30 November 2011

'Civil disobedience isn't meant to be tolerated'

A few weeks ago in Albany, a local Republican party chief staged a photo op in front of the Occupy Albany encampment in Academy Park. He was there to denounce the Albany County district attorney for refusing to prosecute trespassers and curfew violators and to demand that Governor Cuomo appoint a special prosecutor to overrule the DA's inaction. During his appearance he was heckled by Occupiers, whom he called "hypocrites" for being unwilling to tolerate his opinion or engage in meaningful dialogue with him. I remembered that sound bite when one of the local papers recommended a Wendy Kaminer blog for the Atlantic Monthly that also denounced Occupiers across the country as hypocrites. Kaminer is a "civil libertarian" who appears to belong to the "you're not accomplishing anything" school of critics of the Occupations. She finds the emphasis on occupying public space a self-defeating distraction from the more appropriate purpose of forging "an effective, left leaning counter movement to the Tea Party." Perhaps strangely for a civil libertarian, she's completely unwilling to entertain the Occupiers' assertion that the public's right to use public space for political expression trumps any state or municipal regulatory power -- in short, she seems to dismiss the possibility that parks may belong to the people rather than to governments. Instead, she affirms in an October post that "cities may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on mass protests." What makes restrictions reasonable, at least in her opinion, isn't so much public health or safety as a general principle of equal accessibility that has been violated, in her view, by all the Occupiers.

In both the October article and the subsequent November piece cited by the Albany paper, Kaminer takes for granted that an indefinite occupation on the Zuccotti Park model is inherently exclusionary and therefore more a violation of the First Amendment rights of other people than a legitimate expression of the Occupiers' own rights. This critique depends on an assumption that the Occupiers would not permit dissenting viewpoints or counter-demonstrations wherever they make camp.

What if a group of Tea Partiers seek to establish camp in the same space [Dewey Square in Boston]  in order to demonstrate a contrary vision of community or communicate a contrary view of economic justice? What if the Tea Partiers also argue that camping in Dewey Square is "a core component of their message" because of its location in the financial district? Private associations have First Amendment rights to formulate and control their own messages. So would Occupy Boston have the right to exclude the Tea Partiers, in order to prevent them from muddying its message, simply because they got there first?

Kaminer's charge of hypocrisy is largely speculative. She repeats a suspicion that Occupiers would not tolerate any imitation of their example by politically-opposed entities, be they Tea Parties, "Christian nationalists," or white supremacists. Even were they not as intolerant emotionally as she suspects, the mere fact of their occupation of parks sufficiently denies other groups their equal right to assembly to earn Kaminer's "hypocrite" label. Unless the Occupiers are prepared to yield so others can have a turn, even if no one else has demanded a turn, their encampments violate Kaminer's understanding of the First Amendment as a guarantee of everyone's turn at political expression.

Reading Kaminer's pieces, you get the impression that she regards the Occupiers as so many spoiled brats -- not because of their political demands but because they don't seem, to her, to take civil disobedience seriously. She singles out one Boston Occupier's lament that "civil disobedience won't be tolerated" by the city's mayor, and replies that  "Civil disobedience isn't meant to be tolerated; it's meant to expose official intolerance and injustice. Civil disobedience includes both a commitment to violating arguably unjust laws and a willingness to submit to lawful arrests."

Bradley Russell of Occupy Albany might come closer to Kaminer's ideal of civil-disobedience for his willingness to provoke arrests by crossing the border from city-run Academy Park, where Occupy Albany is tolerated and a curfew ignored, and state-run Lafayette Park, where nightly trespasses and arrests occurred until the lack of courtroom drama apparently bored the Occupiers. In any event, there probably is a confusion over the meaning of "civil disobedience" that explains Kaminer's impatience with the Occupiers. As she notes, "civil disobedience" is not the same thing as constitutionally-protected free speech. The term usually denotes a conscious violation of an unjust law, and the civility of it comes not from any presumed immunity from arrest but from peaceful submission (if not "passive resistance") to it as a consciousness-raising exercise. If the Occupiers are hypocritical, it may be because they seem to seek shelter under the Constitution at the same time that they assert a more fundamental, primal democracy, if not a "higher law," that would put them at odds with the rule of law and at personal risk. Their democratic imperative requires them to occupy public spaces and call people's attention to their grievances until those grievances are redressed or they are evicted from their encampments. In such a situation they can assert their rightful immunity from eviction but they can't take it for granted. Raw democracy, which admittedly often fell short of the ideal, was a matter of who showed up.  While I have no evidence of any Occupier vowing to throw out counterdemonstrators, any confrontation between Occupiers and  hostile groups in raw democratic conditions would be a test of will and numbers. Neither side might seek to drive out the other, but they might well seek to shout each other down or drown each other out. Whoever breaks would lose.  It wouldn't be truly democratic or even representative, since each group would be self-appointed, but it would come down to who showed up. Under such conditions, Occupiers can be faulted for assuming that they should win or can't lose, but that attitude is more self-righteous than hypocritical. It might clarify things further to view the Occupations not as "civil disobedience," which apparently requires a willingness to submit to arrest, but as a nonviolent insurrection, with an implicit refusal to submit. If even a self-styled civil libertarian takes for granted that public parks belong to government and not to the people, the Occupiers' assertion to the contrary is inevitably insurrectionist in its implication. It is more obviously raw democracy in action -- at least until governments shut it all down. 

29 November 2011

E. J. Dionne: Moderates don't need a third party

As a Washington Post columnist, E. J. Dionne shares space with Matt Miller, one of the most prominent proponents of a third-party "moderate" option for the 2012 elections. As a loyal Democrat, it's up to Dionne to convince "some of my middle-of-the-road columnist friends" that a third party would be a bad idea next year. In his latest column,  Dionne rejects the entire idea of Bipolarchy (admittedly a word he's never heard, but you know what I mean) as a structural factor in legislative gridlock. As a polemicist for Bipolarchy, he's obliged to argue that only one party is ever to blame for the country's troubles.

[T]he problem we face isn’t about structures or the party system. It’s about ideology — specifically a right-wing ideology that has temporarily taken over the Republican Party and needs to be defeated before we can have a reasonable debate between moderate conservatives and moderate progressives about our country’s future. A centrist third party would divide the opposition to the right wing and ease its triumph. That’s the last thing authentic moderates should want.

Dionne's argument depends on the premise that the Democratic party is sufficiently moderate by "middle-of-the-road" standards, and would be effectively moderate if allowed to govern unimpeded by Republican extremism. His proof is that Democrats and "progressives" are committed to "substantial entitlement cuts" in the name of deficit reduction. Why don't the moderates see this? Dionne can't explain it any more than Eric Alterman could, without allowing that moderates might demand more cuts than Democrats can really countenance, while demanding more taxes than Republicans can stomach.

There are two competing narratives attempting to explain gridlock -- the Republicans have their own version of the same scenario that has less to do with gridlock than with principled (or delusional) opposition to bad measures. Leaving them out of it, we're left with the moderate or "radical center" version that blames both major parties, without necessarily blaming them equally, and the Democratic version that blames Republicans exclusively. The crux of the disagreement between Democrats and dissident moderates is partly a matter of perception. Democrats and their cheerleaders insist that they're ready and willing to make the compromises or "grand bargains" the moderates desire. The moderates express a range of skepticism, but seem united in the suspicion that partisanship puts an inherent limit on Democratic capacity for compromise. It's fair to ask, as irritated Democrats like Dionne and Alterman have been asking, how justified moderate suspicions are. The moderate assumption is that a Democratic "base" of intractable welfare-statists will inevitably limit that party's ability to conceive or carry out a "grand bargain" to reduce deficits. Democratic propagandists would have us believe that this intractable base is a figment of the disgruntled moderate imagination -- at least that's the party line right now. Democrats desperately want moderates to believe that the party can be as moderate as anyone could desire. But are there no lines Democrats would cross to please moderates like Miller or Thomas Friedman? Is there no point of moderation at which some "base" constituency would rebel? The answer depends on the actual nature of the Democratic party.

Dionne may actually be exactly right about the Democrats. They may be the ideal vehicle for the sort of grand "radical center" bargaining that moderate-party advocates want. It may be exactly the right thing for Miller and Friedman to join forces with Democrats to "confront" Republican obstructionism as Dionne wants them to -- whatever "confront" really means in this liberal context. The moderate columnists haven't exactly been giving Republicans a free pass during this crisis, but they just may owe one to the Democrats. After all, how accountable are the Democrats, really, to any leftist base? How much has the "left" really been to blame for congressional gridlock? The moderate-party promoters may be unfair to the Democrats exactly to the extent that they assume that the party's capacity for compromise is in any way impeded by leftism. Why not grant that the Democrats are already a moderate or centrist party, and already answerable to an essentially centrist base? That would alter our perception of gridlock considerably. It suits some observers to imagine a tug-of-war between two equal and opposite forces, a "left" and "right," as the cause of our trouble. But what if it's actually an irreconcilable conflict between "right" and "center," and as such an utter failure of the "establishment" to put its house in order? If so, then Dionne would be right about centrists making a mistake by opposing the Democrats. His sort of moderates may indeed have a party of their own. It may be the left, or else everyone who feels left out of the right-vs-center debate, who needs a new party -- not to confront Republicans alone, but to confront everyone standing in the way of recovery and progress.

28 November 2011

Antiparty sentiment in Houston (and Albany?)

