Death of Anti-War Movement is Greatly Exaggerated

I’ve been involved in some nice discussions recently with Skepoet at his blog, Left Turn At the Crossroads of Critical Thinking. It’s a helpful discussion (the particular discussion at issue in this post is from his post On power, ideology, and class, part 1). We share some similar views and yet come from very different directions.

I identify with liberalism for the reason it tends towards moderation and mediation, liberals being the only US demographic to show majority support for compromise. I can’t speak for Skepoet’s predisposition, but I could make some general guesses based on his jumping from one wing to the other (right to left) apparently without spending much if any time in the middle. He is unsurprisingly more critical toward liberalism than I, an attitude I assume he carried over to some extent from the earlier right-wing period of his life.

This brings me to the specific point I wish to discuss. In our discussion, I’ve defended liberalism against some of his criticisms. His initial views of liberalism seem to put it into the context of the policies of the Democratic Party or thereabout. That isn’t entirely wrong, but just too narrowly defined for my own understanding.

As I pointed out to him, almost half of liberals are independents and the other half that is in the Democratic Party only represents a third of the party membership. I’m an independent liberal and so I’m specifically defending the broad sense of liberalism that goes beyond partisan politics with emphasis on the psychological understanding of what motivates the liberal mindset. With their desire for compromise, partisan politics probably bothers liberals more than any other political group, partisan polarization being the complete opposite of bipartisan compromise. In this sense, liberals don’t like dogmatism or at least don’t embrace it in the way and to the extent more often seen on the far right (or even on the far left). This makes perfect sense when one looks at the psychological research where ‘liberalism’ practically equates to ‘openness to experience’, this ‘openness’ both being a strength (e.g., compromise) and a weakness (e.g., capitulation)… or, as some conservatives have stated it, don’t have a mind so open that your brains fall out.

Even though the Democratic Party isn’t specifically a liberal party, it is the party that ends up representing liberalism in the minds of many non-liberals and in the minds as well of many more mainstream liberals. Whether or not Obama is genuinely a liberal, I understand he does play the role of and uses the rhetoric of liberalism (although not in the way that makes independent liberals happy).

In the discussion with Skepoet, I was comparing the Occupy movement to the Bush era anti-war movement. Skepoet responded with the following:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US and how sincere was it? Because it effectively died when Obama went into office, but we are now in three wars instead of two.

I must admit that I was annoyed by this. Sincerity in this context seemed to imply an ideological or moral purity. As a liberal, this left-wing demand for ‘sincerity’ comes off as elitist or else just plain self-righteous. The average person doing their best to get involved is simply not good enough. I realize I might be reading too much into Skepoet’s question, but for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. Even so, I chose to keep my emotional response out of the discussion and so responded more neutrally:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US?

As I recall from research I’ve done in the past, the US anti-war movement during the Bush administration was the largest protest movement in the US at that time. It was supposedly the largest protest movement in the world. The previous protest movement that I’m aware of that had been the largest in US history and which went global was the nuclear disarmament movement in the 1980s.

How sincere was it?

Sincerity is a relative trait. As the largest protest movement at that time, I’d say it had more sincerity than most political movements. It included libertarians, liberals, anarchists, minarchists, isolationists, pacifists, veterans, social justice Christians, and on and on.

I can’t speak for the whole movement, but I can speak for the part of the movement I was involved in here. There was a protest camp that lasted for months, having started in spring and continuing until the weather turned cold. Besides that camp, anti-war activists regularly protested for years and continues to this day. I constantly hear about anti-war protests in the US, although they get less attention in the MSM. It is far from dead. In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a long-lasting protest movement.

Yes, the wars have continued and increased even. But you can’t blame that on the protesters. The protests continued. Also, the outrage that fueled those protests is the same outrage that fueled the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy movement. The Ron Paul libertarians were major supporters of the anti-war movement and many of them supported the Tea Party and now many of them support OWS. This is true for other political groups as well. You tend to find the same activists supporting each new manifestation of protest. They are all connected. An Occupy protest camp was formed a while back and it is the first protest camp we’ve had in Iowa City since the peace camp. Many of these people voted for Obama, but it hasn’t stopped them from voicing their outrage.

Skepoet then gave an answer that could be taken as final proof of the failure of the protester’s and of liberals in general:

Really? There is fairly good scholarly evidence to the contrary:

I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while, but I wanted to be very clear in my refutation of this supposed proof.

