POPULIST OR PROGRESSIVE – OR SOMETHING NEW?

The words “progressive” and “populist” are bandied about on a daily basis, but I wonder if those who use the terms understand what they mean.  Knowing the difference can – well – make a difference.

Populism can be defined as follows:

  • any of various, often anti-establishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies.
  • grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism.
  • representation or extolling of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc.

A populist is a person who follows the populist philosophy.

Progressivism can be defined as follows:

  • a broad philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition.
  • the principles and practices of progressives.

A progressive is a person who follows the progressive philosophy.

Can one be both?  Perhaps, but doing so requires walking a thin line or embracing  changes in the traditional definitions which have resulted in a third option – that of “progressive populist.” 

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Populism tends to be anti-establishment and anti-intellectual while progressivism tends to rely on the establishment, the educated intellectuals, and existing political structures to implement its goals. 

Populism is older than Progressivism and was a response by the agrarian establishment to the rise of industrialization.  During the 1870s, farmers began to chafe against the high cost of money and the low price of crops.  Angered by what they saw as unresponsiveness by the political parties, populist leaders called on the people to rise up and seize the control of the government.  Populists exalted farmers and laborers as the true producers of wealth.  The original populist movement was short-lived with its most intense impact from 1889-1896.

The Progressive Movement – the Era of Reform – began as a response in the 1890s to problems created by the seismic shift from an agrarian society to an industrialized urban society.  Corporations and trusts controlled more and more of the country’s finances, immigrants arrived in large numbers competing for jobs and moving into slum tenements, and party bosses and political machines sprang up to control the new arrivals. In the eyes of many, the country was falling apart and action needed to be taken to restore a semblance of democracy to the nation.  That philosophy gave rise to the Progressive Movement.

Progressives typically lived in cities, were college educated, believed that government could be used as a tool to better the human condition, and rejected social Darwinism.  Many were “privileged” members of society and believed they had a duty to the poor and those in need.  The Progressive, middle-class reformers attempted to restore what they saw as a loss of democracy by limiting big business.  Immigrants were to be “Americanized”, and political machines were to be curbed.  The Progressive Movement was in its prime from 1901-1918; Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent of progressive ideas.

A final conundrum is the increasing philosophy of a “progressive populist.”  While this new formation uses both terms, it is not the populist or progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is, instead, built on a foundation of the majoritarian “submerged agenda” – an economic agenda that the majority of Americans support – increasing the minimum wage, restoring workers’ ability to bargain with employers, and taxing millionaires and giant corporations at levels that reflect how much of the country’s wealth and income they now have. 

The submerged majoritarian agenda is unable to gain support in Washington, D.C. because it reflects goals and philosophies that work against the very entities and contributors who maintain the power structure in D.C.

As yet another cycle of campaigning rolls around, the words “Populist”,”Progressive”, and “Progressive Populist” will continue to crop up in debates and conversations as candidates and the public attempt to pigeon-hole their ideas and philosophies.  Regardless of viewpoints,  understanding the nature of these movements is key to how we debate and how we ultimately resolve issues.

Populists v Progressives

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TEA PARTY RALLIES BECKON TO EXCLUSIVE TENT

With the exception of a couple of speakers, the recent Tea Party tent was noticeably devoid of diversity at Saturday’s rally.  The planners had every right to hold the Rally on the very same day and the very same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why,  shucks, a niece of Dr. King was present to provide a certain amount of legitimacy – albeit almost non-existent – to the notion that the Tea Party has a big tent of diversity.  Here is a snippet from Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece, as she explains why she chose to speak at the Rally:

“I will talk about honor and character and sacrifice. I will be joined by those who represent the diversity of the human race.”

I have to wonder what she was thinking as she gazed out on a sea of white faces.  Did she mean that she would be joined in spirit?  Did she mean a diversity of opinion from the rally goers?  For, connection by the physical presence of a diverse crowd was painfully lacking.

Yet, the lack of diversity really shouldn’t surprise anyone.  The demographics of the Tea Party reflect a make-up of Republican, white, older, educated, higher-income males.  While women and youngsters are members, they are outnumbered by the vociferous males who despise President Obama and his policies.

The Tea Party will continue to hold rallies to stir up anger and angst at the current president.  No amount of rhetoric and double-speak will cover its true agenda.  The Tea Party is about despising Barack Obama and his policies – nothing more, nothing less.

When the economy picks up – and it will – when the health care bill benefits become apparent – and they will – when all is said and done – the Tea Party will slowly fade into history just as so many other flash-in-the-pan movements have done – or perhaps it will hang around on the fringes and cause some uproar every now and then.