The Albany Times Union has picked up for its op-ed page an opinion column Bill King wrote for the Houston Chronicle damning the American party system for failing either to compromise on deficit reduction or enact the presumed will of the American majority. The majority, King claims, wants deficit reduction through some tax increases and many budget cuts. We don't get that, he contends, because "The minority of Americans who believe that the deficit should be solved either by solely cutting expenses or raising taxes are the voters who dominate the primaries of the Democratic and Republican parties. It is these voters who continue to give us nothing but ideologues, incapable of compromise, from which to choose in the November elections."

While King appears to blame the current primary system and the resulting dependence of the major parties on "base" voters, he goes further to damn the entire party system and the very concept of partisanship. He goes all the way back to George Washington's Farewell Address to give his new viewpoint a historic pedigree, while ignoring the reservations of Sean Wilentz and other historians who see the address as a partisan document in its own right. King goes somewhat too far in describing an infamy that once supposedly attached itself to party affiliation. Once upon a time, he writes, "Any hint that a candidate was associated with a political party could cause that candidate to lose an election." But he seems to be confusing the stigma that was long attached to active campaigning by a candidate with a presumed stigma of partisanship. If anything, the party stood in for the man, its spokesmen and "spellbinders" making speeches when it would have seemed unbecoming for a candidate to do so. Antipartyism is an enduring strain in American history, but it was usually exploited best by partisan candidates who pretended not to be something they were.

Whatever the flaws of King's compact history lesson, it's harder to dispute his diagnosis of the present.

It is past time for the American people to rise up and end this tyranny of the politically extreme minorities. We need reform that breaks the political parties' hold on the election process. We need to make it easier for candidates to run for office without being affiliated with a political party and we need more people who are willing to stand up and run as independent candidates. We need office-holders to show us they love this country more than they love their political party and if not, we need to be prepared to fire them....To get any meaningful change in the current system, we are going to have to return to the founders' view of political parties and start thinking differently about them. Instead of being proud to be associated with a political party, it should be an embarrassment.

All I can add is a necessary clarification: ordinary Americans will have to feel far more embarrassed about their own partisanship before politicians start feeling that way.

'Obama or Hitler': a theme and variations

From the lead editorial of the December American Conservative:

Partisan discontent will fall by the wayside once the election season gets going, as always. If the GOP's base could convince itself that John McCain was America's last, best hope against socialism, it should have no trouble turning out for the former Massachusetts governor who believes that individual mandates are fine policy as long as they originate with state governments.And while the exiguous principled left might have qualms about Obama's Bush-like ways, the mass of his party is ready to snap into line. It's Obama or Hitler, after all.

The editor's comment on Democrats is no caricature. Here are letters from the Dec. 5 issue of The Nation.

...To the writer who wrote, 'I have no clue what [Obama] stands for, what he believes in': he obviously stands for and believes in a multitude of things the Republican/Tea Party doesn't. For me, that is good enough....My question to all Nation readers is, What hopes and dreams does the alternative bring?

I'm so astonished and infuriated by the whingeing tone of those who are 'disappointed' in President Obama....What is wrong with you people? You'll stay home and let the Perrys and the Romneys and the Cains run our nation? Please, don't do this.

So Obama can't walk on water. Boo-hoo. Are we going to vote for whichever clown the GOP chooses to oppose him? Or not at all (which will have the same effect)?

Many liberals are so irate, they won't vote for Obama in 2012. So, from the rest of us: many thanks for President Romney and his neocon foreign policy loons, his right-wing Supreme Court picks, Medicare vouchers, Social Security cuts, a terrified Hispanic community and so much more.

To be fair, none of them equated any Republican candidate with Hitler, but you get the general idea. The only imaginable alternative to Obama is Republican rule, and Republican rule may as well be the fate worse than death. Whether or not these writers feel that Obama has really accomplished anything -- the best any of them can say is that "this president is a model of decency, composure and intelligence in a country that still loves to hate" -- all are prepared to settle for whatever Obama and the Democrats can or will dish out, as convinced as Margaret Thatcher ever was that "there is no alternative," at least to Bipolarchy and dependence upon the Democratic party if not to capitalism. To refute Thatcher, the slogan "Another world is possible" was coined. It's quite possible that some of these same Nation readers have spoken those very words in different settings. No other world is possible, however, without risk, and in American politics real reformers must be prepared to risk Republican rule and not fear it if they want a real alternative that expresses something closer to the will of the vaunted 99%. If our only choices are the Democratic party or national doom, then we don't really have a choice -- we are doomed. That's true for conservatives, too: if there's no choice but Republicans or doom, we're doomed. If one man or one party can destroy the country in four years, then the country is already beyond saving before that man or party takes power. If the Conservative is right in its sad prediction, and if Nation readers represent the general public, than no matter which party wins next November, the politics of fear will have won in a landslide.

25 November 2011

A 'conservative' argument against the National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote plan -- the idea of a compact of state legislatures through which all contracting states would award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide -- has been discussed several times over the past year on this blog, but as far as Gary L. Gregg is concerned the NPV is being advanced by a stealth campaign, "without a national discussion and largely without serious debate at the state level." Gregg, the author of a defense of the Electoral College, sounds a warning against NPV in the December issue of The American Conservative. He's troubled by the NPV compact's potential to get around the Constitution without amending the document, though he concedes that the national charter gives the states the prerogative to distribute their electoral votes however they please. Nevertheless, he believes that the Framers meant for the President to be chosen in a certain manner, and that NPV violates that original intent with radical intentions. Like a good originalist, Gregg explains that the Framers briefly considered a popular election of the President at the Philadelphia Convention, only to dismiss the idea. As an honest historian, he also admits that "By 1800, the development of political parties undermined the deliberative nature of the [Electoral] college, with discussion replaced by party loyalty as the basis for electoral voting." It would seem, then, that we've been living under an unconstitutional electoral regime, from the perspective of the Framers' intentions rather than their ratified words, for more than 200 years. How much more "unconstitutional" can the National Popular Vote be?

Gregg appears to believe that the corruption of the Electoral College by partisanship has been a good thing in the long term. Once the nation accommodated partisanship by ratifying the Twelfth Amendment and mandating the mating of presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the College, especially after most states adopted a winner-take-all strategy instead of awarding electoral votes on a district basis, retained two important benefits, in Gregg's opinion. First, "it funnels votes into two candidates with relatively broad bases of support and exaggerates the margin of victory for the winner, no matter how close the popular contest." For example, Bill Clinton received 68% of the 1992 electoral vote despite winning only 43% of the popular vote. Since NPV does not require any candidate to receive a majority of the popular vote in order to receive the electoral votes of the contracting states, Gregg worries that any winner of an NPV election will have a less impressive numerical mandate than Clinton supposedly enjoyed. His worry is related to his almost counterfactual assumption that NPV would lead to more independent presidential candidacies.

Under the prevailing system of winner-take-all [on the state level], a candidate whose support is not localized within particular states has no incentive to run. Without this moderating system, the extremes of each party would be empowered to blackmail more prudent candidates: 'Make me director of the EPA or I run and siphon enough votes to cost you the presidency!' In a [evenly] divided nation, one candidate with the power to draw just a few percentage points of the vote nationally could completely change the outcome of the election. Corrupt bargains would be routine.

Gregg here underestimates the power of lesser-evil thinking among the leaders of the Bipolarchy. It seems unlikely, as things stand, that any powerful Democrat or Republican would consciously launch a quixotic campaign that would most likely throw the election to the enemy party out of thwarted ambition, or even threaten to do so in an attempt at blackmail. Gregg may think differently, but in any event this isn't his main argument against NPV.

Gregg has an ideological bias that his article expresses more crudely than is typical of The American Conservative. His great fear is that NPV would empower a radical, urban-based left while marginalizing small, rural states and rendering their concerns irrelevant to national politics. The current electoral regime "compel[s] candidates to mingle at state fairs, speak with coal miners, throw bowling balls, and visit small-town churches," Gregg writes. That "gives candidates some appreciation of the great diversity of this nation." Despite the initial corruption of the Electoral College by partisanship, the system still "fits the spirit of [the Framers'] decentralized system, which treats states as more than just administrative arms of a national majority." Meanwhile, the vast internal diversity of cities vanishes in Gregg's imagination, transformed into a monolithic "urban" vote organized and radicalized by ACORN-like entities. He sees dire consequences if the urban vote becomes so decisive that "small states like West Virginia or Colorado would never see a presidential candidate again." This is a familiar fear, but perhaps not a fear the Framers shared with Gregg. It's interesting, if not telling, that the authority he cites in defense of the Electoral College is not a Framer but a U.S. Senator from the late 20th century, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. Defending the College in the 1970s, Moynihan argued that it expressed the crucial principle that "power is never installed, save when it is consented to by more than one majority." On this evidence, Gregg recruits Moynihan into the sinister tradition of John C. Calhoun, who first propounded the concept of "concurrent majorities" in order to justify a slaveholders' liberum veto on all national issues. It's probably unfair of me to drag slavery into this, but I invoke Calhoun to remind readers that concurrent-majority interpretations of the Constitution have been refuted fairly decisively for nearly 200 years. Even if we leave Calhoun and his baggage out of it, Gregg has nerve invoking Moynihan against single-majority rule when he's already acquiesced to single-majority rule in its most notorious, counter-Framing form, the two-party system. I'm often tempted to wish the country back to the original Electoral College format, with each elector chosen solely by the voters of his or her district, on the assumption that independent candidates would benefit. That probably makes me more of an originalist than Gregg, despite his history lessons. He's happy to see the Framers' intent compromised so long as the Bipolarchy serves his ideological agenda by thwarting some vaguely threatening radicalism. Maybe originalists accept that because they see the Framers changing their own minds about partisanship. If so, real radicalism might require us to be more true to the Framers' original intentions than the Framers were themselves.

