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Left Neo-Liberalism vs. Grassroots Liberalism

[ 161 ] July 18, 2011 |

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry has a really interesting commentary to this Doug Henwood piece attacking the neoliberal left. Henry:

Neo-liberals tend to favor a combination of market mechanisms and technocratic solutions to solve social problems. But these kinds of solutions tend to discount politics – and in particular political collective action, which requires strong collective actors such as trade unions. This means that vaguely-leftish versions of neo-liberalism often have weak theories of politics, and in particular of the politics of collective action. I see Doug and others as arguing that successful political change requires large scale organized collective action, and that this in turn requires the correction of major power imbalances (e.g. between labor and capital). They’re also arguing that neo-liberal policies at best tend not to help correct these imbalances, and they seem to me to have a pretty good case. To put it more succinctly – even if left-leaning neo-liberals are right to claim that technocratic solutions and market mechanisms can work to relieve disparities etc, it’s hard for me to see how left-leaning neo-liberalism can generate any self-sustaining politics.

Progressive change in this country (at least after the Civil War) has almost always happened through mass movement politics eventually electing politicians to office to enact desired changes or forcing reluctant politicians to go along. Think Civil Rights, environmentalism, or the labor movement. Today, the gay rights movement is succeeding because of collective action changing people’s minds and making politicians realize that supporting it is good politics.

I think I and left neo-liberals all more or less want the same things–a more robust economy, better jobs, universal healthcare, sensible transportation policy, a vigorous fight against climate change, etc. But it seems that left neo-liberals sometimes feel that mass movements are outdated and irrelevant for creating this change. Certainly they are right that we need smart people working in think tanks and creating policy, but Henry is right that this does not create a self-sustaining politics.

Does policy follow grassroots politics or can successful policy be created without a grassroots base? I’d argue for the former–being right about policy rarely matters in American politics. It’s about how many people you can get out to support you, regardless of a position’s merits. Conservatives understand this well. The Tea Party supports terrible policy on nearly every issue. But that hasn’t stopped it from moving the nation significantly to the right.

Where does this disconnect between left neo-liberalism and grassroots liberalism come from? A couple of suggestions. First, the failure of the anti-Vietnam movement to stop the war seem to have convinced many that putting bodies in the streets isn’t going to make much of a difference in Washington. That the anti-Iraq protests faded so quickly in 2003 suggests that many people believed that sustained protests weren’t going to do anything positive. Second, as Henry notes, the liberal interest group dynamics of the late 70s and 80s created squabbling that precluded much useful from getting done. Combined with the fizzling out of the labor and civil rights movements in the face of revived conservative opposition and perhaps it seemed that grassroots politics were not the route for policy-oriented liberals to create change.

It’s not that left neo-liberals and grassroots liberals can’t come together. The Obama campaign was an amazing grassroots campaign, where you had left neo-liberals ready to support all sorts of policies with their technocratic expertise and millions of Americans (or at least hundreds of thousands) waiting to do what their president asked to see universal health care, job creation, immigration reform, etc.

And then after the election, Obama and his team allowed the grassroots movement to slip away. Obama, clearly never comfortable with being the head of a mass movement, preferred the politics of the Beltway to that of the street. Like so many other left neoliberals, he failed to understand what both labor unions and right-wing activists know well–politics are primarily won in the street, next to the water cooler, at the local bar, and on the airwaves, not in meetings of intelligent people.

So to sum up–being right about policy is often irrelevant unless you have a mass movement of people behind you ready to engage in collective action to see those policies enacted. And I don’t think left neo-liberals often understand that. This is why I get so outraged when, for example, left neo-liberals support education “reform” that weakens teacher unions. We probably all agree that there are bad teachers out there and it would be great to get rid of them. But by weakening the one educational institution that can best mobilize people to protect our schools from conservative attacks, these reforms often further right-wing politics even if they theoretically achieve a left neo-liberal policy point.

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  1. Hogan says:

    being right about policy rarely matters in American politics

    It’s impossible to overemphasize this point. (And I wouldn’t limit it to the US.) If you think people are fundamentally rational, you will never understand real-life politics on any level.

  2. NonyNony says:

    So to sum up–being right about policy is often irrelevant unless you have a mass movement of people behind you ready to engage in collective action to see those policies enacted.

    Otherwise known as democracy.

    Which is why I get outraged at neo-liberals who fail to grasp the idea that no matter how correct your policy presumptions they’re no good if you can’t fucking get a sufficient mass of people to support them.

    This is what has infuriated me about liberals in this country for – oh, fucking forever. The policy positions are the right ones, but the tactics suck. They’re exactly the opposite of their rightward counterparts, where the policy positions are incredibly awful and divorced from reality, but the tactics are really, really good.

    • But isn’t this basically a catch-22? If the split is between technocrats who are right on the policy but don’t inspire passion in others or a populist movement that does the latter but is wrong (or less right or whatever) on the policy, doesn’t it make more sense to come up with a way to get the populists/grassroots to accept the “right” policy than to expect the technocrats to pick up the foam #1 finger and clap louder?

      • soullite says:

        But they aren’t wrong. People like you just make up a whole lot of bullshit economic data that is never born out by the real world, study it, and declare them wrong.

        If neoliberalism is so correct, then why has the world gone to shit since neoliberalism became the dominant ideology among the elite?

    • tpb says:

      What neoliberal policies are correct, exactly? Left, right, or center, neoliberalism hasn’t worked.

      • NonyNony says:

        Note that for the second paragraph I dropped the “neo”. That was intentional.

      • Blame Henry at Crooked Timber. He introduced the neo-liberal/liberal distinction into an argument that is about technocratic liberalism vs. mass movement liberalism.

        • dave says:

          For anyone outside the USA, it isn’t about “liberalism” at all. We have words like ‘social democracy’ available to us that you seem to have forgotten.

      • Ed Marshall says:

        I don’t think that there is any way that everyone here is going to have the same definition of neoliberal, but by my own lights I’d consider cap and trade a good neoliberal idea. It’s not a neoliberal idea per se, but the regulatory regime on trucking in the 70′s really was a worthless, rent-seeking, operation and just raised prices on goods needlessly for no apparent social benefit.

  3. Bill Murray says:

    Progressive change in this country … has almost happened through mass movement politics eventually electing politicians to office to enact desired changes or forcing reluctant politicians to go along.

    1. does this mean progressive change hasn’t happened but when it almost happened it was due to mass movement, or is there a word, such as always, missing.

    2. Isn’t left neo-liberalism a subset of economic thought that has purged politics from political economy, enhancing their technocratic ideals?

  4. DrDick says:

    I would argue that the distinction between leftish neo-liberals and grassroots liberals is that the former want to tweak the system to make it more humane to the working classes and poor, but actively do not want correction of major power imbalances.

  5. John Emerson says:

    Conservative or centrist Democrats have always been there, and not just in the South. Before Bryan came along the Democratic Party was more or less as conservative as the Republican Party, except on tariffs, and more conservative on race. All through FDR’s Presidency there was an anti-FDR faction in the Democratic Party. A lot of FDR’s support came third parties and Republican and Democratic maverick progressives, and independent groups such as unions.

    Most educated democrats means that The People (the main enemy of good government, per Pol Sci) consists of everyone whatsoever without an official position. A PhD outside government is as irrelevant to decision-making as a fruit-picker, and should just shut up. Brad DeLong is The People, and screw him. Erik Loomis is The People, and he can go to hell.

