure that keeps it inflated.
People "make" money by creating communities, and drawing in waves of people afterward who are willing to pay more for houses. In this way public goods of community, economy, and education, are turned into private goods that require that people buy houses in the right places, or drive farther. Much of the Reagan revision to the structure of the American economy was to prop up these suburban land rents by a variety of means.
As long as the petroleum paradigm exists, any efficiencies will be plowed back into generating more sprawl, and attempting to maintain the land rents in the form of higher housing prices.
And so it has been, the keys: a financial system to continue borrowing from abroad, housing prices, and other constricting access to the keys of a middle class life, particularly higher education that confers connections, and health care, have been the key priorities of Obama's administration. His stimulus bill was a partial rebate on the inflation tax in oil that we are seeing.
This is the first thing that people must realize about the petroleum paradigm: we are paying very high indirect taxes. One form of taxation is the stagnation tax, where governments do not stimulate the economy to full employment, because doing so would radically increase their borrowing costs. Thus ordinary people have much lower wages, much lower job prospects, and much less stability. The millions out of work now, are paying the stagnation tax. Another form of taxation is insurance company profits. These profits go into markets, such as stocks, which raise the prices of stocks, which foreign investors buy. The 30% increase in cost of US health care over what it could be, and the large swathe of uninsured, are a tax that we pay to keep capital flowing in, so that we can turn around and borrow. That borrowing is used for consumption, which seems cheap in the United States, but only because the taxes that pay for it are disembodied. In the rest of the developed world consumption is taxed to pay for education and health care, in the United States, health care and education are taxed to pay for consumption.
As long as the possibility of starting up the land casino is there, as long as the present generation can believe that the next generation will pay heavily for access to it, there will be no substantial change in the American political landscape. The question will be between two wings of the political spectrum over which can best maintain the present system.
Three Pole Politics in 2009 America
The present break down of political forces follows three different views of this thesis. The first view is that the land casino merely needs to be allowed to run. This is the "Confederate" wing of American politics. The second view is that the land casino can continue longer, but only if carefully managed, this is the "Moderate" view. The third view is that it requires careful management to transition away from the land casino, or the "Progressive" view.
The Confederate view has between 30% and 40% of the voting population nationally, with local majorities in swathes of the empty reaches of the country and in the South. The Moderate view commands between 35% and 45% of the country, with local majorities in the metro-suburbs and some cities. The Progressive view has approximately 20% support, with local majorities in scattered areas. America's three wings of politics are not a spectrum. The Moderates do not live between the Progressives and the Confederates, but in a direction away from both. It should not surprise people that it is a humorist who has been the most forceful in asserting this fact. But early observers of this truth go back to Christopher Caldwell's Atlantic Article "The Southern Captivity of the GOP". What Caldwell failed to see was that the Moderates were not going to ebb back to the GOP, but instead, become Democrats. This realization was left to a next generation, including Armando of the Daily Kos, and Thomas Schaller of the University of Maryland. The geo-demographics were outlined in Bill Bishop's The Big Sort, which details how a 40% minority can exercise an effective Senate veto.
The Confederates and Moderates agree in their guts: they have a gut level fear of a post-petroleum, post-financial, world. A gut level dislike of homosexuals, a gut level distrust of Progressive movement. However, they disagree wildly on how to protect the petroleum paradigm. The Confederates are virulently anti-technocratic, while the Moderates are technocratic to the core. This division means they are barely on speaking terms about the ways to preserve the petroleum economy, including disagreements over taxes, stimulus, and the size of government.
The Confederates have much in common with the pre-1930 Democratic Party, of which they were the base until the Civil Rights era. They are laissez-faire, for example, and localist. Many Moderates defect because Moderates are often regulation for thee, but freedom for me. George Soros, for example, believes in regulation -- except for the financial industry. The Confederates are also socialists for themselves. Looking at Palin's record in politics, one can see that she is, effectively, a socialist. She taxes oil companies to provide benefits and services. It is her religious beliefs, which have deep cracks and contradictions, and contempt for competence, which expose the contradictions in her own career, which prevent her from being a Progressive.
The Moderates and the Progressives agree on how to do things. They both understand the size of government, the need for an ultimate provider of stability, and the importance of discipline, science, and accepting what the numbers say. Indeed, many Moderates, such as Peter Orszag, are fully aware that the numbers the Moderates are looking at, do not add up. But they cannot bring themselves, on a gut level, to abjure the power of the financial system.