23 November 2011

American anti-intellectualism wasn't born yesterday

When a Democrat like Paul Begala calls the Republicans "the stupid party," it can be dismissed as a partisan smear. When a Republican like Kathleen Parker grudgingly agrees with Begala, then it becomes worth discussing.  The two pundits have something else in common: short-term historical memory. Lamenting what she calls the "Palinization" of the GOP, Parker idealizes a time when William F. Buckley supposedly set an intellectual standard and enforced it by reading the John Birch Society out of the conservative establishment. Begala looks back to roughly the same period, and notes that, while the self-conscious intellectual Democrat Adlai Stevenson lost two presidential elections, his purported pedantry "didn't cause conservatives in the '50s and '60s to spurn ideas and denigrate intellect." Both writers choose to see Buckley, who held no political office, as the face of the Republican party in his time -- and both may or may not have chosen to forget that, during the peak of Buckley's influence, a nearly-equally influential book was written by the historian Richard Hofstadter describing Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and identifying it in the present day with right-wing Republicanism. Hofstadter recognized that a degree of anti-intellectualism was inherent in populist movements, since populism suspects all elites. Unconsciously or not, Begala channels Hofstadter by blaming modern GOP stupidity on "populist anti-intellectualism." But Begala doesn't seem to realize, or at least doesn't acknowledge in his Newsweek column, that the trend he decries is not a new thing. But if anti-intellectualism seems louder and more strident now, the climate-change debates, as Parker acknowledges, are probably to blame. On that issue, at least, Parker finds her fellow Republicans most embarrassing. She's less inclined to trace this to populist tendencies, however, than to blame it on religion. "The big tent fashioned by Ronald Reagan has become bilious with the hot air of religious fervor," she writes, "Scientific skepticism, the engine that propels intellectual inquiry, has morphed into skepticism of science fueled by religious certitude," -- what she describes as a belief that "only God controls climate." I'm inclined to believe that capitalist ideology fuels climate-change denialism more than religion, but I'll concede that religious fervor and entrepreneurialism are somewhat alike in emphasis and effect. Both are essentially faith-based, as has been proven about entrepreneurialism by the collapse of faith in debt around the world. If a historian can prove a dumbing-down of capitalism over the last fifty years, or a retreat from analysis in favor of faith -- and I suspect that it wouldn't be hard -- Begala and Parker might be vindicated in their belief that stupidity in America is stronger than ever.

Umberto Eco on conspiracy theory

From his new novel, The Prague Cemetery, translated by Richard Dixon: the reminiscence of a forger and agent provocateur, and a riff on Alexander Dumas's novel about Cagliostro, Joseph Balsamo.

Dumas had a truly clear understanding of the human mind. What does everyone desire, and desire more fervently the more wretched and unfortunate they are? To earn money easily, to have power (the enormous pleasure in commanding and humiliating your fellow man) and to avenge every wrong suffered (everyone in life has suffered at least one wrong, no matter how small it might be). And that is why in Monte Cristo he shows how to amass great wealth, enough to give you superhuman power, and how to make your enemies pay back every debt. But why, everybody asks, am I not blessed by fortune (or at least not as blessed as I would like to be)? Why have I not been favored like others who are less deserving? No one believes their misfortunes are attributable to any shortcomings of their own; that is why they must find a culprit. Dumas offers to the frustration of everyone (individuals as well as countries) the explanation for their failure. It was someone else, on Thunder Mountain, who planned your ruin.

On reflection, Dumas had invented nothing. He had merely put into story form what ... Abbe Barruel had already shown. This led me to think, even then, that if I wanted to sell the story of a conspiracy, I didn't have to offer the buyer anything original, but simply something he already knew or could have found out more easily in other ways. People believe only what they already know, and this is the beauty of the Universal Form of Conspiracy.

22 November 2011

The solar theory of bipolarchy

In his latest New York Times column, David Brooks describes the current American political situation as a universe out of order. His model of cosmic order was first proposed in the 1950s by one Samuel Lubell, who argued that, in a two-party system, one party is the "sun," the other the "moon." For Brooks's purpose it's enough for Lubell to have argued that one party must dominate. As earlier writers have noted, Lubell made the further point that the "sun" party sets the national agenda on its own. "It is within the majority party that the issues of any particular period are fought out," he wrote. In his day, or at the time he wrote, that was the Democratic party. As Brooks observes, it was the Republican Party from the election of President Reagan through the 2006 congressional elections. What worries Brooks now is that we seem not to have a sun. Neither major party has the power or public support to set the national agenda in the dominant way of the New Deal Democrats or the Reagan Republicans. Worse, from Brooks's perspective, each of the major parties behaves like a minority or "moon" party, not in Lubell's sense of reflecting a sun's radiance, but by cultivating a "minority mentality."

The Republicans feel oppressed by the cultural establishment, and Democrats feel oppressed by the corporate establishment. They embrace the mental habits that have always been adopted by those who feel themselves resisting the onslaught of a dominant culture. Their main fear is that they will lose their identity and cohesion if their members compromise with the larger world. They erect clear and rigid boundaries separating themselves from their enemies. In a hostile world, they erect rules and pledges and become hypervigilant about deviationism. They are more interested in protecting their special interests than converting outsiders. They slowly encase themselves in an epistemic cocoon. 

Lubell's solar model, with its implicit gravitational principle, is a provocative metaphor for the codependency or symbiosis of bipolarchy, but the metaphor also suggests an illusory natural two-party order. To his credit, Brooks invokes Lubell not to demand a restoration of his fallacious model, but to suggest that our universe might need a new sun altogether. He needn't have used Lubell's metaphors to indict the reactionary "minority mentality" plaguing each major party, nor could Lubell have explained how that mentality broke up his solar model. At least I can't tell from the minimal evidence within easy reach whether Lubell anticipated how the primary process would enthrall each party to a base increasingly alienated from the majority of the population. However it arose, the minority mentality has prevented the normal dialectical relationship of the major parties, in which, in Brooks's account, a defeated party "modernizes" to become competitive again and take its turn as the sun. Instead, the base of each party digs in and becomes more intractable, and stagnation results.

Brooks sees a possible solution in a "third force" -- he can't bring himself to say "third party" -- and another in the "brutal cleansing flood" of a "devastating financial crisis." Metaphors aside, he deems it imperative that some party or "force" take the initiative previously reserved for the Lubellian sun. One would assume, however, that in a democracy or democratic republic the people are always the sun, and the parties satellites. The Lubell model can only encourage people to misplace themselves in the political cosmos. Instead of waiting for a third force -- or, worse, the cataclysm -- the American people should play the role intended for them all along.

Occupy Obama? Round One in New Hampshire

In a democracy, in theory, everyone gets to be heard. In practice, it's all about who shows up and who gets heard. Public space and public time are inevitably contested, and dissidents may be excused for feeling that some are heard too often and others not enough. That feeling seems to have motivated the "mic check" outburst in Manchester NH today when Occupation sympathizers attempted to collectively challenge (or heckle) the President. Loyal Democrats eventually drowned out the protesters with their own more mindless chanting of campaign slogans, while the President told the mic-checkers that they had made their point, when they clearly had not. In his comments, Obama seemed to think that their point had been made at the Occupations, where people had expressed, as he heard it, frustration over how the American dream had seemed to slip away from many working people. That's not exactly a misinterpretation, but in the wake of evictions across the country, the frustration has gone beyond economic worries. This is what the demonstrators meant to say:

Mr. President, over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested while bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st Amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.

It may not be in Obama's power, even had he the will, to stay the hands of city and state cops across the land. The President may not accept police brutality, or he may not accept that the evictions constitute brutality. For their part, the occupiers and their sympathizers do not accept that their time has expired, that they've said their piece and should yield the ground to business as usual. Their test of democratic principles may go beyond any appeal to the First Amendment, and go all the way to first principles. They are determined, it seems, not to yield until their concerns are recognized and addressed, and it also seems that they recognize no obligation to accommodate others by standing down after having their turn at the center of attention. For them, this is not about whose turn it is to speak. If democracy is really about who shows up and who gets heard, then it's their prerogative to stand their ground until the people (or their representatives) respond, either by accepting their demands or by driving them from the field. The occupiers have no obligation to quit until they're ready, or until they're silenced. Democracy doesn't guarantee them victory, but it doesn't require them to give up when others demand that they do so.

21 November 2011

Spain Votes: an omen for the U.S.?

