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The Liberal Agenda Isn’t the Problem

[ 100 ] July 1, 2013 |

As you would expect given the parties involved, Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick’s argument that with the progress towards SSM the agenda of the left is exhausted is smart and interesting reading. But I’m not sure I really buy the bottom-line argument:

But did you notice that, on the way to this victory, the left, as a movement, seemed to abandon almost everything else for which it once stood? That while gay marriage rose like cream to the top of the liberal agenda, the rest of what the left once cherished was shoved aside, ignored, or “it’s complicated” to oblivion? Stipulate: Gay rights is an unequivocally just cause. But this win, however deserved, addresses no more than a small fraction of what the left once believed essential.

I assume here that by “left” Friedman and Lithwick here are referring to liberals mainstream enough to be a major part of a winning national coalition, not “the left” in some global sense (where there’s obviously a robust agenda but very few jurisdictions in the United States in which even being a major coalition partner is viable.) Even so, I don’t think that the progressive agenda has been excessively dominated by same-sex marriage. Last week alone, we saw a robust defense of reproductive rights in one of the most conservative states in the country, the president giving a major speech on climate change that wasn’t just symbolic bully pulpitism but had an eye on viable policy changes, and strong opposition to an odious voting rights decision. For just one week of a news cycle, seems like a pretty robust agenda to me. And, of course, within the last four years we’ve also seen major comprehensive health care legislation that is going to involve a lot of fights to implement properly, fights that liberals are committed to.

I think the apparent focus on same-sex marriage has its source in something else. For example, the reason that the left won on same-sex marriage while getting hammered on other civil and labor rights issues in this Supreme Court term had nothing to do with the liberals on the court, who voted consistently. The key dynamic, as I argued earlier today, is whether it’s an issue where a conservative justice can be peeled off:

The somewhat erratic record on such issues is a straightforward outgrowth of the necessity for the Court’s four-member liberal bloc to obtain at least one additional vote. In some issues—Kennedy on LBGT rights, Scalia and Thomas on some civil liberties issues—this is possible. But on the larger number of issues where all five of the conservative justices exhibit hostility to the rights of women and racial minorities that increasingly characterizes the contemporary Republican coalition, backsliding is the order of the day. (And while the liberal coalition is relatively unified, Stephen Bryer is always a risk to defect in civil liberties cases.) What’s depressing going forward is that whatever heterodoxy there is to be found among the Supreme Court’s conservative wing comes from justices prior to the presidency of George W. Bush. Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the conservative nominees, is not only the kind of Republican increasingly unlikely to be found in the current GOP, he was Reagan’s third choice. If Kennedy and Scalia were to be replaced with (even) more consistent reactionaries like Alito and Roberts, we would be looking a Court as consistently to the right of the mainstream as the New Deal Court that precipitated a near constitutional crisis.

What part of the liberal agenda is successful, in other words, is dependent on whether any of the conservative majority is wiling to go along. Liberal priorities are beside the point, because they can’t achieve anything alone.

And here’s the thing: the dynamic of the current Supreme Court is a pretty good microcosm of the current American political context, except that most Republican parties are composed almost entirely of Alitos. Even mainstream liberals, in national and state-wide governing bodies, are rarely functioning majorities. Some veto point — median legislative vote, executive branch, committee chair, the courts — is typically controlled by a Republican or conservative Democrat. The liberal agenda can proceed only if some non-liberals are willing to be allies.

Which is why same-sex marriage has been a rare source of victory in a time of reaction. Wealthy conservative Democrats and (if any) moderate Republicans are 1)much more likely to have liberal positions on social issues than economic ones, and — this is important — 2)bans on same-sex marriage affect the rich and poor alike. (The same group of people might oppose or be indifferent about legal restrictions on abortion — but regulations of abortion affect poor women far more than affluent ones. But rich people in states where SSM is illegal still can’t get married.) It’s far easier to find moderate or fake-moderate allies on same-sex marriage than on abortion. And climate change or card check legislation — forget it.

An instructive example is the respective fate of legalizing in same-sex marriage and strong reproductive rights legislation in the New York state assembly. The latter didn’t fail because liberals, even fairly broadly construed, were less committed to it. It failed because the wealthy Republican donors who could pressure marginal senators on same-sex marriage weren’t going to be around to fight for reproductive rights. And even a relatively progressive state, without some support from DINOs or moderate Republicans, the robustness of the liberal agenda is beside the point because you’re generally out of luck.