That financial system is the hidden vector on the chart, that pulls off in a Moderate/Confederate direction. It warps the presentation of news, the flow of donations, and the shape of public debate. Since between 40 and 60 percent of all the free cash flow on the corporate level comes from finance, depending on whether you look at only the financial industry, or whether one counts the financial arms of other companies, it is not surprising that this "money electorate" creates a virtual representative plutocracy. The financial sector hires politicians to make palatable and workable policies that the financial sector likes.
The Confederates and the Progressives agree in their guts: both have a suspicion of large concentrations of power, though they disagree on which ones are most dangerous, and both have an inherent belief in the individual against the organization man. The Moderate pole is the corporatist pole. However, the Confederates and Progressives hate each others' gut sympathies. Equal marriage is perhaps the paradigmatic example, but government is another. War a third. Confederates believe in war, and in defense spending as an entitlement.
This three pole view predicts explains why there are three kinds of votes in Congress, and nationally as well.
There is the Moderate-Confederate, or Confederate-Moderate coalition. These votes, such as FISA, the Iraq War, escalation in Afghanistan, or any vote generally that gets to the root of protecting the petroleum paradigm and the suburban industrial complex built on top of it, go 75%-80% against 20%.
There is the Moderate-Progressive coalition. This is roughly the Democratic Party. It goes between 55%-65%, with some of the people on the boundaries of the Confederate-Moderate line defecting.
Finally, there is the Moderates against both of the two wings. This leads to the Moderates pulling out money. They do a two step: they shift towards the Confederates, that is to the nominal "right," and buy enough Progressive votes with small bribes. Since the Progressives have few sources of large money, this is not expensive from the view of the Moderates. These votes slide through just barely, with an important piece: the Confederates agree not to filibuster these votes, because there aren't really 60 votes for them.
From this can be seen the most important political fact of the present: President Obama is a Moderate, and leader of the Moderate wing. On many issues he is a Confederate, such as equal marriage, on many issues he is more towards the Progressive view, particularly on nuclear weapons. But in his guts, he thinks the left is nuts. Hence the utter lack of important Progressive policy advisors.
From the point of view of the Moderate-dominated coalition, the Progressives are like the fundamentalists of the Confederate coalition, useful, if volatile, emotional extremists, who have to be given lip service, and access to key issues, but in general thwarted on important economic issues.
The natural center of gravity, then, of the financed world of the "Village" (as Digby has coined it) is a vector between Confederate and Moderate directions. This is far to the "right" of the country as a whole.
It is important to realize that to no small extent, this three-vector system is artificial. The Confederate pole, without defense, land casino work, subsidies for resource extraction, and constant chumming by religious and media propaganda, does not work. It is filled with people who a generation ago were wearing cheap suits and selling books about how Gold is going to $10,000 dollars an ounce. Money, media, and manpower change all of that. The Moderate pole is, likewise, a creation of the financial play; they manage a money-losing operation: the US. Without the seemingly unlimited credit of the US, their management would be needless. They are managing the liquidation of America.
The Price of Petroleumism
From the empirical results of votes in Congress, we can see that the United States has a petroleumist super-majority. That is, when the Moderates and Confederates agree, they can dismiss Constitutional objections. One simple example is on the need for a filibuster. The filibuster applying to every vote is a way for the Confederates in the Mod-Con coalition to prevent betrayal. After all, if the Moderates could, in a disciplined way, ally with the Progressives, the Mod-Prog coalition would have more than 50 votes for almost everything. But 60 stretches it, because the Confederates can usually pry loose a few of the most confederate Moderates: Baucus, Tester, Bayh, Nelson, Specter, and McGaskill are all good examples. Another example is the conduct of the Iraq war, including the use of torture.
In short, the filibuster gives Confererates a veto over any truly progressive measure, and thus enforces the long term need for Moderates to go to Confederates on a host of issues. Progressives have not the political power to exercise a similar veto.
The petroleumist majority has three simple problems. The first simple problem is that the US does not have much petroleum. The second is that the physical limits of their system are approaching, and the third is that the structure of petroleumism is so well known, that any time there is the potential of economic growth, it is very easy for the financial powers to get in the way and force a rent of key resources. The game, is too well known.
