Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Slamming Progressives

Meat Loaf sang "two out of three ain't bad." One out of three, however, is less than admirable.

Writing in Slate, Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick ask whether we noticed

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.

While that is clearly the case, Friedman/Lithwick are disturbingly off the mark when they claim

Progressives could have pushed marriage equality without ditching all the causes and ideas on which their movement was founded. It’s not like anyone in the gay community ever asked them to abandon the rest of their agenda. But progressives did. Perhaps it was battle fatigue, or a loss of confidence in how to fix things. Or maybe issues like poverty and education seem intractable, and it just got too hard to keep trying.

I've argued the left ought to be less concerned with the rights of individuals on the basis of sexual preference than on the basis of lack of wealth and power, such as on April 13, when I lamented the "increase in tolerance of same-sex marriage" while "support for extending to all women of child-bearing years power over their personal and professional lives has declined." Or when five days later, I was displeased that, as a Democratic strategist pointed out, same-sex marriage "is becoming an early litmus test for potential (Democratic) 2016 candidates." Or when just last Friday, I agreed with a blogger who suggested "the possibility that the difference (in activism for gay rights far beyond other liberal causes) is that powerful economic interests don't lose anything from gay equality."

Other better known and read progressives, though far more enamored of extending the (sarcasm alert) flourishing institution of marriage to an individual wishing to marry someone of his/her gender, have written or blogged extensively on varied liberal causes. They include bloggers found on Beat the Press, Crooks and Liars, Hullabaloo, Firedoglake, and The Brad Blog, and all others on Main Street Liberal's blogroll. And nearly all- with the notable exception of Daily Kos and, especially, Think Progress (an operation of the Center for American Progress)- realize, as does Cornel West, "the irony of the age of Obama in which black folks found themselves pushed to the back (while) our gay brothers and lesbian sisters more and more (are) pushed to the center."

Friedman/Lithwick, perhaps eager to declare that undying love they believe blinds progressives, assert "It’s not like anyone in the gay community ever asked them to abandon the rest of their agenda. But progressives did." But that is simplistic. Three years ago, I ignored a story which resulted in the the gay activist Human Rights Campaign (as well as, admittedly, the progressive leading

petition drives and a boycott of Target since it decided to support Emmer, a state House member who angered the progressive community for his conservative positions on abortion and birth control. Target officials have said the donation to a newly-formed business group, Minnesota Forward, came from its business account rather than its internal political action committee; the retailer is backing Emmer because he appeared to be the strongest pro-business candidate in the race.

Emmer's stands on reproductive freedom and business regulation clearly were not of the utmost concern to either group, for

After employees and outside groups complained, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel issued memos to his workers explaining his motivation for the donation and apologizing if it upset them. He also reiterated the company’s commitment to equal rights within the workplace and its sponsorship of gay rights events in Minnesota.

But HRC had hoped to convince the firm to donate $150,000 to pro-gay rights candidates and groups in Minnesota to “make right” its support for Emmer. After weeks of negotiations, HRC officials said Monday that the talks had broken down without a deal.

HRC said it will devote $150,000 of its resources to defeat Emmer. And MoveOn members are still calling for a boycott of the national chain that had nurtured strong ties to the gay community through its store locations, marketing, and non-discriminatory employee benefits program.

That's a boycott of Target, known mainly as one of the two major competitors of Wal-Mart. Yes, that Wal-Mart, which pays its employees so little that a 2004 study found "The families of Wal-Mart employees in California utilize an estimated 40 percent more in taxpayer-funded healthcare than the average for families of all large retail employees.'" and "use an estimated 38 percent more in other (bon-health care) public asssitance programs (such as food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, subsidized school lunches, and subsidized housing) than the average for families of all large retail employees." (These problems persist.) The same Wal-Mart which today won't sign an agreement for fire and building safety in Bangladesh. That same Wal-Mart which was probably quite pleased that shoppers of Target were being indirectly encouraged by progressive groups, one dedicated to gay rights, to shift its business to Wal-Mart. Way to go, guys.

Friedman/Lithwick conclude

Now that gay marriage is looking like a check in the win column, it is precisely the right moment to ask: What does it mean to be left anymore? Is there even a left left? Or just a center that calls itself left because it is always standing next to the dude labeled “right” in the photographs

By necessity, then, what we’re telling here is only half the story. The half about what got left behind on the way to the altar. To remain vibrant and effective, the American left must be for something, not just against the right’s most idiotic ideas. Winning elections is vital, of course, but the point of winning elections is to have an agenda once you get there. What should be the agenda for the left? What is left?

Those two paragraphs bear a critical similarity to the other fifteen paragraphs of their piece in that there is, astoundingly, no mention of the most important "progressive" of them all: the President of the United States. Nothing.

When the vice president of the United States came out in favor of gay marriage, the failure of his boss to have evolved fully became untenable and he, too, declared his support. It would have been unseemly for the President to remain a lower life form once his running mate had evolved. Support for same-sex marriage then skyrocketed, led by a dramatic shift of opinion among black Americans.

But aside from marriage rights, one searches in vain for presidential leadership on progressive causes. Friedman/Lithwick cite "economic fairness, a war on poverty, meaningful education reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, racial justice, women’s rights, equal access to child care and health care" as issues progressives have shirked.

Yet, President Obama has sacrificed political capital only for health reform and even that came without expanded Medicare (as in single-payer), a public option, or, as it turns out, extending care to the tens of millions of people we were promised. (There is a third, "meaningful education reform," which Obama and his Education Secretary have advocated which, in most iterations, is hardly progressive or humane. See Diane Ravitch's Blog or Jersey Jazzman.)

The authors contend that the only cause beside same-sex marriage "progressives wholeheartedly and unequivocally embraced were electing the country’s first black man as president, and immigration reform." But those weren't progressives who have embraced only gay marriage and immigration reform and the notion that electing a black man as president would lift the veil of racism from the nation and bring harmony upon the land. Those were some centrists and, especially, much of the mainstream media, with weak connection to ideological principle. And perhaps it includes Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick who- holding the leader of the Free World blameless- turn Mr. Dooley's dictum on its head and afflict the powerless while comforting the afflicted.

Happy Independence Day

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