There’s some truth to the Friedman/Lithwick thesis — in particular, labor issues need to be a higher priority. But in general, I think the problem isn’t the lack of a robust liberal agenda so much as that the institutional reality of American politics is that liberals are all too rarely in a position to enact anything.

Comments (100)

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  1. comptr0ller says:

    Perhaps the current CA democrat-owned state legislature / executive branch can serve as a test of what agenda ‘the left’ can accomplish with unfettered power.

    • Paula says:

      Well, down here in Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti was just inaugurated mayor. There wasn’t too much difference between the top two candidates, but it was an election in which it was a damned relief not to have to debate whether pot or gay marriage should be legalized or whether public transportation was a “good” or whether public assistance to the poor was important.

      That said, it should be noted that many Angelenos agreeing on good liberal things hasn’t made governing easier, just less tedious. We still have fights over how much money to spend on things, and like most other places it always comes more easily to the rich and powerful interests.

  2. James E. Powell says:

    The big problem with the liberal agenda is that, apart from the horror story version described by Rush, FOX, etc., there doesn’t seem to be a liberal agenda.

    Or am I missing something? Is there a coherent package of policies and arguments that have the support of a large majority of persons who describe themselves as liberals? Where would one find such a package? Are there any more than a handful of elected officials who are determined to enact or support it?

    You are absolutely right that labor issues need to be a higher priority. I would add consumer issues. In fact, the life of the average American consumer/employee ought to be at the center of any agenda that wants the name liberal. Why isn’t it?

    • Djur says:

      Isn’t it? The Progressive Caucus seems to focus plenty on consumer and worker issues, and although it’s hardly a majority of Congressional Democrats, it’s the largest single organization in the Democratic Caucus. Not to mention that the former Speaker and current Minority Leader came from the CPC’s ranks.

      There is a fairly strong left-liberal platform in national American politics, and it exists within the Democratic Party, but it gets next to no attention from the media, and not a lot of love from the supposed activist base.

      • James E. Powell says:

        I would cite the near invisibility of the Progressive Caucus to support my point.

        Compare the impact of the Progressive Caucus on public policy debate and policies with that of the Chamber of Commerce, or the NRA, or the Federalist Society, or the various rich people who are dramatically changing public education, or . . . I’m sure you get the point.

      • John Glover says:

        I agree, but it’s not just the media that’s to blame. The President has never really pushed a progressive program when it comes to these issues. With the Democrats’ economic policy team filled with Rubinites and Third Wayers, you’re not going to see a lot of focus on consumer and worker issues. Even CAP has been pretty questionable in this area They talk a good talk, but that’s about it.

        Since that’s where the bulk of the campaign money comes from, I really don’t think you’re going to see much change in that.

    • No, you ain’t missin’ nothin’!

      As usual, while the Right can rally ’round the flags of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia – all wrapped up in Manichean Dominionist Christian Evangelical ribbons – we on the left are trying to herd the pro-minority, pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-gay, pro-environment, etc., cats together, to find some commonality of purpose, mission, and execution.

      It’s easy to hate, and exclude others, and come across as a single political unit.

      It’s tougher to love, and be more inclusive and accept others and their opinions and goals, and not leave anyone behind, and then come across as a single political unit.

      • Manju says:

        It’s easy to hate, and exclude others, and come across as a single political unit.

        It’s tougher to love

        You know I love u cund, but grow some cojones and stand up for your values already.

        The Nate Silvers of the world will tell you that it ain’t tougher to love. I’m going to oversimplify, but ain’t nobody voting on no values issues.

        All your hand-wringing over gay marriage costing you was just a product of your small balls. I explained this to Warren Terra (with links to real scholars) not too long ago:

        http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/11/and-in-other-good-news/comment-page-1#comment-385607

      • This is why I always laugh when some right wing religious nut job claims there is some sinister “gay agenda”. We gays can’t even agree on what to bring to brunch, let alone have a lockstep agenda. Even on the issue of marriage equality, there are gays who don’t agree that we should get married and are happy with second class citizenship status.

        But yes, it is so much easier to herd people toward an “anti” agenda than what it is to herd people toward a “pro” agenda. History has shown us that the strongest (and most deadly) movements have been centered on fear, hate and just being “anti”.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I would add consumer issues

      I can only imagine an alternate universe in which both houses of Congress created a new bureau to protect consumer interests, and the president signed it into law. What a wonderful world that would be. Alas, surely that’s nowhere near the Democratic agenda.

