:: Saturday, December 20, 2008 ::
The Last Post...
:: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 ::
...at least on this blog. I've created a new blog, called Bullshit Philosophy. Please update links accordingly.
Long story short is that I'm tired of Blogger and am already finding WordPress to be much better. If you want more information on the how and why, check out this post. This page will stay up, but nothing new will be posted here. The rest of the site will continue to be updated as usual.
There are more features, including comments and RSS feed, at the new blog, and who knows, I might update more frequently now that I have a better service to work with. I hope you enjoy it!
[UPDATE: No luck on getting the navbar updated to reflect the new blog address. Oh well...]
:: Kevin 12/20/2008 11:29:00 PM [+] ::
Are You a Hardcore Atheist?
:: Saturday, December 13, 2008 ::
[UPDATE: Hemant added a scale to the list, and my ranking apparently is: "11-20: You are, literally, a 'New Atheist.' But you now have something to strive for! Go for the full 50!"]
From Friendly Atheist:
How serious do you take your atheism?
Let’s find out.
Copy and paste the list below on your own site, boldfacing the things you’ve done. (Feel free to add your own elaboration and commentary to each item!)
If you’ve done more than 35 of those things, I’d say PZ Myers will soon be taking lessons from you.
Here's the list, with my annotations in brackets:
1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge.
2. Met at least one of the "Four Horsemen" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person.
3. Created an atheist blog. [Granted, not entirely, or even mostly, about atheism, but still...]
4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.
6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.
7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know. [I don't know enough to say for sure on this one. I do own three. And that's not counting the various other religious texts I have.]
8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.
9. Have come out as an atheist to your family. [If you count my in-laws, as Rebecca says I should. That includes her devout Christian mom. No one in my actual family knows, though. I'm not hiding it, but I don't advertise it, and they've never asked about it.]
10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony. [No, I got stuck with a religious one thanks to a pushy mother-in-law. Don't get me started on that.]
13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins.
15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize. [No, but Rebecca has! Back in undergrad there were people on campus handing out Chick tracts, and she debated them. "That made my day. I think I needed someone to try to convert me to Christianity," she said.]
17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away.
18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
19. Attended a protest that involved religion.
20. Attended an atheist conference.
21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel.
22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.
23. Successfully "de-converted" someone to atheism.
24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die. [Much to Rebecca's chagrin...]
25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
26. Had to think twice before screaming "Oh God!" during sex. Or you said something else in its place.
27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count). [Actually, I don't even think I know any other full-on atheists. A few agnostics, but that's as close as it comes. Not even Rebecca's an atheist, although she's probably even more hostile to organized religion than I am.]
29. Have crossed "In God We Trust" off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills. [Ok, so I totally did that just now so I could mark this off. But in my defense, I read about this a few weeks ago, thought it sounded cool, completely forgot about it, then read it here and thought, "Yeah, I should actually do that.]
30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. [Not specifically because of the "under God" thing, but more broadly because of my opposition to nationalism. But still...]
31. Said "Gesundheit!" (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say "Bless you!"
32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch. [Do Christian radio stations count?]
34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
35. Have "atheism" listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant. [Technically, I have "Bright" listed on my Facebook profile, but I don't think that falls under "euphemistic variant" because it's a more descriptive term than atheism.]
36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service).
37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)
38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism.
39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.
40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public. [I don't really have any clothing, but I do have atheistic stuff on my car. Does that count? I don't think it should; it's not quite as direct and personal as clothing.]
42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them. [No, but my father-in-law has!]
43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
44. Receive Google Alerts on "atheism" (or variants).
45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the "enemy." [Ok, not yet, but I'm marking this one anyway because Expelled is on my Netflix instant queue and I plan on watching it sometime when I need a good laugh. So it's really just a matter of time]
47. Refuse to tell anyone what your "sign" is... because it doesn’t matter at all.
48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to...
49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.
So I have 18 out of 50, or a bit over a third of the list. Is it bad that now I want to use this as a checklist and try to check off more?
:: Kevin 12/16/2008 02:33:00 PM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 ::
So once again I find myself having to apologize for not posting. I'd hoped to say more about the election before the election, but this whole campaign season (and the aftermath) has gotten me so down that I've had trouble just getting myself to read about politics (as my small pile of unread or barely read issues of Newsweek and The Nation should tell you), let alone write about it.