Petroleumism has another, more theoretical, but just as crucial problem: anti-utilitarianism. Simply put, all of our economic tools assume linearity, and utility. However, empirically, petroleum output is not making people happy. When money stops measuring utility, pricing systems break down. Empirically, in order to generate the financial profits necessary to keep money pouring in, the petroleum economy must generate enough volatility that linear models break down. What this means, in effect, is that to keep going, the petroleum system must break its key measure of money in two ways. This is why the policy cloud exists, and nothing seems to work very well; the very dials on the jumbo jet of state are broken, and we are flying into heavier turbulence.
One cost of petroleumism, is the tangle of mechanisms that are used to keep the public relatively complacent. One of the most visible of these is obesity. Obesity in America has skyrocketed in the last generation. Now, in virtually ever state, obesity rates among adults are more than 20%. What is more terrifying is that childhood obesity rates are even higher.
Obesity is the result of over-consumption. This is one example of a breakdown in economic theory, since in economic theory desire is unlimited. However, in practice, there are limits to how much of particular goods people can consume, if a market cannot provide goods outside of those limits, then people chase up the curve of diminishing returns, consuming more and more, to get less and less.
The ultimate price of petroleumism is, however, the structuring of a global economy that is increasingly dependent on commodities that are in short supply. Even if, as is remotely possible, the geo-genesis theory of petroleum is true, that only means that global warming is more, not less of a problem. Part of this structuring is the increasing chokehold that foreign debt holders have on US debt. One reason that Obama's fiscal policy centers on Fed money creation is that China specifically warned that its appetite for US debt had reached its limit.
The Post-Petroleum Thesis
Each of the three wings of American politics are based on a particular thesis. The Confederate believe in the Imperium Thesis. The Imperium Thesis states that America's providing of security is an irreplaceable asset, and that therefore other nations will fund their parts of the American system of rents indefinitely. The corollary to this is that other activities that do not fund American Imperium crowd out that debt. Namely all social programs and infrastructure not tied to the military sector and so on.
The Confederate problem is that their own base's ideology is in favor of allowing the financial system to collapse. The financial elites have, as a result, pulled support from the Confederate wing of American politics for majority building. The Republicans look bad, because they don't have the money to look good, and the internal contradiction of socialists, that is poor Appalachia and the hinterlands, voting for elite plutocrats, has finally riven their own coalition. They also seem crazy: The people who they put in charge were not capable of managing the very core of the project. Hence financial elite money and support shifted to the Moderates, on the proviso that the Moderates did not disturb the Confederate architecture of George W. Bush. No major part of the Bush legacy has been overturned by Obama. None. No major part of the Bush legacy is on the calendar to be overturned. None. Obama's money mandate is to Do Bush Right.
The Moderate thesis can be called the 2% thesis. If, over time, 2% of effort is shifted, then eventually America will be transformed without major disruption. It is the thesis behind, for example Cass Sunstien's Nudge or Matthew Miller's 2% Solution.
Rhetorically, this fits in with the middle class idea of piling up little advantages over time. It is what the middle class is trained to do: Hit the tax break, fly when it is cheap, pick up the resume line. However, we have a proof-by-example of what really happens to small accumulations of efficiency: The automobile industry. The automotive industry lives on small improvements to engine efficiency, for example, different means of injecting fuel, or creating turbulence in the oil flow to reduce friction. What happens to these improvements? They get poured into making larger and larger vehicles.
The same thing happens to all 2% efficiency improvements from Moderates: they are then used to create a moment of mega-borrowing for the next Confederate go-for-broke attempt to rearrange the debt hierarchy.
This brings us to the Progressive thesis: namely, the post-petroleum thesis. In this thesis, the world is already in a post-petroleum mode: that is, all new real value is already being generated by non-petroleum means, and that all instruments which rest on petroleum are, in fact, of neutral or negative value. The progressive adherence to this thesis means that rents based on petroleumism, or to gain advantage in petroleum flows, are inefficient and must be dismantled. Key among these: health, education, defense, suburbia, carbon-based energy. Adding together the misallocated GDP from petroleum rents, and the result comes to 20% of GDP. Nearly one dollar in five in America, is a useless rent.