  3. Aidan says:

    Scott, I’m surprised and disappointed at how easily you let them off the hook for this poorly argued piece. Basically every argument in this piece is only viable if you stipulate that the entire recent history of progressive governance didn’t exist.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      The entire recent history of progressive governance begins in January of ’09 and ends in January of ’11.

      When you don’t have the Congress, there’s a real upper limit on what you can do. Even then, the composition of that Congress is an issue.

      • Boots Day says:

        Yes, I think liberal lawmakers are mostly just enervated and frustrated by trying to deal with an intransigent opposition party. When the GOP can’t even agree to try to pass job-creation bills with 7.5% unemployment, is it really worth it to come up with a more ambitious agenda?

      • Aidan says:

        Yes. This piece manages to ignore the entire history of the Obama administration on reproductive rights, gun control, health care, poverty programs, etc. etc. And even THAT ignores the further work of Democratic governors on gun control and the death penalty. And even THAT ignores the work of progressive activists outside of public office. It’s a real mess.

        • Aidan says:

          “If we pretend that liberals have had nothing on their agenda for the past few years except gay marriage, it’s a huge problem that liberals have had nothing on their agenda for the past few years except gay marriage.”

        • Erik Loomis says:

          I am not particularly comfortable with any definition of the left that includes the Obama Administration. Unless we think that “liberal” and “left” aren’t different in meaningful ways.

          • Sly says:

            They are, but not so much on the issue of gay rights; full equality is the leftmost position. Whatever distinctions exist between liberals and leftists on gay rights, I don’t think they can be as meaningfully articulated as the difference between those same groups over the issue of civil rights for black people in, say, 1966.

            On a host of other issues for the contemporary liberal/left coalition, yes, there are considerable distinctions.

            • Erik Loomis says:

              There’s a whole history of radical queer activism that would say that something as bourgeois as marriage is a complete sellout. So, no, I don’t think marriage is the ultimate leftmost position one can imagine.

              • Aidan says:

                How is this relevant to the article or discussion at hand?

              • Sly says:

                While I would agree that separatism is the most radical position, I don’t think its helpful to conflate the most radical position with the leftmost position. Especially considering that separatism has generally come about when equality seemed like a pipe dream; a meager substitution that eventually fades.

              • Shakezula says:

                Yes, we’ve heard about them a lot of late. As in: “There are (or were) some gay people on the fringe who think marriage is bad, ergo gay people don’t want to get married.”

                Yick.

                But calling a more radical stance held by a particular group leftier isn’t accurate. If that were the case Nation of Islam would be radical leftists and they’re a bunch of bow tie wearing authoritarian pricks.

              • LeeEsq says:

                The problem with Radical Queer Activism is that their goals were basically not implementable in the real world. Their goals, whatever the were (they were kind of undefined IMO), were so out there that any practical implementation was nearly impossible. Its a lot easier to extend rights than to take them away and giving same-sex couples the right to marry and enjoy its legal benefits was much more feasible than whatever the Radical Queer movement wanted and I’m not entirely

                The Bourgeoisie Liberal LBGT movement achieved more in a much shorter period of time than the Radical Queer Activists. People can argue that the Radical Queers were necessary for setting the stage for LBGT rights but I don’t think this is correct. The LBGT movement started to get success when they abandoned the Radical Queer Movement and went for something more mainstream in the 1980s.

                Than again I’m Bourgeoisie Liberal Statist, so what do I know.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  The last sentence of paragraph one should conclude “and I’m not sure the Radical Queer movement knew what it wanted.”

                • Sharon says:

                  Act-Up was pretty radical back in the day.

                • Snuff curry says:

                  How can the Radical Queer Wotsit’s goals be both “undefined” and “so out there” that you can confidently gauge their practicality at zero?

                  Also, it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend that the LGBT “movement” is a monolith, is representative of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans folk equally by ascribing to it that particular acronym, and that the movement for SSM and LGBT activists are the same. They really aren’t. Straight people are heavily involved in making SSM a reality for a reason.

                • Rarely Posts says:

                  People can argue that the Radical Queers were necessary for setting the stage for LBGT rights but I don’t think this is correct.

                  I tend to disagree. In my view, the LGBT movement’s success proves that you need people across the left spectrum pushing on every available lever of power. They can afford to disagree on outcomes, methods, etc., as long as they remain focused on the real enemy: the conservative, hierarchical haters.