    After WWII the leftists were expelled and the unions were tamed. Before WWII the isolationist progressives had broken with Roosevelt, and few of them remained after the war. The Democratic Party basically became a normal, realistic, anti-left, anti-populist party.

    People like Schlesinger, Hofstadter, Galbraith, Shils, Daniel Bell, et al preached “consensus theory”, which wasn’t much of a social theory but did stress getting along. Government came to be defined as administration. “Populism” was given a bogus pejorative definition that it still has for most people today. (Hofstadter hated Truman’s verbal anti-Wall Street populism). American intellectuals of that time were suckers for any anti-populist European: Strauss, Hayek, Arendt, Adorno, Popper.

    The roots of neoliberalism go back that far. Kennedy kept distant from the left of his party. LBJ was a wheeler-dealer and a fixer. Hubert Humphrey was the cold warrior who had purged the new DFL Party. MLK was an outside force that they reluctantly ended up working with. The anti-war movement was the enemy of the Democratic Party, whose Cold War committment was absolute.

    After 1968, mass movements of any kind became anathema. But the foundations were laid in 1948 or even 1940. Voters were organized into interest groups intermediated by leaders.

    Pol Sci 101 and Pol Phil 101 are almost always anti-mass-movement and effectively anti-democratic unless democracy is defined as process.

  6. Lee says:

    Its not really a hatred of grassroots activism. Its more of hatred of party politics combined with a realization that successful grassroots activism leads to party politics. Look back at the Progressive Era. Many of the progressive reformers were middle to upper middle class people who wanted reform but disdained getting their hands dirty by engaging in grassroots activism and party politics because it meant doing unrespectable things. Its the same with the modern left neo-liberals.

    I believe this disdain for party politics traces back to a desire to be a sort of philosopher-king, who can rule in the best interests of the common people without having to associate or work with them. Its why Yglesias likes parlimentary systems so much. To him it means all you need to do is win an election and a left-liberal technocratic cabinet can govern as they please to the next election. No need to negotiate with legislators, they are just supposed to do what you want them to do.

  7. John Emerson says:

    Paragraph 2 garbled out of recognition and misplaced. Partial econstruction:

    Pol Sci 101 and Pol Phil 101 are almost always anti-mass-movement and effectively anti-democratic unless democracy is defined as process.

    The People (the main enemy of good government, per Pol Sci) consists of everyone whatsoever without an official position. A PhD outside government is as irrelevant to decision-making as a fruit-picker, and should just shut up. Brad DeLong is The People, and screw him. Erik Loomis is The People, and he can go to hell.

  8. This analysis seems to conflate two different axes: the formulation of implementable policy once favorable political conditions are achieved, and the achievement of favorable political conditions. “Put a million bodies in the street and make Congress pass something called ‘universal health care’” doesn’t actually tell us what to do when we win.

    So to sum up–being right about policy is often irrelevant unless you have a mass movement of people behind you ready to engage in collective action to see those policies enacted. And I don’t think left neo-liberals often understand that.

    Right. Similarly, putting a mass movement behind you ready to engage in collective action to see broadly-defined policy goals enacted doesn’t tell you what the bill you can now pass through Congress should look like, both in terms of pure policy preferences and in terms of what, specifically, the newly-favorable political situation will allow to pass. And I don’t think grassroots liberals often understand that.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      No, I don’t think this is true. I don’t think many grassroots liberals are saying that policy expertise and the ability to act effectively within the Beltway or in the state capitol building don’t matter. Clearly, policy expertise is absolutely vital to enacting and implementing successful legislation. But it’s not the only thing. Arguably it’s not the most important thing (I’d probably argue that the two sides of the equation are approximately of equal importance).

      • I don’t think many grassroots liberals are saying that policy expertise and the ability to act effectively within the Beltway or in the state capitol building don’t matter.

        Really?

        Do you read the comment threads at your blog?

        • DocAmazing says:

          Straw blaze alert.

          No one among Left rabble-rousers argues against expertise infromulating policy. Quite the reverse: most object to the inexpert investment-house dipshits who currently set the tone.

          • There are some, though I doubt you can see them from your seat, who don’t understand that the two are different.

            • DocAmazing says:

              It wasn’t policy expertise that gave us a small stimulus, or a hampered HAMP, or took the public option off the table, or shitcanned “shovel-ready” development projects, or deregulated finance.

              Where you’re sitting doesn’t alter that.

              • It wasn’t policy expertise that gave us a small stimulus, or a hampered HAMP, or took the public option off the table, or shitcanned “shovel-ready” development projects, or deregulated finance.

                Nope; it was the presence of an opposition that gets a vote.

                Something you don’t have to worry about when you spend a fun-filled day marching around with a sign.

                • Nope; it was the presence of an opposition that gets a vote.

                  Am I searching in the wrong place for HAMP?

                • HAMP was just not well executed.

                  Hopefully the newly-announced changes will help.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Or caring for patients.

                  You might want to look into what goes into organizing, joe.

                • I have nothing but respect for organizers – except for you, personally, that is. And that has nothing to do with your organizing efforts.

                  Which is probably why I’ve made a single argument denouncing the organizing side as being contrary to the goal of representing and protecting the interests of the membership – whereas you have repeatedly, over and over, called the actual work of getting a contract done “selling out.”

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Something you don’t have to worry about when you spend a fun-filled day marching around with a sign.

                  I have nothing but respect for organizers

                  One of these things is not like the other.

                • Marching is fun.

                  Go on, tell me I’m wrong.

                  Tell me, “No, joe from Lowell, the marches are miserable, unpleasant, soul-crushing work.”

                  Go ahead. Lay it on us.

                • I remember sitting a room, clapping and chanting along to “Yes we can” in Spanish, and thinking to myself: damn, I wish I was back in that room with the City Manager. Those were the good old days.

                  Dude, if your marches aren’t fun, UR not doin it rite.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Yeah, guys from the corporation that employs me as a physician showing up at the picket line taking photos is fun.

                  Yeah, getting emails from my supervisor warning me to keep my distance from the picketers prior to joining the line is fun.

                  Keep digging, joe…

                • Sounds exciting.

                  Sounds like something that gives you absolutely no right to denounce the people who sit in the room and negotiate the contracts as sell-outs.

                  Ready to apologize for that yet? How about for mocking me for being unemployed?

                • Digging?

                  Only your grave.

                  You think this thread is going even the slightest big against me?

                  You’re good at believing things that flatter you, and let your polish your own self-regard.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  As I recall, the sell-out thing had more to do with elected officials. However, I have seen more than a few sell-out of union workers by the UHW hereabouts–you might want to Google Sal Roselli and find out why he’s been trying to launch NUHW.

                  But hey, you’re busy with the Serious Business of blog commenting. You haven’t time for such silly things.

                  Busy with patients, joe. Enjoy your further piss-antry.

      • On further thought, Erik, I think it depends on precisely what “grassroots liberalism” we’re talking about. There are many.

        You come from a labor perspective. The unions understand how to raise hell the streets, and then sit down and take as-much-of-yes-as-they-won for an answer. Ditto the Social Security/Medicare lobby. Not all factions that can fall under the term “grassroots activism” have demonstrated that ability.

