There Are Two Possible Futures – Ron Paul and Progressive Pluralism

( – promoted by Armando)

Crossposted at dKos and EuroTrib

America’s 21st century has two distinct political futures. This election is already seeing their emergence.

The first is embodied by Ron Paul. It is a future where government is dramatically scaled back as a presence in our lives, and people are left to fend for themselves. It is a future where inequality is embraced, where those with less are given no aid whatsoever and blamed for their condition. It is a future where America tries to maintain the fiction that it is a white nation, of, by, and for white people. It is a nation racked by crisis, where survival is conditioned on how much money you make.

The second is embodied by us. It is a democratic future, where instead of abolishing government, we both expand and reform it. Where we work to end inequality, address the multiple crises of climate and economy. Where we embrace a pluralist, diverse, international future. It is a nation that has learned to do more with less, and where basic human needs are met, not left to the market.

Which future will it be?

The old party system is dying. Liberalism too – it was based on using a government-corporate alliance to mitigate the class struggle of the late 19th and early 20th century by raining wages and benefits down onto the masses. This enriched both workers and managers – but only worked as long as there was material plenty, as long as we had cheap resources.

Now, we don’t. And with scarcity, with reduced buying power, with massive deficits, the old liberal concordat is no longer viable. Liberals and business cannot come together as they did under FDR or JFK or Clinton because there is nothing left to share. Corporations want it all for themselves. Liberals have to choose – either go along, or fight. In short, they must choose to be Ron Paul or be us.

Liberalism always died, you know. It never survived, because the left and the right were unhappy with its compromises. And the death was always depressingly similar – the left got a little taste, and in response the right slammed the door shut on both liberals and the left. The only reason liberals ever came back was a new period of plenty – the ’60s, the ’80s.

Now that option is foreclosed. This time is different – the right took over before the left could even raise a voice. And with scarcity, Liberalism will die and not return. Unfortunately, most of our Democratic candidates still think 20th century liberalism is viable – that we can work with corporations to provide a better future that provides for mass needs. This is the genesis of “cap and trade” carbon reduction programs, or the odious individual mandate that relies on corporations who have a habit of denying health care coverage to give us all universal care.

It’s not only that liberalism is no longer possible. Changing demographics are ensuring that our future options are either a white supremacist libertarianism, or a pluralist progressivism. As explained by Chris Bowers at Open Left:

While Republicans were able to break the New Deal coalition through these mono-culture appeals, changing American demographics resulted in this strategy containing the seeds of its own eventual defeat. Non-whites and / or non-Christians represent more than 100% of American population growth. Further, while 65% of Americans born before 1965 self-identify as white Christian, only 41% of Americans born between 1965 and 1994 self-identify as white Christian (if you want to know why young voters are so pro-Democrat, that is why). Thus, Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmare comes to pass. America is currently undergoing a profound, and broadly based, cultural shift that holds the potential not only for a sustainable, long-term Democratic governing majority, but also for a more progressive and pluralistic society. At some point in the next ten years or fifteen years, America will no longer be a majority white Christian nation. A few years later, probably in 2024, and certainly by 2028, the American electorate will no longer be majority white Christian. Given this, if maintained, or even expanded, the Democratic advantage within each of the ethnic and religious minorities listed above will lead to a long-term Democratic governing majority over the next two or three decades.

It is my argument that Ron Paul represents the reaction against this. His is a campaign that seeks to preserve white male supremacy in America and forestall the inevitable maturation of America as an international, multicultural, equal democracy. Doubt me? Look at his racist statements. He has well known ties to racist groups and has refused to repudiate them. He opposes women’s rights to control their own bodies, hates immigrants, opposes gay marriage, and thinks the Voting Rights Act sucks. In short, his “libertarianism” only applies to white men with money. And his support, I posit, is based primarily among such people, with some cover from people who don’t know any better.

Even without those odious stances, Ron Paul’s hatred of government alone is a major threat to women and people of color. Because of persistent discrimination – women continue to get paid less than men for the same work, and African Americans and Latinos persistently lag in household income – government-provided opportunity, from subsidized higher ed to jobs programs to universal health care to family leave and anti-discrimination legislation is essential to their success. It was no accident that it took government to help African Americans achieve political equality in the 1960s, and when the War on Poverty was operating, they began to make economic strides as well. When that effort was abruptly ended in 1969-70, it left many communities stuck in a cycle of unemployment and crime without the resources to adequately react.