But the Tea Party movement will never rise beyond that of being a movement.  It will not become a party with which to reckon – no candidates, no platform, no ideas – only anger.  Its role in the current political climate simply is to agitate and drive the Republican party father and farther to the right until the edge of the cliff looms in the Republican Party’s  future.

Political parties need diversity, and, they ultimately need moderation.  As Alveda King scanned the crowd at the rally, how could she be so blind as to not see the Tea Party’s inability to understand and its complete disregard for the demographics of our Nation – a disregard that will make the Tea Party a virtual loser in the long run.

Diversity - a casualty of the Tea Party movement? April 2010

Same demographics - August 2010

REPUBLICAN SUPREMES BED DOWN WITH CORPORATE AMERICA

In a convulsion of activisim, the Republican Supreme Court clan has handed an astonishing victory to big corporate America.  In a 5-4 decision, all Republican appointees to the Supreme Court came squarely down on the side of big business by sweeping away limits on campaign spending that makes the now-existing monetary chasm between corporate America and the average citizen a canyon of enormous proportions.

The Founding Fathers had a fear of corporate power having been under the thumb of corporate rule from England.  And American citizens also distrusted corporate entities – legislatures held tight control over corporations until the mid-1800s.

Corporate law at the time was focused on protection of the public interest, and not on the interests of corporate shareholders. Corporate charters were closely regulated by the states; forming a corporation usually required an act of legislature.  The penalty for abuse or misuse of the corporate charter was not a plea bargain and a fine, but dissolution of the corporation.

With the advent of the industrial age, corporate power grew with the shift from an agrarian society to a wage-earner based society.  Corporate owners amassed fortunes, using their powers to buy legislators who weakened laws that had previously limited corporate influence.  In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), the United States Supreme Court recognized the corporation as a ‘natural person’ under law – albeit in a statement of obiter dictum. The Court intimated in its statement that corporations were entitled to protection under the 14th amendment – an amendment originally passed to protect emancipated slaves in the hostile south.

Corporations are mere legal entities – fictions created by law.  They are not human beings – they cannot vote, they cannot drive a car, they cannot have families, and on and on.  They lack virtually every trait that human beings possess, yet somehow, somewhere along the path of advancing industrialization and power grabs by “robber barons”, corporations became “persons” for the purpose of the Constitution’s 14th amendment protections.

With flippant disregard for the realities of the true identity of corporations and the magnitude of corporate spending power, the Supreme Court Republican “Gang of Five” has fallen into bed with corporate powers.  The instigator in the case, Citizens United, touts on its website a laughable statement, “Dedicated to Restoring our Government to Citizen Control.”

Surely they jest!  Sweeping away limits on corporate contributions certainly does not in any sense return “government to citizen control.”  The decision simply creates even more power and control in corporate entities.  Some will argue that unions will benefit from this decision as well.  Unions will benefit; however, unions hold nowhere near the power and control that is exercised by corporations.

In 2009, the union membership rate for public sector workers (37.4 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.2 percent).   In total, union membership only reaches 44.6% of workers.  Simply allowing unions to contribute just as corporations do does not equalize the situation.   Corporate influence is now at 100% while union influence – public and private – is at only 44.6%.

The Court has masked its support of corporate power by relying on the old bugaboo of infringing on “free speech.”  Cutting its ties with previous decisions limiting the ability of corporations to influence elections by tossing out millions of dollars in campaign contributions, the Court has disregarded the Founding Fathers rationale behind free speech as crucial in a democracy.   In the marketplace of ideas, free speech is considered essential for voters to make informed selections during elections.

The Republican clique on the Supreme Court has continued the Bush administration’s catering and kowtowing to corporate powers – a trend that will leave American citizens with diminishing control over the election process while increasing corporate ability to buy elections.

If the Wall Street bailout was a disaster for American citizens then unfettered corporate access to buying elections may very well be the ruin of the election process as we know it.

Can a piece of paper equal citizen voting power?

A PANDORA’S BOX OF PARADIGMS

The United States is lurching and convulsing through a shift in a number of paradigms related to issues such as energy independence, the role of capitalism, and the place of unbridled consumerism in our society.  The following are two definitions of paradigm.

  • One that serves as a pattern or model.
  • A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

Americans are now shifting their models of thinking and of viewing reality and of living their daily lives.  And it is not pretty.  From a nation that burst at the seams with unfettered consumerism and unchecked expending of energy to a nation now grappling with gargantuan changes in a capitalistic system that has – for whatever reasons – spun out of control.