After giving the international movement against austerity the nearest thing it has to a common name (the "indignados"), Spain may have surprised the world this weekend when it reacted to severe unemployment and debt by giving an absolute majority in its parliamentary elections to the conservative People's Party. The ruling socialist government was soundly repudiated, while some leftist parties increased their representation in the national legislature, presumably at the former ruling party's expense. It might be argued that the Spanish people have voted for austerity, but they were probably going to get austerity no matter whom they chose. What more did they get, then, by making a two-time loser their next prime minister? The new leader is described as a "social conservative" and an "economic liberal," though in that context liberal probably means "neo-liberal" as in laissez-faire and free trade. The People's Party has an "Atlanticist" orientation that looks to the U.S. for global leadership, but unlike American Republicans, the PP has little tolerance for secessionist sentiments or rhetoric -- they're nationalists opposed to greater autonomy for the Basque and Catalan regions of the country. As a rule, we should expect European conservatives to eschew the anti-statist attitudes of their presumed American counterparts, since they tap into older political traditions in which conservatives above all upheld the power and dignity of the state. While they may be expected to uphold free markets as well, they should be less likely to assume the incompatibility of market and state than the more pathological American rightists. Nevertheless, presuming that the winning party's name fooled no one, Spanish voters have not turned left, and it's unclear to what extent they've turned at all. To the extent that Spain is an effective bipolarchy, with only two major parties realistically capable of forming a government, voters there may have done just as Americans tend to do, which is to blame the ruling party for national failure and endorse the strongest opposition party for no better reason than convenience.   The existence of an "official" opposition requires little imagination of voters, since the someone else who can presumably do the job better than the incumbent, it also being presumed that no one can do worse, is always readily at hand. The complacent assurance that there's always the Republicans in the U.S., or always the People's Party in Spain -- though that party actually dates back only to 1989 -- may limit a republic's (or a parliamentary monarch's) capacity for political innovation, and may prove a self-reinforcing handicap, since the most likely response to PP or GOP failure will be recourse to each country's official opposition. The one thing that can be said with certainty about Spain is that Spanish voters failed to think outside the box despite their economic crisis. Sadly, Americans seem no more likely to do so next year.

18 November 2011

Mayor Bloomberg and the voice of the people

The Mayor of New York City went on the radio today to claim vindication for his decision to evict the Wall Street Occupiers from Zuccotti Park. Unruffled by yesterday's protests, Michael Bloomberg described them as "an opportunity for a bunch of unions to complain or protest or whatever they want to do." If the protests appeared relatively civil, the mayor seemed to suggest, that was because unions, not occupiers, led them. At the same time, he credited himself with considerable magnanimity, noting that he had allowed the occupiers two months to have their say. "You have to give people time to express themselves," he said, or else a judge might complain about your hasty action. It's clear to him now, however, that the right time had come to clear the park. How does he know this? Here's how:

One of the surest signs we did the right thing is that no one in city, as far as I know, is calling for the return of the tarps, tents and encampment of Zuccotti Park.... Now, there are protestors that are probably calling for it, but I don't know of any elected officials who have stood up.

Bloomberg's math is simple: no elected officials = no one in the city. Whether you believe that a majority of the people supports his action or not, that equation ought to be slightly chilling.

17 November 2011

George Will: What is truth, and who cares?

George Will has a provocative non-partisan column in circulation this week in which he discusses two laws currently facing judicial. In California, water district board member Xavier Alvarez is challenging a federal "Stolen Valor" law that criminalizes his false claim, made while campaigning, that he had served 25 years in the Marine Corps and had won the Congressional Medal of Honor. In Ohio, the Susan B. Anthony List political action committee is challenging a state law that allows a former congressman to sue them for claiming that he'd voted for taxpayer-funded abortions. Will notes that Alvarez's claims were "rubbish," while the Ohio case hinges on a disputed interpretation of the "Obamacare" legislation. He also points out that Supreme Court precedent extends First Amendment protection to many kinds of untruthful speech. Will quotes (but doesn't cite) the 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case, in which the Warren Court, overruling a libel conviction against the newspaper, established "malice" as the determinant of libel or defamation. In the majority opinion, as quoted by Will, the Court stated that "constitutional protection does not turn upon the truth, popularity or social utility of the ideas and beliefs which are offered." In a section unquoted by Will, but consistent with his reading, the Court affirms that "erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate."

Will believes that Alvarez shouldn't be culpable for his lies because they were, self-evidently, not defamatory. But he leaves an opening for the Court to uphold the law, whether he meant to or not, by including among the "four traditional categories of unprotected speech" the category of fraud. Unless Will defines fraud differently from the rest of us, he would seem to agree that Alvarez's statement is fraudulent. But the context of the legal category of "fraud" may not extend to a person making false claims about his past.

In Ohio, Will seems satisfied that the case against the Anthony List is a matter of "he said, they said," incapable of objective resolution. He assumes the List's right to dispute whether the President's executive order "purportedly limiting the funding of abortions" is no more than the "symbolic gesture" it was dubbed by Planned Parenthood. The courts' concern should not be whether the List's charge is true, but whether it is "sincere." Will himself (in this column, at least) draws no conclusions about the order, nor does he seem to think that he needs to. Whether anyone can definitively say that the order excludes abortion from funding under "Obamacare" is irrelevant. Skeptics are free under the First Amendment always to question whether the order is effective or sincere, according to Will's reasoning. They are, by implication, always free to question the sincerity of any political speech or act, or to infer from such acts any conspiratorial agenda they sincerely perceive. It would make no difference to Will, if not to Ohio, if the List's charge could be proved as fraudulent as Alvarez's claims about himself.

All of this is disturbing, and the most disturbing part is the way Will's opinions seem to follow from his understanding of democracy. "For weeks before the election," he writes, "voters heard [the congressman's] dispute with the Susan B. Anthony List, then voted against him. Isn't that how political arguments should be settled?" George Will isn't usually the most vocal champion of democracy -- he's on record having written that the nation would be better off if fewer people voted -- but here he endorses an extreme form of democracy that should be abhorrent to a conservative. He says, in effect, that the people have an inalienable right to resolve a dispute without regard for the truth. Even more disturbing is the kernel of truth in that opinion. Democracy in its purest form presumes an utter indifference to results; it makes no difference what the people choose, only that they choose for themselves. But if democracy, like any political form, is a means to the end of human survival, is democratic indifference really acceptable? I grant that certain questions of "values" will never have a definitive, objectively truthful answer, but I reject the postmodernist insinuation that no meaningful question has an objective answer based on something more than someone's will to power. Society has to be committed to truth, and democracy should be capable of dedication to truth without compromising anybody's civic freedom. Lying about your past should disqualify you from political office. Disputes over the meaning of law should be capable of objective and definitive resolution. "Who gets to judge political truth?" asks the headline over Will's column in a local paper. If the question is sincerely asked, the answer may be everybody, or somebody, but the heart of the answer is that the judgment has to be made.

16 November 2011

'Fantasy baseball for politics': the moderating potential of Americans Elect

The November 21 Newsweek has a four-page piece by Andrew Romano on the Americans Elect movement and the purported moderate agenda of its "socially liberal, fiscally conservative ... leaders and donors." While CEO Elliot Ackerman touts AE as an alternative to Bipolarchy, Romano raises fair questions about its potential to recruit candidates substantially different from those likely to be offered by the Democrats and Republicans. Noting that "AE isn't a third party so much as a 'second way' to nominate a president,' Romano calls on Bipolarchy booster Sean Wilentz for this note of skepticism: "A nonparty party isn't how you gain power....You have to stand for something very clearly -- not 'we don't like parties' in the abstract." While Ackerman clearly believes that AE will have a moderating effect not only on the 2012 contest but on party politics thereafter, the only structural assurance of moderation the AE nominating procedure provides is the requirement that the AE presidential nominee choose a running mate from a party other than his or her own. That a la carte rule leads another skeptic to dismiss Americans Elect as "fantasy baseball for politics, while Romano himself questions "AE's animating idea -- that web-savvy voters are searching for a candidate who is more moderate than Mitt Romney or President Obama." His own browsing experience leads Romano to the opposite conclusion, that more extremism is desired.

Nevertheless, Romano envisions a best-case long-term scenario for AE's positive impact on American politics -- provided that the desired nomination of a moderate actually takes place. In Romano's scenario, AE will have the best results if it actually manages to "spoil" the 2012 election.

By playing the spoiler, Americans Elect could force the parties to take its direct-democracy methods seriously—and perhaps tinker with their polarizing primary systems in the process. In fact, Ackerman believes that even a single-digit share of the vote could have a long-term impact. That’s because ballot access now begets ballot access later: clear the 50-state hurdle this cycle, plus 2 to 5 percent of the presidential vote, and you’ll be eligible to appear on most ballots in 2014 and 2016. In that scenario, if an extremist defeats a moderate in the primary—think Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle in the 2010 Delaware Senate race—the moderate could simply run for the Americans Elect nomination and go on to clobber his wingnut rival in the general. “What Americans Elects turns into is a trust that removes the verb ‘primaried’ from our political lexicon,” Ackerman says. “And that changes the incentive structure. Folks will no longer be rewarded for political intransigence.”

But wouldn't it only change the incentive structure for the losing party? Unless AE itself starts to win elections, one party or another will benefit from its "spoilage" without having moderated its intransigent ideology. For AE to have the effect Romano describes, it would need to have an approximately equal potential to throw an election to either party, so long as it can't win on its own. If one of the two major parties ends up benefiting disproportionately, it'll have no incentive to change its primary practices. Of course, if AE itself emerges as a winning moderate party, the two established parties are likely to become more ideological and more intransigent as moderate voters abandon them for AE. But whether AE can be the moderate instrument its backers envision remains uncertain. What if a Republican wins the AE nomination and selects a Constitution Party running mate? Since the AE presidential nominee is scheduled to be named on June 26, well before the major party conventions, it's possible that ideological AE delegates could choose the winner of the GOP primaries, who should be known by then, and that the Republican Party could then agree to make the AE running mate their own. Likewise, nothing would stop dedicated Democrats from nominating the President for the AE line, recruiting a very moderate Republican (or, to go in the other direction, a Green) to run with him in place of Vice President Biden, and tapping that same turncoat at the Democratic national convention. If these scenarios seem unlikely, it's more likely, I suspect, that all six of the finalists for the AE nomination would refuse the honor. How far down the list will delegates have to go before someone accepts? While I like the idea of AE's "second way," it's unlikely to result in a moderate candidate unless AE itself finds a way to welcome moderate voters while filtering out ideologues. But there's no way to do that except to state your principles ahead of time on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. In that sense, Sean Wilentz is right: Americans Elect can't succeed by pretending to be an empty vessel for the people's use if its founders see it as a means to a specific moderate end. There may be no such thing as a truly neutral instrument for nominating political candidates. But it can't hurt to have a "second way," not to mention a third or fourth -- and that'd just be for starters.