Ron Paul wants to return to the 1830s, before the New Deal, before the Progressive Era, before even the Whig American System. He wants people to have NO opportunities to advance in life through government, even though government has been essential for that to happen throughout our history. His opposition to the Iraq War isn’t based in a desire for global peace but a Children of Men like desire to close America off from the world around it.

Opposed to Ron Paul will be us, a diverse, pluralist progressivism. 21st century America will be VERY different from what has come before. As the US loses its place as the global power, as its economy declines, America’s relationships with other countries will become more important than ever. The fiction that America is a white nation isolated from – and better than – the world will no longer be credible or possible to maintain.

The question then becomes not only how will we work with other people here in the US, but how will we do so with people abroad? Especially at a time when old racial and national identities are changing. Whites are declining as a percentage of the population and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As the US enters a long decline, more young people will go overseas for opportunities – either for their college education or for a career. This offers opportunities for new political alliances, but also reminds us of persistent questions.

An ideal progressive leader would be someone who has not just the willingness, but also the ability, to move beyond old divides. Who doesn’t see America as a white and/or Christian nation, who isn’t bound up in the old identity politics but also understands that racial and gender identities are important, valuable, and can be aids, not impediments, to coalition-building. That leader may themselves be multiracial, have experience abroad – like Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who speaks fluent Chinese – and is someone who prefers to craft US foreign policy around multinational projects, not around American global dominance. That leader would be someone who can inspire not just hope, but action, and who is committed to building a progressive, inclusive future, where government is used to help people, not to help corporations, and certainly not abolished for the sake of a small group of wealthy people.

It may sound like I just described Barack Obama. To some degree I did, but I do NOT believe he is the one who will champion 21st century progressivism. He clearly represents a new direction, to a degree, in American politics toward pluralism and away from white supremacy. He believes he can build broad coalitions, although the Donnie McClurkin affair should call into question his effectiveness.

The main problem with Obama is that he is not promoting progressive policy principles, the way Ron Paul is promoting libertarian principles. Obama still believes that 20th century liberalism is viable, that government and corporations can work together for the public benefit. You see it in his health care and climate plans, for example. No, without a clear stand FOR progressive policies Obama won’t be the champion we need, although he can and probably will help 21st century progressivism emerge and organize, setting up some other leader 8-12 years down the line.

If we could merge Obama’s leadership possibilities with Kucinich’s stand on the issues, THEN we would have something powerful. It will instead emerge in 2012, 2016, 2020 – but it WILL emerge, and it will be met with the further emergence of a white male supremacist libertarianism in the GOP.

Politics is already starting to move in this direction. Ron Paul is playing the role in the GOP that Barry Goldwater did earlier – championing a new direction for the party that later activists and leaders will consolidate. Already the GOP itself does much of what Ron Paul suggests. In both Congress and the California legislature they demand massive tax cuts and enormous spending cuts, without caring about the consequences. Ron Paul’s stance on women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights are all in absolute lockstep with the GOP leadership.

True, under Reagan-Bush-Bush the GOP has been close to corporations, preferring to use government to direct largesse their way. But Ron Paul’s views are very favorable to corporations, as he would protect their wealth from seizure and eliminate limits on their behavior. Corporations will, very soon, find that Ron Paul and his ideas work very well for them, and over the next 8-12 years – by the 2012 election at the soonest, the 2020 election at the latest – Ron Paul’s ideas will be those of the Republican Party itself.

Meanwhile, we continue to fight to defeat the old guard within the Democratic Party, the sellouts that brought us the Iraq War and a shredded Constitution and inaction on the important issues in our lives. We fight for a progressive future.

Which are you? There are only two answers:

-Do you believe subprime is caused by foolish borrowers who should suffer, or were they victimized by a fucked up system?

-When government is abused, is the solution to end the abuse and restore virtuous government, or abolish government?

-When a hurricane hits, should people fend for themselves or have government help them?

When your employer interrogates you, you complain and are fired, is it your fault for complaining or the employer’s fault for mistreating you?

-Will unions help restore our middle class or are they decrepit relics?

-Should America embrace the rest of the world, teach our children foreign languages, or should we retreat into a Fortress America?

As I suggest above, there are only two answers – a libertarian and a progressive answer. There is no liberal third way possible any longer. We’re going to have to choose.

