Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Redefining Liberalism and the Task Ahead

Obama! What to say? We've finally dragged ourselves out of a long era of conservative dominated politics and begun the upward swing toward liberalism. This will not be to the liking of everyone, no, but for us liberals we're quite pleased. Take a euphoric moment, toast each other with champagne, come back when you're ready for some reality. Ready? Okay.

Just think for a moment: it wasn't long ago, during the Clinton and Bush years, it was a taboo in the world of politics to call yourself a "liberal." From 1980 to 2003, give or take, conservative media reigned supreme and they held a boot heel to the collective throats of Democrats. When a liberal reared their head, conservative media took aim. At first the assemblage of talking heads in the right-wing editorials and radio shows had a quiet but unified voice. As the years went on, they became a juggernaut of think tanks and lobby groups. By force, their ideas entered our culture, and as they grew larger and larger the political forces of the left became more and more fearful. After the grand jury hearings of Clinton, Democrats became paralyzed with fear, cowering at the slightest thought of negative headlines. The Democratic vanguard faltered and capitulated with the GOP, relenting on issue after issue. They started labeling themselves as "conservative" or "middle of the road" Democrats. Even in my personal life, I'd hear otherwise thoughtful Democrats say they were "conservative on fiscal issues," as though some apology or concession were necessary when declaring your political party was not Republican.

Now, fortunately and much like during the initial Progressive Era at the onset of the 20Th Century, we are once again becoming receptive to the ideologies that inhabit the Liberal side of the map. These ideas need to be redefined, however, and clearly for this new generational transition. Remember, we have emerged from an era during which liberals were thought to be "out of ideas" or "without a plan." In a sense, that was true in 2004 when that sort of derision was at its peak. Democrats lost the presidency then despite a growing alienation and distrust with the incumbent because they failed to communicate clear progressive ideas. Perhaps because they had completely forgotten what they were.

So what are these progressive ideas then? They're simple and here they are:

-Government is not the problem. Corruption is the problem. The people ARE the government and the government is our way of looking out for ourselves.

-Regulation is a necessity. Multi-national corporations do not have our best interest at heart. We must use the government to protect ourselves from their potential abuses.

-Regulation must also prevent monopolies. A competitive market is a healthy one, but by nature, corporations detest it and will eliminate it whenever possible.

-Unions are the best way to protect labor. Our representatives in government should afford protections to unions against the free market, wherein powerful corporations would quickly dismantle them for their own profit.

-A nation's wealth is its infrastructure not its treasury. Spend money wisely to build it into a powerful force. Roads, bridges, commuter trains, power-lines, water ways all enable the free market to expand and profit.

-A social safety net, like welfare, Social Security, and universal Health care, is a healthy part of the infrastructure. It enables those who falter a chance to redeem themselves and those born under-privileged a chance to prosper. Compassion is independent of free market values.

-Taxation should be progressive. The least taxed should be the poor, who use the least national resources and the highest should be the rich, who use the most.

-Corporations devour resources to generate wealth, that wealth can be shared to those they profit from through taxation.

-A society prospers when its member are treated equally: minorities, women, the disabled, etc. Create and preserve that quality however we can.

-International trade is good so long as it is of benefit to the working class. Fair trade must be our goal or else we are simply perpetuating low-wage slavery in other countries and loosing jobs in our own.

As a whole, Americans did not forget these things. When a palpable sense of longing for these old ideals returned to the collective consciousness, it was only a matter of time before a savvy politician with an ear to the ground picked up on it. That's precisely what happened this last November 4Th. Barack Obama did not stand up on the podium and sound the trumpet call. He only answered it. He did not invent these ideas, he simply repeated them to a nodding crowd. When we started the parade, he stood up in front of it and waved the flag.

I will contend and always will, that there is an ever-present liberal base in America much larger than is portrayed in the behavior of our representatives in government. People complain often that those elected have no ear for the pleas of their constituency. They are unresponsive to our needs the people say, but the truth is politicians are highly responsive by nature. They act swiftly when called upon. When presented with problems, they react with capable force. The problem is that they hear only those with the loudest voices and in American democracy today, those with the most money have all the say. Politicians are therefore highly responsive to the needs of the people so long as those people are millionaires, billionaires, multi-national corporations, or massive lobby groups. Those voices drown out any voice the average working Joe might have in Washington.

At least that WAS the case. There comes a tipping point in any society when the least privileged of the classes cannot be tread on any further. They finally speak out and, in a unity consolidated by common suffering, they are heard. If we, as a nation, have reached this tipping point then it means one important thing: whether Obama is really a champion of the people or a just another savvy politician who is capitalizing on a wave of sentiment in America does not matter. So long as we continue to put pressure as a consolidated liberal base of the working middle class, he and Congress will have no choice but to pay attention to us.

We are the outsourced, floundering workers. We are the unemployed. We are the struggling to get by. We are the over-burdened, the over-indebted. We are working jobs we hate, no longer for stuff we don't need, but for stuff we do and can barely afford. You see, we buy what the millionaires, billionaires, and multi-national corporations are selling and we can't buy it for much longer. Politicians have to stop and listen to us now because we keep the gears greased, the power on, the criminals in jail and, damn it, we need help!

They have to listen to us because other wise the Jenga stack could come crashing down. So, keep shouting, America. I know I will. Right here, just like this.

Thanks for reading.

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