Progressives? Don’t Expect Your Issues to be My Issues

One of the first blog posts I wrote here was titled “No True Progressive,”  which looked at the ever-shifting goalposts used to determine just who (or what) was “progressive.”   I said back then that

You can see this on various left-wing blogs, if you look at the posts and comments.  “President Obama is not a progressive, he hasn’t” – fill in with whatever the writer thinks is the progressive stand.    “Senator (name) voted for this bill, they’re not a progressive!”     When it’s pointed out that on other issues the given politician is progressive, the goalpost will be moved to a new position which excludes that particular issue.     “No true progressive” would do/vote for/say this!

I was reminded of that reading a recent post by Milt Shook over at his blog, “This is why we lose, Progressives.”  He’s taking on a Daily Kos diary that supposedly takes to task some Senators for not being “Real Democrats.”

That diary supposedly “calls out” some Democratic senators for voting to move the Keystone XL bill forward.   Mind you, not at the time voting to pass it, but to let it be sent to House for a vote.    But because they didn’t vote the way the diary author thought they should, those senators needed to be “called out.”  After all, they get to determine who is, or is not, a “real Democrat.” You just have to ignore that all politics are local.  As Milt pointed out:

Every single one of the above Congresscritters represents a district in which oil dollars are extremely important. Seriously; who in their right mind would represent North Dakota or Montana and vote against something that could cost their state jobs, especially since voting against it wouldn’t make any difference anyway?

Exactly.  What is important to the constituents (you know, the people who actually voted to put them there) of these senators is not what is important to the people elsewhere.   It’s something that many of the most strident voices on the left forget, if they ever knew it.   As I pointed out in my “Politics 400” post,

The items that may seem to you to be part of “the progressive ideal,” and truly critical in your area may not matter in the least to – or be actively opposed by – progressives in another area.

or at best, be of “academic interest” only.   I live in New York State.   If I were to live in New York City, or any major urban center, mass transit would be a core issue.  You’re going to be advocating strongly for public transportation, you probably want “walkable communities,” bike lanes, and so on.  It’s a given, a part of being “progressive” and “environmentally concerned.”  Leave the city, and move up to my area in the Adirondacks?  No one cares about those things.  We’re rural, sparsely populated, and there are long distances between small villages.  We’re never going to have mass transit, our communities may be walkable, but our jobs and shopping are often far away.   So if you’re making that a big centerpiece of  what you think it means to be progressive, you’ll be upset that those of us who don’t live in urban/suburban environments are going to go “whatever.”  We’re not necessarily against it, it’s just not anything that really concerns us.

There’s also times when progressive Democrats in one area may be actively against what progressive Democrats in another area consider mandatory.    What do I mean?  I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about the need for sensible gun regulations.   Most of what I advocate isn’t new or different, in fact, it’s more often “back to what was” or “common sense”  in my experience.  But if you read through those, you might notice a couple of things:  I’m not against owning guns; and I’m for hunting.   I’ve had the experience of seeing those agendas merged into the gun control debate on several occasions, and have at times had arguments with activists who won’t separate them out.  Think that isn’t important?  Because it has been merged by some, it feeds right into the NRA’s assertions and pushes a lot of people (and areas) that do hunt into opposition, even though they might otherwise be willing to be for sensible gun regulations.

Another example is the constant litany against “Big Agriculture” and “corporate farms.”  It’s a general term, and many progressives consider it part of their ideal, that they’re against corporatism and for family farms.  Except for one problem:  Many of those “corporate farms” you’re attacking consider themselves (and are) family farms.  They’re owned by the family that works them.   It’s not helped when the statements bear no relation to current realities.  Several years ago, I had an argument about that with one “activist,” who told me their ideal of a small family dairy farm that they wanted to “save and encourage,”  unlike the huge “corporate factory farms.” I pointed out to them that  their “ideal” hadn’t existed since the advent of milking machines, in fact, the “small family dairy farms” I worked on as a teenager had at least twice as many cows as they thought.  I also  have a brother-in-law who was considered “small dairy farmer” by today’s standards, but he had over five times the activist’s ideal number of cows being milked.   Hence, farmers and areas with a lot of agriculture will see what you’re saying as an attack, not  advocacy.

That’s where many of the purity progressives run into problems.  They’ve forgotten one of the older truths in politics:  All politics are local.  It’s a big country, with a diverse set of interests and needs.  My congressional representatives are going to be more interested in what their constituents want and need, not what someone living elsewhere thinks is important.  That’s why sometimes you’ll see members of Congress going off in a direction that the purity crowd considers “not a Real Democrat!”  It’s because their constituents want something else.   Even the “liberal icons” in Congress have had their moments of infuriating the purists, because they did what the people who elected them into office wanted, not what the pure stance said they should do.

How do you change that? You can’t do away with it entirely.  Sometimes you have to “agree to disagree.”  But other times, you have to listen to those areas, and change your arguments to relate to their reality,  or have an achievable set of alternatives for them.  You’re against coal?  Good, fine.  Now, what are your plans to replace coal jobs in those areas that rely on them?   That means a concrete set of proposals, offering alternative job sources to those areas.  Without that, you’re saying “we want to destroy your jobs,” so don’t expect them to be supportive.  Take issues like that across the country, and you’ll find that “real Democrats” can suddenly become remarkably diverse in their beliefs.  That’s why the party platform is often “generic,” instead of the “pure stance” that many say they want.  It’s just the general principles that can be agreed to by the majority of people who call themselves Democrats.   Want to change it? Well, you have to get busy in your area, show that it works, and make it relevant to other areas.  Then it will get rolled into the platform.

However, the one thing you will never do is make everyone think your most important issues are their most important ones, and attacking them for not doing so is a way to insure that you’re going to get opposed.  You see, we think we’re progressive and “Real Democrats” as well, and we resent your telling us we’re not.




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5 responses to “Progressives? Don’t Expect Your Issues to be My Issues

  1. Dcbos

    Purity tests are areal problem for attaining a majority in both Houses of congress and the presidency.

  2. You’re really talking abut dogmatism. It’s pretty clear that the left is becoming increasingly puritan. It’s made governance all but impossible on the Right. I think it’s smart to address those same issues on the Left, hopefully while there’s still time. Polarization is on the rise.

    We need to remember that political leanings, even affiliations, are really about shared value ranges on a spectrum, not being of one mind on every issue.

    • To an extent. Part of the “local” aspect is when there’s a demand that an issue that is of overriding importance to one area or group receive the highest priority, and the consequent attack when others don’t give it that.

  3. All politics is indeed local and it is at this level that people of any political stripe need to put their energies. Our recent victory here in Denton, Texas to ban fracking has some shared experiences with what you have undergone in the state of New York but where it’s different is that Texas is an oil state and local control issues that conflict with state laws concerning oil create conditions to do battle at the state level. Effecting change at that level for local concerns isn’t easy in a state as big as Texas. It’s hard to find common ground with all its citizens because of the diverse nature of geographies and cultures, unlike say an Iowa where one part of the state looks like another.