        Perhaps it a consequence of the unions having material responsibilities to a membership that will be materially harmed by not bringing home an actual win.

        • DK says:

          The unions continue to be decimated because of the thing you praise them for.

          Sometimes you need to accept things as they are and work within those limitations. But sometimes you have to attack those limitations. Neo-liberalism, at its core, rejects the latter assertion.

          The failure of labor to do the latter when the best they were doing was treading water has been disastrous.

          • Yeah, unions just don’t have the awesome power of the Anti-War movement, do they?

            Oh, and which “thing that I praise them for” are you talking about? Because I just wrote a comment praising them for “raising hell in the streets” AND then bringing home the win.

            I’m not sure, exactly which one of those halves of the whole do you think has prevented unions from establishing the shock-and-awe power of the drug legalization movement?

            • DK says:

              Since neither my comment, or yours that I responded to, said anything about the drug legalization or anti-war movements, it’s hard to see what your point is other than unfocused hippy punching. Feel free to substitute ‘implied was a good thing’ for the word ‘praised’ if you like (which is all I meant)- but I was referring to this:

              The unions understand how to raise hell the streets, and then sit down and take as-much-of-yes-as-they-won for an answer.

              My point was that they have not in fact been bringing home meaningful wins, because they have refused to combat the limitations they operate under.

              It is a matter of consensus in the labor movement that things are in crisis – that is not a controversial statement. What is in dispute is how to address it. That is why I’d caution against the current labor movement as a model. It ought to go without saying, but that doesn’t mean that I’m offering up any other model that I have not in fact mentioned.

              • Malaclypse says:

                My point was that they have not in fact been bringing home meaningful wins, because they have refused to combat the limitations they operate under.

                Remember Card Check?

                Me neither…

                • Why is it that internet “activists” who’ve never belonged to a union seem more angry about the card check bill doing down than the unions do?

                  The reason is that the unions are aware that a great deal of progress on union elections and other elements of the card check bill has been made through executive action. Quietly. Through an inside, technocratic game.

                  But little of that filters out to non-union “grassroots liberals.” Which is a problem unto itself, in terms of their efforts at building a broader coalition for their politics.

                • Mal,

                  I didn’t mean for that to come off as a slap. I was making a couple points – about the executive action, and about the lack of communication between 1) inside and outside teams and 2) different branches of grassroots liberalism.

                  Not a hippy-punch. Text only is a rough format.

                • mark f says:

                  The reason is that the unions are aware that a great deal of progress on union elections and other elements of the card check bill has been made through executive action. Quietly.

                  Which can all be reversed through executive action. Quietly. While by the way, loudly, Chicago Union Thug Obama and his Union Thugs are giving GM away to the UAW and forcing Boeing to be union-only or be shot.

                • I’m not saying nobody wants a bill, mark f. Of course that would be better.

                  But, yeah, if I had my druthers, I’d like to see some more noise from Obama in support of unions. Good thing there’s a campaign coming up.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  I didn’t mean for that to come off as a slap.

                  It did not, but I do thank you for thinking about debate tone.

                  One of the stranger aspects of my job is that I get newsletters about employment law from a labor law firm that only represents employers, never employees. They saw Card Check as a serious threat, and the demise was a big, big deal to them.

                • mark f says:

                  It’s the pattern of the party’s alliance with the unions, though. “You’ll get this not-as-good thing as long as you shut up when we ask you to and speak up when we ask you to.” I think I disagree with Erik about a labor/Democrats split, but that’s the pattern.

                • mark f,

                  “You’ll get this not-as-good thing as long as you shut up when we ask you to and speak up when we ask you to.”

                  How is that any different than the union leadership, even the most devoted, honest, loyal union leadership, turning out the guys for a picket when the contract is about to expire, and then actually agreeing to a contract that isn’t the maximalist positions painted on the picket signs?

                  this not-as-good thing

                  That’s life, man! You’re not going to get the whole enchilada just because you want it. It doesn’t mean you’ve been betrayed by your representatives.

                • mark f says:

                  How is that any different than the union leadership, even the most devoted, honest, loyal union leadership, turning out the guys for a picket when the contract is about to expire, and then actually agreeing to a contract that isn’t the maximalist positions painted on the picket signs?

                  Because being president for four years isn’t the same as working with the benfits and the constraints as a contract. Being president is an opportunity to get stuff done for your constituencies.

                • Also too, I took Joe’s point to mean “unions have to actually do real-life collective bargaining agreements on behalf of their workers,” which is rather more direct than lobbying on behalf of public policy.

                • Mark f,

                  Being president is an opportunity to get stuff done for your constituencies.

                  So is agreeing to a deal at the bargaining table.

                  The notion that the president doesn’t have constraints is just silly.

                • mark f says:

                  So is agreeing to a deal at the bargaining table.

                  I never said it wasn’t.

                  The notion that the president doesn’t have constraints is just silly.

                  I never said he didn’t.

                  I said that electing a president is not the same as negotiating a CBA, which was your analogy. Agreeing to a contract is the endpoint of negotiations. Getting a candidate elected falls somewhere in the middle of the political process.

                  The things the NLRB is doing to speed up union elections are great; it won’t last a month past the next Republican inauguration. It’s not really expecting the whole enchilada to ask for a commitment to – or an effort towards, even! – gains more permanent than the current administration.

              • Since neither my comment, or yours that I responded to, said anything about the drug legalization or anti-war movements, it’s hard to see what your point is other than unfocused hippy punching.

                Thank you for asking, since you didn’t understand something. I’m happy to explain it to you.

                Those are two movements that have (or, in the case of the legalization movement, didn’t have until recently) much interest in or capacity for an inside, technocratic game, and relied entirely on outside, grassroots politics.

                My point was that they have not in fact been bringing home meaningful wins…

                Their membership would disagree with you. A raise is a meaningful win…for the people those unions represent. So, in certain circumstances, is simply avoiding layoffs.

                It is a matter of consensus in the labor movement that things are in crisis – that is not a controversial statement. What is in dispute is how to address it. That is why I’d caution against the current labor movement as a model.

                I understand what you’re saying here, and I think the problem with what you’re calling “the current labor movement as a model” is a reference to only doing the work at the bargaining table, instead of paying attention to both sides of the equation. I agree with this point, and I do think that labor spent too long away from its universal, organizing roots. I’m optimistic that the fights in places like Wisconsin and Ohio represent a change.

        • Ed says:

          You come from a labor perspective. The unions understand how to raise hell the streets, and then sit down and take as-much-of-yes-as-they-won for an answer.

          I have the impression that there are many who would prefer to eliminate the whole bit about raising hell in the streets, and find those who would raise said hell rather irksome. This was particularly noticeable during the health care reform debate.

          The unions also delivered for their memberships big time for a long time. Not sure if the same can be said elsewhere.

          • I have the impression that there are many who would prefer to eliminate the whole bit about raising hell in the streets, and find those who would raise said hell rather irksome. This was particularly noticeable during the health care reform debate.

            A wise man once said:

            I think it’s easy to confuse the practice of actually hammering out the union contract or getting a bill through the Senate as a preference for one type of liberalism over another, rather than as the recognition of each having its time and place in the process.

            (Recognizing that this lesson can be over-learned, and the utility of the mass movement even in the end game can be overlooked, too.)

