Why Progressives Fail

According to Sun Tzu; “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” 

In The Nation magazine Gara LaMarche and Deepak Bhargava attempt to lay out the Road Ahead for Progressives.(www.thenation.com/road-ahead-progressives-back-basics)  What they accomplish, however, is to reflect blind spots and logical disconnects that color their attempt at analysis.  While applauding Healthcare reform, the stimulus and financial reform they also represent that these reforms simply did not go far enough, a common theme among progressive leading lights. More, there should have been more.  At the same time they identify the “toxic” nature of the nation’s politics but make no connection between public discontent with the “flawed” nature of the big three accomplishments.  They appear incapable of making the connection that those “flawed achievements” are what turned the political environment toxic in the first place.

The authors offer a dispirited recognition of a Conservative resurgence and contend that the only tonic is a “newly feisty President” and a “resurgent Progressive movement”; if we can just have more!  They unfortunately descend into name calling as a substitute for analysis: a conservative base that is “crazy, wacky, zealots” and from their point of view, hopefully “unelectable”, while at the same time recognizing the actual electability of Conservatives that occurred in 1980 and 1994.  While they reference the history it is clearly difficult to either recognize or accept the dynamics behind those elections.  

In a serious tin ear moment the authors hope for two things to happen before a newly elected Congress is seated; lame duck passage of Immigration Reform and expanded use of Executive Powers, even as they recognize the likelihood of independents and conservative Democrats fleeing their advice.  These hopes come with no apparent realization that yet another unpopular, one party solution and yet more Executive mandates will only make the Progressive resurgence they hope for more difficult if not impossible. We’re these hopes to come to fruition it would cement the perception that the Progressive agenda is totally disconnected from the consent of the governed.  This is a logical disconnect of the first order.

The authors, in the scenarios they envision, are hard put to imagine that the current political climate will be capable of addressing their core issues: climate change, inequality and worsening poverty.  They do not, however, connect their concerns with the policies of the current administration or the fact that a significant majority do not share their agenda as the core agenda.  They fly by the fact that up to 62% of the electorate that simply does not accept, agree with or is prepared to adopt their agenda as the critical agenda for the country.  While the vast majority of Americans see economics and job growth as the critical issues Progressives still cling to environmental and social justice issues as the core of what we should be about.    

The authors feel they have “lost the story line” for the Progressive push back against the evils of the Bush Administration.  They thought they had that story line firmly in hand from 2000 through 2009.  Now they must find it again but how?  The last twenty months should be an ode to accomplishment but they admit it does not feel that way and wonder why.  They attempt to define the key dynamics:

They cannot  understand why their belief that the free market proved to be a “manifest failure” was met with a movement to limit government not market dynamics. It’s anathema to them and reflective of the belief that government will somehow provide the necessary panacea.  An idea that most Americans reject.   

They discuss “structural barriers to reform”.  What are those “barriers”; separation of powers, federalism and the electoral system.  In other words key fundamentals of our political system are a “structural barrier to reform”, a negative.

Polarized media is also identified as a problem and maybe here we can agree that it can be an inhibition to intelligent engagement of issues.  What is the alternative?  Accountability is the answer they offer “consistent with the First Amendment, of course”.  The problem with the Progressive version of accountability is that it cannot, by its own definitions of accountability, be consistent with the First Amendment which is why the Progressive head of the FCC is being slapped down by the courts. 

Community organizing must be stepped up according to the authors quoting FDR’s challenge to labor leaders to make their point “You’ve convinced me.  Now go out and make me do it”.  They remain upset that the President “lodged” his support behind the Democratic Party instead of the “outside” Progressive movement and thus sapped the Progressive energy that elected him.  This is a tortured argument based on the unfulfilled expectations of an easy path to power requiring no actual organization.  The fact that the Tea Party has pulled it off is a lesson that escapes the authors.  Also escaping the authors is the fact that the Progressives did not elect the President as they contend; middle class, middle income, moderate white folks elected the President.  Progressives were always “in the bag”.  Progressives understood and took comfort in the code words, all of those hopeful folks in the middle did not know the code words and thus could not anticipate what would come their way! 

It is clear that the Progressive movement, as reflected by these authors expected much more; the public option in healthcare, the Employee Free Choice Act, Cap and Trade, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t tell, bigger stimulus, more gay rights legislation and the closure of Gitmo.  They associate these failures with their movement not being more central to the seat of power, not with a public rejection of either the policy or the chosen path to implement those policies.  It does not occur that had Progressives been closer to the seat of power and more in control of the ‘agenda’ the rejection would have been much worse.

The blind spot in this analysis is the blind spot suffered by Progressivism back to Woodrow Wilson.  This blind spot has never been fully reconciled by Progressives. Amongst all the talk of the movement, issues of social justice, agendas, expectations and complaints there is a glaring omission.  Not once are the “people” mentioned as the true nexus of policy.  Not once, in this analysis, is the will of the governed taken as a factor worthy of serious consideration.  This absence is the source of the perceived arrogance associated with the movement; it will also be the source of perpetual failure despite occasional revival.

  • Bill Hedges


    By progressive I guess you mean liberal. I’ll stick with liberal. I have been told I was racist because I am against obamacare and watch Fox. Progressive sound like a good thing while I see little good in liberal’s politics. I have gone ‘absolute zero’ cold to their causes.

    Seeing TEA on tape being beat up many times by union shirts, then hearing rumored that TEA performed bad deeds with no proof. Watching video of black panther at voting polls, later let off after being found guilt for no show. More black panthers yelling racial remarks. TEA accused at Congress steps with no video or audio proof. Don’t ask me to feel for progressives. Life is too short.

    I will feel delighted if we smash long held records for party change in Congress.

    Obama appears to be preparing for the shock.