                  The Radical Queer movement helped throw open the closet doors and also gave more moderate, Bourgeoisie liberal statists something to appear moderate compared too. The drag queens and leather daddies and radical fairies made being LGBT an issue when more polite, bourgeois people stayed in the closet. More recently, the (arguably more radical, less establishment) Equality March protesting Obama helped push him to make his first appearance to the (very establishment) Human Rights Campaign. You need all these forces aligned to make progress.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  Rarely Posts, I suppose you can say that its the LBGT equivalent of the you need a Malcolm X/Black Nationalist Movement in order to get a MLK/Civil Rights movement or that the USSR/Communists were necessary to get the Liberal/Social Democratic Reforms of Capitalism movement.

                  Lets just say that I’m not overly impressed by these arguments because I’m not really sure that they are true. Radical movements didn’t inspire the Reactionaries to support more moderate alternatives. In all three cases, the Reactionaries were convinced that the more moderate reforms were a slippery path to something more radical. American Reactionaries saw the New Deal and Great Society as being on a slippery slope towards Communism and opposed both vehemently. Its why Reactionaries in the 1950s and 1960s opposed MLK’s vision and Malcolm X’a vision; tooth, line, and sinker. We see the same arguments against LBGT rights in the present. The opponents warn of the slippery slope from the liberal to the radical. There is simply no evidence of a Radical version of something scarring people into supporting a more Moderate Reform.

                  Nor is there any evidence of Liberal Reformers being propelled into action and offering an alternative vision because of the Radical alternatives. The evidence shows that the Liberal Reformers tended to really believe that there more moderate way was better than either the Reactionary path or the Radical path. Andrew Sullivan advocated for LBGT marriage in 1989 as opposed to a more radical version because he wanted it and thought it would be a better way to achieve LBGT rights.

                • Manny Kant says:

                  While the threat of communism obviously did not convince reactionaries to support the creation of a welfare state, it seems pretty clear that it, along with the Great Depression, did spur moderates to do so. I think this is particularly clear in continental Europe, where welfare states were typically created by center-right Christian Democratic parties.

                  In general, theorists of the welfare state saw it as a necessary “third way” between the callousness of unfettered capitalism and the horrors of Soviet-style Communism.

                • JL says:

                  Funny how Stonewall is still celebrated as a seminal part of the LGBT movement then. And, as mentioned below, there was ACT UP, which was both radical and effective.

                  The LGBT movement needed radicals and still needs radicals (and groups like The Task Force or the National Center for Lesbian Rights that do a good job straddling the liberal/radical divide). The Bourgeoisie Liberal LBGT movement, as you call them, are more than happy to largely ignore some of the most pressing issues in the community, like trans anything, youth homelessness, poverty, sexual violence, the rights of sex workers. The radicals – groups like BreakOUT, the Anti-Violence Project, The Network/La Red, Queers for Economic Justice – are achieving real victories and making real differences in people’s lives on these issues.

                • Origami Isopod says:

                  Thanks for straightsplaining, Lee.

                • There is simply no evidence of a Radical version of something scarring people into supporting a more Moderate Reform.

                  On the other hand there’s a lot of evidence that the radical version inspired a lot of gay people to speak up. Maybe the agitators scare moderates – eek! – but those are the people who inspire, and they’re also the people the timid can backpedal from in favour of those now-more-centrist positions. “I can’t agree with the ACT UP position of X, but X-1 is quite possibly…”

                  Anyway I think Rarely says it better.

          • James E. Powell says:

            I am not particularly comfortable with any definition of the left that includes the Obama Administration.

            I agree. I try to explain this to my center-right friends and family, but they, like the whole of the Village, are certain that there has never been a more leftist president than this one. After all, he is black, so that pretty much closes out any argument to the contrary.

            Updating similar arguments I made during Clinton’s years does not work.

            • John Glover says:

              When Clinton was President I repeatedly told anyone who would listen that the policies he was espousing were more conservative than those of George Pataki. Which is one of the reasons Pataki was such a failure as a Repub outside of NY.

              One of the memes of the last few weeks have been how conservatives really need to publicly change their positions to recapture the middle – you know, like Clinton did with the Democrats. I still think that Clinton was a disaster for liberalism is general and the Democratic Party in particular. By the time of the financial crisis the heart and soul of the party had been completely gutted. It’s no wonder there’s been such a meek response to all the lawlessness that caused the crisis.

              No, the leadership of the Democratic party is focused on keeping the campaign cash flowing. They will never be willing to really push a progressive agenda as long as contributors hold that sword of Damocles over their heads….

