“The major problem now is that these entities — the ones that ought to be applying pressure on Obama from the Left and opposing him when he moves too far Right — are now completely boxed in. They’ve lost — or, more accurately, voluntarily relinquished — their independence. They know that criticizing — let alone opposing — Obama will mean that all those new readers they won last year will leave; that all those new dues-paying members will go join some other, more Obama-supportive organization; that they will prompt intense backlash and anger among the very people — their members, supporters and readers — on whom they have come to rely as the source of their support, strength, and numbers.” – Glenn Greenwald, “Obama and Liberals: A Counter-Productive Relationship”, Feb. 13, 2009.
The deeper question is why did they relinquish their independence? According to Greenwald’s analysis, they gave it up because “Many online political and ‘news’ outlets — including some liberal political blogs — discovered that the most reliable way to massively increase traffic was to capitalize on the pro-Obama fervor by turning themselves into pro-Obama cheerleading squads.” In other words, they cared more about the size of their membership rolls than their “principles”. They bought into the notion that membership equals influence, when the opposite is more likely the case, depending on the members. Attention comes to those who blend with the choir, but they have to sing the same dull song.
The term for this behavior is opportunism. If your organization values opportunities more than principles, then principles tend to become the icing on the political product you are offering and the real goal becomes sales quantity. Deep political convictions can be very powerful, but they have to be real. The sad truth is that Democrats (and associated groups) no longer possess such commitment, though they are still able to imitate conviction with considerable rhetorical ability.
It is only at the point where such groups and their so-called principles end that real analysis begins. “Obama co-opted huge portions of the Left” – is this a real left? Left means convictions about the way the relationships of society are aligned. It does not mean anger at Bush or disgust with Wall Street greed. These are worthy sentiments indeed, but if they find no deeper ground, then they are as effervescent as the moods of Britney Spears – and just as meaningful. A left that is devoted to a person rather than ideas is not a left at all, but a Tiger Beat cover.
These so-called left groupings lost the battle because they never fought it. The Right is still capable of political conviction and therein lies its power. “For the moment, on one issue after the next, one can vividly observe the harm that comes from a political faction being beholden to a leader rather than to any actual ideas or political principles.” – Glenn Greenwald. Harm? What is the bond that holds the vast “Left” to its leader? If no ideas are involved, then what is the motivation? Star power? People devoted to stars are not leftists – they are teeny boppers grown old.
The diagnosis begins with the disease which Greenwald has so ably uncovered. To do this, we must speak of shared ideas. The ultimate taboo in Democratic circles which pride themselves on their “pragmatism” is a theoretical critique of this society. “Pragmatism” to them means reacting to immediate events with immediate and barely thought-out “solutions”. Lacking an explicit body of theory on how this society and its economy function, such “solutions” inevitably reinforce the current power relationships while making cheap gestures toward the poor and middle class. Unless you have a measure for what progress means, your progressivism becomes meaningless. When progress is defined “pragmatically”, it starts to mean whatever the powerful want it to mean at a particular moment. This type of “pragmatism” ultimately means doing whatever is necessary to perpetuate the current economic relationships, not questioning them. It takes two distinct parties to make a real compromise, otherwise one can only compromise oneself.
Without progressive theory, there can be no progressive movement. If we are people of political conviction, then we have a critique of the economic and power relationships in this society and how those relationships need to change. We do not engage in battle with the Right merely with a game of numbers, but we must fight on three fronts: the theoretical in which progressive ideas triumph over the those of the Right, the political, in which progressives gain access to the levers of power, and the economic, in which the principles of economic justice are enforced. Real change has never come from any other source.