Americans are now tamping down their spending – something that economists have suggested they do for decades – to control outlandish debt that comes from living with pieces of plastic as help-mates as well as installment loans and other credit purchases.  But the decrease in reliance on credit also comes with its price.

Expending less by zipping pieces of plastic through those nifty little machines – such a sense of power – and curtailing consumer spending decrease the money businesses take in which in turn decreases the number of employees needed and on and on.

Instead of worrying about the domino theory in Asia decades ago, we should have been worrying about the domino effect of less consumer spending using credit.  The time has now come to retool how we see credit as a part  of our lives.  The urge to save and the necessity of decreasing reliance on credit have taken priority now that the pitfalls of too much spending have come home to roost.

But credit isn’t the only area where Americans are slowly coming to the realization that things must change.  Energy dependence has been a roller coaster over the last half century – and  I remember it all.  From oil embargoes to gas lines to using less electricity to run households, Americans have endured a love – hate relationship with energy resources.

Oil – the source that provides for 70% of our transportation energy – is a finite resource and increasing consumption and increased competition throughout the world has put a strain on this resource.  But some Americans would still rather continue using energy like there is no tomorrow than change old habits based on a philosophy that we have the “right” to consume as much energy as we darn well please.

That philosophy no longer works in today’s world as we compete with China, India, and other countries bursting at the seams with economic development potential that depends on energy in the form of oil.  And their philosophy is at the same point ours was at the turn of the 20th century – they believe that they also deserve to exploit and industrialize just like the United States did over one hundred years ago.

And the last area?  The toughest one of all to reassess – the capitalistic system of government.  Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods.  While we are in no danger of “nationalizing” all private businesses, many Republicans would have Americans believe that all is lost because of the collapse of financial institutions.

The government has become a partner in the banking industry – something that probably was unthought of a year ago.  But most of what the government has undertaken is to impose regulations to control the ability of the large institutions to exploit, to merge, and to grow ever larger.  And large is not always better, contrary to some beliefs.

Where pure capitalists think that the “free market” will work to solve all life’s problems, pragmatic individuals realize that there is and never was a pure capitalistic “free market.”   The nature of capitalism itself will always require some form of regulation – not ownership – to restrain its tendencies to run roughshod over the American public.   And Americans are becoming more disenchanted with the way business handles itself, and they are becoming much more accepting of the idea that business must be controlled.

We are facing a new era of how we view our economic business systems and the way we live our lives daily.  Pandora’s box has been opened and the old paradigms are falling subject to newer ways of viewing our changing society and world.  Paradigms change over time; the critical question is whether or not we will adjust to those changes as well.

I, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA

With those four words, Barack Obama set sail – our Captain of the American enterprise with us as the crew – on a new journey in American history:  a history that all but chafed against such an event that occurred today in Washington, D.C.   With Obama’s inauguration, the words contained in the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” were pulled from the yellow pages of history to take on new life, never ringing more true or holding more promise.

Our Nation’s history is replete with human tragedy – from our decimation of Native Americans to the slave trade and slavery with its horrendous treatment of an entire race of fellow human beings to our fear, loathing, and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  But it is also brimming with triumphs from the birth of this great country upon the shoulders of our Founding Fathers to the building of the most powerful country in the world to the accomplishments of thousands of Americans too numerous to list.

Today – today – what seemed impossible in my generation – the 50s and 60s  – has come true.  In high school, I watched on TV almost daily the hatred spewed from the lips of southern politicians and public officials as they battled against desegregation and the entrance of blacks into southern schools and universities.  They stood arrogantly and defiantly in the doorways of their states’ public educational institutions, bracing themselves against what would be the inevitable mingling of blacks with whites.

The most basic rights that we today take for granted and accept were long denied to African-Americans.  The simple act of sitting at a lunch counter waiting to be served was against the law.   The police battled peaceful demonstrators with brutal force, using fire hoses spraying torrents of water strong enough to knock those targeted off their feet.  Billyclubs were used indiscriminately and with no remorse.

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were both called upon to send in National Guard troops to ensure that the law desegregating the schools would be obeyed.  Day after violent day, I watched as citizens fought to prevent other citizens from being treated with dignity and enjoying the basic, common rights already attendant to being white.

But integration in the southern schools was not the only racial barrier that finally fell in the 1960s.  From early colonial days, laws were set in place to criminalize the cohabitation and marriage of whites and blacks, fueled by reliance on Biblical admonitions and a fear of “mongrolizing” the white race.  Not until the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S.  1 (1967), did the last remnants of the anti-miscegenation statutes fall.  The Supreme Court made clear by a 9-0 vote that the right to choose with whom you wish to spend your life is a fundamental right not to be abridged by outdated theories and racist ideologies.

