What kind of progressive am I? I believe that was a question I rhetorically asked of myself in my last piece. And I believe my smart-assed answer was, “The kind that survives.”
Well it occurs to me that while that answer might sit well with me, it might not adequately explain to others just who I am and what I do stand for. So I started giving the question a little more thought and came to some rather sobering conclusions.
For one thing, I don’t believe that all progressives are created equal or think alike, nor should they. Unlike the other side, which sadly seems to behave like a horde of mindless automatons, most liberals and progressives are far more independent in their thinking. And while most of us hold certain values and standards that clearly differentiate us from our conservative counterparts, how we get from A to B can be, shall we say, interesting. Looking back over the infighting that took place among Democrats during the last two years, while a lot of it was owed to moderate and conservative elements within their ranks who balked at the more liberal leadership, one of the untold stories was how, even among progressives, there never seemed to be a unified consensus that ruled the day. Too often, there seemed to be a leadership vacuum that to most outsiders looked like chaos. I often refer to this as analysis by paralysis, a common trait among many progressives. Just hang out at any liberal university lecture and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Progressives can make ordering lunch seem like the planning of the Normandy invasion.
But, getting back to the issue at hand. What kind of progressive am I? Or, as Roger Daltrey used to sing, “Who are you?” Ever since my college days, I’ve known two things: 1. I’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for progressive ideals and values and believe that the world would be a far better place were it run on them; and 2. In almost every way imaginable, I behave and act like a liberal in much the same way fish breath air.
Seriously, if you’ve never had the “pleasure” of hanging out with me, you’d never know for instance that there are times when I couldn’t even spell the word progressivism, much less follow its principles. For one thing, I don’t think very highly of hybrids. Though I think they will eventually catch on, like the players on Saturday Night Live, they are not quite ready for prime time. Give me a Maxima or an Audi any day.
And while I resist the idiotic notion among conservatives that vouchers are an acceptable substitute for an ailing public education system, I am, quite frankly, befuddled by the obstinant stance of so many progressives who keep defending teacher tenure, even in the face of hard evidence that substandard teachers continue to seriously undermine the system. I cannot think of any other profession that enjoys such protectionism from mediocrity. While I realize that the overwhelming majority of teachers are excellent, that still is no excuse for keeping those who are below par employed.
I feel strongly in the need for a safety net, and would resist any attempt to remove or compromise it. However, I am steeped in the notion that in the business world it’s your efforts that, more often than not, define your success. As a salesman I understand what it means to live and die by my own hands and know full well that nobody hands you a sale; you have to earn it. While I do understand that not every one can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and am sympathetic to their plight, I do expect them to at least try. I despise victimization. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.” I wish that more progressives would adopt this credo; sadly many don’t, much to the great delight of our opponents.
I strongly believe in renewable energy policies, which will, over time, end our dependency on foreign oil and help lead a resurgence in American innovation around the world. I do not believe that global warming is a hoax, but I do believe that it is poorly worded and this only gives aid and comfort to the uninformed and ignorant. A more apt term would be climate change or, as Thomas Friedman coined it, global weirding, since what we have been witnessing over the last decade is far from normal and borders on the erratic. It is my contention that we have only a few years left with which to do something substantive about this problem before we pass the point of no return. But the liberal community must change its approach and stop the hysteria every time we get a larger than average hurricane season. It only gives the wing nuts on the Right ammunition to push back when the winters are colder and snowier than usual. Also progressives and the Administration must do a far better job of framing the argument for Cap and Trade. The Right is controlling the dialogue on this and building a narrative that will spell defeat for any hope of passing legislation for the foreseeable future.
Regarding the relative merits of free trade, I support it, but continue to wonder how the United States keeps getting itself entangled in treaties that undermine its own industries to such lengths so as to condemn them to extinction. NAFTA was, for all intents and purposes, a disaster for this country – not to mention the rest of North America – and did little to actually spur corporate profits. Imagine me agreeing with Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. Somebody get the straight jacket.
I am a defender of equal rights across the board for all citizens. That it took this long for the military to recognize that gays and lesbians could serve their country openly is appalling to say the least. That so many people still have a problem with what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms proves we still have a long way to go as a nation.