The Post-Petroleum Thesis and the Depression Theory
The post-petroleum thesis, when applied to the series of economic crisis points beginning with the 1969 recession, divides them into two groups, a series of escalating crisis points as attempts to inflate out of the lack of US oil failed, and a series of crisis points which are driven by the failure of neo-classical neo-Victorian policies to disinflate out of the problem. The first attempt was to push over the pinch point by creating consumption demand, and constricting investment. The second, begun in response to the 1978-79 inflation spike, attempted to constrict net consumption, largely by regressive taxes and increasing taxation on middle class rents, attempted to create a red queen's race, where the US sold paper to get oil, but bet that it could create more value with that oil than the cost of the oil. This downturn is the proof that this race is over, and the US has lost. Oil prices remain elevated, and yet US capital asset creation is in the toilet.
In this thesis, the series of events have a parallel. Post-war Recessions have gradually become Depressions. The 1991 recession had some depression-like characteristics, including the very long return to growing employment. The 2001 downturn created a mild depression, a long return to actual growth. This downturn is a full-blown depression, driven by deflation of everything the US sells, and inflation of rents. Remember that in a depression the price of liquidity inflates, even as everything else deflates.
However, the present depression is not based on actual physical breakdown of the old economy. While light oil production has reached a local peak, and perhaps an absolute peak, the cost of increasing oil production is not so strenuous that the world could not afford it. However, what is broken is the expectation of perpetual future growth. At this point holders of liquidity know that while the present is not broken, the future is. A future they have lent money against.
Applying this paradigm to macro-economic models, one sees a future terrain which, instead of returning to rapid debt-fueled growth, has an inflationary spike of resources that will necessitate that the US remove stimulus from the economy, in the form of raising interest rates and lowering fiscal spending, long before a return to full employment, or the acceptance of another mega-bubble whose burst will be even larger than this one. It is not clear, that such a mega-bubble can even be engineered.
Thus, there will be a next downturn, it will be a depression, with a long convalescence period, and it will be deeper than this one, with a higher rate of unemployment. Even now the premature predictions of a bottom ignore that there are still pieces left to explode. The Japan-ified financial system is not fixed yet.
The Progressive Challenge
The simple reality is this:
As long as the Progressive vector in politics is the shortest, then the Con-Mod alliance will continue to dominate policy, even when it is completely insane, as in the invasion of Iraq. The Confederate point of view, seen as the opposition to Obama, is growing in force, and when Obama stumbles, or leaves office, there will be a rabid outbreak of small government Hooverism, which will collapse the US economy into depression.
However, when that part of the cycle ends, the US will swing back. What is the result? That depends entirely on the relative weight of the Moderate and Progressive blocks. The Democratic Party of FDR was an alliance of Confederates and Progressives. The Progressives had the economy to pay for the subsidies the Confederates needed. The Moderates of the time ran the Republican Party. What happened was that the rather small core of opinion at the very top of the economy hit upon an idea: Tell the Confederates that they did not have to put up with the Progressive viewpoint, and that the elites had a magic bag of money that would pay for the Confederate subsidies. The short Con-Mod presidential coalition produced four crushing Presidential landslides, and eventually a Confederate dominated Congress.
The Moderates were repeatedly burned economically by this alliance, despite their agreement on a gut level with the ideology of it. In 2006 they finally defected en mass, hoping that they could dominate a Mod-Prog alliance, since they could go to the Confederates for votes on key issues, and the Progressives could not stop them. However, the present values of 40 Confederate, 40 Moderate and 20 Progressive are not fixed, any more than previous vectors of American politics are fixed. For one thing both the Moderate and Confederate blocs are aging; the same thing that happened to the Progressive bloc 30 years ago, the die-off of a core cohort, is now happening to the Moderate and Confederate blocs. The other important wedge is that a large slice of the Moderate bloc would go Progressive if it could. Start with Nancy Pelosi, who has worked for key Moderate victories such as TARP.
For the Progressives to be in position to be the dominant coalition members in 2016 or 2020 -- that is, on the next pendulum swing -- and somewhere in the middle of the larger economic crisis that is coming, all that is needed is to grow, on average, 1% per year. That's it. This is approximately the rate that the public has shifted on the issue of equal marriage: 1% per year.
Many in the progressive movement are bitter and angry. They felt that Obama, if not able to always be as liberal as he might like, at least wanted to be liberal. Instead, he has shown over and over again that he would rather be a Confederate leaning Moderate, than a Progressive-leaning Moderate, and his basic instincts are Confederate: "I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman."
