As someone who has often claimed unusual monikers to describe my political persuasion, I’m fascinated by this week’s gathering of a number of politicians and thinkers I respect. I respect them not because I agree with their political ideology, but because most of them are effective leaders. They understand power, are committed to the common good, and recognize that ideology isn’t the way to get work done.
But I admit a little puzzlement. Our current president comes from this set of people. He compromises. He takes ideas from different groups. There seems to be some serious misinformation that President Obama is a partisan, a socialist, a “left winger.” The opposite seems to be the case: he is a moderate who works with organized power, caught in the middle of a policy fights where there is no serious organized “left-wing.”
I am also confused by the complaint we need a new moderate party. But moderation seems to be less a set of ideas than a description of a certain sort of person. Radicals can become practical when necessary; Reactionaries can accept modest changes. If were actually looking for moderate ideas, our current president embodies it, to everyone’s dissatisfaction.
What we really need is a party that represents the interests – the real interests – of the working and middle class. Unfortunately, the Democrats have abdicated this role by taking money from Wall Street. And their supporters – trial lawyers, teachers, unions, African Americans and Latinos – are poor at relationship based organizing.
There is a multi-million dollar industry of not-for-profits, churches, social welfare institutions and schools that have lost their independence from both governments and large corporations. Progressives who might work for a more responsive democracy entered these institutions, losing their ability to actually build long-term power organizations that could put pressure on the government or businesses. They do good work, but they are fragmented and ineffective.
The institutions that did not want effective government, who found environmental, civil rights, and workplace regulations arduous have funded, for the last 40 years, a highly sophisticated network that has diminished the power of smaller democratic, people led institutions such as the church.
We may need another party. But it needs to be a party that is responsive to the great majority of people, and isn’t too timid to defend those interests. It may look like a labor or socialist party in another country, but I suspect it would be different because Americans have less instinctive class resentment and tend to prize individualism. But we do have an interest in good schools, a reliable infrastructure, and insurance programs that mitigate the precarity of everyday life.
We definitely need more people who care about the common good. But we also need organizers who can build relationships with institutions apart from government or business, and a party that can truly represent those interests in the halls of congress.
But if this movement can identify those Republicans and Conservatives who seek to serve the common good rather than destroy it, may it thrive.