            • rea says:

              Which presidents in history are indeed more leftist than this one? You have to go back to LBJ or HST, and exclude foriegn policy even then. FDR, maybe.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Well, sure, but I’m stipulating because that’s the definition they’re clearly using. (And left could refer to the left of the general political spectrum, in which case Obama clearly belongs, although he’s not a member of The Left in a comparative sense.)

          • L2P says:

            But if you don’t consider the Obama administration to be “the left,” then doesn’t their whole argument collapse? It’s not like there’s a sizable portion of the Democratic Party that views Obama as a huge sellout for NOT pushing these other positions.

            They HAVE to be taking “the left” to mean some coalition including Obama (and that core of “moderate” Democratic senators.) Otherwise, it’s patently untrue; Daily Kos didn’t stop pushing for progressive taxes, higher minimum wages, and so on.

          • LeeEsq says:

            By international standards sure but in the United States, I’d argue that there was conflation between liberals and leftists in the minds of many since at least FDR’s administration if not earlier. Much earlier. The inability of people to the left of liberals to form a long term political viability, basically because of the structure of the American political system and few other factors, aided in this. Most Americans have little exposure to real leftist and to a lesser extent real Far Rightist* thought and so liberal and leftist and conservative and rightist become synonyms in the American political thought.

            *As bad as the GOP is, there are much worse parties out there. Most GOP politicians at least have some awareness to keep their goals coded. In a lot of other countries, the Far Right is much less restrained.

            • IM says:

              True. But in most other countries the mainstream right hasn’t been replaced by the far right, as happened with the republicans in the last decades.

    • Barry says:

      H*ll, Scott, it’s Slate – this means that the prior probability of stupid contrarianism is 90%.

      A first step in liberalism is to stop calling things ‘smart’ or ‘well meaning’ unless they actually seem to be.

  4. Shakezula says:

    But did you notice that, on the way to this victory, the left, as a movement, seemed to abandon almost everything else for which it once stood?

    Stop. Right. There.

    But did you notice that, in the course of writing this paragraph, the authors, as a pair of people who think they’re clever, can’t write an introductory paragraph without a lame rhetorical flourish and the weaselish “seemed”?

    Yuck.

    Dear God, there is nothing smart about this kind of snippy, auto-contrarian “You’ll be sorry about that victory,” bullshit and I for one have been sick of it since the second time I encountered it (and I’m pretty sure that was when SA let Nelson Mandela out of jail).

    A sample:

    But before you go all happy-dance, though, put your Champagne down for a second, because these decisions raise a profound question: What’s left?

    Seriously? The lives of millions of people were improved (including for those of us who just hate discrimination) and this is the response?

    Fuck them both with bottles of bubbly.

  5. Sly says:

    I assume here that by “left” Friedman and Lithwick here are referring to liberals mainstream enough to be a major part of a winning national coalition, not “the left” in some global sense (where there’s obviously a robust agenda but very few jurisdictions in the United States in which even being a major coalition partner is viable.) Even so, I don’t think that the progressive agenda has been excessively dominated by same-sex marriage. Last week alone, we saw a robust defense of reproductive rights in one of the most conservative states in the country, the president giving a major speech on climate change that wasn’t just symbolic bully pulpitism but had an eye on viable policy changes, and strong opposition to an odious voting rights decision.

    You also have the ongoing protest movement is NC, which is not limited to a small set of issues important to a minority of self-described liberals and leftists, but runs from voting rights to unemployment insurance to education to abortion rights.

    Having said that, I think there a subset of nominal liberals who see issues like gay rights as establishing a kind of cheap leftist cred; cheap because there aren’t any negative ramifications to support marriage equality, but supporting it does serve as a cover for their serious deviations on issues important to the left/liberal coalition. And there are a considerable number of liberals who will eat it up.

    I like to call it the Andrew Cuomo Effect.

    • Sly says:

      there aren’t any negative ramifications to support marriage equality for them

      To clarify.

      • Aidan says:

        There are few things I find more difficult to muster outrage for than people who don’t line up perfectly with the liberal agenda supporting the humane and just position to appeal to progressives.

        • Sly says:

          You’ll note that I’m not leveling this criticism at people like Michael Bloomberg, Theodore Olson, or Rob Portman. They’re not the ones who have shanked various members of the liberal coalition in the kidney while trying to reassure everyone that they are “good Democrats” because they support marriage equality.

        • gfy says:

          No one was suggesting you be outraged by politicians being on the side of justice. Just the opposite, actually.