As far as the presidential race went, there weren't many positions lonelier than that of a Green Party supporter in the 2008 elections. Criticizing Obama doesn't exactly make you the most popular person in the room among progressives. The most frequent vibe I got was, "Hey, can't you be happy just this once? And even if you can't, can you please not ruin it for me?" I finally ended up writing in Cynthia McKinney, and though I already knew how little energy there was in any sort of third-party or independent movement this time around, it was still a huge letdown that no such candidate, on either side of the aisle, even broke 1%.
More generally, pretty much every candidate I cared about lost massively. There were some bright spots, of course: I'm glad Elizabeth Dole's campaign of blatant anti-atheist bigotry ended up losing, there's still hope at this point for Al Franken, Prop 2 won in California (which mandates more humane standards for farm animals), and various anti-abortion referenda lost, among other things.
But then there's Prop 8 (maybe not a massive loss but still a major buzzkill), and the reelection of Jim Douglas here in Vermont, and the Green congressional candidates I was following in Illinois. Particularly saddening was the Vermont House race. Having written about this race before, I had no doubt that many Vermonters would turn down a solid progressive over a guy with a D next to his name, but goddamn, it's pretty depressing that Peter Welch got 83% of the vote, and that Tom Hermann barely got more votes than a fucking anti-Semitic pothead (by which I mean Cris Ericson, one of the independents)!
What's still got me down is the whole Cult of Obama Worship, which has been making me fucking sick for some time. Some progressives are unwilling to make even the slightest criticism of Obama as he drifts ever further to the right, instead choosing to rationalize everything he does, ignoring or minimizing the importance of the many conservative statements or appointments Obama has made while trumpeting the few token progressive ones as loud as they can. Before the election, people like me were constantly chided to just wait until after the election to attack Obama because we couldn't afford to weaken him; now they're saying to wait longer still. "He's not even in office yet, give the guy a chance!" Is it ever going to be the right time?
Others are shocked and appalled at Obama's rightward drift, apparently not having heard anything he said during the campaign. As Glenn Greenwald and others have noted, there were plenty of signs from the beginning that this is exactly where Obama intended to go as President; he's just being more blatant now. Progressives didn't demand a thing of Obama during the campaign, and now some of them are surprised that he clearly doesn't feel he owes anything to them. I just don't get it.
That said, I do of course admit that there are positives about Obama's victory. It should be obvious, and yet I keep having to explain it to progressive Democrats: yes, Obama will almost certainly be a better president than McCain. It's great that we're going to have our first black president, and that Americans turned down a blatant campaign of fearmongering and race-baiting. That doesn't mean I have to like the guy. So far on both economic and foreign policy it's looking like Obama's administration is going to be a rerun of the Clinton years, which I think are a huge mistake to look back on as the "good ol' days."
I really do hope I'm proven wrong, that he really is a progressive deep down, that all those conservative and/or neoliberal appointments are just there to provide establishment credibility for progressive policies as some have suggested. But basing your support for him on that hope is no different than blind faith. [On the subject of Obama's appointments, personnel may not absolutely determine policy, but do you really think he's going to surround himself with neoliberal economists like Larry Summers and foreign policy hawks like Gates and Clinton... and then just completely blow off all their advice?]
So, because of this case of post-election blues, I just haven't felt like doing much of anything political, including on this blog. I'm getting sick of feeling like the grumpy old man at the party. I'm growing more and more cynical, less convinced that real, systemic change is possible. And less convinced of my ability to have an effect on anything. A question keeps nagging at me: why bother? I really don't have a satisfactory answer yet.
:: Kevin 12/13/2008 01:45:00 AM [+] ::
More on Howard Zinn re: the election
:: Thursday, October 23, 2008 ::
So this is interesting. I wrote a couple posts back about how radical historian Howard Zinn plans to vote for Obama. He has apparently changed his mind and is planning to vote for Ralph Nader instead, according to an email I just got from the Nader campaign. Of course, he hasn't completely recanted his previous position: his vote for Nader is based mainly on the fact that he lives in a "progressive slam dunk" state, and he continues to encourage people in swing states to vote for Obama. I still think he's wrong on that point, but I find this encouraging nonetheless.
Even though I disagree with the logic of progressive Democrats voting for mushy-middle centrists like Obama in swing states, I can at least understand why people would feel that way. What completely boggles my mind is the extreme progressive opposition to third-party and independent candidates even in "safe" states. Even in Illinois and Vermont, both about as bright blue as a state can get, I regularly run into people who basically share my views but continue to vote for Democrats for national office out of some irrational fear of "spoiling" the election.
