Jan 24, 2013

The Narrative and Practice of Progress

There is a lot of conservatism in this country, especially by the standards of advanced democracies, but many more Americans are liberals, even if they don't know it. Liberalism was the radical ideology that placed the individual at the center; it has evolved in the last 100 years, but even its modern version of progressivism--freedoms, rights, access to opportunity, social safety net, consumer protection, etc--is shared by a majority of Americans.

People are products of culture--some of us do question or ponder the given norms--so it's important to have a good narrative. Of course many internalize something that's oft-repeated. Controlling the narrative has been an effective way to spread a belief system, ideas, and justify policy. 

What I liked about president Obama's rhetoric on the day of his second inauguration
  • Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.
  • Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.
  • Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
  • The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
  •  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.
  • We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall... Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 
  • Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.
The progressives expected more from this president--and the author of this blog has often heavily criticized Mr. Obama. However, we do live in a world where the normative isn't always available. I also think of the alternative, given our political landscape. This week it could have been Mitt Romney taking the presidential oath. I shudder. Because, he would bring along a cadre of henchmen who have a negative view of government; who want to destroy repeal the New Deal, The Great Society, and the "big fucking deal" (as VP Biden said upon the health care act was signed into law. [here's Paul Crugman's op-ed, "The Big Deal" that's worth a read]

Today, this administration lifted the combat ban on women. Earlier, Obama also lifted the ban on gays in the military (the ill-conceived, Don't Ask Don't Tell). We've just marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The conservatives have opposed all these progressive changes, and if when they control government, they push our country back towards the Dark Ages. 

On to filibuster reform now, so a tiny minority in the Senate will not be able to stop most sensible legislation from moving on through Congress.