15 November 2011

Imperium in imperio: Who will rid Cuomo of those turbulent occupiers?

In all likelihood people will get arrested at Lafayette Park in Albany tonight, which would be the fourth night of active civil disobedience of the state curfew. For the past three nights, the occupiers of Academy Park have been crossing over from their safety zone of city jurisdiction to the danger zone of state jurisdiction. Gov. Cuomo has lived up to his vow to enforce the curfew where he can by having state troopers arrest the border-crossers, but the gestures have been futile. David Soares, the district attorney of Albany County, refuses to prosecute the people who break the Lafayette curfew during the Academy occupation, so those who get nabbed are processed and released, having counted coup as civil dissidents by getting arrested with minimum personal inconvenience. This leaves Cuomo powerless to punish the occupiers and trespassers, should that prove his desire. Now, however, Cuomo (or his counselors) are considering alternative means of prosecuting the occupiers without depending on the defiant Soares. The Albany Times Union this morning raised the possibility of Cuomo appointing a special prosecutor through the state attorney general's office to deal with the occupiers, and a county Republican leader has now publicly urged this approach upon the governor.

Another option exists, but it's political dynamite. Cuomo could get his way with the occupiers, not by avoiding Soares, but by eliminating him. According to Article XIII, Section 13(a) of the state constitution, "The governor may remove any elective sheriff, county clerk, district attorney or register within the term for which he or she shall have been elected; but before doing so the governor shall give to each officer a copy of the charges against him or her and an opportunity of being heard in his or her defense."

Whenever controversial prohibitory laws are on the books, the power of removal has been used to intimidate dissident officials into enforcing unpopular measures. A century ago, concerned citizens frequently petitioned governors of New York to remove sheriffs, prosecutors and even mayors for failing to enforce vice and excise laws. Governors rarely used their power, but petition campaigns provided them opportunities to warn lesser officials to do their jobs. Were a governor to act on his prerogative, a district attorney would have a constitutional right to be heard in his defense, but the decision to remove would be entirely up to gubernatorial discretion. In a theoretical scenario, Soares would have little defense against Cuomo's assertion of the rule of law, since his argument against prosecuting the occupiers, as I understand it, is simply that violent crime has greater priority for him. Whether Cuomo would ever take this option depends on how badly he wants to end the occupation -- occupiers and their sympathizers probably exaggerate his hostility somewhat to build themselves up -- and whether he'd be willing to risk the political consequences of destroying a controversial but popular prosecutor. But there are grumblings in the media about Soares's selective enforcement of law, and starting a petition campaign for his removal would be a no-lose proposition for partisan provocateurs. Occupy Albany has now outlasted the Wall Street occupation that inspired it, but with winter approaching a feeling grows that the endgame may not be far off.

American Autumn: Occupy Wall Street falls

The First Amendment is not absolute, Mayor Bloomberg told the press this morning after the NYPD had cleared Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. When freedom of speech and assembly conflict with public health and safety, as Bloomberg claims had happened at the occupation, public safety comes first. At the same time, the mayor claimed that the occupiers had violated everyone else's First Amendment right to express opposing viewpoints, or no viewpoint at all, in the park. Had the occupiers compelled visitors to endorse their agenda? Had they attacked someone who'd challenged their beliefs? It's more likely that Bloomberg was endorsing the implicit American right to be left alone, which in the public-park context means that you have a right not to see or hear protests. Not even that right is absolute, of course, since Bloomberg has said that protesters will be allowed to return for daily demonstrations. But there seems to be some point of in-your-face offense when the right to demonstrate conflicts with the right to be left alone. New York City did not act specifically to affirm this latter right -- the public health and safety concerns raised by the park owners were paramount -- but the mayor made a point of invoking that right in justifying his action. He'll have a chance to explain the principle in more detail when the city responds to the restraining order issued this morning temporarily forbidding authorities from stopping people from bringing tents to the park. In the meantime, unless the same court can compel the city to open the park, Bloomberg will keep it closed.

Most Americans would be outraged by any comparison between the evictions of occupiers across the country this fall and the clearing of Tiananmen Square by the Chinese government in 1989. Skeptics will note that violence against protesters has been kept to a relative minimum, especially compared to the Beijing atrocities. But isn't the principle in play essentially the same? How many Americans conceded the Chinese government's right to clear the square? Few if any, as I recall. This was another case when Americans gave foreign dissidents the benefit of the doubt against a foreign government's invocation of the rule of law, and another in which many denied the premise that a "totalitarian" country like China even had a rule of law. The measure of China's lawlessness, of course, was the way the country treated dissidents. Perhaps it's because most Americans are satisfied with our own rule of law that we seem less inclined to privilege civil disobedience on our own soil. Our attitude toward dissidents abroad is conditioned by our attitude toward their governments. We make heroes of dissidents in China, Iran and other theoretical or potential "enemy" countries, while we often ignore dissidents in friendly lands -- and in places like the Middle East, where we fear that the cure of Islamist democracy could be worse than the disease of dictatorship, we throw up our arms in confusion. A consistent attitude toward dissent and civil disobedience should grant American occupiers the same latitude that editorial cheerleaders have granted occupiers in Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the past. But if people prefer to say that the rule of law is valid in some places, and trumps the prerogative of civil disobedience, and invalid elsewhere, that compels us to question whether a true rule of law exists anywhere. Occupations themselves and other forms of civil disobedience raise the same question, and for that reason participants should never expect immunity from arrest or harassment. Protest presumes injustice, as opposed to mere lobbying.  If actions like today's rout of the Wall Street occupiers leave more Americans skeptical about the rule of law in this country and whom exactly it benefits, the occupiers may have continued their work in defeat.

Update: A judge has ruled in Bloomberg's favor, determining that the ban on encampment in the park doesn't violate anyone's First Amendment rights, and Zuccotti park was reopened to protesters and other park-goers. The next test for the city is the protesters' previously-announced plan to "shut down" Wall Street on Thursday. The challenge for the erstwhile occupiers, as it has been all along, is to contest the complacent assertion of a general right not to be confronted by bad news or warnings of worse.

14 November 2011

Do those 'left behind' favor the GOP?

In touting an article by Richard Florida on the Atlantic magazine website, the Albany Times Union quotes the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute to the effect that "Republicanism is increasingly becoming the politics of those left behind." Florida wants to explain the increase of Republican party identification that has reportedly taken place in 47 states, but he seems to say the opposite of what the Albany paper implies. He writes that this shift has little to do with how Americans perceive the current condition of the economy." On the other hand, he notes that "Republicanism is most pronounced and growing fastest among America's least well-off, most blue-collar states with the bleakest futures." Echoing observations by Michael Crowley and Thomas Frank -- the latter writes, however, that Florida's "theories of planned coolness" set off his "bullshit detector," -- Florida finds support for Democrats strongest in the richest states (as opposed to among the richest people) and in the tech sectors as opposed to blue-collar sectors. Distinguishing between unemployment and poverty, Florida reports that poorer states tend Republican, but higher unemployment doesn't increase Republican support among voters. However, Republicans are more likely, according to a Gallup poll, to believe that the economy will get worse. Their anxieties about the future, Florida suggests, matter more than their complaints about the present.

Florida's moral is that President Obama needs to "make real inroads on jobs and economic recovery" in order to reverse the alleged "rightward drift" of the country. But Florida himself notes that "correlations...do not necessarily add up to causation," and his account leaves room to question whether the coincidence of Republican growth in blue-collar regions reflects an economically-stressed perception among new Republicans that they've been or will be left behind. The resentment that fuels Republican growth may be based as much on culture as on economics. Florida's statistics show a "statistically significant association," for instance, between growing support for Republicans and the percentage of immigrants making up a state's population -- though Ron Unz has disputed the validity of similar findings in The American Conservative. When Florida finds correlations between religious identification, proportion of homosexuals, and Republican growth, the implication seems opposed to Florida's conclusion. Unless all these traditionalist and intolerant attitudes themselves follow from economic deprivation, it seems unlikely that any success by Obama on the economic front would improve his standing with blue-collar reactionaries so long as he's still perceived as a cultural liberal. Florida thinks that "optimism" is the key, hinting in his last sentence that greater optimism about the economy might make blue-collars less reactionary across the board. But optimism was Ronald Reagan's great trump card, and was never inconsistent with intolerance toward cultural and sexual diversity. Optimism isn't an end unto itself; it can well be blind and unfounded. What seems obvious is that blue-collar sectors need to be brought up to speed to participate in the 21st century economy, especially since the education necessary for such adaptation seems to discourage reactionary and Republican attitudes. What seems less obvious is whether everyone can be brought up to speed, and whether the economy even needs everyone currently in the job market. If the 21st century economy is doomed to leave many Americans behind, as Florida finds to be the case right now, the consequences for the major political parties ought to be of less concern than the consequences for our country and its civilization.