            • IOW, I don’t think a march of grassroots activists in support of one side of one of the most long-standing, universally-debated arguments in politics is what gets you that 60th Senator (Scott Brown or Ben Nelson or whomever). He’s seem bigger marches, and is still a Senator. Winning the outside game isn’t what gets him.

    • Bill Murray says:

      Maybe, but it seems like once the grass roots have put people in power they are promptly ignored for the technocrats, who are then back in their original position of not having a mass movement at their back.

      • Once you’re in power, you finish the deal by actually implementing a “technocratic” – defined here as “specific and plausible enough to actually be implemented” – solution.

        I think it’s easy to confuse the practice of actually hammering out the union contract or getting a bill through the Senate as a preference for one type of liberalism over another, rather than as the recognition of each having its time and place in the process.

        (Recognizing that this lesson can be over-learned, and the utility of the mass movement even in the end game can be overlooked, too.)

        • DocAmazing says:

          If by “specific and plausible enough to be implemented” you mean “preferred by the corporate donors”, then yeah, that’s accurate. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly: the grassroots types do all of the GOTV and signature-gathering and all of the stuff necessary to get the candidate elected, then the DLC-types show up and red-bait them out of the room–and them wonder why they aren’t showing up for the mid-terms.

          Like a charm, it works!

          • Well…as opposed to what? The problem here is that once you get past the election, you have to go to Congress and deal with a larger array of politically oriented decision makers, and then the Senate on top of that. if you want to change that, you need to change the systems. But I guess we’ll never get to that, because it’s the “neoliberals” like Yglesias taking up that standard.

            • DocAmazing says:

              If y0u have no problem with the candidates that you elect representing the corporate donors, bully for you, but quit hassling the leftists to do your groundwork.

          • If by “specific and plausible enough to be implemented” you mean “preferred by the corporate donors”

            A more perfect example of the blinkers I was talking about, I couldn’t have made up if I tried.

            You literally do not understand that there are any constraints on political behavior, so anything short of the pony can only be a sellout.

            • DocAmazing says:

              No, I firmly believe that taking everything “off the table” except that which is desired by the corporate donors and then pretending (more in sorrow than in anger!) that there was no choice, and that those who see this obvious sell-out as an obvious sell-out are whiners.

              I’m sure Elizabeth Warren would agree with your analysis.

              • No, I firmly believe that taking everything “off the table” except that which is desired by the corporate donors

                You know, like a trillion dollar tax increase.

                Here’s the problem: you don’t treat “taking everything off the table except that which is desired by the corporate donors” is a proposition subject to confirmation by evidence. Once you see that something makes the cut, you decide that by definition it must be what is desired by corporate donors.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Well, we had the rewrite of Dodd-Frank, the evisceration of ACA, and TARP without accountability. Perhaps you have some other way of characterizing those?

                • Another perfect example: how do you know what parts of Dodd-Frank and the ACA are “desired by the donor class?”

                  You can look in hindsight, and just assume that whatever made it through is – including those parts that everyone on the left initially supported – while only that parts that didn’t make the cut were worthwhile.

                  Of course, you can only do this in hindsight.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Actually, we had reporters like Matt Taibbi going over the process in realtime.

                  But don’t let inconvenient facts get in the way of your piss-antry.

          • I’ve seen it happen repeatedly: the grassroots types do all of the GOTV and signature-gathering and all of the stuff necessary to get the candidate elected, then the DLC-types show up and red-bait them out of the room

            You’ve seen something happen repeatedly.

            Whether it’s actually a sell-out by those traitors who stabbed you in the back just as you were about to win, or the workings of an inside-game process subject, unlike sloganeering, to political constraints, you can’t say. You don’t even recognize the existence of such a thing in theory, so how could conclude whether you’re seeing one or the other?

            • DocAmazing says:

              “Political constraints” is a rather amusing way of saying “keeping the people who will hire me when I’m done with this political gig happy”. A sell-out is a sell-out.

              Do your own GOTV if you don’t mind being sold to the corporate class. Quit asking the left to do you work for you. You clearly have the necessary free time.

              • A sell-out is a sell-out.

                Hey, little internet poseur: I’ve actually sat in the meetings with the top executive and hammered out the details of a union contract for my local.

                You’ve seen some pictures of union guys in Wisconsin and gotten a chubby. Maybe you’ve even marched around in a crowd of people and felt awesome about yourself, and then gone to a nice dinner.

                Go take your pretentious howls that those of us who’ve actually done the hard, unpleasant part are sellouts, and shove them where the sun don’t shine.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Hey, sellout: I work with the California Nurses Association. I walk the lines and help put together policy positions. I’ve put my own job on the line to keep nurses’ contracts from being screwed.

                  Your whining and piss-antry are no more representative of labor today than they have been for the past few whiny weeks. You’re out of a job; wow. So are most of the families of my patients. I recommend going after the people who are fucking the economy instead of DLCing up the threads here.

                • Oh, whoop-de-doo! You’ve marched around and drawn up wish lists.

                  That’s awfully nice, but it doesn’t give you the right to trash-talk about those of us who’ve done the hard part, where you have to think about something other than what you want.

                • You’re out of a job; wow.

                  So you can fucking apologize for You clearly have the necessary free time.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  That, of course, leaves out the GOTV I’ve done in places like West Oakland, and the actual, y’know, free medical care. But hey, you got to hang out with union officials, so it’s all cool.

                  Once again: if you’re copascetic with having your candidates abandon their promises in favor of the donors, do your own GOTV.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Apologize? Dude, you have gone out of your way to defend the very policies that keep you unemployed. Perhaps you should apologize to the families of my patients.

                • Apologize? Dude, you have gone out of your way to defend the very policies that keep you unemployed.

                  Now that’s classy: you disagree with me about political tactics, so it’s ok to mock me for being out of a job.

                  Solidarity! Leftism! Power to the people!

                • But hey, you got to hang out with union officials

                  DocAmazing, 4:44 PM.

                  I don’t think many grassroots liberals are saying that policy expertise and the ability to act effectively within the Beltway or in the state capitol building don’t matter.

                  Erik Loomis, 12:46 PM.

                  I’ve found one, at least, who’s come right out and said that actually sitting down, closing the deal, and delivering in, by definition, selling out.

                  And nobody but me seems to have a problem with that.

                • “Political constraints” is a rather amusing way of saying “keeping the people who will hire me when I’m done with this political gig happy”. A sell-out is a sell-out.

                  Doc Amazing, 4:32 PM

                  I don’t think many grassroots liberals are saying that policy expertise and the ability to act effectively within the Beltway or in the state capitol building don’t matter.

                  Erik Loomis, 12:46 PM.

                  I don’t think it’s universal, but it’s clearly something that some have adopted as their fundamental bottom line.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  No, dude, just pointing out that name-dropping isn’t the same thing as making policy. You got to hang out with union officials. I got to gather data on morbidity caused by short-staffing of nurses. Obviously, your expertise is greater.

                • No, dude, just pointing out that name-dropping isn’t the same thing as making policy.

                  As a matter of fact, negotiating the actual contents of union contracts has a whole lot more to do with “making policy” than drawing up the wish list.

                  You might notice, I emphasized the ability to act effectively part of Loomis’ quote. We’re not having a dispute about background expertise, but about the process of turning “what I want” into actual accomplishments.