I don't buy the "spoiler effect" argument, but even if I did there's barely any chance of McCain taking either of these states. And yet even here, most progressives refuse to vote their values. Either they have standards so low as to be almost nonexistent, or they don't really believe what they claim.
:: Kevin 10/29/2008 12:57:00 PM [+] ::
Quick question: Does anyone know anything about setting up RSS feeds on blogs? I'd like to do it, but have never been able to figure out how. The Blogger documentation isn't any help, and I don't think they offer feeds for FTP blogs like this one anyway. Please email me with any ideas.
:: Thursday, October 09, 2008 ::
:: Kevin 10/23/2008 11:21:00 AM [+] ::
Why We Can't Wait
:: Monday, October 06, 2008 ::
It saddens me to see people I highly respect spouting nonsense. That's unfortunately the case with Howard Zinn and Greta Christina, who've both embraced the memes ("Wait until after the election to pressure the Dems" and "This is the most important election ever") I discussed in my post Why the hell are progressives enthusiastic about Obama?
So, yes, I will vote for Obama, because the corrupt political system offers me no choice, but only for the moment I pull down the lever in the voting booth.
Before and after that moment I want to use whatever energy I have to push him toward a recognition that he must defy the traditional thinkers and corporate interests surrounding him, and pay homage to the millions of Americans who want real change.
And here's Greta (who I'll address more fully in a separate post):
If you disagree with Obama about one or more issues, then -- once he's elected -- by all means, make your voice heard. Scream and shout. Hold his feet to the fire. As a citizen, that's more than just your right -- that's your job. And if you think we should have a strong third party, then by all means, work to build it from a local level up.
But this election is way too important to screw around with.
Please don't fail to act because you can't act perfectly.
I think I addressed these arguments pretty fully in my previous post, but I do have one thing to add to the part about how we should wait until after the election to put pressure on the Democrats.
My problem with this argument, and the reason why I think it's the same as doing nothing, is that the only leverage we really have over politicians is at election time. It doesn't take a political science degree to know that getting elected is their foremost concern, and justifiably so. But if you signal that you'll vote for them pretty much no matter what they do, that tells them that they can safely blow you off. They know that they only have to be a tiny bit better than the other guy to get your support.
And there's no need to speculate about that, by the way, because the Democratic party comes right out and says it. As Stanford professor (and Obama supporter) Lawrence Lessig remarked a few months back about Obama's support for the FISA bill:
When you talk to people close to the campaign about this, they say stuff like: "Come on, who really cares about that issue? Does anyone think the left is going to vote for McCain rather than Obama? This was a hard question. We tried to get it right. And anyway, the FISA compromise in the bill was a good one."
It's instructive to compare this with how the Republicans treat their base. Look at how McCain's rhetoric constantly vacillates between moderate and hard-right conservative. He's engaged in a delicate balancing act where he tries to keep the far-right base happy without making the rest of the country think he's crazy. Why does he feel the need to do that, whereas Democrats seem completely comfortable taking the left for granted? Because McCain know he has to keep the base happy, or they might stay home on election day. Or even if they do hold their noses and vote for him, they won't be very enthusiastic about it, won't donate time or money, won't convert their friends/family/coworkers, etc. Many conservatives, for some odd reason, see McCain as a closet moderate, and if he does anything to reinforce that notion then they might not turn out for him. Why do you think he took on Palin as his running mate? There were multiple reasons, but one of them was certainly to reassure the religious right, a group that was until then pretty tepid toward McCain.
I'm not saying don't go out and protest for single-payer health care, or an end to the war, or anything else. I'm just asking, even if progressives do actually try to push Obama in a more progressive direction after the election (which I still highly doubt), what good will it do? He already knows he can pretty much ignore you, because you'll have given up any leverage you had over him, any means of punishing him for doing the wrong thing. In fact, it's entirely within reason that Obama would just use progressives a a rhetorical punching bag to show how "serious" and "independent-minded" he is, as he has already done on issues like telecom immunity.
So, my response to people like Greta who say that "This is not the time to be taking a principled stand" is that this is precisely the time to do it, in fact the only time it matters. Withholding our votes is really the only way to show the Democratic Party that there will be negative consequences for ignoring us. I'm not saying we should hold out for perfect candidates (in fact I think the suggestion that Greens and others do insist on perfection from candidates is a straw man), but that's no reason to set the bar as low as we all to often do. It's far from a perfect solution, but I have yet to see anything else proposed that doesn't perpetuate the status quo indefinitely due to more or less relying on Democratic politicians to doing the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts, which will probably never happen.