And that’s why I don’t mind when I see so-called Democrats going over to Ron Paul. He isn’t drawing progressives or liberals to his side. He’s drawing people who at some point in the last 15 years became libertarians, whether they knew it or not. They were always going to leave us, sooner or later. Better that they leave now and let us build a pluralist progressivism without their interference.

We’re returning to an era where the fight between capital and labor, between corporation and citizen, will dominate public life. And it will do so against the backdrop of a crisis – global warming, peak oil, decaying infrastructure, insufficient health care, economic decline – the likes of which few of us have ever seen.

So what future will it be, America? Ron Paul and the white supremacist libertarian nation of the 1830s? Or a pluralist progressive future?


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    • eugene on December 2, 2007 at 23:24

    I don’t come here as often as I should, but lots of my favorite folks are here, and this Sunday afternoon thinkpiece seems well suited to you guys.

    I keep posting at dKos hoping for a discussion that doesn’t devolve into the usual “my candidate is teh awesome and yours is suX0r” crap. Sometimes I get it…but rarely.

  1. I Think I’ve got some terminology trouble here. It’s seems to me that you’ve done what a number of writers have over the past few years: you’ve redefined “liberal,” and “progressive.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but I think the liberalism you’re talking about here really did die with the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

    I think you’re right to make a note of race though. WE often forget just how strongly correlated race and party are in America. It seems likely to me that, as we become less white, we will become more Democratic.  

    • Armando on December 2, 2007 at 23:44

    I think Euigene is one of tyhe most interesting thinkers on politics that we have in the blogs.

    If you have not read his comparative work on 1854 Whigs ad 2006/8 Dems, you must.

    • robodd on December 2, 2007 at 23:46

    the choice is between a future of (civil and foreign) war vs. relative (domestic and international) tranquility.  

    Yes. It really is as simple as that.

  2. I instantly discount anything else that person has to say.

    But thanks!

  3. Your depiction of pluralism vs. white nativist libertarinism seems apt.  It does seem inevitable that some politicans will rely more and more on offering the illusion a (however disguised) racial barbican to maintain control of an increasingly chaotic century.

    Further, the take you’re presenting on liberalism, that it is outdated, is quite illuminating.

    I wonder, though, if a few million white supremists (to put it impolitely, and not to say that they would use those words to describe themselves) are going to be able to hold off a far greater number of citizens, blacks, hispanics, asians, (and one hopes most whites), who don’t want to see the future broken down along lines of racial solidarity.  The avowedly primitivist nature of Native Libertarianism (or whatever its called) suggests that its adherents would give it a good solid try, but really . . . how could they succeed for long, absent literal ethnic cleansing?  And even then, it’s not as though “white nativists” could win a civil war.  They’re just aren’t enough of them.

    Moving on.

    It seems that you are offering — as evidence of the present or soon-to-come inadequacy of liberalism — hard truths about dwindling resources.  Wishy-washy liberalism will not be able to withstand the material reality of scarcity.  Fair enough.

    But then, on the other hand, it seems that you claim another “merely cultural” force will be able to withstand the changing material conditions of the 21st century — white cultural solidarity: the “Michigan Militia cum Waco” solidarity of a certain primitive sort of, I dunno, regressive fantasy world.

    But why would that not also melt into air, along with liberalism, as the conditions of scarcity shuffle the cultural deck?

    I am thinking as I type, and it seems the answer, in part, would have to depend on claiming that “liberalism” is not a cultural, what to call it?, “formation”, in the same way as “White Nativist Libertarianism” is.  I think that this is probably right — that “liberalism” is not a stable cultural form, but merely a truce with power made by people who don’t get what the game is, or what the game is, inevitably, going to be.  Liberalism a tactical move, that is to say, not a psycho-social fixation.

    But if that’s right, then can pluralism, or cosmopolitanism, or pick your term, furninsh the stable ground we’re going to need, as a cultural matter, against the threat of a racist, primitivist, future, in an era of what looks like might well be really savage scarcity?  

  4. …that I disagree with just about every word?

    You remind me of Tony Judt, eugene.  Which isn’t an insult, but does lead me to question your most basic assumptions.

  5. And you have spelled it out well.

    Our recent discussion on race here got me thinking about colonialism and how much of our society is still based on its realities and values…..and when that would die. I think you have just described the death of it, since it was/is based on the seizing of resources by white males and the reliance on SOME form of cheap labor, slavery being the extreme.

