Monday, February 09, 2009


From the New York Times, yet another good Krugman column:

The Destructive Center

What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?

A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.

Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.

Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.

More here.

Krugman goes on to talk more about the stimulus bill, but I'm totally wowed by the point he makes only as an introduction. That is, these "centrist" actions he writes about are obviously not centrist; the only thing a person with any political knowledge at all can call them is "conservative."

A few days ago I was at a bar after work talking to a couple of young women. They're both very intelligent, assertive, and have plans for successful professional careers in male dominated fields. They don't take any shit from anybody. But neither of them would accept it when I tried to tag them as feminists. They didn't even like my telling them that, however they wanted to ideologically identify themselves, they were certainly living out feminist lives--I even told them, "hey, it's okay, I'm a feminist myself." No good. Whichever way I put it, they rejected the feminist label.

And that's weird to me because these two are so obviously feminists; indeed, by every definition of the term I can think of, my drinking pals fit it. What's going on here?

A while back, my father, a fairly far-right conservative, who knows I'm liberal, asked me to describe briefly where I'm coming from ideologically. I thought for a moment and told him that I'm probably closest to a 1950s liberal, predating the arrival of the so-called "New Left," and without the accompanying Cold War paranoia that made real 50s liberals so trigger-happy: the idea I wanted to get across to him is that yeah, I want massive change, but I still have a basic faith and belief in the foundational principles and institutions of the United States--I'm a good American who wants the country to change in order to make it more true to itself.

But looking back on the conversation, I found it weird that I needed to to explain myself in this way, using history to define my own specific style of liberalism. I mean, the above explanation is, to me, of the word "liberal" in general, at least in the US, not really of my own personal liberalism. Liberals are patriotic Americans who want change; conservatives are patriotic Americans who are cautious about change, believing the mess we've got is better than the unknown, right?

Apparently, that's not what the establishment thinks these days. Indeed, I'm not sure exactly what the establishment thinks about the subject lately. If the study used during the recent presidential campaign to brand Obama as the "most liberal Senator" is taken seriously, the mainstream simply thinks that "liberal" means "what the Democrats vote for" and "conservative" means "what the Republicans vote for." Such a view essentially renders differences between liberals and conservatives meaningless--policy, that is, what elected officials vote for, is entirely different from ideology, that is, what people believe; to get legislation passed, ideology must often be compromised, but once belief is compromised, it is no longer belief.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, "liberal" and "conservative" are now, for the most part, brand names, and "conservative" plays Coke to "liberal's" Pepsi. Like my young feminist friends who refuse to admit what they are, many Americans prefer to think of themselves as conservative because it beats "liberal" again and again in taste tests. That is, the right wing, as understood in today's parlance, and by that I mean the far-right reactionaries who have come to dominate the Republican Party, has done a marvelous job of trashing the word "liberal." Regardless of belief, people don't want to think of themselves as big pussy liberals.

Except that, according to surveys, most Americans really are liberal. They want government to make their lives easier. They want racial, gender, and economic justice. They oppose non-defensive war. They want a fair two-state solution in Palestine. And on and on. The political class, however, which includes the corporate news media, is not liberal; they're conservative: they oppose "big government;" they favor policies that make the rich become richer; they're very skeptical about any justice associated with social class; they always favor Israel's harsh hawkish position on Palestine, and on and on. This conservatism definitely includes elected officials and journalists who the establishment perceives as "liberal." In short, Americans are liberal, even if they won't admit it, while our rulers are conservative to extraordinarily conservative, even if they call themselves liberal.

Confusing, yeah I know.

But that's why we're treated to the spectacle of "centrists" who are actually conservative fucking up the stimulus bill. The problem here is that when "liberal" and "conservative" effectively have no meaning, the terms of pretty much all political public discourse become wildly dishonest. That is, the true liberal positions held by a majority of Americans are effectively excluded from debate because the people's "liberal" representatives won't voice them. Far right extremist conservative ideology rules our nation's capitol, in spite of Democratic majorities in Congress and possession of the White House.

Fuck "progressive" bullshit euphemizing, liberals need to reclaim this once proud word and reestablish some reasonable boundaries for political debate. Otherwise, these "centrists" with fangs are going to do us all in.