:: Kevin 10/09/2008 03:38:00 PM [+] ::
Progressives for Obama, and Musings on Nader
:: Saturday, October 04, 2008 ::
Here in Vermont there's an independent newspaper I read called Seven Days, especially Shay Totten's political column Fair Game. I noticed something interesting in this week's installment:
Socialist Sidestep — No one runs a statewide campaign like Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other pols know it. So, they often seek his endorsement.
But, Sanders tells “Fair Game,” he will not issue an endorsement for governor this year.
That’s bad news for [Democrat and current House Speaker Gaye] Symington, who has asked for Sanders’ support. Her first TV ad did little to make her case. The ad ignored three key advertising standards: color, action and the candidate speaking into the camera. Odd, given that half of Vermont couldn’t identify her in a police lineup.
Sanders’ decision to refrain from an endorsement is also bad news for [Progressive-turned-Independent Anthony] Pollina, who is modeling his effort after the senator’s campaigns.
“I certainly share the view that [Republican incumbent] Jim Douglas should not get another term as governor,” Sanders told “Fair Game.” “But I do not expect to be playing an active role in the Vermont governor’s race.”
“I am currently focusing my energy on making sure that middle-class taxpayers are not saddled with a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, and I am working as hard as I can to make sure Barack Obama is elected president,” Sanders said. [emphasis added]
Is it just me, or is there something a little contradictory about that last paragraph?
Speaking of progressive enthusiasm for Obama, there's also the issue of Progressive enthusiasm for Obama. I was at a house party for Pollina last week, and I noticed that many of the people there were actively pro-Obama. I know they have their reasons, just like I know Sanders has his reasons for making peace with the Democratic establishment, but I find it odd that people could be so supportive of a third party on the state and local level but not the national one.
Of course, not all Progressives back Obama. Remember Thomas Hermann, the Progressive candidate for Congress that I spoke of earlier? I was poking around Ralph Nader's site and noticed that he's a Vermont volunteer co-coordinator.
Speaking of Nader, I'm becoming increasingly conflicted on him, as well as ambivalent about my support for Cynthia McKinney over him. I voted for Green candidate David Cobb in 2004, and was opposed to Nader running both now and then. I didn't think Nader was doing anything to help establish a progressive movement independent of the Democratic Party running as an independent [in fact I thought he was directly undermining such efforts, especially by bringing prominent Greens in as running mates in both 2004 and 2008], and still think he seems to discover national politics only once every four years. In addition, I had high hopes for McKinney; she is one of the few Greens with actual governing experience and who knows how to run for and win national office. And yes, demographics were part of it; although the Nader/Gonzalez ticket features two people of color, the McKinney/Clemente ticket features two women of color, and as I've intimated before, all else being equal I'd prefer candidates as non-white-male as possible.
However, I've been getting the distinct impression lately that the McKinney campaign primarily exists on paper. The Nader campaign seems much more dynamic, like they actually, ya know, do stuff. Maybe the McKinney campaign is just really bad at disseminating information, which by the way is my other big problem with them. For instance, there was apparently a petition campaign to get her on the ballot here in Vermont, and I would've loved to have helped, but I didn't hear a word about it until the day after the deadline. McKinney is now only a write-in here. That really pissed me off. Not to mention, I filled out McKinney's online volunteer form months ago and never heard a word back. Maybe I'll have better luck with Nader. It helps that he's actually on the ballot, which would probably make him easier to sell to Vermonters.
So anyway, I'm probably voting for Nader this time around, hence the new graphic in the sidebar. But I'm by no means opposed to McKinney, who I still like and respect. I would support a decision by others to vote for either one. I encourage you the reader, as in all things, to think it out for yourself.
:: Kevin 10/06/2008 12:52:00 AM [+] ::
Why the hell are progressives enthusiastic about Obama?
:: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 ::
As an addendum to my earlier post, I stumbled on some perfect examples of the party-before-principles, Democrat-before-progressive mentality that I discussed. From the letters to the editor in a recent issue of The Nation. They are in reference to the open letter to Obama published in a past issue, which called on him to "stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign."
