I don't write much about the American left, mostly because there isn't much of an American left to write about. It is a mouse that on occasion heroically tries but simply cannot roar.
In descending statistical order--ending in obscurity--roughly 40 percent of the American electorate self-identifies as conservative, about 35 percent as moderate, 20 percent as liberal, and among the latter cluster about 1 out of 4 identifies as "very liberal." This few, this unhappy few, this 5-percent band of brothers and sisters constitutes, I think we would all agree, the modern American left. Some compensate and console themselves with the historical analogy that, well hell, during the antebellum period abolitionists represented only about 5 percent of the electorate, too. And look at what they accomplished. History might answer, however, that the Civil War wasn't launched by abolitionists, wasn't fought by abolitionists, and ultimately derailed into the prolonged Southernization of American politics.
But let's not go there, if for no other reason than that one of the chief distinctions between fiery abolitionists and wet-blanket progressives is that the former never bellowed they were 'The 99 Percent.' They were a besieged, molested, peculiar and extreme minority, and they knew it. They also seemed to instinctively understand that bellowing self-delusional, self-inflating slogans should be left to the 21st century.
To which we'll return, now, and direct our attention to this pathetic contemporaneity: the Campaign for America's Future's annual 'Take Back the American Dream Conference' opened in Washington D.C. yesterday, where, notes Dana Milbank this morning, "half of the 500 seats were filled."
TBADC's Web site purports a populist, progressive, grassroots aggressiveness: "We are the 99%. If we organize, if we force the debate, we can win not only the election but the argument"--even though "we" cannot fill a mere 500 seats.
I beg your indulgence. I'm not trying to be snide. But in return please indulge me for a moment by at least acknowledging that the above's gratuitous bluster is counterproductive, in that it's needlessly strained, which destroys credibility.
By that I mean activist progressives' claims are rhetorically strained in view of their lacking a material, socioeconomic transformation, which should by definition inhere in authentic progressive movements. Yet here, from TBADC's Web site, is a bit of elaboration: The organization promises primarily to preserve the status quo in protecting Social Security and Medicare, as well as protecting federal obligations ranging from "food stamps to food safety" and reducing unemployment.
That's all fine, it's quite admirable--and profoundly conservative. One might think "the American left" would instead advocate socialized healthcare, urge a nationalization of the banking system, or propose, unabashedly, a comprehensive works-projects program. And the American left indeed believes in some or all of these things. But it broadly asserts one thing in the name of progressivism, and then timidly retreats and particularly says others.
Which, perhaps, it should--I'm not arguing otherwise--since we are a moderately conservative nation, and defying that reality also defies political common sense.
Nonetheless where does that leave--how shall we call it--the formal American left? As a political asterisk.
If it really wanted to dissemble and thereby advance itself politically, it would start by telling the truth: We are, pragmatically speaking, today's true conservatives.