    I think the main point I take from this is one that we have to keep emphasizing right now….the world has no choice but to change.

    I think the Powers that be have seen that very, very clearly and that is the rise of Corporatism as the REAL new government is occurring. Power will be based on controlling resources. And as we see from Iraq, that can no longer be accomplished just by nations. The decent people of the world won’t allow that sort of nationalism anymore. (that is sort of stretching it, since it is actually succeeding, but I don’t think it will succeed again)

    So the corporations….as we see from breathingstill’s peice are acquiring all of the planets dwindling resources they possible can through their odious methods. Whwn they succed in that they can dole them out as they see fit, thus having effective control of everything from human rights to industry.

    It truly is going to be the People vs. the Corporatocracy with the Corporatocracy reducing governments to their proxies….if we let them. I think the colonial system we are still living under to some extent is pretty much in its last throes, especially considering the representatives it now has….the Repub candidates….as I sort of talk about in Ask A Kossak tonight. Their schtick is not gonna fly anymore, Bush has exposed it for what it truly is, the veneer is off.

    Gosh, I hope that makes sense! I am on painkillers trying to relax my back before traveling, lol…so I hope I have been clear and done your thoughtful piece justice eugene….and thanks for posting here! I agree with Armando, come on over whenever you can….and their is a spot on the FP as a Contributing Editor for you whenever you want it.

  6. a guy soldily on the media blacklists?  I think this populist “movement” is more virtual than real.  I can see the reasons for it though as I do still feel the pain of last Nov 7.  It was a vote for sweeping change but that sweep came only in reaffirming republican stances on just about everything. The galactic let down of the 110th Congress.

    I highly doubt the wonderful democratic picture painted in paragraph two as this newly elected Congress just passed HR 1955 again giving in more to the neo-con PNAC version of a dystopian future.  1955 BTW and the Senate verson of this bill S 1959 are my and my wife’s birthyears.  Given our current level of contempt for government we will be at “the camps” first, I save ya’ll a spot.

    Now if Dennis can get his act together then fine but I will “waste” my vote before going “mainstream” and “status quo”,or even worse.

  7. how much crap I have to look into now?  On reading this for the third time now there are concepts in here that do demand more searching and reflections.

    • TheRef on December 3, 2007 at 05:18

    into your depiction of our political future as a binary one, black or white. In my view there will continue to be many shades of gray along with a multitude of colors. We have been driven in recent years to believe that there are only two choices, left or right. These are false choices. Political binaryism is the least likely scenario in my opinion.

    I grant you that American corporations and other corporations with a world wide scope will continue to move assets to and from countries that will provide them the best return on each dollar of investment. Research and development will seek the countries with the highest intellectual capital resource; capital will come from those with flush bank accounts; management from those countries who abound in this resource; and, of course, manufacturing will continue to seek cheap labor, access to natural resources, efficient transportation and recovery systems. The economy (America’s and that of the industrialized world) will truly become a global one with winners and losers. If we are not to become a loser nation, we will need to work very hard to keep up with or stay ahead of our international competitors.

    A major requirement for our future is that we excel in the engineering, scientific, financial, technological, environmental, and other knowledge-driven industries. We must commit (politically and economically) to sustaining and vastly improving our educational infrastructure. More and better graduates are a must.

    Our success in the competitive, economic world requires that we also be competitive politically. That means to me that there must be a troika of government, business and the people working for the common good.

      Government must do those things directed at the common good (healthcare, the safety net of social security, education, competent making and administration of our laws, fair trade agreements, security, among others.

      Business must provide products and services needed by our own country and for international customers; products and services that meet the needs of their customers and that sustain the corporation’s need for profits while at the same time they provide quality jobs within the communities that they serve.

      People must strive for greatness. They must become educated to the highest level of their intellectual capacity. Americans (as individuals) must commit themselves to becoming global competitors; to becoming knowledgeable about their government, their country; and, Americans must become engaged in our society, in work, in the world.

    As I previously stated, I don’t believe that we are condemned to only the futures that you outline …this binary choice. I believe it is possible that we find middle ground between the two poles that you identify. Ron Paul’s form of libertarian anarchy is one option. Likewise, a pluralist progressive future is another. There are many shades of gray and immeasurable hues of color within the political spectrum of possibilities within our country. A thinking and assertive citizenry can make the choices. I am hopeful and reasonably confident that we will do so.

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