13 November 2011

From Occupation to Provocation: Occupy Albany on the offensive

As if dissatisfied with the modus vivendi negotiated with the City of Albany, members of Occupy Albany are determined to force a confrontation with Governor Cuomo and challenge the state law that keeps them out of Lafayette Park, the state-administered space separated by a walkpath from city-governed Academy Park. Two separate incidents yesterday resulted in arrests. In the afternoon Bradley Russell, who's been prominent among the demonstrators, was taken away for attempting to erect an "illegal structure" in Lafayette. At night, in defiance of the 11:00 p.m. curfew, 23 people committed civil disobedience and were arrested for crossing from Academy to Lafayette. In each case, the occupiers insist that their First Amendment prerogatives trump park curfews. Like other curfew-defiers, they promise court challenges to the state curfew. Russell has probably muddied the issue by his carpentry, since I doubt whether such construction on public land enjoys First Amendment protection. The curfew challengers stand on more promising ground, even when on the move. Let's concede that government has some obvious responsibilities for park maintenance, but those should not be inconsistent with the people's freedom to use public space for the public purpose of a political demonstration of any duration. The issue remains whether public parks belong to governments or to people, while the conflict reminds us, as I've written before, that in some cases, like this one, the two are not one and the same. As for all the "law-and-order" types writing to newspapers or complaining on the radio about inconsistent law enforcement -- if some of the people are exercising their prerogative to claim public space for political expression on behalf of all, or at least 99%, of the people, the least the critics calling for a crackdown can do, I'd suggest, is exercise their prerogative in the name of the people and attempt citizens' arrests -- if they dare.

11 November 2011

The Obama Base: optimistic young technocrats?

In the Nov. 14 issue of Time, Michael Crowley argues that "What divides Americans most isn't race, gender, geography or ideology [but] the year we were born." He cites an expert opinion that the Obama years have seen the emergence of "the largest generation gap in voting since 1972" -- the year a youth movement seized the Democratic presidential nomination for George McGovern, only to suffer a general-election loss of historic proportions for a Democratic candidate. Again in 2011, youth stands with the Democrats. Crowley isolates the "Millennials" -- those born after 1980 -- as President Obama's strongest supporters when the nation is divided into age groups, the others being "Generation X," "Baby Boomers," the "Silent Generation" (a term coined by Time in 1951 for people too young to have fought in World War II, who are now aged 66-83) and the dwindling ranks of the "Greatest Generation." The generation gap is most stark among whites, white millennials being the least likely to disapprove of the President's performance, while "silents" are most likely. What else distinguishes the Millennials? According to Crowley, they're the age group most likely to believe (though not quite a majority does so) that "life in the U.S. has improved since the 1960s, in part thanks to the technology revolution."

In the November issue of Harper's, Thomas Frank notes that the District of Columbia is "the only place in America that scored a positive number in [a Gallup study of national expectations], meaning that a majority of the people there believed things were getting better." He also notes that in terms of median family income, the "D.C. metro area ... is the richest in the nation." Exceptional prosperity and optimism in the environs of the nation's capital, Frank suggests, "might also help to explain the long reign of the centrist, tech-minded wing of the Democratic party, despite its failure to deliver the most basic political goods -- i.e., to win elections" -- the successes of 2006 and 2008 notwithstanding. Frank draws no conclusions about generations, but his characterization of "New Democrats" as those who "assure themselves that they are on the right side of history -- shoulder-to-shoulder with the knowledge workers, free agents and enlightened professionals of the 'ideopolis'" -- doesn't exactly evoke the image of a cranky senior citizen, or an underemployed inner-city person.

The common thread connecting these stories is the identification of Obama supporters with a sort of techno-vanguard of entrepreneurs and consumers. Obama's election, Frank writes, "was thought to be the ultimate triumph of the creative class, which supposedly shared many of his centrist positions." I'm not sure why he adds "supposedly" unless he wants to locate the center somewhere else. If Frank means to suggest in this sentence that the creative class doesn't share Obama's supposed centrism, he does seem to think that this self-styled creative class and the Obama-era Washington political class share "an adamantine political smugness -- and maybe even optimism."

The reason so many Washingtonians don't really care about unemployment is -- to put it crudely -- that they themselves aren't unemployed, and they think that's because they've got this post-industrial thing all figured out. Trade deals are never designed to ruin people like them, only to make manufactured items cheaper so that professionals can buy more of them.

If Frank's implication is that these people don't actually support Obama, Crowley's is that many people like them, those who identify the proliferation of techno consumer goods with progress, actually do support the President, if only because they don't perceive any decline for which to blame him. If such people are concentrated in D.C., aren't they most likely to have Obama's ear? If they're prospering, aren't they most likely to donate to him? Other groups may support the President with greater unanimity -- union members, blacks, gays -- but with whom, do you suppose, does Obama himself identify most? You may not want to believe the worst, but wouldn't you rather be more certain that the people who believe, and on their own terms know, that things are getting tougher, but don't believe that the solution is less government for the private sector, had reliable representatives in power? Do the people who think that things are getting better, even if only for them, really represent the rest of us? Will we find people to represent us in the Obama-era Democratic party, or should we find a way to represent ourselves as we should have all along?

09 November 2011

Sean Wilentz's Bipolarchy Gospel

Earlier this year the historian and New Republic contributing editor Sean Wilentz delivered a digest version of American political history in a series of lectures at Stanford University. Condensed into a lengthy article for the magazine's November 17 issue, "The Mirage" (available online only to subscribers) resumes Wilentz's attack on the allegedly elitist anti-partisanship once known as "Mugwumpery" and which the writer identifies with President Obama today. Partisanship, Wilentz writes, "although often manipulated and abused, has also been Americans' most effective vehicle for democratic social and political reform." The several pages that follow do little to prove the proposition, though Wilentz goes to some length to vindicate his opinion by asserting that opponents of partisan politics through history have been elitist and anti-democratic, not to mention nativist and racist in many cases. "The anti-party current," he concludes, "is by definition anti-democratic, as political parties have been the only reliable vehicles for advancing the ideas and interests of ordinary voters."

However, parties are most effective in Wilentz's account not when they are most responsive to voters, but when Presidents act most assertively as top-down party leaders, as Lincoln did as a Republican and FDR did as a Democrat. To prove that partisanship is essential to good government, Wilentz offers a unique reading of the Civil War that attributes Confederate failures in large part to the secessionists' failure to organize a proper party system. When Wilentz addresses responsiveness, as he should to prove partisanship democratic, he usually means responsiveness by party leaders to party leaders.  He lets John F. Kennedy -- who I understood not to be a strong party leader while President -- explain this most clearly in a pre-Presidential comment.

No president, it seems to me, can escape politics. He has not only been chosen by the nation -- he has been chosen by his party. And if he insists that he is 'president of all the people,' and should, therefore, offend none of them -- if he blurs the issues and differences between the parties -- if he neglects the party machinery and avoids his party's leadership -- then he has not only weakened the political party as an instrument of the democratic process -- he has dealt a blow to the democratic process itself.

Wilentz traces anti-party sentiment to George Washington's Farewell Address and its admonition against "the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction" He dismisses the address as a self-serving and actually partisan attack on Thomas Jefferson, whom Washington never mentioned by name, ascribing to the first President the implication that mere opposition to the government "was tantamount to breaking the law." Against Washington, Wilentz summons James Madison, but not in his capacity as author of Federalist 10 and guarantor against any single faction dominating government, but as the author of the 1792 essay "A Candid State of Parties," an anonymous vindication of the opposition to Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Between Federalist 10 and "A Candid State," Madison changed from engineer of pluralism to prophet of Bipolarchy. In 1792, Madison argued that a kind of two-party division was "natural to most political societies," and Wilentz seems to agree with him. Bipolarchy, according to both men, pits a party of the few against a party of the many. Here's how Madison says it.

One of the divisions [i.e. parties] consists of those who, from particular interest, from natural temper, or from the habits of life, are more partial to the opulent than to the other classes of society; and having debauched themselves into a persuasion that mankind are incapable of governing themselves, it follows with them, of course, that government can be carried on only by the pageantry of rank, the influence of money and emoluments, and the terror of military force. Men of those sentiments must naturally wish to point the measures of government less to the interest of the many than of a few, and less to the reason of the many than to their weaknesses; hoping perhaps in proportion to the ardor of their zeal, that by giving such a turn to the administration, the government itself may by degrees be narrowed into fewer hands and approximated to a hereditary form.
The other division consists of those who, believing in the doctrine that mankind are capable of governing themselves and hating hereditary power as an insult to the reason and an outrage to the rights of man, are naturally offended at every public measure that does not appeal to the understanding and to the general interests of the community, or that is not strictly conformable to the principles and conducive to the preservation of republican government.

Of course, Madison is describing the Federalists, the regime of Washington and Hamilton as he saw them, not as they saw themselves -- but Wilentz basically accepts this description at face value. Jefferson corroborated this view late in life when he wrote that "the common division of whig and tory, or according to our denominations of republican and federal ... is the most salutary of all divisions, and ought therefore to be fostered." Martin Van Buren carried out this policy by managing Andrew Jackson's 1828 and 1832 presidential campaigns as struggles by the many against "the establishment of a moneyed oligarchy." Franklin Roosevelt continued this development during his Presidency, going so far as to drive reactionaries out of the Democratic party in order to, in Wilentz's words, "sharpen the ideological divide." But by acknowledging that Jefferson himself made contradictory but consistently self-serving statements about parties and factions throughout his life, Wilentz practically concedes, without admitting it, that the Madisonian Bipolarchy of many vs. few is little more than spin. Inevitably, some people out of power are going to see people in power as an elitist, self-aggrandizing and "debauched" faction, just as the temptation always exists among those in power to see dissidents as jealous, self-aggrandizing conspirators. But saying it's all so doesn't make it so, despite Wilentz's attempt at writing a Democratic [party] History of the United States. While Washington and Hamilton may have overreacted to the emergence of concerted opposition to their policies, their insistence on them doesn't prove them the "opulent" schemers that Madison and Jefferson claimed them to be, just as Wilentz's insistence that partisanship is democratic doesn't prove the case when his own evidence shows only that partisanship empowers Presidents to dominate governments. Wilentz has let 220 years of propaganda go to his head.

