Are you a progressive?

Posted on February 25th, 2010 in Books,Culture,History by Robert Miller

Do you have a snap of the fingers definition residing in your brain about what a progressive is? Do you have some idea of the history of the progressive movement in America? Are you a progressive, a liberal or a conservative? Do these designations have any meaning or do they serve as ad hoc words for coffee breaks and tea parties? What resonates in your brain when you try to explain what a progressive is or what it is that progressives have done for America? Is the progressive label a worn-out word ready for discard? Writer Michael Lux has taken on these issues with a delightful book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came To Be.” Lux is involved in OpenLeft and Progressive Strategies and other liberal organizations and consultant groups.  He worked at one time in the Clinton administration on the failed healthcare effort; he is unabashedly a progressive and committed to progressive causes and the transformation of America by relying on its traditional progressive history. This  is not a work of deep scholarship, though he quotes more scholarly citations throughout the book.  Progressive Revolution has a single purpose: to identify, extract and simplify contributions of progressives throughout the history of the United States and demonstrate their successes and failures while taking a stab at delineating the reasons why they did either or both. His basic, take-home message is that America has advanced its Democracy only through progressive movements, fine-tuned by public demands and influence and that we have not had a big progressive push since Lyndon Johnson’s triumphs on civil rights, together with the passage of Medicare and Medicaid; we are long overdue for another progressive revolution, for which he believes the country is now prepared and hopeful. In fact, he believes that the country is far ahead of the current wave of politicians, particularly the Democrats, who are too timid and cautious, so much so that they could fail by not identifying the mood of the country and the public receptivity for dramatic change. On that subject, I am in complete agreement with Lux–the country is ready for change. The polls reflect their impatience with the status quo and the need for a dramatic left turn on many social issues, including healthcare. They are ready for a massive reform movement and no longer fear government programs.  Indeed the majority of our citizens believe that government can do good things. So where are the Democrats that recognize this national mood for dramatic change? That’s the problem. So far, those that are enthusiastic for progressive change are not yet in the majority of Congress and we have a timid President who needs pressure from external forces to galvanize his spirit and drop the nonsense of bipartisanship. When FDR passed Social Security and saved American seniors from falling into abject poverty, every Republican voted against the bill. Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with (on) America” intended to gut Social Security, until his mother warned him against doing so. But, we get ahead of the story.

To Obama: Learn more about Haiti and re-read Howard Zinn

Posted on February 17th, 2010 in Politics by Robert Miller

Howard Zinn and Haiti are the short-cuts to carnal knowledge of America. You learn more about America’s empire policies by studying Howard Zinn’s life and works and Haitian history than you do by reading from almost any other source. It’s a quick lesson in the theory that you learn what a country is like by watching its past behavior rather than  listening to its rhetoric or reading the documents that celebrate and justify its glorious beginning. I have been refreshing my knowledge of both Howard Zinn and Haiti recently, as Zinn’s sudden death and the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti hit us like twin Tsunamis to our frontal lobes.  Zinn is gone and Haiti needs to be rebuilt: a void coupled to a nightmare. Zinn has been deceased only two weeks and people are already asking “what would Howard Zinn do?” He is surely the best of all templates for America’s future and the never ending need to evolve the country into a problem solver rather than a problem creator. Today, America is in search of a tide that can lift all boats.

In the last article that Zinn wrote for The Nation, in recognition of Obama’s first year in the White House, he wrote “I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president–which means, in our time, a dangerous president–unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.” If Obama’s presidency is going to become meaningful, it will get there only by immense pressure that forces him into action of the proper kind. Right now Obama acts as if he either has no constituency, or he assumes he can count on support from the left because they are without any other candidate. This is the most dangerous attitude that any President can have. Even Bush understood that you have to energize the base and that is precisely what Obama doesn’t do. Massachusetts should have convinced him of that. The indifference Obama shows for his natural constituency, the group that got him elected, leaves him free to practice the fine art of triangulation.  But, his efforts at that game, while making him feel good about trying to generate bipartisan support, puts him at a huge disadvantage and so far he has demonstrated that he doesn’t have the political skills to avoid entrapment by the scheming Republicans who know how to play the game much better than he does. Obama needs to understand that the Republicans want him to fail in everything he does and they have already succeeded in trapping him on any number of issues, including his design of the stimulus package (too many tax deductions and not enough stimulus dollars delivered to the right places: he badly missed the mark on that one and now the Republicans are accusing him of not keeping the unemployment levels down lower–something created by too many tax deductions in the stimulus package. The list of these blunders derived from ignoring his constituency goes on and on and certainly includes the health care bill and the weak program for reforming our financial system). Obama now faces the ruination of his Presidency if he doesn’t start delivering on the public demands for a better, more directional government–triangulation needs to cease. Maybe we need a constitutional amendment banning triangulation. It might save his Presidency.

The fault line in America revealed by Howard Zinn

Posted on February 14th, 2010 in Biography,Culture,ecology,History by Robert Miller

The death of Howard Zinn two weeks ago stirred a controversy that ruptured into a fault line running through academics, historians and intellectuals about history and scholarship, in a way that perhaps only Zinn could truly appreciate.  Controversial as a historian, Zinn’s death evoked a skirmish that revealed something more fundamental about our country than it did about Howard Zinn and his work. It all started when Allison Keyes of NPR, on the radio show “All Things Considered,” recruited a small group to comment on Zinn’s life and work and serve as a broadcast  obituary.  Many news sources have obituaries pre-written for famous people before they die, but apparently NPR either doesn’t practice that behavior or at least hadn’t done so for Howard Zinn, though perhaps that’s the difference between radio and newsprint.  Noam Chomsky spoke briefly. He was an obvious choice, a good friend of Zinn’s and was very knowledgeable about his work. Former Civil Rights leader Julian Bond was a second choice and was also  appropriate given Zinn’s activist role in a career of issues, including civil rights and the Vietnam war. However, the flip side of the short NPR segment consisted of comments by David Horowitz, the former liberal turned conservative noise maker, race-baiter and vocational Muslim-hater, who has nothing of substance to his resume, except he comes with a loud voice box. It was not even clear that he had read Zinn’s work or if he got his information by listening to Faux News. Horowitz tried to summarize Zinn’s work by stating “There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn’s intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect,” and “A People’s History of the United States is a travesty.”  Zinn’s colleagues reacted quickly to Horowitz’s comments, not because he said anything new or unexpected, but questions were raised about duplicitous behavior on the part of NPR.  Colleagues of Zinn’s questioned why Horowitz had been invited to comment at all. One blogger stated “When I heard that historian and activist Howard Zinn died on Wednesday, I wondered how (or even if) NPR would cover his death. They have quite a track record of glorifying some of the vilest characters of the right (e.g. torture apologist and dictator loving Jeanne Kirkpatrick, economist Milton Friedman, and Jerry Falwell) when their lives come to an end, so I wondered how an avowedly leftist person such as Zinn would fare.” NPR lived up to expectations.

The day after the NPR airing appeared,  FAIR posted an alert that expressed outrage at the segment and emphasized how, when William Buckley died in 2008, NPR aired no less than six segments, all of which featured glowing tributes to him, despite the fact that he accomplished little of intellectual significance. So, the argument goes, if NPR arranged things so that Buckley received only positive eulogies from his friends and admirers, why should Zinn be given the bipolar treatment? The FAIR article evoked many responses that were quickly posted and led to a general expression of outrage by his friends, colleagues, liberals and progressives: in other words, most of the good people left in the country were pissed.

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