  6. Jesse Levine says:

    I will reserve comment until some fiscal crisis allows the zombie Grand Bargain to rise from the dead. Then we’ll see what’s what.

  7. dollared says:

    I’m inclined to agree with them. There is no liberal agenda. There is a centrist agenda consisting of a few neoliberal tactics to mitigate the complete collapse of the middle class. But nothing that would actually rebalance the current disastrous balance of power between capital and labor that is 1) bankrupting our governments and our families; 2) destroying the quality of life and economic security of our citizens; and 3) driving down our international competitiveness as we open our borders, defund education, and devote all our resources to the military and medical bloodsuckers.

    Truly glad for gay marriage. But it became legal because it didn’t cost the 1% anything to allow this to happen. Not a penny. So what this really indicates is that we all live at the sufferance of the 1%.

    • L2P says:

      You just described the New Deal. And the Great Society. Well played, sir, well played!

      • Q says:

        Are you implying the New Deal and Great Society did not
        change the balance of power between capital and labor
        or that neither had any true costs for the 1%, or both?

    • LeeEsq says:

      I’d be more charitable and say that there is no unified liberal agenda. There are a bunch of different liberal groups pursuing different aspects of the liberal agenda but conservative groups seem to have an easier time uniting behind a common agenda and pursuing their goals collectively and systematically than liberals, cue irony. Some liberal groups are actively apathetic if not hostile towards other liberal groups.

  8. Aidan says:

    This article falls under the genre I like to think of as “liberals finding some reason to be upset about America marching forward and becoming a fairer, more equal, and more just place.”

  9. Pat says:

    I believe that the difference has been that there has been a systematic attempt to promote gay marriage equality by demonstrating over and over again the lives of people who are affected by laws banning gay marriage. Once you’ve served on the PTA with a gay parent, you see them as being just like yourself. Because they are!

    Similarly, there has been a push to publicize shooting accidents in the mainstream media, in part by leftwing bloggers. Pretty much every day there is a report of a child killing or maiming another child, etc, etc. As people become aware of the safety aspects of owning a gun (it isn’t) gun regulation legislation will become possible.

    You can’t just yell, “It’s all so unfair!” and expect anyone to care.

  10. bobbyp says:

    Could we not say the ‘true’ liberal position is, “It’s never good enough?” There is a reason for this.

  11. sharculese says:

    Shorter Slate: We were into liberalism back before it sold out.

  12. oldster says:

    When surveying the last week’s outcomes–i.e., progress on gay rights, several steps backward on reproductive rights, and a huge, massive, lurch backward on voting rights for minorities–isn’t the obvious moral to draw something like this?

    Gay rights affects a lot of wealthy white men, many of whom are Republican. So it won.

    Women’s rights? The Blahs? F*ck ‘em.

    I don’t want to minimize the importance of the defeat of DOMA, or overlook the fact that it helped many women as well as (wealthy white) men.

    But: what accounts for the incredible progress on gay rights, at a time when the forces of reaction are so successfully standing athwart the progress of reproductive rights and rights for minorities?

    Could it have something to do with the Ken Mehlmans, the Andrew Sullivans, and a host of other wealthy, white, right-wing men? And the fact that they will never, ever, care about women or minorities?

    Yeah, I think it might.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      “follow the money” is the answer to more things than I like to contemplate

    • Bruce Baugh says:

      It’s possible to do a pretty straightforward comparison between the push for marriage equality and the one for ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) and other measures to protect people from suffering employment discrimination for not meeting some boss’ norms of gender expression and such. That is, ENDA gets a lot less verbiage in general, and some prominent gay rights organizations actively undermine efforts at drafting really broadly encompassing versions of ENDA, or at getting them anywhere in committee. And of course ENDA is much much less of an issue for white cis male members of the 1% – insofar as they ever suffer such discrimination, they have a ton more alternatives to turn to.

  13. Chatham says:

    Huh. So the reason my city council – 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans – is so resistant to progressive taxation is because non-existant Republicans legislators can’t be peeled off? Do tell. I suppose that was the reason that they were resistant to earlier campaign finance reform. And the recent swivel on this issue has nothing to do with pro-reform activists.

    Also nice that so many rich people suddenly became gay over the past 17 years (or so many gay people suddenly became rich). I can’t think of any other reason for the recent progress made on gay rights.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Huh. So the reason my city council – 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans – is so resistant to progressive taxation is because non-existant Republicans legislators can’t be peeled off?