I don't mean to deny that societies can become divided between many and few. The Occupiers of 2011 are making just such a claim. But I do mean to challenge Wilentz's complacent assumption that in a party system one party inevitably ends up representing the many and deserving their loyalty. At its inception, the Madisonian Bipolarchy was really few vs few, and the Bipolarchy today could well be described the same way. It may be anti-Democratic to say that, at least in Sean Wilentz's opinion, but it isn't undemocratic in any sense.

Romney or Bachmann for President of Where?

Mitt Romney and Rep. Bachmann have disgraced themselves and their country for protesting so vocally against what they considered a national disgrace. Both have denounced the President, and Bachmann has demanded that he apologize, for the indiscreet comment he made about Prime Minister Netanyahu during an unwittingly recorded exchange with President Sarkozy. The French leader unguardedly called the Israeli leader a liar, and without agreeing, Obama lamented that he has to deal with Netanyahu more often than Sarkozy does. That was probably insult enough in the eyes of the two Republican candidates, but they also clearly want to consolidate the impression that Obama shares Sarkozy's opinion of Netanyahu's character. For them, to think that way about an Israeli leader is unpardonable. Their excoriation of the President leaves the impression that their loyalty to Israel, so long as a GOP-style rightist leads the country but probably irregardless, outweighs their loyalty to their own country, so long as a Democrat leads the U.S. As the opposition, they have every right to criticize Obama for his conduct of domestic and foreign policy from the perspective of national interest, and they should have plenty of rhetorical leeway when criticizing him. But we can imagine how they would feel if anyone demanded that Obama, not to mention a Republican President, should apologize to any other country, whether for perceived slights or perceived unjust policies. America owes no country apologies, they would certainly say -- with one apparent exception. Since neither Romney nor Bachmann is Jewish, I hope no one will object if I accuse them of a compromising dual loyalty that unfits them to serve as President of the United States.

08 November 2011

Obama: More money buys better Democrats

When the President of the United States tells you that "Each night I get the chance to read about 10 letters from people across the country," it's hard to refuse to read his letter to you. His newest begging letter on behalf of the Democratic National Committee arrived today, in which he asks for "membership contributions" ranging from $25 to $50 "or more" to supplement the big bucks corporate donors fork over at fundraising dinners. Every dollar counts, he says, because "the clock is already ticking on the early organizing needed to create the kind of grassroots campaigns that will bring millions of voters to the polls" and "putting together this kind of campaign takes time, energy and money -- and all three are hard to come by these days."

About grass-roots campaigns, Obama is two-thirds right. Time and energy are essential, but if people have those to spare, then you already have your grass-roots campaign, so what's money got to do with it? It would seem that the President is a strong believer in "astroturf" in the new political sense of the term. From his perspective, a grass-roots campaign is something that paid organizers enter a community to instigate, which is why the DNC needs so much money. The truth of the matter, of course, is that Obama wants a grass-roots Democratic campaign. As he writes, "To get folks believing in what America can be, we need to show them a real vision ... and we need to prove that Democrats can achieve it [ellipsis in original]."

Speaking for Bipolarchy, the President insists that "to build on our successes and prevent destructive steps backward, we need strong Democratic representation at all levels of government." As ever, the only alternative to Democratic rule a Democrat can imagine is Republican rule, and Obama has already portrayed that as a certain disaster. Earlier in the letter, he claims that GOP "folks ... believe it's ok if we slash education funding and fall further behind our competitors in math and science," and "think we can skip out on investing in clean energy, falling behind our global competitors in new markets and jobs producing renewable energy." However you feel about Republicans, this is dishonest insofar as Republicans don't want the U.S. to "fall further behind our competitors," even if that proves to be the consequence of their policies. This sort of scare rhetoric is inevitable, of course, but Obama really seems to need our money not to fight Republicans, but to fight what he perceives as our own demoralized apathy.

You see, I believe that our biggest adversaries in the elections ahead are not our political opponents. Our biggest obstacle to victory is the very real frustration felt by people who are tired of the politics of Washington. And I can't blame them. Hardworking people who are struggling just to pay the bills are rightfully angered when they see politicians wasting time bickering and playing blame games.

As a prospective small donor to the DNC, I'm invited to overcome this obstacle by making it possible for Democratic candidates to "offer more than slogans and pretty posters." The President wants me to subsidize a grassroots organization campaign in which "Democratic candidates need to get out and talk to people face to face....Voters deserve candidates who will look soberly at the challenges in front of us, and offer not only solutions to continue America along the road to recovery, but solutions that will restore the middle class with good jobs at good wages and benefits, with the prospects of a brighter future [etc., etc.]."

With my help, Obama promises, "Democrats will run face-to-face campaigns that remind people that they are voting for their children's schools, their parents' Social Security and their planet's health," among other things. Of course, there's a potential problem. If Americans are really frustrated by anything going on in Washington, it's partisanship, but Obama proposes nothing other than a partisan "face-to-face" campaign that will inevitably become a "blame game," in which all bickering is Republicans' fault. Democrats may need the kind of campaign the President writes about, and he's probably right that it'll take a lot of money, but an actual grass-roots campaign needs not so much, and it really needs me more than my money. Arguably, there are real grass-roots campaigns incubating in Occupations across the country -- and the last thing those probably need are Democrats getting in their faces. The object of a real grass-roots campaign, I presume, is to create our own vision, and prove to ourselves that we can achieve it, or at least that we can stick to it. If Americans can manage that, they shouldn't need to pay Democrats to do it for them. 

07 November 2011

Socialism vs Bipolarchy 100 years ago: a footnote

While continuing my research on George R. Lunn after my post on the centennial of his election as a Socialist mayor of Schenectady, I found this intriguing tidbit in the digitized pages of the Reform Bulletin magazine. The author, Rev. Fred Winslow Adams, comments on the likelihood of the two major parties joining forces against successful Socialists, as they did against Lunn in 1913 but failed to do again in 1915. Adams envisioned a moment that didn't happen, when one Bipolarchy would be replaced by another in which the previous dominant parties would have merged into one reactionary party.

Our political history has demonstrated that there can never be but two great parties. If the Republicans and Democrats combine, as they are doing in some places, to defeat the Socialists, it makes the Socialists one of those two great parties. As between a combined old guard and the Socialists, the Socialists will in the end inevitably win. The only way to defeat Socialism, is for one of the two dominant parties of to-day to fearlessly strike out in the championship of moral legislation and progressive ideas. The pooling of the interests of the Democratic and Republican bosses means the triumph of Socialism.

Is it possible that the reason there is no strong Socialism in the United States is that the Bipolarchy did not consolidate itself into a single anti-Socialist party? Historians might argue that the Democratic party accepted Adams's challenge, beginning in his own time with the Wilson Administration. But was this (and is it today) a fearless striking out or, as Socialists themselves suggest, a pragmatic means of forestalling mass support for Socialism, worthy of a European conservative like Otto von Bismarck? On one level, it can be assumed that the two major parties never needed to join forces on a national level against Socialism because the new force was threatening only in isolated locations. But what if the peculiar genius of the American political system is such that, by insisting on the perpetually decisive significance of their own disagreements, by agreeing to continue to disagree -- and at some point to disagree with more vehemence than ever, the Bipolarchy never gave Socialists a chance to vie for political power on their preferred ground. It's probably more likely that Democrats and Republicans stumbled upon this strategy, if it actually worked, quite by accident, genuinely convinced that their differences were more meaningful, if not merely more admissible, than those separating both of them from the Socialists.

If we've discovered a rule of American politics -- and I'm not exactly ready to concede Adams's demonstration -- we should note that Bipolarchy cannot always forestall revolution by insisting on its own divisive sufficiency. The previous Bipolarchy of Democrats and Whigs fell apart in the 1850s when mass factions asserted the more urgent significance of differences between North and South or Protestants and Catholics. From the 20th century onward, the Democratic party has succeeded at appropriating class conflict by portraying itself as the workers' only defense against Republican rapine, while Republicans themselves condemn any declaration of "class warfare." Whether class politics can overwhelm the present Bipolarchy now when it has failed consistently for the past century is a question for Occupiers across the country and their sympathizers to ponder carefully. At their most radical, Occupiers group both major parties, or their leaders at least, among the hated "1%," but the trick is keeping the elephants and donkeys in a common conceptual cage.  If someone at an Occupation can figure out how to do it, everyone's stay in a park will have counted for something important.

100 Years Ago Today, Socialists win an American election

In the second decade of the twentieth century, Socialism seemed to stand at the brink of an electoral breakthrough in the United States. Among the milestones that appeared to position Socialists as the third major party in the country was the mayoral election in Schenectady NY (the home of General Electric) on November 7, 1911. By a landslide, voters chose Socialist George R. Lunn as their mayor, and gave his party a majority on the city's common council. Lunn didn't conform to the eventual socialist stereotype. For starters, he was a minister of the gospel. As contemporary wire service reports explained, he had been compelled to resign from the First Reformed Church because of his politicized sermons. Lunn simply formed his own congregation, the United People's Church, while publishing a weekly newspaper, The Citizen. He had made himself a prominent public figure with weekly mass meetings outside his church, and at least one local paper, the Troy Record, suggested that his mayoral victory was "more of a tribute to a splendid personality than to a party." A wire report in the same paper looked at conditions in Schenectady more closely.