Today, we move forward to a new beginning – a new vision of our country where the words of our founders ring true.  Their words were set down in our Declaration and in our Constitution – a Constitution that is the shortest in the world and the longest-lived in the world.  And just as our Founders planned, despite the crises we have suffered throughout our history, today we witnessed a peaceful and seamless transition, not only from one Commander in Chief to another, but also from words set forth on parchment over 200 years ago across the centuries to a fulfillment of that promise – “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

And I cried.  And I cried this weekend watching the concert at the Lincoln Memorial remembering how I stood on that very spot two years ago looking up at the cream-colored face of Abraham Lincoln.  I cried watching Barack Obama taking the Oath of Office.  I cried in remembrance of those struggles of the past two centuries and especially those that I remember from the 60s.  And I cried with happiness and a new-felt freedom for the promises that I unabashedly knew lived in our Constitution and the realization that those promises have finally come to pass.

Photo Credit:  New York Times (Peter Baker)

BUSH – THE END OF AN ERROR

I know that this reference isn’t new and has been bandied about for some time now, but it sure sums up my feelings about the departure of the 43rd president of the United States. From the moment Bush arrogantly swaggered into the White House vis-a-vis a slanted 5-4 decision by the United Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), he treated the position as his to denigrate, abuse, and violate.

He chose as his running mate a fellow oilman and anti-environmentalist, Dick Cheney. And someone who was just as arrogant and full of himself as he was.  Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and other neocons had a plan already in place to deal with the Middle East, particularly Iraq – it was just figuring out how to do it. 

And figure it out he did – by sounding the alarm after 9/11 and pointing his finger – no longer at Afghanistan – but at Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Bush began his methodical campaign – full of lies and misrepresentations – to manipulate and frighten Congress and the public despite the fact that no evidence existed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had no role in 9/11.  And he got what he wanted:  a resolution by Congress approving the invasion and occupation and the support of most of the public.

I will never forget the invasion of Iraq – the so-called “Shock and Awe”, and Americans clapping and cheering – like they were at a football game – as the bombs fell on innocent citizens as well as those who Bush wished to depose. I was out with friends at a local establishment, and the patrons made no secret that they were thrilled to see the might of the American military raining down on Baghdad.

And who can forget Bush – dressed in flight gear – landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to assure the public that after only six weeks of shock and awe, major combat had ended. Grinning before a huge “Mission Accomplished” sign hung high on the ship, Bush claimed – well – that the mission was accomplished. Hussein was gone and Iraq was now free and would be a democracy. Just that simple and just like that.  Never mind that we have now been in Iraq six years this March.

But apparently the sign wasn’t enough, Bush pulled on his cowboy boots, drew his six shooters, and drawled “bring ’em on.”  Bring ’em on?  The fact that he said this showed his complete disregard for human life.  We do not live in the Wild West, and those were American lives which would be the target of his short, three-word utterance.

His handling of the economy and the budget drove fiscal conservatives over the edge.  I can’t count the number of times I listened to Pat Buchanan on the McLaughlin Report disavow Bush as a true Republican conservative.  But Bush didn’t seem to mind, again ignoring advice and doing what he darned well pleased.

Bush’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster highlighted his inability to focus on matters other than winning in Iraq.  Who can forget his classic albeit misplaced support of the FEMA director, Michael D. Brown, with the oft-quoted “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.”  On September 12, 2005 – just days after the pat on the back – “Brownie” resigned his position as head of FEMA amid accusations of his lack of credentials to manage the agency and his lack of  foresight in planning for emergencies and disasters.

Bush’s inability to string together a coherent paragraph was evident from the beginning and, unfortunately, became more pronounced as he wandered through year after year of his first term. By his second term, the mere mention of a presidential press conference or a prefabricated speech sent a shudder down my spine. Watching him speak to an audience was painful, so I never watched him – not even to reinforce my own opinion of how inane he was – until this past Thursday night.

I forced myself to watch his last, I say last, speech with unmitigated relief.  I was curious as to how he would manipulate the facts about his eight years of disaster into a shining picture of success.  He looked haggard and strained – his voice bland and showing little emotion – as he tried to put a positive spin on eight years of imperial secrecy, inane decision-making, and outright flaunting of the Constitution.  His speech was short and lacked clarity, just like so many of his decisions.