It should come as no surprise that our foreign policy, especially over the last fifty or sixty years, has been horrendous. We are, quite frankly, very fortunate that we didn’t kill ourselves off along with the rest of the planet. As a progressive, I am proud that I realize that it isn’t traitorous to openly question the wisdom of your country’s policies; in fact it’s the height of patriotism. I pity those on the Right who don’t get this.
But while I pity those on the Right who don’t understand this basic tenant, I have to call out my friends on the Left who tend to be a little too naïve when it comes to our place in the world. The truth is we had every right to hunt down those responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The problem was we turned a search and seizure mission into another Vietnam, and like the former war we don’t seem to be able to extricate ourselves from the conflict. The line between securing our safety and being the beat cop for the planet may be fine, but it must be walked. Both the neocons and pacifists need to acknowledge a plain and simple truth: both are profoundly wrong. As for me, I’m a peaceful man, but when push comes to shove, my motto is, “Bring it on.” To wit, another famous Lombardi quote, “The best defense is a good offense.”
On the matter of illegal immigration, we will never have a solution that effectively deals with this problem until we acknowledge the role we played in Central America. The Contra / Sandinista atrocities of the 1980s and our own trade policies over the last thirty years helped create an atmosphere that was ripe for the kind of flood of illegals we are currently seeing across our border. Any legislation that does not address this underlying cause will inevitably fail. To demonize and punish those who, through no fault of their own, were simply fleeing the poverty we helped bring about is the height of hypocrisy.
As for our current tax system, while I do endorse the concept of a simpler code that is less reliant on deductions and loopholes, I remain pessimistic that we will ever see it come to fruition. For one thing, the wealthy would never allow a truly “flat” tax that does away with all deductions and exposes ALL of their assets and income to a tax. Barring that, implementing such a flat tax would, once more, be injurious to a middle class, which has already seen its status sharply decline over the last three decades and completely decimate the working poor. And will somebody please tell me what is so bad about a progressive tax code that says to the wealthy, you made more, contribute more? Even Adam Smith got that much. The Commie!
As for Wall Street reform, I remain in favor of reinstating Glass-Steagall, but realize that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none, especially now with the Republicans in charge of the House. Though it pains many progressives to admit this, Obama got the best deal possible given the climate in Washington.
But the biggest thing that separates me from so many progressives is the same thing that seems to irritate so many of them about Barack Obama. There is a nagging sense of pragmatism that simply won’t go away. Call it the curse of being a realist. I would rather have 50% of something than 100% of nothing. I learned in sales a long time ago that if you stick to your guns too much the customer walks. You have to be willing to meet somewhere in the middle and arrive at a workable compromise that both sides can live with. It is rare in deed that one side gets its way all the time. I have seen many a stubborn salesman go broke defending his right to fail. It pains me that so many progressives don’t get this basic tenant of life. What they call a sellout, if thought through, is really just an opportunity to keep the discussion going and gain a foothold that could lead to future success. Funny, I’m starting to like this president; he’d make a pretty good salesman, which is more than I can say for many of the Democrats in Congress.
So, to recap, I hate hybrids, despise teacher tenure, and loath victimization, while being a proponent of equal rights, adequate safety nets for the poor and alternative energy policies. I don’t look for a fight, but won’t back down if challenged. I can’t stand Wall Street, but confess that my 401k is dependent on a healthy stock market. I’m a pragmatist progressive who doesn’t kowtow to every liberal idea and credo, and who thinks outside the box and expects his fellow brethren to do the same. In other words, I’m a survivor.
Yes, I am a progressive. Yes, I hate the far Right and all that they stand for. And that’s why I’m so passionate about what I believe is the only sound strategy that will inevitably beat them and their agenda. No matter how much we may wish it, we don’t have a Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter on our side of the aisle, nor should we want them. We haven’t the right to presume that our principles and values preclude us from attaining the best possible outcome, even if that means we must invariably compromise a little on those very same principles and values. Being right isn’t enough! We need street smarts and a sense of self-preservation that allows us to win the small battles as well as the grand wars without feeling like we are somehow traitorous to our core beliefs. In the end, whether you have twenty one-dollar bills or one twenty-dollar bill you have the same amount of currency in your wallet. It’s how you spend it that counts. There is no shame in accepting that fact except of course the shame we bring with us. And for that we have only ourselves to blame.