    “The View” with Bill O’Reilly:


  • JD

    I think Bill is the perfect example of what I was thinking as I read this article. In a simple question, How much of this stems from the fact that we are a two party nation?

    Bill as an example, would never vote for a “liberal” even if the “liberal” leans to the right but runs under the Democrat party. I wonder if this “Disconnect” we see is really the result of voting based on party and not on candidates and because we vote based on party the candidates have to paint themselves red or blue.

    There is a divide in the US and I see all that is being described as a result of the system in place. Although I may believe this, I see no way to change it. I do wonder if we even need parties…if legislation were to make it illegal to run under a party name. Would that be so bad? Doesn’t party loyalty do more bad than good? What if candidates had to run on the issues?

  • Landreaux

    The Founders, originally, were very much against “Parties”. Their fears were based on party loyalty outstripping loyalty to the nation. They were right. I would suggest to JD that the first step in “fixing it” would be based on a decidedly non conservative idea that being full public financing of federal elections. I suggest that step one is to get the money out of the process. More on this upcoming.

  • Bill Hedges

    Sarah Palin offered to campaign for some Democrats. There are blue collar Democrats. I belonged to a union. I may be only one here who believes Bush was right with TARP. I also liked Johnston. Not all TEA are in full agreement. Economically wise at least one could argue John F. Kennedy would be a Republican today. Another Reagan ?

    There are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in Tea. Maybe liberals ???

    I write a lot on another site because JD and others complained I wrote too much here. I honor that request. At the other site it is much more hostile. Now it is less with liberals being less frequent with upcoming election expectations. Most all of the personal hostility was from liberals. Of course not one sided. I am not speaking of differing views but personal insults. That I don’t like to be feed on a constant diet. Who does ?

    JD says “Bill as an example, would never vote for a “liberal” even if the “liberal” leans to the right but runs under the Democrat party.”

    I will not get into liberal leaning less. That is a judgment call and not really arguable. But “would never vote for a “liberal”” ? One must use sparingly “would never”. Always, every time, never, etc.. Must be used very cautiously. A person can get burnt often using absolutes.

    I do not vote a straight ticket since I became a Republican during Bill Clinton’s first term. I helped elect CONTRACT WITH AMERICA manpower.

    If you wish to say we are a Country divided so be it. I imagine you disagree with my political views in many respect. As I you. I see no harm in Country divided. Differing views exist with everywhere that I know of. Founding Fathers had. We have been divided one way or another. By economics, education, faith, politics, etc. We may have our revolution come Nov. 2, The subscribed way by vote. People who voted barry into office will now vote against those who voted for his agenda.

    Angle is now tied with Reid according to Fox. Reid in earlier times was more Conservative. I have watched older videos of him. I could have voted for him at one time easily.

    Christine O’Donnell has a past that liberal’s attack. I have a strong tendency to vote TEA and found much to be unjustified. If I read it right on Fox she is narrowing the large gap with Coons. It is a Democrat State and Biden’s old seat. A hard road for her to travel. I cross my fingers.

    Anyhow I have heard racist yet Nation voted in a partially black man as President by a significant number. After drug use, Bill Ayres, Rev Wright, Louis Farrakhan, etc..
    Was called racist by Bill Crosby and Jimmy Carter if against health care. Health care failed under Carter and Clinton. Passed under berry against the polls. Obamacare not what was expected. Congress and barry have gone against polls with 60-70 %. So comes the election. Expected upheaval.

    I was raised and believe in equal rights. Have had many discussions on civil rights . A liberal I use to debate said it was the Southern Dixie Democrats who were racist. Later he said they became Republicans. At which point he stubbornly called Republicans mostly racist. I pointed out Republican came about for the black man rights. I pointed out the many early all Democrats votes against civil rights. Dixie and north Democrats alike. With dates and events. He explained he was black and I was misrepresenting. But facts are facts. He tried to end saying Republicans never initiated civil rights after 1965. Discussion ended after pointing out adoption of interracial babies was part of CONTRACT WITH AMERICA.

    The notion of Country Divided is more of a pendulum. We voted racist in earlier times and the KKK and Bullet groups flourished. Today is less so. Personal likes/dislikes more prevalent. Which will always be am sure. The individual voter votes his beliefs. It changes to circumstance.

    I doubt I will ever be a PROGRESSIVE. I hope to buy a economically priced electric/alternative fuel car some day. I would buy wind mill electricity if only a penny higher than coal per kilowatt hour. I might, might, might, might vote for obama for second term if he aligned himself more with my policies and viewpoints. Plus dislike his opponent more. I don’t see it happening. But then at 20 I never thought I would not vote a straight Democrat ticket.

    A office holder can be king of the hill one day. In the trash bin the next. Country divided hardly. Actions and perception in Congress and White House dictate votes. Obama came to power because of recession and anti Bush. Change in Congress is possible because of recession and anti-obama. Country not so divided.

  • Landreaux

    Just a point of clarification; I do not fully equate Liberals with Progressives they are very different in their commitment to an ideological point of view. In their early history Progressives were much farther to the left than traditional liberals and have pretty much maintained that position. As a one stop primer on Progressivism I would recommend Jonah Goldbergs book, Liberal Fascism. It is as much a history of the movement as you’ll get in one place. I am sure you’ll be startled by what you find there.

    There is also the case of “Liberalism” in the context of the time frame that is applied to the descriptive. The meaning in colloqual use has changed greatly over the years.

    Today’s conservatives would have been refered to as libera;s in the early 1900’s specifically in the context of “classical” liberalism. But, by using the descriptive “Progressive” I am excusing my well intentioned, empathetic liberal friends who are capable of altering ideological commitments and can, on a particular matter of discussion, be moved by clear points of logic and agreed upon facts.