Let me point out some of the limits of generalizing too much on the basis of this “scholarly evidence”. But first let me consider the complaint itself: Democrats stopped protesting after Obama was elected. Is that true? What were the conclusions of the research?

Did Obama’s Election Kill the Antiwar Movement?
By Ann Arbor

After Obama’s election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say.

So, the complaint was that only 1/5 of Democrats (instead of slightly above 1/3 of Democrats) were willing to protest against the wars once Obama was elected? Accepting that as true, Democrats still represented one of the highest if not the highest portions of the anti-war movement during both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is supposed to be damning evidence? That is the great failure of all liberals and Democrats? This is proof of the superiority of more radical activists?

Anyway, it’s not as if the protests against the wars stopped. And certaintly it’s not as if liberals and Democrats stopped protesting for what they believed in simply because a Democrat was president.

Just because the media isn’t covering it, that isn’t to say it isn’t happening.

To continue, what are the specifics that the researchers focused on?

Antiwar No More?
Scott McLemee

From surveys conducted during national antiwar actions, the researchers found that people who self-identified as Democrats represented “a major constituency in the antiwar movement during 2007 and 2008,” accounting for 37 to 54 percent of participants. Those who identified as members of third parties represented 7 to 13 percent. (The rest indicated that they were independents, Republicans, or members of more than one party.)

As I was arguing, the movement included a diversity of supporters. Democrats were at most 1/2 of the participants and possibly only ever represented a 1/3 of the movement. The anti-war movement was never just about liberals, especially not just liberal Democrats (I’m a liberal who isn’t a Democrat; I participated in the anti-war protest movement and didn’t vote for Obama). What about all of the other groups involved? Why did the Ron Paul libertarians abandon the anti-war movement in order to campaign for Ron Paul and then later to join the Tea Party?

There are many explanations. But it should be pointed out this research was done years after the point when protest movement had some of its early strong support. The anti-war protests started in 2002 and gained their strongest momentum in 2003. Why would anyone reasonably expect the movement to sustain that same energy for the next 9 years following those first protests?

The anti-war protests began as an attempt to stop the invasion in Iraq from happening at all. It failed in that, but certainly the protesters can’t be blamed for what has followed since the invasion. Being against the invasion and being for pulling out are two separate issues. I was against the invasion and yet I believe we should fix what we break. The challenge, however, has been that if we don’t try to fix it the problem could get worse and if we try to fix it the problem might get worse. There are no clear answers at this point. The only clear answer that ever was a possibility was to never invade in the first place. Once the Iraq War was started, there was little hope that protesters could hold onto. Protest increasingly became symbolic rather than pragmatically effective toward some positive end. Worse just leads to worse.

The other purpose of the anti-war movement was to sway public opinion. It is a fact that public opinion has turned away from supporting the wars, and so on that account the anti-war movement has been an unqualified success. The public has become demoralized with the wars just as the anti-war protesters have become demoralized. Everyone has become demoralized by everything that is going on: endless and pointless wars, crony capitalism, a co-opted democracy, and on and on. Even as public support turns away from the wars, there is no sense of having won anything in the process. The public support has turned away from lots of things (the drug war, the culture war, etc) and yet it feels like nothing changes. The media and the government go on as if everything is the same.

What more is expected of the anti-war movement? Protesters can’t force the government to do anything and protesters can’t solve the problems caused by the very war they’ve been against. Many people have continued to protest against war, but people have had their lives and energies focused on the other issues (such as the economy) for reasons beyond their control. With many people hurting (growing poverty and shrinking middle class, unemployment or underemployment, house foreclosures, debt, lost life savings, struggling small businesses, etc), and so people have joined other causes and movements (fighting the Patriot Act, ending Gitmo, and freeing Bradley Manning; election reform, healthcare reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform; Tea Party, Coffee Party, and Occupy movement; etc) which has diffused the energy of the anti-war movement.

Anyway, I understand the criticisms. I’m critical of almost everything in the world these days. I just don’t see why the liberals should be blamed for everything and why all liberals (nearly half of whom, according to Pew’s Beyond Red vs Blue, are Independents) should be accused of being mindless Obama drones. Were there Obama supporters who withdrew from the anti-war movement? No shit, Sherlock. Was the anti-war movement nothing more than mindless Democratic loyalists? Don’t be silly.

