The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

The wacky world of American politics - left is right

It's no revelation that the impression of most of us from Yurp is that politics under the Bush administration are plain crazy.

However, to reach a sober and informed conclusion on the matter, one would need to control for a slew of confounding anthropological and historical factors. It would be a tad crass to blame Bush for the effects of what the Founding Fathers put in the Constitution. Or for the continuing influence of the Frontier. Or the Atlantic Ocean. Or mass European immigration in the 19th century. All key ingredients in a baffling recipe.

One such element is the lack of any enduring socialist tradition. If I think American socialist, the only name that springs to mind is Norman Thomas. The big social causes of the 20th century - Prohibition, civil rights, abortion rights - were not generally identified with socialism. Martin Luther King turned toward class issues in his final years (with the Poor People's Campaign, for instance), but is not generally (so far as I'm aware) accounted a socialist.

So, when Europe had the end of ideology (collapse of the Warsaw Pact, embrace of centrism by European socialist parties), the US had no similar adjustment to make.

I'm moved to muse on such matters listening to a snatch of the girls on Unfiltered on Air America yesterday interviewing Andy Stern [1], head of the SEIU. I'd expect a similar cast list in this country [2] to grate like nails on chalkboard. But this guy mostly sounded impressive, reasonable, middle-of-the-road [3] - and not afraid to attack the ever-ineffectual Democratic Party. (The show is commendably free - what I've heard of it - from the hackery that marks Franken's.)

For all that they're paid-up DEWDROPs, I suspect I'd find it possible to agree a platform with the Unfiltered girls, and impossible with any of their opposite numbers on the right side of the dial.

(There's apparently been a bit of a dust-up between libertarians and social conservatives at a jamboree called CPAC - this is the best place to follow the trail back. My suspicion is that the average libertarian voter is getting less out of supporting today's GOP than the average Negro voter got out of supporting the Democrats during the 1930s. I have no feel for how the numbers stack up, though.)

  1. His bio includes a durable link to a recent Matt Bai profile of Stern in the NYT Magazine. [Link removed: go here.]

  2. In theory: talk radio in its biased American form is not allowed in the UK.

  3. His suggestion that there's a way in this universe to get Wal-Mart to increase its rates to produce a living wage working just the one job sounds like pie in the sky. But mostly he seemed to be talking something approximating to sense.

    (How do he and Howard Dean get on, I wonder?)


But for the impediment of ignorance, I might speculate on the spoiling effect on the growth of socialism in the US of the Progressive movement. Also tied in is the growth of trade unions independent of any linked political party - except for the extraordinary and brief intervention of the Communists in the organisation of the CIO in the 1930s. And the CPUSA was hardly in the market for electoral office.

STILL MORE (February 26)

One of life's little ironies that the straightest of the Air America presenters - the closest to NPR, say - bats for the other side. Rachel Maddow of Unfiltered is, it seems, properly Dr Maddow, having secured a D Phil at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, no less, and been selected also for a Marshall. Serious academic firepower.

And - she said in yesterday's show that she lived in West Cummington, MA. Which I find is not a reference to a gag in the Queer Jokebook but actually exists.

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