I wish I could update more often, but I can't seem to manage it. Life just gets in the way of these things.
There was a profile of Dennis Kucinich in the Boston Phoenix the other day that got me thinking. Who is Kucinich? You can't really take him seriously as a viable presidential candidate. He will probably never be elected to state-wide office in Ohio. He comes across as kind of kooky, he's kind of funny-looking, and he doesn't seem to know the value of compromise. He will most likely spend the rest of his days representing his urban Cleveland congressional district.
By another light, this means that he has nothing to lose. He can take his 68 delegates to the convention and speak as loudly as he wants. If he has a principled stand he wants to remind the Democrats of, he will have his chance.
The other thing to note about Kucinich is that while he may be anti-globalization, vegan, and pacifist, none of which is a mainstream position, he's no communist. And he's not a "minority spokesperson" either. Why is this important?
For a long time, the intellectual framework of the left had been erected by Marxists, ex-Marxists, and socialists. Whatever the relative merits of these points of view, they are currently completely discredited in the American discussion. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Reaganites and Nixonians, and some misguided and bankrupt apologia of unfortunate policies adopted domestically and abroad that were arguably socialist in name only, even apparent no-brainers like single-payer health care or making sure poor children have enough to eat have become sinister first steps down the slippery slope to Stalinism and 1984. To Americans, anything socialist, socialized, or social welfare means replacing supermarkets with bread lines, green front lawns with cinderblock apartment buildings, entrepreneurial ingenuity with complacent despair, individuality with conformity. Even trade unions--you know, the people who got you the weekend, worker's compensation, overtime, pensions, and health benefits--were discredited and eviscerated.
In the meantime, the backlash against the civil rights movement, trumped up rhetoric about immigration, and the 80s' AIDS hysteria combined to form an ideology on the right that claimed that simply being black or hispanic or gay meant that you couldn't be trusted to have intellectual integrity, unless you were arguing for a conservative point of view, or at the very least a centrist, pro-business, color-blind, don't-ask-don't-tell upper-middle-class way of life. Similarly, the points of view of poor people couldn't count unless they had proven themselves worthy by "making it" and then had gone on to say that because they "made it," anyone else could too.
I do think that both of these progressive traditions still have important things to say to Americans, even though they have had their missteps and excesses, but whether they do or don't, they can't find purchase in the American rhetorical climate of today.
Kucinich's current positions, however, come from neither of these points of view. For this reason, he's not hobbled before he even comes out of the gate. The right-wing rhetoricians have done their best to cast anti-globalizationists as anarchists, environmentalists as eco-terrorists, animal rights activists as anti-human, and pacifism/isolationism as appeasement. Now these positions are not mainstream, and I think it would be an overstatement to say that they are gaining steam. But their ends, fair trade, nature, puppies, and peace, are things that only the meanest of spirits could denigrate. Kucinich supporters, and to a certain extent Nader supporters, can be criticized for their naivete, (and oh they are) but there is (as yet) no counterargument to a hope for a world of natural beauty, economic prosperity for all, no animal cruelty, and an absence of war. Who wouldn't want that?
So this new progressive movement is taking shape. They are a little shallow intellectually, but for now that seems to be their strength--they're not wedded to ideology, only to the reduction of suffering and waste. No one takes their policy proposals seriously, but they are doing something very important right about now. They are keeping these ideas alive in the public debate. They are keeping the centrists from running away with the debate, and keeping the whole national discourse from lurching even further right. Among young people especially, these ideals appeal, even among those who take as an article of faith that socialism is dead. If you need a label for them, call them the Greens.
There is another progressive movement afoot, a sort of populist neo-liberal point of view. They still believe in markets and corporations, but want fair trade and level playing fields. They understand the necessary role that unions play. They value multi-racial and multi-cultural alliances, something Greens seem curiously tone deaf to. They accept a role for American military forces in foreign affairs, but also the need for multilateral coalitions and international legitimization. I'm thinking of people like Howard Dean and Robert Reich. What makes them different from conventionalist centrists is that they speak matter-of-factly about multicultural alliances, rather than sweeping diversity under the rug to appeal to the mythical swing voter; they refuse to rubber-stamp whatever free-trade agreements the corporatations hand them out of fear of losing corporate campaign contributions; they have a foreign policy vision beyond maintaining the status quo.
These two groups will have to come to some kind of understanding. In the meantime, it doesn't matter much because the primary focus is defeating the Republicans. But it's exciting to see these two new fonts of progressive action springing out of what seemed to be a deserted leftist terrain.
The problem, however, is that it may not be enough. The problems the United States faces at this moment, both domestically and abroad, are huge. Weighing on my mind in particular is the disconnect between the American public, mass media, and the truth. As long as this disconnect continues, so that Americans' main source of information and argumentation is the media, rather than their own eyes and their own brains, the door will be left open for someone to exploit this gap to turn democracy inside-out. It may not be Bush who does it, since I really don't think he will be reelected, barring some catastrophe. But eventually, someone will figure out how to do it. Both Greens and neolibs are aware of this problem. I don't know if centrists know or care.
I'd also like to see the Republicans forced into chucking their racists, theocrats, and crypto-confederates overboard. These guys need to be delegitimized like there's no tomorrow. The Republicans might pick up some votes in the center, but only if they refused to play the race-baiting game. The national debate would then shift left.
--Melissa O, at 17:40