                • name-dropping

                  Odd, then, that I never mentioned any names.

                  You got to hang out with union officials.

                  This is Mr. Super Collective Action Guy’s characterization of negotiating a contract with management. “You got to hang out with union officials.”

                  Which makes me a corporate sell-out. Which makes it ok to rag on me for losing a job in the recession. I should apologize, actually.

                  How about you just stop digging?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Right: You talk shit about walking picket lines and organizing, and I’m digging.

                  Ah, joe, your piss-antry remians a rich source of lulz…

                • Ah, joe, your piss-antry remians a rich source of lulz…

                  The forced laughter thing? It just makes you look desperate.

                  Ready to apologize for “You clearly have the free time” yet?

                  How about for calling me a sellout because I actually worked to get a contract signed that the membership approved?

                • You talk shit about walking picket lines and organizing,

                  Nope, I’ve talked shit about you.

                  Specifically, I’ve talked shit about you pretentious pose that having walked in a picket line qualifies to you declare, without the slightest knowledge of what you’re talking about, that the only reason final deals don’t give you everything on your wish list is because the people in the room are corporate sell-outs.

              • You clearly have the necessary free time.

                And there we see how deep the internet poseur’s solidarity with people out of a job goes.

  9. soullite says:

    Anyone who claims that neoliberals and lefties have anything like the same goals deserves to be pointed at and laughed. They are either complete idiots or complete hacks.

    Neoliberlism is about pretending to want these things and then turning around and selling American workers down the river. The labor movement didn’t ‘fizzle’, they murdered it and destroyed their union support in the process (sure, the bosses support you, but voters don’t). Same with civil rights.

    You all seriously discount the degree to which most voters and most Americans think you’re all corrupt hacks and the degree to which TARP laid that bare for all to see. Nobody believes that any of the so-called ‘elite’ left are anywhere on the left anymore. Nobody but the tiny sliver of Americans who still call themselves Democrats, anyway.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “Like so many other left neoliberals, he failed to understand what both labor unions and right-wing activists know well–politics are primarily won in the street, next to the water cooler, at the local bar, and on the airwaves, not in meetings of intelligent people.”

    As far as I can tell, this simply isn’t true. Or rather, you haven’t sufficently defined what it means for politics to be “won.”

  11. partisan says:

    I would add that the neoliberal approach to politics, whether left or right, is strongly influenced by the “lessons” as it were, of anti-communism. For people like Orwell, or Hitchens, politics is the art of principally asserting and arguing your deeply held opinions. Trying to actually organize something and realize those beliefs is invariably corrupting and stinks of Stalinism. Reading Hitchens’ prose for the last four decades one finds there isn’t a happy way of reconcilling strategy, tactics and goals. If you want Hitchens to support you, you need to flatter his moral vanity and self-righteousness. This is good news for Paul Wolfowitz, if not for Iraq.

    Now obviously The New Republic, since 1978 unfortunately the most influential journal of American liberal opinion, doesn’t have Hitchens’ whims. But the insistence on purging oneself of any taint of the Popular Front is still an insistent mental tic. This goes back to the Partisan Review, and if one wanted to point out the limitations of that view it would be that in 1950 most of them thought that Stalinism was a bigger problem in New York City than racism. The cult of Saint Orwell is a very seductive one. Orwell, who wrote almost nothing on the labour party or British trade unions, was so obsssessed over the evasions of the New Statesman over Stalinism, could argue that argue that the overwhelming majority of Englishmen (his term by the way) opposed the fashinable Salon Stalinism of the thirties. But it still took overwhelming courage to do so. In other words the courageous side is also the side most likely to win, a virtual definition of the middlebrow mentality.

    Of course one could go on about the neoliberal mentality. One reason that gay marriage is the one issue that neoliberal columnists and bloggers are willing to make a stand on is that everyone knows who Andrew Sullivan is. By contast, in this new Gilded Age, they are less likely to know people who die because they don’t have health insurance, or workers who’ve been screwed because they don’t have a union, or people whose relatives face deporations, let alone people on death row. I’m sure that they have met woemn who’ve had abortions. But since the neoliberal public sphere is male dominated that means they don’t support it very strongly.

  12. The Tea Party supports terrible policy on nearly every issue. But that hasn’t stopped it from moving the nation significantly to the right.

    It has moved the national political discussion to the right, thanks to the corporate media, but people still prefer “progressive” solutions to our problems.

  13. roger says:

    History isn’t a line dance – or so I think. Mass movements aim at creating policies which, after a while, produce the kind of technocratic oriented people who seek jobs in institutions that both govern and advise on governing. Naturally, they begin to want to cut off their relation with the mass movement, and they even tend to think that they are intelligent – just as the people who developed TARP and the + six trillion dollars loaned to the financial services district for 0.025 percent thought they were intelligent, rather than self-dealing. One doesn’t go to all those classes, spend all that money, jive with all the important people, without deciding that merit and intelligence belong on the technocratic side.
    On the other hand, mass movements are seeded with people who, although this is hardly ever mentioned, are more and more intelligent – more educated, having more access to real time information, etc. They are so intelligent that they cut bait – as the policymakers and liberals debated about what to do with Iraq, both the Iraqis (who were only part of the equation as troublesome minors, speaking a funny language and having this incomprehensible religious thing) and the American people saw that this was a huge disaster, and wanted out and not to pay for it. Thus, the technocrats had the problem of making sure that such views were marked as unrealistic and unintelligent, although in the spirit of toleration they might tolerate an op ed, now and again, expressing it.
    I don’t believe that the technocrats are intelligent and the man on the street is unintelligent. Rather, they have different sets of skills, different norms, and work in different institutional contexts. That’s all.

  14. Jeffrey Beaumont says:

    Left neo-liberals vs. grassroots liberals seems like a weird axis, confused by even weirder terminology.

    Isn’t neo-liberalism essentially the modern reincarnation of classical liberalism, by which we mean believe (trending toward absolute) in market forces and capitalism?

    I mean progressive and liberal aren’t really the same thing at all usually, right? I understand that Neo-Liberals (intentional capitalization) tend to be socially liberal (literally), but isn’t the label of all left-of-center politics as “liberal” kind of misleading in this day and age?
    I mean JFK, liberal, sure. Ralph Nader, not at all. Am I wrong?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I agree that the terminology sucks, but what are you going to do. Lefties love weird terminology. Always have, always will I guess. Me too.

      In truth, Henry used the “left neo-liberal” and I was trying to come up with something to describe those to the left of them more accurately. I knew it was bad, but it was all I had at the time.

    • Hogan says:

      Nader’s an interesting example of why it’s hard to keep this stuff straight. He’s opposed to corporate power (progressive), but he also has a clear preference for top-down solutions to the problems he identifies (e.g., federal regulation), and he’s notoriously hostile to labor unions (not so progressive). That’s a reasonable definition of “technocratic”: not a fancy word for “technical” (as when JfL talks about problems having “technocratic solutions”), but a synonym for “authoritarian” or “top-down” with a connotation of technical expertise.

  15. actor212 says:

    You really needed to look no further than the teabaggers to prove that mass-movement politics is alive and well, as imperfect as that astroturfed example is.

    Piss off enough people, even through trickery and fraud, and you can get a mass of people in the streets.

