Friday, March 26, 2010

The Progressive Turn

As I've been considering the passage of the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" this past week, it strikes me how this is the latest in a series of mobilizations of progressive movement energy. That trend seemed to me to first emerge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That event showed just how bankrupt the Bush administration was on domestic issues. By the mid-term election of 2006, a mass discontent had developed that won both houses of Congress for the Democrats, an historic upset.

A Democratic party victory is not in itself a progressive victory. The Democrats are tightly wedded to corporate money and the powers that be. A progressive movement that is worthy of the name will always have to work primarily outside the two-party system on behalf of working people and the poor. However, the Democratic Party has been, for better and usually for worse, the party of "the left" in the USA since FDR. Social movement energy is the key, not electoral politics.

The specific provisions of PP&AC legislation could turn out to be either good or bad or really bad. Really good seems unlikely. However, what really seems good is that the ideological trend begun by Ronald Reagan of government slashing of social services has been dealt a serious blow. For the first time since maybe the ill-fated "windfall profits tax" of Jimmy Carter, a social program expansion has been legislated that swims against the tide of "free market" dogma.

Skepticism still seems in order. This thing is so multi-valent that its actual impact will be complex and seems unlikely to be primarily positive. For those of us on the left who favor a universal healthcare system that provides solid support for everyone, this bill is a far cry from even the weakest of existing universal programs.

But, taking a longer view offers real evidence to be hopeful. The winners in this legislative victory are the forces of the working majority and the poor of this country. We now have the wind at our backs at a level not seen since the early 1960s. I won't be so foolish to predict that the coming era will surpass that era for social innovation. However, as a congenital malcontent, I've never been as glad to be an American as I have been the past year.


  1. Charley,

    I responded in more detail to your comment on my post on the bill, but briefly, I'm just not sure I believe this bill is making anyone but the most committed Democrats feel vindicated and energized. I think this bill is an expenditure of political capital, not a build-up of it.

  2. Most of my friends who are excited about healthcare reform are not committed Democrats except in a "lesser of two evils" sort of way. This bill has provoked a lot of them in both directions - opposed to bill and eager to push for something different, or critically supportive and hoping to improve it. Positive energy.

  3. Made an edit in next to last paragraph, from "best of the existing universal programs" to "weakest."

  4. I posted a comment on Per's blog here