...I ask that all of us unite to fully support Obama and the other Democrats running in this election. It is not a good time to harass Obama and other Democrats, who face a difficult and important election. We may not agree with them on all issues, and we must continue our efforts in support of those issues. But we should not attempt to force our candidates to run their campaigns on our pet issues.
I think you are pushing much too hard on this rare and wonderful candidate. He, and all of us, find ourselves in a truly dirty fight. The senator needs all the support we can give him. He has quite enough to handle.
I read your Open Letter. Well done. But remember, if we want change and to leave the Republican disaster behind, we must allow Obama to be more moderate. I hope the left has the courage, decency, intelligence and political savvy to grant Obama some flexibility until after the election. Let's not ruin the show by being too ideological.
I have to say, I just don't understand how people like these think. It's almost like they're saying, sure, Obama supports a $700 billion giveaway to Wall Street, warrantless wiretapping, telecom immunity, ethnic cleansing in Palestine, an indefinite American presence in Iraq, an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and faith-based initiatives; opposes single-payer health care; never says a word about American imperialism and largely embraces the Bush Doctrine and conservative framing of foreign policy; refuses to take nuclear war "off the table" in regard to Iran; almost without exception supports "free" trade agreements; has the penultimate drug warrior as his running mate; opposes impeaching or prosecuting one of the most criminal administrations in American history; is up to his eyeballs in corporate cash; and surrounds himself with economic advisers from the corporate wing of the party (many of whom helped design and push the policies that are now making such a mess of Wall Street). But we should still support him. Why? Because the Republicans are evil!
[Quick aside: A friend of my wife's once asked her what the difference is between the Democrats and Republicans, to which Rebecca explained that the difference is that "the Republicans are evil." I'm not saying that to criticize her, I just thought it was funny (and adorable *snicker*)].
One of the most common slurs against Green Party supporters is that we think there's no difference between the two establishment parties. To my knowledge, no Green of any prominence has ever actually said that, and I certainly don't believe it. What we do say is that there isn't nearly enough difference on many important issues (especially, I would argue, on foreign policy issues).
Yes, I'll admit it, the Republicans are evil whereas the Democrats are just douchbags. And yes, I would totally prefer an Obama administration to a McCain one. But I fail to see why I should be at all enthusiastic about Obama or the Democratic Party. I don't get what's so "rare and wonderful" about him, as one of the letters asserts. He seems like just another fucking politician to me. And that's what I don't get about progressives, the fact that so many of them are so enthusiastic about Obama despite the fact that on many issues he's opposed to them right down the line. Can their standards get much lower?
Also in the letters is the reprise of the "just wait until after the election, this isn't the right time to challenge" meme, along with the closely related one, "this is the most important election ever, we're all fucked if the Republicans win now."
In response to the first, my question is, when the hell is the right time? As I've mentioned before, I have no doubt that even if Obama wins, people like these will say that we can't challenge him because we'll undermine his presidency and make it more likely that the Republicans win next time. Just look at how they refused to criticize the Democratic Congress for, among other things, continuing to back the war after 2006. The burden of party unity always seems to be on the progressive wing, never on the leadership and/or corporate wing.
And in response to the second meme, I'm admittedly young but I haven't seen an election yet that hasn't been called the most important ever. This is a perfect manifestation of a big problem with the progressive movement: we're too focused on short-term electoral politics and not enough on long-term movement building. In addition, I also haven't seen an election where it hasn't been said that if the Republicans win then America is going to be a fascist theocracy. Granted, the Bush regime has come pretty close to that. But if we'd had a real opposition party then the country never would have drifted quite as far in that direction, so I fail to see how the Greens and other groups are to blame for the Dems failing to even slow Bush down. It's not like they couldn't; they just chose not to. And let's not forget how that same party's last president set the stage for much of what Bush did. I won't go into detail, but with the Wall Street bailout having passed yesterday it's important to note that Clinton gleefully pressed for much of the deregulation that led to the current financial crisis.
:: Kevin 10/04/2008 04:11:00 PM [+] ::
More on VLS and military recruitment
:: Thursday, September 18, 2008 ::
[Update: I removed the student's email at my wife's request.]
I previously mentioned the fact that Vermont Law School bars military recruiters from campus, but I may have been a bit premature in my praise for them. Turns out there's a bit of a loophole.