    It gets things done in the same way that mobs get things done: through intimidation and anger, raging as a tyrannical “majority,” even if it is in fact a minority, and a fringe one at that.

    Hell, even this nation was founded by a mob!

    You have to get us angry enough.

    Here’s the thing: we aren’t. We should be, by all accounts, but we aren’t. We’re pacified and soothed and promised that things will get better once we’re trickled upon. We’re fed mass-media images of materials wants and told to work for those.

    And woe betide he who dares call the economy “naked” or exposes the frauds of the mass-media, mass-marketing machines! They end up off a small cable news network and work for Fat Al Gore!

    The good news? Even the right-wing blogosphere is starting to realize that the average American is starting to see through the BS. When your party gets less than 30% support in an issue that was practically your platform in the 2010 elections, you’ve lost the thread, clearly.

  16. Actually, I’d probably quibble with the notion that change only comes through mass movements. Once you get past the bright-lights skin-deep social issues, American politics comes down almost exclusively to interest group politics. Where the left does worse relative to the right here is in not establishing as much solidarity amidst all of their various factions, although I would say that’s probably because the right is fundamentally rooted in a bunch of bullshit magical thinking and cultural authoritarianism, so it’s pretty easy to ignore the points of conflict between the various groups.

  17. Mark Bell says:

    The fundamental failure of 21st century liberalism is the failure to identify strongly as a movement of women and minorities. There should a much more racial and socio-economic bent to the critiques from the left of the current policy priorities in Washington. Instead, liberal leaders capitulate to sellouts on women and minority issues (abortion in the health care bill, DREAM Act, no immigration reform, subprime borrowers being persona non grata, not pushing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and not standing up for marriage equality, cuts to winter heating oil and school lunch, etc. etc.) to prioritize “middle class families” interests by zealously protecting stupid shit like mortgage interest deductions. I don’t just or primarily mean Obama; I mean Pelosi and Barney Frank and even Alan Grayson. The Medicaid voter should be as much or more of a constiuency of leftist politicians than Medicare voters, since Medicaid voters are 9-1 Dems and Medicare voters are 2.5-1 GOP. Leftist media figures should be less Lawrence O’Donnell more Rachel Maddow, and better yet, more Maddow plus Lizz Winstead plus Chuck D.

  18. aimai says:

    Well, I haven’t posted here in a long time but this thread is kind of catnippy. Can I just ask why President Obama is thought to have “threatened” Cantor with the remark “I’m taking this to the American People” if there isn’t really any good role for grassroots agitation and mobilization even from the perspective of an all inside player like Obama?

    I guess my point here is that there always has to be an inside game and an outside game and for the outside game to work–especially for the outsiders–people have to be willing to be organized and to be responsive to organization. Historically that doesn’t happen by accident, or without some basic sense of identity/community between people as citizens (or subjects). The peasants are always revolting because their condition qua peasants is always revolting. But a shared condition, a shared sense of condition, is required for communal action.

    The problem for liberal policies in this age, it seems to me, is that communal identity and communal action, on the left, is either balkanized (feminism isn’t anti war, isn’t union) or non existent. That’s an artifact of a lot of things from the spread out nature of residential patterns to air conditioning and TV to the nuclear family and lots of other factors that make it hard for people to meet up with likeminded/kindred souls with an interest in political action.

    aimai

    • Malaclypse says:

      Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself. – Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

  19. aimai says:

    Well, yeah, Mal. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I wanted to add that although I agree with Actor212 upthread that the teaparty, the anti abortion movement, and the NRA show that culture based group action are alive and well on the far right I’m not sure how to imitate their success on the center/left. The teaparty and the NRA, such as they are, are wholly corporately spawned and run. They have done very well, the NRA more than the teaparty so far as its longevity demonstrates, because they were and are backed by corporate money and because they have paid off to corporat e masters. If the NRA weren’t in the business of wedging the door open for massive gun sales–if it were just field ‘n stream with safety lessons–it wouldn’t be a potent political force. If Armey hadn’t paid for the buses and the flags and snacks, and Fox hadn’t given the coverage for free, the teaparty wouldn’t exist at all. Even now it basically does what it does without any actual grassroots activity. Its enough that the voters in certain key districts talk and act like they are members of the tea party. They no longer even have to get out into the street.

    Street activism is dead. But street activism isn’t the best or the only form of corporate communal action. I see various groups trying to figure out which buttons to push to get people like me, or maybe just me, out to donate and to vote. They’ve done the same reasearch the republicans did on what people like to buy, and how it reflects their cultural status and their interests. The only people I don’t see trying to reflect my desire to be politically active, trying to offer me some serious payoff for my time and money are the Democrats in the White House. They only occasionally offer me the quid pro quo that I know the far right offers its voters: vote for me and your opponents will go to hell. Vote for me and the gays will suffer. Vote for me and I’ll bring about the promised land of Christian hegemony or at least validate all your hysteria.

    How come the Democrats always treat me, and all their other various constituencies, as such cheap dates? At least a kiss before the screwing.

    aimai

    • actor212 says:

      Aimai,

      The Obama insurgence campaign alone was a pretty good example of a liberal grass roots movement, if you think about it. I’m sure there are plenty, but not as many as we’d believe, who would repudiate that thought after two years of his Presidency, of course, but consider the money he raised in small donations and the use of Facebook as an organizing tool.

      • DocAmazing says:

        And the DLC made sure that the Obama insurgency was shut down as soon as the inaugural party was over.

        We cannot continue to allow the coroporate donors to dictate the bounds of acceptable behavior.

      • JoyfulA says:

        But as soon as the campaign was over, the Dean DNC was shut down and the campaign structure disappeared.

        Having our local DNC rep still here would have rallied us to shut down the nascent teapartiers who were shutting down congresspeople’s town halls, and we could have nipped a lot of crap in the bud. There was no one here to let us know what was going on, what we should do about it, and where.

        The White House seems to be trying to restart the campaign movement for 2012–I got a call last week–and once they do, they’ve got to keep it going, or else reenergize the DNC as a mass movement.

      • dandelion says:

        25% of Obama’s campaign funds came from small donations, the same percentage that held for GWB.

        The problem is that Obama’s election wasn’t a grass-roots movement at all. It was form without content — the form of grass roots without the content. Even his slogan Yes We Can was co-opted from Cesar Chavez.

        Obama’s campaign was the antithesis of a grass roots movement; it was a cleverly staged advertising campaign that gave the illusion of a mass movement.

        That’s why it dissipated so easily — there was no there there.

    • As I look at a blast email that has landed in my spam folder from the AFA asking me to tell my Congressman to pass a balanced budget amendment, the answer to why the left and right are so different is obvious; the various right-wing groups are all part and parcel of the same movement. When you break it all down, they’re just different ways of venting the same white Christian straight male cultural hegemony, “Real Americanness” yada yada, and they keep their members in solidarity with dog whistles to their cultural authoritarianism and threats that anything less than wearing your identity politics on your sleeve will result in the commies/darkies/queers taking over.

      The left, on the other hand, is largely made up of minority and non-privileged groups fighting for equality, and so there’s much less solidarity. This is why a lot of progressive comment sections and so on degenerate into another round of Oppression Olympics or arguing about who’s holier than thou. You just don’t see enough solidarity between the various interest groups on the left like you do with the right, where everyone picks up everyone else’s cause. Instead, if Democrats are focusing on Group X’s priority, everyone else is bitching that they’re not taking up THEIR issue.