      You may want to try to read the posts before commenting.

      Also nice that so many rich people suddenly became gay over the past 17 years (or so many gay people suddenly became rich). I can’t think of any other reason for the recent progress made on gay rights.

      Ditto. (To state the obvious, the fact that wealthy interests not stopping something is necessary for legislative change to happen does not mean that wealthy interests are initiating the change.)

      • Chatham says:

        the fact that wealthy interests not stopping something is necessary for legislative change to happen

        Yes, but you’ve provided zero evidence to show that wealthy interests not opposing (I assume this is what you meant, since “stopping” would make your argument a tautology) something is necessary to make legislation happen. “Wealthy interests” also lies there nicely undefined.

        You’re standing upon a high point of a hard fought decades long struggle, shrugging and saying “well, of course we’d make progress on that.” It’s no more compelling an argument than the people who in 2004 declared that Democrats couldn’t win unless they accept that this is a “values” driven country.

        You may want to try to read the posts before commenting.

        I must not have read it since I disagreed with your post.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          You’re standing upon a high point of a hard fought decades long struggle, shrugging and saying “well, of course we’d make progress on that.”

          Again, I would appreciate you reading the posts before commenting. I have no idea which post you’re referring to, since nothing in this post says or implies any such thing.

          I must not have read it since I disagreed with your post.

          No, you must not have read it because your attribution to me of the claim that only Republicans stand in the way of progressive change contradicts pretty much the entire thrust of the post. To take the most obvious example:

          Some veto point — median legislative vote, executive branch, committee chair, the courts — is typically controlled by a Republican or conservative Democrat.

          I can boldface the relevant part for you if that will help. You may also want to consider the implications of the repeatedly cited fact that liberals (even broadly construed) have difficulty even becoming major partners in the coalitions in which they’re embedded.

          Meanwhile, in terms of your argument that wealthy interests don’t disproportionately influence politics, it’s so transparently erroneous I don’t even know where to tell you start with the empirical evidence. Bartels? Hacker/Pierson? Schattschneider?

          • Chatham says:

            Again, I would appreciate you reading the posts before commenting. I have no idea which post you’re referring to, since nothing in this post says or implies any such thing.

            The post where you pointed to recent successes on the issue of gay rights as evidence that it’s easier to attain victories on the issue of gay rights. You know, the post above, which it seems that you’ve now forgotten.

            I can boldface the relevant part for you if that will help. You may also want to consider the implications of the repeatedly cited fact that liberals (even broadly construed) have difficulty even becoming major partners in the coalitions in which they’re embedded.

            Broadly construed, the officials and the electorate here are almost all liberals. Yet there’s a vast amount of liberal legislation that doesn’t happen unless they get pushed (and doesn’t when they’re not).

            Meanwhile, in terms of your argument that wealthy interests don’t disproportionately influence politics

            For someone asking people repeatedly to read what he wrote, you might want to do the same. I never said that wealthy interests don’t disproportionately influence politics. I said that them abstaining from doing so isn’t necessary to get things done. I also said that leaving “wealthy” undefined makes your claim even more problematic (and again, is an interesting omission for someone talking about empirical evidence).

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              The post where you pointed to recent successes on the issue of gay rights as evidence that it’s easier to attain victories on the issue of gay rights.

              “Easier” and “easy” are very, very different things in this context. This characterization is accurate; your previous one is not.

              Broadly construed, the officials and the electorate here are almost all liberals. Yet there’s a vast amount of liberal legislation that doesn’t happen unless they get pushed (and doesn’t when they’re not).

              Well, 1)nobody says that putting pressure on elected officials doesn’t matter and nothing in this post says otherwise, and 2)in my view people who don’t do liberal things when they can aren’t liberals.

              I never said that wealthy interests don’t disproportionately influence politics. I said that them abstaining from doing so isn’t necessary to get things done.

              My apologies for assuming a logical consistency in your argument. To summarize, you 1)believe that wealthy individuals disproportionately affect politics, but 2)they have so little influence on politics that it’s wrong so say that it’s easier to pass pro-SSM laws than, say, card check laws. One of these premises must, in fact, be wrong.

              Also not that I never said “necessary.” There are some cases, like the ACA, where powerful interests can be overridden (although this generally involves buying off at least some.) But it seems obviously true that having powerful monied interests indifferent or on your side is a major advantage.

              • Chatham says:

                “Easier” and “easy” are very, very different things in this context. This characterization is accurate; your previous one is not.