My wife received an email on her school account, from another student through his school account, advertising an information session on summer internships and careers with the US Army JAG Corps hosted by a JAG Captain. The meeting was to be off-campus, and he went out of his way to emphasize that it wasn't recruitment that he was talking about, but rather that he was just helpfully offering information to fellow students.
We didn't buy his explanation, so we forwarded it to a school official seeking clarification of school policy, saying that the email potentially violated the VLS Code of Conduct (mainly since it was done over the school's email system). However, we got a reply back saying that it was ok because the student isn't technically a military recruiter.
So it seems to me that the military has found a loophole big enough to drive a truck through: all they have to do is find a student willing to act as a middleman, and they can recruit all they want. That's either extraordinarily disingenuous or extraordinarily stupid on the part of VLS, the latter because it basically means they gave up federal funding for no good reason.
I agree that the school should respect to student's right to free speech and expression, but I fail to see why he should be entitled to school resources (in this case, the email system) to do it. "Private" military recruitment like this should be regulated similar to how the school handles political activity (funding is restricted to political groups and events, and students are specifically prohibited from using school email for partisan political activity).
:: Kevin 10/01/2008 12:41:00 PM [+] ::
Which side are you on?
[Note: For this post I will be using the term progressive in two senses. When used with upper-case, "Progressive" denotes supporters or candidates of the Vermont Progressive Party. When used in lower case, "progressive" denotes followers of the political philosophy of progressivism, which may or may not include supporters of any one party. Sorry for any confusion this may cause.]
So, the Congressional election here in Vermont is interesting to me. The candidates for the sole house seat are Peter Welch, the freshman Democratic incumbent, and Thomas Hermann of the Progressive Party. You'll notice I didn't mention a Republican. That's because there isn't one running. What this means is that progressives can vote for a third-party candidate without fear of the "spoiler effect" (which I think is a bullshit concept anyway, but that's a subject for another time).
This election provides a great way for us to see what the progressive movement really believes. Admittedly, Welch isn't evil; he's basically progressive. But it really pisses me off that he votes for funding of the Iraq occupation (even while claiming not to) and refuses to support impeachment hearings (which says a lot about his views on the rule of law), and generally carries water for Nancy Pelosi. Hermann is clearly the more progressive of the two, so if you define yourself as a progressive, what reason is there not to support him other than party loyalty?
The thing for progressive to decide is, are we Democrats first and progressives second, or progressives first and Democrats second? I define myself as the latter. My primary concern is with enacting progressive policies, and if that can be best accomplished by getting Democrats in office, then that's what I'll work for. That's why I've supported and worked for Democratic campaigns in the past. That's why I was hopeful when the Dems won the 2006 midterms. But as those same elections showed, there's a lot more to getting progressive policies than just putting Democrats in office. I'm not inflexible in my positions, but there are some lines I think shouldn't be crossed, and we should always be pressuring the Dems to do better. If we want change, we need a political movement independent of the Democratic Party. We also need to show them that our votes aren't a given, which is why I support the Greens and the Progressives.
Many progressives, however, frequently choose party over philosophy. My father-in-law, for instance, is pretty progressive, but probably the only thing Barack Obama could do that would lose his vote is to change party affiliation. It's pretty sickening watching him jump through logical hoops trying to justify Obama's bullshit. I have no doubt that if he were here, he'd pick Welch over Hermann, even when one is clearly more progressive and there are no potential negative consequences. And I fear that's true of a lot of progressives.
Many progressives aren't even willing to apply serious pressure to Democratic officials or candidates, let alone vote against them. For example, Glenn Greenwald noted a few months back that he got a lot of comments from readers demanding he stop criticizing Obama over his support for the FISA bill, not because they agreed with Obama's position but because they were afraid it would weaken him. On this and other issues, many progressive Dems say, just hold off until after the election; then it's war. Personally, I think they're full of shit. They didn't do anything after 2006 when the Democratic Congress blew their mandate on the war, free trade, and other issues; they're certainly not going to move against a Democratic president. He'll have midterms and re-election to think about, after all.
Too much of the progressive movement is afflicted with what David Sirota called Partisan War Syndrome, the willingness of "the supposedly 'ideological' grassroots left to increasingly subvert its overarching ideology on issues in favor of pure partisan concerns." All that many progressives care about is short-term electoral victory, even if it reinforces the status quo and makes long-term progressive change harder. They put party ahead of ideology, vote for Democrats no matter what they do, and then wonder why the party doesn't listen to them.
:: Kevin 9/18/2008 01:00:00 AM [+] ::