Caveat: My discussion of and interest in populist progressivism is not intended to be a point of departure for discussing terminology or rhetoric. The point of the inquiry is to begin identifying the theoretical and practical starting points for a politics that has at its center the following:
- The centrality of autonomous individuals receiving decent treatment from their political leaders and political institutions, as well as from powerful corporate actors.
- The need to transcend the idea that in a vibrant democracy total unanimity on every point is a prerequisite for a movement toward a more humane, decent, civilized and classically liberal political and social climate.
- The importance of an educated, engaged electorate remaining focused on politics in their cities and towns, states, and their nation and the world at large.
- The significance of science and the humanities in coming to understand how our world (natural and social) works and how we can make it better.
- The need to embrace debate and disagreement as hallmarks of a healthy body politic, while at the same time coming together on the issues that most affect human welfare.
What is missing from the currently U.S. political landscape? Populist progressivism. This country has a history of that, a history I will be be discussing and explaining in posts to follow. For a brief overview of populist progressivism in the early twentieth century, go here. Populist progressivism at the federal level reached a highpoint landmark with the implementation of FDR's New Deal. And as I will be explaining, I believe that that the President Truman's and President Johnson's involvment with the civil rights movement to end racial inequality, and in the Johnson's case, the support from Democratic legislators, also merits inclusion in the tradition of the American populist progressivism. Finally, many of the achievements of President Bill Clinton's administration continued that heritage and the William J. Clinton Foundation most certainly continues and expands upon the implementation of genuinely progressive measures at home and abroad at the popular level.
There are a few politicians on the national level, or seeking to get there, who qualify as serious progressives in my opinion. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton qualifies, for sure. I encourage those who can to continue to donate what they can to Senator Clinton's 2012 election campaign fund, here.
Ed O'Reilly, running against John Kerry in a primary on September 16, also qualifies in my opinion. (For a preview of Ed's debate against Senator Kerry which will be aired in full tomorrow, September 7, go here. To learn more about Ed and how to support him in these crucial final days of his effort to stand up to an entrenched incumbent who has deviated sharply, in both tone and actions, from progressivim, see Ed's campaign website.)
There is The Denver Group, (click on the link to learn how to support the group), which under a new banner, Party Before Principle, will be fighting for the idea of that Democrats who are genuinely progressive have every right to withhold their vote for the top of the ticket but to work hard for downticket Democratics all over the country - for example, Sheila Jackson Lee - who do stand firm for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In the Congress, Rep. Lee belongs to an undernoticed group, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group that merits further study, which I will be supplying.
There is at least one superb Washington D.C. based organization that works for genuine progressivism: The Center for American Progress. But it serves primarily as a think tank although it does reach out to students as part of a more grassroots effort.
Of course there is the pretend progressivism offered by the current DNC and the nominee. At this point in time the DNC and its presidential candidate simply cannot be taken seriously as progressives, because at the heart of progressive politics is respect for individual dignity specifically as embodied in the franchise and more generally in a dedication to using robust, open, and fair democratic procedures within political organizations as we all as in official governmental action. Apart from the anti-democratic and dirty tactics used by the DNC to install this ticket, there is also the increasingly top-down approach being taken toward rank and file voters, and even lower level Democratic party officials, including duly elected delegates to the most recent Democratic Party convention: all evidence of a Party increasingly opposed to authentic popular participatatory democracy.
There is the current Republican ticket, McCain-Pailin, which achieves some measure of progressivism by including a working class woman in the vice-presidential slot. But too many of the substantive polices advocated by Senator McCain and Governor Pailin, and the Republican Party Platform, simply cannot be be regarded as a progressive to regard this ticket as on to true popular progessivism.
Surveying this landscape, it is clear that invidvidual progressives will need to make short, medium, and long term efforts to place populist progressivism at the forefront of American politics. Of the two existing political parties, it is my own belief that apart from the DNC and the top of the current Democratic ticket, there are any number of candidates who we as progressives can support in the name of progressivism. There are also organizations we can support, learn about, and involve ourselves in if we want to to strengthen the political clout of the idea of populist progressivism.
If we accomplish that goal, if we make it clear to current officeholders - regardless of their current Party affiliation, that the populist progressives - who come from every demographic group imaginable - are the ones who can afford them the broadest base of support, these office holders will, you can be sure, take heed. Whether we end up with a third party or a reincarnation of the Democratic Party (or a virtually total reinvention of the Republican Party) will flow from which politicians prove themselves, by word and deed, to be genuinely progressive and to be willing to fight for the ideals, values, and immediate goals of populist progressivism. My own take on what these specific central ideals, values, and immediate goals are and ought to be will be forthcoming.
This is the beginning of a conversation.