One Sided Self Blame

Just got off the weekly VUU -- the CLF video show I do with some colleagues where we casually discuss news in UULand and talk with interesting guests.

I didn't want to interrupt the flow of conversation there, but there were at least two occasions there where speakers blamed backward motions in history on the inattentiveness and the shallowness of progressive people.  In one case, the rise of new Jim Crow and Mass Incarceration slipped by folks because we thought we had won everything already.  Or the many new restrictions on reproductive rights happened because we had thought Rowe v Wade fixed everything.

Start listening carefully and you will see this type of thinking everywhere.

Come on kids, let's get into Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and go back to 1968.

In much of the progressive world, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey were the Rightwing. Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy were Centrists and Bobby Seale and Tom Hayden were the Left. Richard Nixon was off the charts on the right and considered a joke and a has-been.

Since then, and continuing up to now, there has been a well-funded, very aggressive, very sophisticated conservative counter-revolution to everything progressive. Nixon won that 1968 election on its strength. And they have gone from strength to strength almost ever since. Only since 2008, has it been blunted. It was funded at the highest class level. It's economic policy was income inequality; its answer to African America's struggle was the drug war and mass incarceration; its answer to energy and the environment was an alliance with Saudi Arabia for cheap oil; its answer to the women's movement was conservative Christianity.  The insurgent movements had scared them and they fought back successfully. And of course, they were successful; they were the ruling elite, and progressives were disorganized, poorly funded, divided and ultra-democratic insurgents.

When we will stop blaming the last 45 years of Reaction on ourselves?  We had wounded a bear and were trapped in the iron cage of history with it. Yes, we could have been smarter and more organized and less eager to trash our own leaders and more willing to build up genuine grass-roots leaders. But it was still a big, wounded, and angry bear.

If we aren't clear on that, we will not fight any better in the future.


  1. Tom, I haven't watched the video yet, but it sounds like you have some excellent points and that reflexive self-blaming isn't productive.

    That said, I think that the way you describe the progressive world's view of 1960s politics indicates that some self-blame is warranted. Despite Vietnam, Johnson and Humphrey were never right wingers within the US political spectrum and McCarthy and Kennedy weren't centrists. On issues of poverty the only president arguably more progressive than Johnson was Roosevelt (and ironically Nixon would be somewhere in the top 5-10).

    I'm too young to remember how the 1960s felt as it was being lived, and if that weren't the case maybe I too would have assumed that in 10 years Tom Hayden would be running successfully for president, but I do recall hearing people who were 1960s activists complain about Carter in the 1970s and question if there was really any difference between him and Reagan. Now, I occasionally see people decrying Hillary and hoping that Elizabeth Warren will run.

    I think one thing that conservatives have done better (at least before the Tea Party) than progressives is hold their noses support someone who they agree with 50 percent of the time but who can build a coalition. I suspect that progressives would have enjoyed more success over the past 40 years if they'd mimicked this approach.

  2. Excellent point, Tom. My current reflections look at various theological/political strands as family systems rather than reasoned ideologies. Once they probably were reasonable ideologies, but times change and reason requires new practices, new visions, new habits, even new associations. But family systems themselves don't change, because one family might be getting healthy by excluding its unhealthy person, who then moves into another family that hasn't learned how to protect itself.

    This leads me to believe that the problem is our view of time, namely, that we are marching toward a heaven (whether here on earth or up above) rather than replying cycles. Obviously, this involves a shift from Christian eschatology to either Hinduism/Buddhism or Judaism.


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