    • David M. Nieporent says:

      The NRA has nothing to do with “corporations.” The gun industry is small and has no political facet. The NRA is powerful because it delivers votes.

      • DocAmazing says:

        The gun industry is small and has no political facet.

        Tell that to Smith & Wesson. They were perceived as soft on 2nd Amendment issues, and lost a bundle.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          Yeah, but I have no idea how many times I’ve had a union Laborer tell me about guns. The fucker is working on a federal job site making $30/hr to pour concrete (and he knows how to make a form right, and beats the crap out of someone you hired for $8/hr who has no idea when to tell an engineer that he is an idiot), but he is going to vote GOP because the democrats (more implausibly year after year) are going to take his gun away and cancel hunting season.

          This isn’t even to say that democrats should adopt X gun policy. He is spouting off at the mouth because he is tough! You will not win this aesthetic problem. He votes that way, because it shows that he isn’t a liberal pussy. This guy will vote to destroy his job, and bankrupt himself because the GOP are “tough” and voting Democratic is like wearing a dress or ordering a beer other than Miller of Budweiser.

          I know this culture, and you can’t buy them off. Don’t bother trying. For once, David is probably right. Fuck those people.

          • dave says:

            Time to dissolve the people and elect another one, then, innit?

          • mark f says:

            Those guys do exist but this is way overstated.

            • witless chum says:

              And you can try to create an alternate narrative where, I don’t know, you could encourage feel proud about sticking it to rich people by voting Democrat.

              You can have a mass movement without belief in God, but not without belief in the Devil, Eric Hoffer said. And the rich (or Wall Street, specifically) need to be cast in the role of the left’s devil. (This has the advantage of being pretty true, IMO.)

            • Agreed, and they’re probably outnumbered by people who otherwise culturally identify with conservatives but vote for Democrats because of their union membership.

              Take the union member part out of it though and it’s basically accurate; a whole bunch of working class wingnuts eviscerating their economic selves in the name of preserving their cultural dominance and hegemony.

              • mark f says:

                I pretty much agree, but I think even that’s somewhat overstated. Identity politics is one of the Republicans’ biggest advantages but I think the bloc is amorphous in terms of the individuals who make it up from year to years. Scott Brown would’ve never beaten Teddy Kennedy in a hundred elections no matter how much he played up the “I wear a Carhartt!” angle.

  20. That the anti-Iraq protests faded so quickly in 2003 …

    I think this is incorrect. The anti-Iraq protests never faded. They are still going on today, in fact. The problem is that they get ZERO ATTENTION IN THE MEDIA.

    Plop a tricorn hat and knee-britches on a protester and it’s front page news, the topic of every Sunday morning bobblehead show, and a cable news phenomenon. But anti-war liberals were protesting well past 2003 and we got zip. Hell, we didn’t even get the attention for the Stewart/Colbert rally that Glenn Beck did, and ours was bigger. IT WAS. C’mon.

    So regardless of everything else going on, the left has lost the ability to control the narrative. The liberal media is not liberal. We can’t get our message out through traditional means.

  21. Pithlord says:

    If anyone in the history of America was ever a populist, it was Williams J. Bryan.

    And he basically said the same things about monetary policy that Yglesias does a hundred years. More Biblical metaphors, less indie rock references, but the same thing.

    • tpb says:

      Isn’t “populism” more of a strategy than a set of values? Isn’t the point of something like the Tea Party that populism can be used as a means of supporting policies that harm more people than they help?

      As I understand the Neoliberal/Actual Left split it has to do with unleashing the power and/or genius of the Market(Neoliberals left and right) and using regulation and the state’s power more generally to direct the market to humanistic ends: less profits more jobs for example or less profits and pure foods and drugs.

      • Pithlord says:

        “Neoliberalism” is generally used as a swear word by people who don’t like trade deals, so I’m not sure it has a lot of semantic content. No one on the left, neoliberal or otherwise, doubts that markets require regulation or that broad social programs are good things. There are very few even on the paleoleft who really want to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy either.

        I think it comes down to how tribalist you are. Atrios and Krugman don’t really have very different policy views from Yglesias or DeLong, but they are more consistently partisan and tend to take a “no enemies on the left” line, so they are more popular with people who are proud of being “really on the left”.

        Concretely, pressure on the Fed to monetize the debt would reduce unemployment, increase the bargaining power of labor and make public services more affordable. But it doesn’t get the tribalist juices on the left flowing (although it once did!), so it is technocratic and bad.

  22. dandelion says:

    Why is street activism dead? I keep hearing this, and maybe because I’m old, it makes me grouchy. I think it’s a copout statement.

    You lose you lose you lose you lose you win.

    People who think activism didn’t affect the Vietnam War are practicing historical revisionism; and street activism was vital to the Civil Rights movement.

    Did the protests stop the Vietnam War? Well, they stopped the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong, and they prevented the bombing of the dykes and absolutely prevented a tactical nuclear strike, all of which was under consideration. Remember, Nixon ran as the “peace candidate!” (Like Obama did.) Peace with honor.

    Frankly, I think that the blogosphere is filled with a lot of people who’d rather type into a computer than actually do the work of change, which yes does require getting out there, into the streets. I can’t think of a single significant advance in social or economic justice that hasn’t been preceded by that kind of mass pressure.

    The fact is, what passes for the left in this country are too comfortable and too cowardly. And that, too, is an effect of neoliberalism’s separation of social justice from economic justice. A lot of the people who advocate from the left are actually doing quite well in our financialized, information-based economy.

    • MG says:

      Right on Dandelion. It’s as if Arab spring had not happened (granted, not perfect and not finished but jeeze – breathtaking!) to read some allegedly “liberal” blogs.

      Me, I wonder how many of these writers meet the “real Americans” or “ordinary people” they are so fond of trashing. Or afraid of them because really, they are capable of quite extraordinary things.

  23. As to the original question, I think the best way to answer it is to simply note that there’s basically no such division in the real world, and that it really only exists in the realm of fights on the internet. And I’d say the fact that Loomis’ example of a split (liberal education reformers and teachers unions) is one in which the two are presently actual opponents without an agreement on first principles.

    • dandelion says:

      I think NAFTA is a good example of the split between neoliberalism and liberalism. For neoliberals NAFTA and “free” trade is a good that outweights its costs, and the solution to the cost is education policy: community colleges to retrain displaced workers as dental hygienists and landscapers.

      Traditional liberalism — and by that I mean New Deal liberalism — doesn’t elevate capital over labor so that “free” trade consists only of the free movement of capital without the free movement of labor. And it recognizes that workers aren’t just fungible units to be shoved from one auto line to another landscaper’s truck.

      • I don’t think NAFTA really fits into the spectrum of things, because I have a feeling a lot of people you wouldn’t really identify as neo-liberals are quite free trade. In general because “free trade” isn’t really something you can have much of an argument against in the very general sense (and indeed, if you remove the nationalistic angle from things, it really wouldn’t sound logical at all).

        Instead I think it’s more of a self-interest issue. If “free trade” results in a more efficient allocation of resources globally, you get cheaper consumer goods, and that’s good for poor and working class budgets. If that efficient allocation of resources means your job moves to some place where labor is nominally cheaper (whether due to exchange rates or sweatshop labor) then it sucks because it adversely affects you.

