What Bait and Switch Centrism Masquerading as Progressivism Reads Like | Blog#42
The usually progressive E.J. Dionne urged his followers to read an important piece posted in left-wing magazine, Dissent.
The piece incorporates a lot of very good factual information which the author, Michael Walzer, builds up to a particular logical conclusion. The information imparted in it is of the kind the vast majority of prominent liberal writers have completely avoided referencing over the last three years, especially during the Democratic primaries and the general election – to the point where they still won’t touch the topic of the precariat in mainstream op-eds. As I’ve reminded my readers on many occasions, Paul Krugman stopped writing about unemployment and what he termed “the lost generations” back in 2014. Since then, he and many of his peers have written about the jobs numbers strictly in quantitative terms, entirely avoiding the topics of quality and the gig economy.
So, after carefully and accurately diagnosing the problems faced by particular sets of voters and the Democratic party’s lack of policy responses, what does Walzer propose?
“And so do the Americans in trouble to whose well-being we are supposedly committed. The old left belief that small victories make radical politics more difficult (because people are a little better off) is an example of left-wing narcissism. Better off is good. We can’t ask the precariat to wait for our revolution if help is available sooner—not if we are really committed to their well-being.”
The very thing that the precariat, in its entirety, refused to do in 2016: swallow the trope that incrementalism and centrism are the better approach. This is the very same thing we have been sold ever since Bill Clinton adopted triangulation as the vehicle for policy-making. The Great Recession happened as many of those who took the brunt of the Dot-Com bubble were still digging out. While there was long-term help for those who got hit really hard in 2008, triangulation took that help away, way too soon, in 2013.
As well-written and documented an essay Walzer wrote, his conclusion is fatally-flawed, based on the history of U.S. liberal politics of the last 30 years. In addition, he makes generalizations that do not apply across the electorate. The political outcomes of each of the last five successive election cycles, culminating in a hemorrhage of voters for the Democratic party, not to mention losses can’t be described as anything other than self-inflicted defeats, just cannot, logically, be resolved with more of the same approach.
Trump notwithstanding, galvanizing voters still needs to happen around a common theme and accepted goals. Those are still nowhere to be found a year after one of the most abject political defeats. Galvanizing mistrustful voters necessitates some reckoning from the party and some semblance of a show of remorse. Watchful progressives noticed the recent purge of progressives at the DNC, and the addition of even more corporate and lobbyist superdelegates.
Thirty years and a precariat later, voters are wise to the bait and switch and they just aren’t biting anymore and, what’s more important, neither are their millennial kids. For those who are still looking for an explanation of Bernie Sanders’ appeal with millennials, this is it. The centrist jig is up. The kids know their lives will be radically different from their parents’, and their parents know that everything they lost can be traced back to corporatist policy.
This isn’t left-wing narcissism any more than it was basement-dweller entitlement to free stuff. It’s self-preservation and the recognition that these desperate times call for a radical turn about and not baby steps out of the abyss.
Why someone as smart and progressive as Dionne has stopped seeing these as failures of logic is beyond my comprehension. It saddens me that there are so few progressive voices left in the mainstream.
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