The voters, a majority being working men in the plants of the General Electric and American Locomotive companies, were dissatisfied with the Republican administration two years ago, which the Democrats failed to remedy the past two years. This left an open field for the Socialists and their reform movement. Chief among the arguments of Dr. Lunn were a municipal paving plant to 'bust' the so-called street paving trust, which has controlled all street improvements at prices suitable for themselves alone, a cheaper gas rate and a cut in the city pay roll by eliminating a number of useless officeholders.

In other words, Lunn was a Socialist for smaller government, a phenomenon that might make heads explode across the political spectrum a century later. While the Record presumed that many Lunn voters actually had "little patience with the theories of socialism," the Albany Times Union noted a surge in Socialist turnout across the state and nation and speculated on general reasons for the trend.

What is the cause of the growth of Socialism? It typifies the great social unrest. It illustrates the growth of independence. It shows that the average voter is impressed with the fact that the old parties who produce the Lorimers, Stephensons, Allds and Congers [allegedly corrupt politicians all] of our generation, who do nothing substantial to smash the trusts, is making it harder and harder for him to live. He finds that while the trusts are producing multi-millionaires he has to work and work and never seems to get ahead. This breeds dissatisfaction....If the managers of the old parties want to stem the torrent which may one of these days reach the magnitude of a tidal wave they must get closer to the common people, because [sic?] more progressive in their ideas.

Lunn's main agenda in office was to maintain and extend municipal ownership of city utilities. He explained his reasoning at a conference of mayors a year before his own election where he advanced an idea of "Big Brother" diametrically opposed to the present-day meaning of the term.

We all know that the people do not control our American municipalities today. The family idea, as I have suggested, of a great brotherhood dwelling together in comparative unity, respecting each other's rights, and granting special privileges to none but equal opportunity to all, is a dream not yet realized but still to be realized if our municipal life is ever to accomplish for the people what it should.
It is most unfortunate that within the municipal family are two big, elder brothers, called Monopoly and Privilege, and these two elder brothers have their grip on the throat of every city in America that I know anything about. In every city special privileges are granted to individual citizens; special privileges granted to this editor because of his control of the press; special privileges granted to a public utility corporation; special privileges granted to some industry or other. These special privileges take the form of street franchises of one kind or other or may be in the form of certain exemptions. The interests of the city and the interests of these "Special Privilege Seekers" are not identical. They never will be identical.
*   *   *
Here in Schenectady we have municipal ownership of one public utility. We own and manage our own water supply. We have the lowest tax rate on water of all the second-class cities. We not only have the best water in the state but we make a profit for the people of $50,000 every year, nearly one thousand dollars every week. If our water supply was owned and managed by a public service corporation, that corporation would have and exercise a mighty power over municipal legislation. We need have no fears as to one thing: so long as there are privileges to be won or to be bought or to be secured by threatening with political extinction aldermen or mayors, so long will we have deep-seated evils. Until all public utilities are in the hands of the people we must face the fact that the people do not control, neither can they control, their municipalities. The great task before the people today is to gain control of their cities so that those cities may be managed in the interest of the people as a whole and not in the interest of the Big Brothers. The vested interests which control our cities must be shaken off.

Lunn and his supporters proved resilient. Defeated for re-election by a Bipolarchy coalition in 1913, he came back to retake City Hall in 1915. Unfortunately for the Socialist movement, it and Lunn came to a parting of the ways not long afterward. Ideological rigidity and personal ambition apparently came into conflict, Socialists denouncing him as a compromiser before he jumped to the Democratic party, under which Lunn was later elected to Congress and as Lieutenant Governor of New York.

What is different now? For one thing, the failures and atrocities of Bolshevism, especially as publicized by those who would equate all forms of socialism with Stalinist excess, have perhaps irreparably tainted the entire idea of socialism for many people. But Stalin was nowhere near power by the time the Schenectady Socialists had broken with their most successful activist. Something had already failed, or was failing, by 1917, when Lunn switched parties. His personal issues aside, the fact remains that 100 years ago voters in Schenectady and elsewhere were willing and able to repudiate the Bipolarchy and elect third-party candidates by decisive margins. To the extent that it was a national trend, it could not be written off to Lunn's charisma. Americans were ready to vote Socialist, or else were ready to quit the Democrats and Republicans. More than a third of voters supported non-Bipolarchy candidates in the 1912 presidential elections, including Socialist Eugene Debs's 6% of the popular vote. Have Americans more confidence in Bipolarchy now, despite all opinion polls, or have they less confidence than they did a century ago in anyone's capacity to reform American politics? Or was it simply easier for a third party to break through in 1911? If so, what do laws and money have to do with it?  Lunn's victory should be taken, even by people who abhor Socialism, as proof that the American electoral system worked. You may believe that Socialists shouldn't win any more elections, but if the formal and informal rules of 21st century campaigns mean that they can't win elections, then something is wrong with the American system today, and not only Socialists will suffer from that.

03 November 2011

The American Left: 1829-?

Any history of American leftism is going to be selective. Depending on how broadly you define a "left," or how historically and culturally specific you want to be, you could call the Founding Fathers leftists to the extent (itself disputed) that they were revolutionaries. In the Early National Period, Federalists might well have called Jeffersonians leftists, had the term any currency then, for their egalitarian attitudes and their supposed sympathies with the French revolutionaries who gave "leftism" its original political meaning. In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, Michael Kazin traces American leftism back to three founding publications in the fall of 1829. Each represents one of the major tendencies Kazin sees in the American left. Thomas Skidmore's The Rights of Man to Property! set the tone for working-class activism. David Walker's Appeal ... to the Colored Citizens of the World announced black demands for emancipation and racial equality. Frances Wright's Course of Popular Lectures staked claims for feminism and what might be called lifestyle leftism in its secular sexual liberalism. All three tendencies fed into a "left" culture that would look familiar today, down to the folk singers performing at abolitionist rallies, but often shared political space uncomfortably. With the advent of socialism, Kazin introduces another uneasy triad, the populistic, non-Marxist "prairie socialists" of the midwest, the strongly Marxist "sewer socialists" of the big cities, and the "radical modernists" of Greenwich Village and similar places. The latter group carried on Wright's lifestyle leftism and took it to new extremes of expression, while the prairie socialists took the Skidmore tradition to its peak of national popularity. It fell to the Marxists, usually, to take the strongest stand for racial equality -- a point Kazin makes to partially redeem the otherwise Stalin-addled Communists of the mid-20th century.  He's less approving of the Marxists' (many of them immigrants) persistent alienation from American culture. Through much of the 20th century (with the Popular Front period of the mid-1930s the great exception) Marxists alienated ordinary Americans, in Kazin's account, by repudiating or simply ignoring much of the country's heritage. He believes that the U.S. has a usable past that leftists should embrace instead of condemning the entire American experiment in the Noam Chomsky manner. He also insists that any left worth the name has to maintain roots with the working class. He argues from personal experience that when the lifestyle leftists have the initiative and turn off the working class with extreme demands and behaviors, as they did in the 1960s after the Marxist crack-up, the movement may be doomed. Publishing just before the 2011 occupations began, he goes so far to say that, while there may be more radicalized individuals today in America than ever before, that the left was practically extinct as a mass movement by 1980.

Kazin's history makes a good guide for future leftists to the pitfalls of organizing an agenda. Equality would seem to be the baseline demand of any "left," but in practice white workers were often hostile to potential black competitors, while white and black abolitionists alike often opposed women taking public roles in their movement. Women's-rights activists returned the favor by demanding the vote on the basis of their intellectual superiority to black, immigrants, etc. Seeing common humanity as the basis of political equality didn't come naturally to many people. Kazin's analysis isn't really novel, but his emphasis on the tension between working-class activists and self-conscious radicals suggests a fundamental distinction between radicals and (for want of a better term) populists. These two groups (Kazin is a specialist on the latter) often seem to want the same things, or at least oppose the same enemies. But they seem to be guided by different visions of the good life. Both may be utopian by some standards, but we can think of populists as those who want an ideal world for themselves now, a world tailor-made for the people of today with all their particular values and desires, while the radicals  think (or feel) that the people of today should (or must) change in order to live in the ideal world, who can envision the citizens of Utopia as people crucially different and better than themselves. That radical demand can take the form of Marxist engineering of human souls to create "Soviet Man" or the more anarchic form long associated with the term "free love," but either form is unsettling to working class people accustomed to seeing themselves as the salt of the earth, whose own old-time values (religious or otherwise) are "good enough for me." Kazin clearly wants the left to give precedence to the working class -- there's no real movement without a mass base, in his view -- but it's unclear to what extent he would have radical modernists, lifestyle leftists, etc. defer to working class values that are often prejudices. He criticizes the New Left for seeming to ignore the working-class in their pursuit of personal liberation and their blanket condemnations of a still-revered nation, but he doesn't really say that radicals should put their demands aside. That means there has to be some greater tolerance on the part of the working-class (potential) base, but Kazin seems quicker to rationalize working-class rejection of radicals than radical challenges to the working class. The question remains how much tolerance of radical expression the egalitarian imperative requires -- or whether one group's egalitarianism is just an intolerant form of majoritarianism. All leftists have to face this question in some form, and to the extent that Kazin raises the question forcefully, his will be a useful book whether readers agree with his conclusions or not.