        To me, the solution for this is pretty obvious from a “technocratic” position; free trade, but with generous safety net policies to help the “losers” in the arrangement, and ideally trade restrictions against countries without adequate labor protections. But causing the price of goods to go up in the name of protecting a relative few well paying jobs doesn’t seem like much of an aggregate boon to the poor and working classes to me.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          Yes, that is supposed to be the arrangement and then it becomes Parento Efficient and neoliberal and all that.

          The gripe is that these deals are always made with conservatives who don’t give a shit about the losers and in the end the neoliberals will sacrifice the losers for the greater good of efficient markets rather than sacrifice the efficient market for the losers.

          • Well that’s not unfair, but that was a little more specific than I meant to be. But of course, there are practical concerns to the implementation of free trade, especially when a lot of the lower wages in other countries are kept low with state supported violence against any attempt to increase them. But taking everything in a vacuum, I think if you took a large sample of liberals of all stripes who didn’t feel a strong vested interest in the question, you’d get a lot of agreement with my idealized trade policy.

        • dandelion says:

          well, that’s what WalMart argues.

          What you’re arguing is in fact the Washingtong Consensus, which is the epitome of neoliberalism and has been since the Carter administration.

          Other “liberals” or “leftists” or “progressives” view it as a paradigm for increasing the exploitation of labor.

          We’ve followed the Washington Consensus since the late 1970s and now the poor and working classes can’t even afford to shop at Wal Mart. Maybe we’d have been better off protecting good jobs and good wages even if that meant crew socks cost a few bucks more.

          • Well yes, it is the Wal-Mart conundrum in a nutshell. But Wal-Mart does reduce the price of a lot of basic, low margin retail goods, which both makes them easier to get for poor people and increases middle and working class disposable income. Which isn’t to necessarily make a judgment on which way to look at it is correct, I’m just saying that there is a trade off.

            And I’m fairly certain that the idea of drastically increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund more and better social services for everyone else is neither neoliberal nor “Washington consensus.”

          • Ed Marshall says:

            You can model this out and do the math, and if you want to completely ignore the increased well being of everyone outside of your country (which is your right, but it’s an odd Left argument to make) there is a tariff level that could reduce unemployment, but it does indeed come to a cost that is not insignificant even to the person working for minimum wage.

            It doesn’t take long to figure out that the tariff is unnecessarily onerous, and that it is just better for everyone involved to skip that part and just have the government subsidize certain goods to reduce the price. Now you have arrived at more or less Bush 43 economics.

            • soullite says:

              But your models are broken. Economic models have never been useful for measuring of prescribing the real world. They have only ever been useful to help economists escape ever having to own up to their miserable failures.

              Yours is a science with no predictive ability, not prescriptive capability and no ability to measure things in real time. Your science is BS.

          • Pithlord says:

            Also, looser monetary policy (which is the terrible technocratic position Yglesias is being taken to task for) would lower the value of the dollar and would amount to a tariff on all imports/subsidy on all exports. But it doesn’t get the tribalist juices flowing on the left, so it is bad.

  24. Anonymous says:

    The Viet Nam protests didn’t end the war, but they did end the draft. (And in doing so, made it harder to muster mass objection to future wars.)

    In my view, as someone who was there, automatically labeling participants in the social movements of the 60s and 70s as “Left” is a mistake. Those involved in university based anti-war activities, for instance, were more middle class and affluent than working class, didn’t see their interests as being served by organized labor and Left economic issues in general, and were often, in fact, hostile to the working class.

    Whenever I hear someone of my generation (like PJ O’Roarke) claim that they were “liberals” in their youth but saw the light and became conservatives, it makes me laugh. They were never liberals. They were anti-draft libertarians and libertines who had a helluva good time until it was time to grow up and make a little money.

  25. jayackroyd says:

    The increasingly desperate attempts to somehow claim the “neo-liberals” as part of the liberal side of a two dimensional conservative/liberal spectrum gets weirder and weirder.

    Obama, and most of the Democratic leadership (not Pelosi for example) are not liberals having a hard time dealing with mass movement base. They are simply not liberals. They don’t believe in the New Deal middle class safety net. They believe unions are bad, that they raise wage rates and make the US uncompetitive in global labor markets. They believe in giving the banksters access to the treasury, through the discount window, but do not those same banks should be regulated in the use of the funds they acquire in this way.

    Most importantly, they don’t believe in free and competitive markets for goods and services, which is a core liberal belief, going back to Adam Smith. They don’t believe government plays a critical role in opposition to the accumulation of monopoly power by private enterprises, which Smith reminds us is ALWAYS the goal of any private enterprise. Rather they believe in an elite “private” sector, operating in collaboration with the government to address social and economic policies. So they believe public/private partnerships, like the NSA/Telecom domestic surveillance program, or in close collaboration between money center banks and the Treasury is setting economic policy.

    As with teachers. They don’t want to break the union to fire bad teachers. They don’t want to introduce a competitive market for better teachers, improving education through market forces. They way to do that is to increase teacher salaries–calling forth better candidates–not to cut them through undermining collective bargaining. The result of lowered wage rates in a competitive marketplace will be worse teachers. That’s how labor markets work.

    On the teachers union issue, they don’t want to break the uni

  26. Pithlord says:

    Over a hundred comments, and I have yet to see any grassroot horny-handed-son-of-toil explain why hard money (which is what Doug Henwood is arguing for) is good for the working people.

  27. [...] In this, Farrell is echoing Erik Loomis, who wrote yesterday: [...]

  28. Montana says:

    You know what this current crowd of GOP liars want is to turn the United Sates into China, where only a few giant corporations run things, they own the factories, the apartments, the grocery stores, the gas stations, the newspaper and magazine publications, the radio stations, the television stations and you pay them and they get all the benefits, and if you do not like it go jump off cliff. Well some Chinese workers seeing that as individuals that they cannot progress have done just that by committing suicide.

    The current crowd of GOP liars want to steal Medicare from the elderly, they want to abolish a woman’s right to choose and have control over her own body, they want to abolish collective bargaining rights for our Unions, and on top of it all they want to blame the poor, the middle class and the public sector workers for a recession that the GOP created (Thanks to the Dullard “W”), while their beloved “Fat cats” continue to pay themselves exorbitant salaries, bonuses, fringe benefits.

    The GOP is like the “Chicken Littles” always saying that the “Sky is Falling”, like the same ones that were the “Chicken Hawks” (“W” Wars), big talk no courage.

    The United States, favors creativity wherever it can be found. We’re apostles of prosperity and defenders of the free exchange of ideas and when more people in more countries are free to rise, to invent, to communicate, to dissent, it’s not the doom of United States leadership, its the triumph of the American way.

    Generations have worked hard and sacrificed much for the country to reach this point (individuals and our Unions!), and with further hard work and sacrifice (along with our relentless self-doubt) the United States will rise again, we do not tire and we are coming back, no matter what Faux News and their GOP “Chicken Littles” lackies keep saying about our nation. Never Bet Against the United States, watch out GOP, we are coming for you! The win in New York was the beginning but the next will be Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and later the other states of our nation.

  29. [...] a pretty good roundup of posts this discussion has generated; I’d add Erik Loomis’ as one to read [...]

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