Can "We" Be A Movement?
Posted by Ali Eteraz
I apologize for the inordinately long delay between postings. I was busy getting Eteraz.Org: States of Islam up and running. It is an interactive blog community related to the religion and politics of Islam, as well as general political discussion, and is open to all. It's existence ties in with what I'm going to talk about here.
I have been pretty actively reading the debates at various smaller progressive blogs, as well as a lot of the foreign policy discussions taking place at DailyKos. In the post-victory atmosphere, I'm not exactly seeing very much that makes me hopeful. It is my contention that the "left" is now firmly split between the Truman Democrat and the Isolationist position, and the former is in danger of being overrun because it does not exist as a cohesive movement, but only as something that "DC insiders" know about.
Today's Isolationist Leftist shares almost nothing with a Truman Democrat in terms of foreign policy. Here are the six foreign policy "principles" that define a Truman Democrat: American exceptionalism, the use of force, American hegemony, the world community, liberal-mindedness, and helping the least well off. Today's Isolationist Left rejects the first three of those without a thought (because they are presumed to be solely belonging to the Neo-Cons). The other three are accepted as long as they do not require having to affirm any of the first three principles.
Perhaps nowhere is this split better reflected than in the issue of Iraq. The Isolationist Left wants an immediate withdrawal. Let the chips fall where they may afterward. A Truman Democrat wants to use diplomacy to engage the regional powers, wants to engage the Iraqi police so the country does not descend into nefarious sectarianism (and to prevent a potential human catastrophe), and would, in the future, provide for financial support of all democratic elements in Iraq. In the event that Iran make a military move over Iraq, the Isolationist Left would conclude that such assertiveness by Iran was an unavoidable consequence of us having entered the war. A Truman Democrat would, on the other hand, agitate for immediate quasi-military action to push Iran back (though likely to withhold from all out war).
In other words, it is time we accepted that vast gulf between a Truman Democrat and an Isolationist Leftist. This is hard to swallow, I know, because a Truman Democrat shares many many many principles of importance with the Isolationist Left within the domestic sphere -- shares views on immigration, civil liberties, women's rights, minority rights, labor, regulation, and so on. So the question becomes, if the gulf on the foreign policy issue is really insurmountable, but unity on the domestic front almost necessary (in order to keep the conservatives at bay), how can Truman Democrats ever do the kind of foreign policy they want to engage in?
It's pretty simple: Truman Democrats need to become a "movement" that covers not merely foreign policy, but extends itself to all elements of the domestic sphere. Right now, I am labeling this post "progressive strategy." Yet, I have to be honest. When I think of "progressives" I don't think of a Truman Democrat. No, I think of the Isolationist Leftists (with whom I share a domestic agenda), whose biggest foreign policy issue right now is whether to impeach Bush or not and who have virtually no qualms in leaving the Iraqi and Afghani populace in the midst of massive civil wars (that our country begat). As I see it (from the rank and file position as I am no wonk), Truman Democrats need a movement.
Are they to choose Centrism? Center-Leftism? "Liberalism?" (careful there, the center-right hawks already took that one over). My very simple fear is that we -- all of us on the Left -- are and have already, by virtue of having declared ourselves "progressives" bought into supporting the Isolationist Leftist big-whigs. I am looking at the Democracy Arsenal blogroll right now (and admittedly it doesn't reflect an ideological affiliation), but I am seeing the names of a bunch of progressives whose views on foreign policy are largely driven by negation: we will do the opposite of what those cursed conservatives do.
I'm afraid to say, but I think the Truman-Democrats need to start to diversify. They need to make mini celebrities out of themselves. They need to start to touch the rank and file. Thing is, they know full well that they are lacking in this department and do make occassional efforts to take their position populist. But they need to do more. They need to create a viable netroots. They need to start showing up in progressive webzines (like Counterpunch and Cursor) and try and create a dialogue on the issue of foreign policy with their Isolationist Leftist brethren (with whom they have a shared domestic agenda, I reiterate).
It is not too late to do this. But it can get out of hand. In UK, the split between the Isolationists and their equivalent of the Truman Democrats is complete. If anyone even so much as suggests that he/she would like to remain in Iraq to prevent a catastrophe that would be caused by our presence there, they are immediately labeled fascist and Nazi. I know this because while I am not British I followed the Euston Manifesto very closely. You'd think that the Eustonites -- if you listened only to the British Isolationist Progressive -- were a bunch of neo-imperialistic colonizers.
This is what the Truman Democrats are going to be called by their Isolationist Leftist brethren. Unless they do something. Unless they create a broad and wide-ranging social movement (which means it has to be more than just a foreign policy movement).
I have some idea on how this can be accomplished. I'll lay out some pointers right now:
- Destroy the illusion (and that is all it really is), that you guys (wonks) are merely elitist wonks. There is only one way to do this. You have to get your message out to as many people as possible (I'm talking about sheer number). You do this by relaying on what I am going to term "intermediate authorities." (People who are not wonks but do tend to think that the wonks have something meanginful to impart).
- Write in those publications which are currently dominated by Isolationist Leftists -- where the only view on foreign policy is the one where the Left does what the Right is not doing.
- Try to reach out to those people in the Center-Right who are turned off by the Right at the moment. This is a brief moment but the opportunity is out there right now. A Truman Democrat does this by peddling not the first three of the six principles listed above (they already agree with you on this and will tell you that you are nothing more than a Neo-con), but by peddling the last three. A large part of the Center-Right is very concerned about the fact that our heavy handed policies are turning an entire religion against us. We can go in and say (and prove) that we are willing to work with forces in that religion which support us. This will warm many hearts on the Center-Right.
- Reach out to the large Muslim bloc in Western English speaking nations. This is almost common sense. Muslim communities in England, Canada, UK, are almost dogmatically anti-Bush. But they are not Isolationist because they don't really like to see their co-religionists kill each other. One place to start this project is at Eteraz.Org.
- Reach out to the reeeeeally well established netroots of self-proclaimed "Centrists." They are dying to hear the Truman Democrat message on foreign policy. This is the ideal place for a "movement" to begin. Right now, the only foreign policy view that these "Centrists" have available to them is a Neo-Con tinged one.
Me and fellow activists are more than willing to offer our rank and file services in the pursuit of these endeavors. However, it means that more active engagement will be required from the experts (you guys). Democracy Arsenal has been self-enclosed long enough. So has Qahwa Sada. So has the Truman Project. I really have no doubt that you guys have got all the theoretical problems ironed out (and those that you don't, you can figure them out later).
I can do my part. I can offer to make Eteraz.Org a launching pad for the dispersion that is necessary. I think of you as elites. I want to have you come over and talk to the housewives, defense contractors, students, and librarians that hang out (in great numbers) within our community. The site has demonstrated success in touching Centrists and Center-Rightists as well as vast numbers of English speaking Muslims. 100,000 page views in three weeks. As great as Democracy Arsenal and the Truman Project are, they are not places where people like me do too well. We prefer plain-speak and really have very few facts to back up what we think is the "right" thing to do. When we come to places like this we become stiff.
At some point the Truman Democrats have to become a movement. At the expense of sounding like a pompous revolutionary I have to say that the movement is now.
Please share your thoughts in the comments, via email, or telepathically.