18 November 2010


It means Geezer In Training, which I prefer to 'senior moment.' I felt it this morning as I strained to remember the book review from the NYTimes on October 31 that mentioned the loss of a genuine American "Left." The point of the reviewer was that without a genuine ideological left wing that had some heft, the Democratic Party has no clear purpose.

Flash! My mind recalled that Liberal Religion, of which I am an adherent, has been defined by the historian/ethicist Gary Dorrien as a mediating movement that believed both Christianity and modernity could and must co-exist. What if the Democratic/Liberal party exists to do something very similar, to mediate the claims of the ideological and left and right and propose a very Anglican 'via media'?

In our very conservative times this may seem preposterous. The Democratic Party is routinely painted with commie red. But they are far from those who a century ago really were socialists. Back in the prudish Edwardian era the Socialist Party of America won nearly 1,000,000 votes in 1912, and again 1920. And yet it was the Democratic Party under Roosevelt that injected a little socialism into a reeling economy and perhaps saved capitalism as a result. I know there is disagreement about whether it worked technically, but I believe it worked socially as it popped the balloon of fanaticism that was growing in the struggles of that era.

Two generations later Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and Michael Harrington were redefining socialism and left-wing thought in books and articles read both widely and openly. But the clarity and urgency of the early 20th century was now gone. Today, there is nothing like that in American politics. Left wing politics is a parlor sport like playing Botticelli.

The reasons why belong to historians and analysts, not bloggers. My point is that because there is no real left any more - none that has as weight or power - the Democratic Party has no mediating role to play in the political landscape. It is inherently a party of means not ends, of compromise not principle.

And I say this as a Democrat, a political 'Anglican' who knows that purity of principle is the path of tyranny. Both on the left and right, the righteousness of the true liberal and the true conservative tends toward a political puritanism. Today's Tea Party is an obvious manifestation. Their demands to slash the budget and taxes and government are attractive because of their clarity and simplicity. Especially in turbulent and troubling times we have an even greater hunger for clarity and simplicity than usual. But the price will be very high if we actually follow that path.

The Democratic Party, though, is constitutionally unable to respond because it is the mediating party. It cannot be the Left because it seeks balance not perfection.

The remedy is to recreate the Left. I mean not an intellectual, deconstructed, post-modern, contextualized left. That is pathetic politically; truly suited to be the straw men of right wing demagogues. I mean an old fashioned Eugene V. Debs, labor and worker and proletarian Left. Not because I believe they are good and the right is bad, but because without a real alternative to Tea Party Conservatism there is no middle ground. We will become a one party nation, which is indisputably anti-democratic and eventually tyrannical. For the Democrats to find new life we must first give new life to the Old Left.

"Lazarus, come out," said Jesus to the corpse at Bethany. "Socialism, come out" I say. We need Debs again, and soon.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

thank you. i needed this opinion right now as i am thinking about a moveon.org conference call which will take place this evening... new life to the old left. perfect!