Locked-in tight?

Writing for TalkLeft, BigTentDemocrat (hereafter BTD) claims that:
The Left Flank of American politics is always destined to "lose" in the conventional sense. The Left does not "win" elections.
Let me begin by recognizing that the statements quoted above are probably true. Surely they accurately depict the recent past in the United States. The evidence suggests as much:

To my mind the record is clear enough, but it always bears repeating that the Democratic Party in no way opposes the Republican Party on key economic and security issues. At best, it provides the GOP with an electoral opponent committed to the status quo, not with an opposition party possessing a programmatic alternative to modern Republicanism. Together they form a political duopoly.

Given these facts, why would a sensible person consider BTD's belief false? Does the passage quoted above not capture the moment well? Is his belief not one of the most plausible judgments one may draw from observing the prejudices and workings, the prehistory and trajectory of the Obama administration? Are both parties not opposed to the emergence of a viable left politics? Sadly, the answers to the questions are obvious. There is, therefore, no reason to consider his claims false when every feature of the present moment affirms them while also suggesting that the future we will likely have will not differ from the past in a way that would favor the left.

The upshot: The left was and remains a marker of an alien and anti-American political culture.

Yet his belief, rooted deeply in America's political history as well as in contemporary experience, may serve, at best, as an obstruction to reform in the future. Why is this so?

A belief in an inevitable failure may become an obstruction because believing it true — which is to say, believing it to be a reflection of the world supported by evidence — provides a well-equipped platform for realizing a self-fulfilling prophecy. The circularity which marks a self-fulfilling prophecy issues from the fact that a belief is also an attitude, a biased attitude, toward the world. It is, in other words, a way of prejudging what exists and what could exist. It is, then, a constraint the imagination places on itself and thus, indirectly, on the world itself. It marks the improbable as irrelevant. Practically speaking, why should anyone seek the nearly impossible? Why suffer the mortification which irrelevance confers on those who embrace it? Why bear a stigma?

The left fails to win elections because it, along with everyone else, expects electoral losses. To expect a left victory entails appearing daft. The prejudgment becomes a fact in the world when many believe it and when the left fails to increase and mobilize its people. Leftists cannot win. They will not win because they fail to attract followers and they fail to attract followers because non-leftists believe they cannot win. Losing elections merely confirms that leftists are losers. Finally, they fail to attract followers because too few human beings would choose to be an alien and a loser.

Unfortunately, the practical failure of the left in the United States serves to undermine any threat it might pose to the party duopoly which dominates electoral politics in the country. Its electoral failure turns the duopoly into the only game worth playing for those who prefer to win.

I hope that it is obvious that I believe BTD's belief to express a constipated and crabbed sense of America's potential and thus of its possible futures. It is, to extend the point by restating it in slightly more concrete terms, an attitude which promotes empire abroad and dedemocratization and social ill-being at home.

That said, we must also remember that those conditions that would enable the left flank of American politics to modify Democratic Party political positions and actions, a goal which characterizes the hopes of the Party's left-wing, would also enable the broader left to form a third party meant to challenge the Democratic and Republican Parties at the polls. Both possibilities are important because a movement such as this would generate a credible threat with which the Democratic Party must contend. A party thus threatened would no longer have the security provided by a reliable base.

The crucial issue in this matter: Can most American citizens jettison a belief in the current iteration of the American Creed by embracing a stronger variant of Social Democracy than the kind of Social Democracy found in, say, The Great Society programs of the 1960s? This issue would affect the "inside the Democratic Party" and "outside the Democratic Party" paths to power. If this claim is true, as I believe it to be, then the left in the United States need not bloody its hands by participating in a party which affirms America's empire and the militarism which defines imperial governance.

Last modified on 4.12.2010 at 4:45 PM

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