But what could one expect from a presidency that had only one focus – Iraq and proving a point in the Middle East.  His all-consuming and fanatical drive to make Iraq a fledgling democracy amidst a sea of Islamic states has left him wanting in virtually all other matters when it comes to the matters of the United States and all Americans.

Yes, indeed, January 20th is the end of an error and the beginning of a new dawn for those of us who have suffered through eight years of George W. Bush.  I feel like I have finally awakened from a bad dream.

NEXT BOONDOGGLE FOR VOTERS – PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP

State legislatures with their flag-waving, fear mongering members are working to increase the barriers to vote once again. Now that the hurdle of a photo ID has been upheld by the Supreme Court in its decision this past April in Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 128 S. Ct. 1610 (2008), the next obstacle that fear mongers want to impose to suppress voting is the requirement of proof of citizenship.

Missouri lawmakers are expected to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to enable election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote. Ostensibly, the amendment is to address illegal immigrants converging on the polls and stealing elections. In reality, it is aimed at deterring voter blocks that typically vote democratic. No evidence has been produced to justify the new restriction – only the use of fear to implant the idea in the public’s mind that elections are being stolen by illegal immigrants.

And Missouri isn’t the only state moving toward more restrictions on voting. Ten other states are now in the process of passing “Proof of Citizenship Bills.”

In most cases, potential voters will have to produce an original birth certificate, naturalization papers, or a passport. Most people I know do not keep their birth certificates handy. I got one many years ago, and, at the same time, I also got one of the small, laminated ones that I carry in my pocketbook.

I will lay you odds, though, that I am in the minority on this one. Flag-waving patriots will assure everyone that obtaining a birth certificate is a piece of cake. I have news for the flag waivers, it isn’t. To get a birth certificate requires that you either go to the department of health in person, or provide an ID for a mail-in request. The cost is $10.00 to obtain a certificate in person or through the mail. But what if you don’t have an ID to get a birth certificate?

Well, then you must trek to your local BMV, get an ID, and return to the health department to present it to then get your birth certificate.

But you may be happy to know that an express process to obtain a birth certificate – for emergencies – has been provided. VitalChek will speed the process for a mere $28.50 using U.S. regular mail and $46.00 for FedEx overnight. I am sure that everyone can afford those prices for a birth certificate. One of the criticisms of the Indiana photo ID requirement was that for some, the cost would be a stopper. The state magnanimously agreed to provide free licenses to those who proved they could not afford them. I wonder if that will happen if birth certificates are required?

Requiring proof of citizenship is nothing more than a distraction from the many problems our country faces. But what a distraction: jump up and down about illegal immigrants and the possibility that they are stealing elections, and you have a bulit-in issue – even if no evidence exists to support the accusations.

The addition of proof of citizenship just adds one more layer of difficulty to a process that continues to be fodder for election year pandering. And just when you thought you were safe in the voting booth, Republicans have come up with a new way to suppress voter turnout.

MUGABE MADNESS IN ZIMBABWE – ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY

Almost three decades ago, Robert G. Mugabe – now 84 years old – assumed political office in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia. Zimbabwe is located in the southern part of Africa surrounded on the south and southwest by South Africa and Botswana; on the northwest by Zambia; and, the northeast and east by Mozambique.

Photo credit: CIA Factbook

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During the 1960s and 1970s, Mugabe was a political prisoner in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He left Rhodesia in 1976 to join the Liberation Struggle – Rhodesian Bush War – in Mozambique. At the end of the war, Mugabe was hailed by Africans as a hero, and he won in the general elections of 1980: the first elections in which the majority black Africans participated.

Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of black-ruled Zimbabwe in 1980 after calling for reconciliation between formerly warring parties, including whites as well as rival parties. But today he is seen as a power hungry ruler in control of a country where inflation is running rampant. A 2-ply sheet of toilet paper costs $417 – the entire roll costs $145,750 or $.69 in American coinage.

In March of this year a presidential election as well as a parliamentary election were held with no clear results. One of the two challengers, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) garnered a greater percentage than Mugabe but not enough to seal his role as president of Zimbabwe. With the lack of a clear winner, a second election – a run-off – was necessary to establish the election of the president.

But Mugabe and his forces have other ideas as to how to corner the vote and remain entrenched in power. By intimidating and killing supporters of Tsvangirai, Mugabe has forced Tsvangirai to withdraw rather than see continuing slaughter of his supporters. While reaction from non-African nations has been swift and negative, few African leaders have voiced an opinion on Mugabe’s thug tactics.

As the old saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” After years of leading Zimbabwe and overseeing change and growth, Mugabe has now succumbed to the lure of power over the welfare of his people and his country.