Glenn Greenwald’s scathing critique of “Progressives” mostly right-on

In light of US President Barack Obama’s recent appointment of what Glenn Greenwald calls “JP Morgan’s Midwest Chairman, a Boeing director, and a long-time corporatist — Bill Daley” Greenwald posted another mostly spot-on article in which he criticizes so-called “Progressives” who blindly support the Democrats regardless of what that party does:

Progressives who do this will tell you that this unconditional Party support is necessary and justifiable because no matter how bad Democrats are, the GOP is worse. That’s a different debate. The point here is that — whether justified or not — telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence. Any self-interested, rational politician — meaning one motivated by a desire to maintain power rather than by ideology or principle — will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional. And they’re well-advised to do exactly that.

Generally, another slam-dunk for Greenwald who has a habit of great writing. I think the major theme of Greenwald’s post comes from Frederick Douglass’ famous quote

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Frederick Douglass

Progressives who go along with the Democrats to get along will get whatever horrors that party dishes out. Douglass was correct then and he’s correct now.

I don’t agree with some of Greenwald’s minor points made along the way:

  • and Rachel Maddow are either not progressives or the word “progressive” has become just another way to say “blind Democrat party supporter”. I’ve never found Maddow’s show to be that compelling (I’ve mentioned some of my disagreement with her perspective on this blog). never fails to rally behind Democrats at election time, much like the Nation magazine with their periodic anti-Nader editorials published around election time. I’ll be surprised if Maddow doesn’t fall into line supporting the Democrats closer to election time.
  • I don’t think the debate over who is worse is as separate a debate as Greenwald says: I don’t think either party is worse overall; I think both Democrat and Republican parties are roughly equally horrible and I believe they support mostly the same big-ticket issues: endless war/world dominance or empire, reduction in civil liberties, running up the cost of government, ecological disaster. Any issue where large sums of money or power are at stake generally find bi-partisan support in the US Congress. Unconditional Party support is never justified as it’s a sure road to being ignored.

While it’s perfectly rational for any candidate to ignore anyone who asks nothing for their support (“support” meaning: vote, campaign contribution, or staffing time on their campaign) the Left has long behaved as if they’re ignorant of the message they send when they behave in this way. I don’t see how the Left or Progressives can expect to maintain their number of supporters when they boast blind Democratic Party support.

I no longer think highly of the Left or Progressives because too many of the Progressives I come across (in person, reading their work, or having worked with them on political stuff in the past) blindly support Democrats and believe in voting Democrat because “[Republicans] are worse” and, just as Greenwald said, are horribly offended when their elected leader doesn’t heed their views. For me, Progressives who do this merely support corporatism, the single thing that undergirds all the horrible stuff the US is involved in.

As a result I have stopped caring about who becomes US President or which of the two US corporate-run major parties leads Congress. I know the same policies will be furthered no matter who wins. Greenwald’s articles point out how one party is no better than the other; you can skim Greenwald’s blog posts and find posts on major issues where Obama’s Democrats kept G.W. Bush’s policies intact or made them worse.