The Progressive political challenge is to win the young one step at a time. Gain 1% per year. The Progressive intellectual challenge is to create the policy tools to accomplish what we know needs to be done. This is work that is being done, largely unheralded, because it requires the slow drill of intellectual analysis, rather than the excitement of popular synthesis.
The reality is that young Progressives have the great misfortune that they are going to have to be the leaders of the transformation of America. The present generation in power will not do it. Obama is not the first of the hard-edged cynical Gen X, but the last of the plays-well-with-others, popularity-contest Boomers. His cadre consists of natural born followers, natural born courtiers, natural born third raters. The young Progressives will not be the followers at the revolution, but the revolutionaries.
The other fertile ground is among young would-be Confederates. These are people whose elders scream at them either liber-Confederate, or theo-Confederate ideologies (or both), and find, instead, that the future is to be poor, obese, and ridiculed, stuck in distant and dismal hinterlands, and watching the world pass them by.
Remember: The Confederate and the Progressive joined in the first place, because they have a fundamental emotional bond, the bond of the active and revolutionary. The removal of the Confederates from the Democratic Coalition left it terminally paralyzed, and without the courage of action. The Confederate-fueled Republican Party was able to act with a muscularity which is both American, and appealing.
Every system replaces an older one. This three-vectored system replaced a coherent left-right-nationalist system with the Confederates fueling much of the nationalist position. However, both left and right have broken down. There are no free-marketeers among economic elites. We are all socialists now. The broken system was not able to coherently govern, and ceased to be able to present a narrative of election. 2004 was the last presidential election that was seen as left versus right, with a nationalist center between them. The "pragmatists" turn out not to be pragmatists, but merely those who have a craving for compromise. Compromise is an excellent tool, but a poor idol.
The assertion of the three new poles began in 2006, when the long time Republican strongholds in New England, New York, the Mid-West and West began to snap. Matt Stoller and I predicted this in 2003: that the new Democratic House majority would come from a passel of seats in the Mid-West, plus seats in Connecticut, New York, and a few along the South-West border. Of the seats we listed as being the future Democratic Congress, all but a few have flipped, and only a few that were not on that list have changed, and stayed, Democratic. The handwriting was on the wall.
The Progressive movement's first incarnation was unable to head that coalition. There were crucial mistakes of message, but also the lack of a messenger. But the Progressive movement has come very far, very fast. In 2000 to be a "progressive" was a fringe viewpoint which was almost synonymous with the die hard left. Now, it is the identification of one-fifth of the electorate, and a pole of organization which threatens to draw in another 10% to become a co-equal ideology with the two dominant poles. It takes almost all of the political weight of the other two poles, working in concert, through legislative procedure and media barrage, to prevent the progressive break out. The progressive movement is, politically, the most dangerous force in American politics.
It is also the movement of ideas. Only the progressive movement has ideas. The moderates are doing rounds of givebacks and cramdowns, and have found that the results are already being rejected. The Moderates are starting to bleed at their own Confederate edge, with the internals of Obama's polling turning inexorably against him. The public's support for his policies has ebbed. His entire political thesis, that he would do small good things, and this would buy him capital, was historically idiotic, and is already turning bad. Instead, Presidents should spend capital first, accept heavy losses in the first mid-terms, and then have results by the reëlection. Obama, like Clinton, will find that anything he has left undone by his second year, will not be done.
The Progressive movement has ideas, and these ideas join the stresses of the problems. Over-consumption will be cured by the taxes needed to provide public goods, the imbalances of liquidity will be cured by the investment in decarbonizing the economy. The imbalances of production will be cured by shifting demand to green demand. The gradual depreciation of the capital advantage of producing the petroleum economy, will be balanced by requiring a post-petroleum economy, where America has absolute advantages.
It is also the movement of political courage, and importantly, its base is ahead, not behind, its elected leadership in general. Recently one of the leading writers and political operatives of the progressive movement, Peter Daou, had this to say:
The incessant drive to the "pragmatic center." wherever that is, the desire to please an elusive and ephemeral audience, that worship of moderation, results in the squandering of a unique moment: with Republicans on their electoral heels and Democrats in control, this is the time for bold progressive stances and the unabashed embrace of core Democratic principles. This is not the time for wishy washy policies that seem politically smart but will in fact lead to the impression of an administration and a party devoid of convictions.