                Yes, and after wasting time with semantics were back to the main issue – there’s no evidence that this victory was “easier” instead of merely hard fought. It certainly didn’t look easier than, say, environmental or abortion issues 15 years ago.

                Well, 1)nobody says that putting pressure on elected officials doesn’t matter and nothing in this post says otherwise, and 2)in my view people who don’t do liberal things when they can aren’t liberals.

                1) The amount of pressure gay rights groups have put on elected officials has been far greater than the amount of pressure put on them by many other movements. I don’t think any analysis talking about the relative ease of gay rights vis a vis other issues is worthwhile without taking this into account.
                2) Again, “can” is a pretty broad term, as is “liberal things.” In general they’ve been more liberal than the national Democrats.

                To summarize, you 1)believe that wealthy individuals disproportionately affect politics, but 2)they have so little influence on politics that it’s wrong so say that it’s easier to pass pro-SSM laws than, say, card check laws.

                1) True. So do churches. That may have made the fight over gay rights more difficult, but it hasn’t stopped it. 2) I think that if anyone took a look at spending for the Proposition 8 fight they’d see that the opposition has plenty of money.

                But yes, it’s easier if you aren’t opposed by people with money, it’s easier if you aren’t opposed by churches, it’s easier if you aren’t opposed by oil companies and it’s easier if you aren’t opposed by the Salvation Army. Less opposition makes things easier, but again, that’s a silly tautology. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here.

                Also not that I never said “necessary.”

                Just in case this is a typo and you meant to write “note” instead of “not”:

                To state the obvious, the fact that wealthy interests not stopping something is necessary for legislative change to happen does not mean that wealthy interests are initiating the change.

    • Hogan says:

      Local governments are both more prone to private capture and more constrained in what they can do to raise revenue than state or federal governments. In my city we can’t even talk about progressive taxation until we’ve amended the state constitution.

      • Chatham says:

        The federal Government’s the only one above us. Here, progressive taxation is about political will. We just got rid of a recent tax increase that mainly affected the wealthy, because the people opposed to it yelled and screamed, while most other people were oblivious. We also just gave away several million dollars to the electric company for the hell of it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Is your city DC? If so, it’s a bit disingenuous to treat governance issues that arise there as if they have general applicability.

          • Chatham says:

            The general applicability isn’t that other cities can do what we do (or are as liberal). But I think it demonstrates that even with a liberal citizenry and relatively liberal leaders, there’s a lot that won’t get passed without strong pressure from activists (and as we’ve seen with the fight for gay rights, this is something that can take decades).

            Like with the current state of the economy, it does us no good to act as if institutional challenges keep us from success when there’s so little that’s been tried.

  14. James E. Powell says:

    Are there liberal or left agendas that exist apart from the agendas of the Democratic Party, national and state? If so, what are the sources of those agendas?

    Who are “the liberals” and who speaks for them? Same question for the left.

  15. boconn13 says:

    I can only imagine an alternate universe . . .

    I had a dream, Tony Scalia drops dead of a heart attack on an Italian vacation; CJ Roberts has an aneurysm, falls down the stairs, and breaks his neck. This allows President Biden to nominate H. Clinton as Associate Justice and B. Obama as Chief Justice.

    Weird. But I awoke with a smile on my face.

  16. Manju says:

    The most idiotic and inappropriate thing ever said after a major civil rights victory since; “I fear we have lost the South for a generation”.

  17. Jesse Levine says:

    A historical note. We just found my campaign card from the 1968 election when I ran for the New York State Senate from southern Queens on the Liberal Party line.

    My platform:

    Full employment economy
    Quality Integrated Education
    Comprehensive medical care for all
    Increased aid for public schools
    Massive support for low and middle income housing
    Large scale programs to eliminate watert and air pollution

    plus some local issues

  18. Jesse Levine says:

    Edit opf the above.

    An historical note

    water pollution

  19. Jesse Levine says:

    Further edit. of

  20. [...] a follow up to my initial response to the question of whether the progressive agenda is exhausted, I have a longer piece up about the [...]

  21. [...] their backs on much of what they once believed.” I share their sense of frustration, but I interpret the landscape differently. To me, the problem isn’t the lack of a robust progressive agenda. The problem is that [...]

  22. Anonymous says:

    It’s not the agenda that’s the problem. It’s the weapon. Join the GREEN party http://GP.org
    Every time someone joins the GREEN party, a corporation loses it’s wings.

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