In short, a sketch of a manifesto. Courage is pragmatic. The purpose of courage is to embrace and extend what was fought for. Without this, and with the descent into the aristocracy of petroleumism, with its keys to power of media and monetary creation, there is a killing ossification of the very mobility that makes America. Or as Ian Welsh so recently put it:
The reasons are simple enough. Inheritance taxes have been weakened and progressive taxation has been slashed. The primary education system, funded by local tax dollars, systemically favors people who live in wealthy neighbourhoods, while university tuition has grown far faster than inflation at the same time as student aid has been slashed to the bone. The extremely rich have bought the government and use it to arrogate money to themselves, either through preferential laws—for example, Medicare Part D or the Bush tax cuts; or directly—for example, the 15 trillion spent on the financial crisis, the vast majority of which went in effect to the rich.
Power is passed from father and mother to daughter and son, with Congressional seats being passed on like some sort of inheritance and major network spots likewise going to the children of the influential. Perhaps there are no titles, but when, for example, Luke Russert, a man with no meaningful accomplishments of his own save being the offspring of late NBC news anchor Tim Russert, is hired as a national news commentator at age 22 over others who have worked harder, who have done more, and are vastly better qualified, it’s hard to see his inheritance as all that different from a Baron passing his rights, lands and chattel to his son.
All men are created equal. But, as Orwell noted in Animal Farm, some are more equal than others.
For some, this is a bitter pill. My friend Steve Hicken says that Steve Reich's career makes more sense in reverse. So too the Baby Boom, which began with a revolution, and ended by making precisely the same mistakes as it rebelled against. They backed a war without victory in a desert without a name, over a principle that had already lost its viability.
The Progressive movement is also the movement of myth. FDR is a myth. The Confederates used the myth of the founders, equating the liberal state with King George and going on about orginalism, when what they really meant was for the thieves to vote to fire all the police. Now, however, the founders are joined by the two other great spasmodic upheavals: the Union of Lincoln, and the Democracy of FDR. As Glenn Smith wrote::
Members of Congress without the moral clarity to recognize this equivalence will be condemned by history. Their spinelessness and lack of will when confronted with the power of the insurance industry is just as morally bankrupt as the American congressmen who bowed to Southern slave-owners.
The morally compromising efforts to pass health care reform that insurance companies might like is as insane as the compromises over slavery. Those compromises -- the First and Second Missouri Compromises of 1820, their repeal by the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, and the notorious Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 led to the War Between the States.
Courage, clarity, principle. These words have migrated to the progressive wing of American politics, and hover over it like a guiding angel.
What must be done in the short term is simple. While at the Federal level there is still the ability to borrow as a way of avoiding reorganization, at the state levels, there is no such cushion. New York and California are both in constitutional crisis. Several other states have executives of plunging popularity. Paralysis is the order of the day in many other states. It is time for Progressives to begin sweeping the states with calls for dramatic and radical rejection of one of the most important Confederate-Moderate ideas: that hobbling a legislature from doing liberal things increases liberty. Instead, it produces fiscal disaster.
What also must be done is that the Progressive movement must recognize that the Con-Mod coalition will not do enough, and will then attempt to blame "liberals" and Progressives for their own failures, and continue to hand power back and forth to each other. Recognize that the next President will be a Republican who attempts to wrap confederate policies in a more moderate guise to get the financial system to back the Republican Party, and will proceed to wage a war for oil.
Even in the short run, the Progressive movement can begin to play the same role that the Confederate movement played early in its existence: as the fortunes of the coalition's senior partner ebb, and they will ebb, and if the Progressive movement can hold its gains, then the Moderates will have two choices: capitulate more and more to the Confederates, as Clinton did late in his executive, with catastrophic results such as the repeal of Glass-Steagal, or turn to the Progressives more and more. Right now the Moderates have votes to give, but in a Congress where 20 current Blue Dogs are Repbulicans, they will not.
This is, perhaps, not what people wanted. But it is not 1930, with a new economy ready to rule the world, but closer to 1900, with a new economy beginning to assert greater and greater dominance, and an old order that is hobbling towards its final crisis. As with the first generation of liberals, this generation of Progressives must lay the foundations for later days, when the handwriting truly is on the wall, and the last SUV has been driven to the last development, with the last barrel of cheap oil.