The above commentary I posted in the comments section of an article by Paul Street (Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?). I received a thorough response to which I added further thoughts. Here is some of what I said:

I must admit that I don’t get the point of the criticism you are making. The support for Bush’s wars was bipartisan. Bush and his policies gained public support after 9/11 and the American public wanted revenge. When the anti-war protests began, most Democrats weren’t involved in it. Certainly, Democratic politicians weren’t involved in those early anti-war protests. I doubt that a majority of Democratic voters have ever been involved at the same time in the anti-war protest movement. It’s too simplistic to speak about Democrats hating Bush. Most Democrats, like most other Americans, were more bothered by the Patriot Act than by the wars. As I pointed out above, most Democrats aren’t liberals.

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge anti-war activists. I looked at the research by Heaney and Rojas. I’m not sure it supports your conclusion. First, the Independents (which would include the liberal independents) have maintained strong involvement in the anti-war protests. Second, Democrats decreased involvement by half, but that still leaves 20% involved which is still a fairly large proportion and which is more than the approximately 0% of Republicans involved. Third, as Democrats involvement decreased, third party voters increased by the exact same percentage which could imply that many of the anti-war Democrats didn’t actually stop being involved but simply became third party voters (maybe as they became dissatisfied with Obama). So, the overall participation percentages somewhat balance out over the two year period, the only clear change being the label by which the anti-war activists identified themselves.

(To which I would add: If some Democrats can be criticized for having left the anti-war movement, it would only be fair to praise the high number of Democrats who remained in the movment. Furthermore, it would only be fair to criticize almost all Republicans for never having joined the movement and it would only be fair to criticize Independents in not increasing their involvement until after Obama was elected.)

It’s not as if the anti-war protest movement has died. I still see people in downtown Iowa City with signs protesting the war. Also, I was just talking to a friend the other day. He went on a road trip and stopped by an anti-war protest where some people were arrested for stepping onto a military base. I think it might be this protest:

Just because the national mainstream media doesn’t report on all of these protests around the country, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all the time. Just because a few Democrats you knew left the anti-war movement while campaigning for Obama, doesn’t mean that all or most people left the anti-war movement and it doesn’t even mean those Democrats didn’t later return to the anti-war movement.

“Oddly, the polls are sometimes cited to prove the ineptitude of the peace movement. With so many Americans against the war in Afghanistan, why isn’t the peace movement stronger? A fair question, yet one that omits the possibility that the efforts of local peace groups have contributed to that public skepticism.

“If the continued existence of the peace movement is unrecognized, how can this be explained? One is the complete freeze-out by the mainstream media. Since 2003, there have been no fewer than four national demonstrations attended by more than 100,000 people, yet the only one to receive coverage was the huge New York City gathering in the run-up to the Iraq War. The others were so many trees falling in the forest, which nobody could hear or see unless they were personally marching.

“But while the silence in the mainstream media is perhaps predictable, more surprising and less excusable has been the failure of progressive news outlets to provide positive attention to peace organizations. Since 2001, these alternative outlets have done an extraordinary job of reporting American actions abroad and providing sophisticated analysis of international events that are elsewhere ignored. Barely mentioned have been the mass antiwar mobilizations of the past eight years, the ongoing campaigns to move the Congress, or the steady, creative work of antiwar activists in towns and cities across the United States. The demoralizing result is a constant imbalance between the depressing news about U.S. foreign policy and the apparent lack of resistance here. Individuals who are not already part of the existing peace networks often conclude there is nothing useful to be done and focus elsewhere.

“In recent weeks, the silence has been broken by a handful of articles lamenting the absence of a peace movement and attributing its collapse to a misplaced enthusiasm for President Obama and the Democratic Party. In this narrative, the antiwar movement is characterized as nothing more than a partisan club to beat George W. Bush over the head with. Therefore, the story goes, once this particular “evildoer” had retired to Texas, the peace activists simply folded up their tents and abandoned the field. But this description takes no account of the thousands of people across the country who have organized protests for the past decade out of the conviction that the wars are wrong.”

Now I’ll respond to some of your other points.

“you ask where are all the Ron Paul anti-war activists? While there may have been some of those voices involved the bulk were clearly people who identified with the Dems & MoveOn who made it their mission to hate Bush.”

I always had the sense that a fair number of libertarians were involved in the anti-war protest movement, but I’ve never seen specific data. Is there a source of data you are basing your opinion on? Why would you assume many libertarians weren’t involved? Libertarians have tended to be anti-war for a long time. The oldest and most prominent anti-war website ( was started by a libertarian in 1995. The most well known libertarian (Ron Paul) is vocal about being anti-war. Certainly, libertarians hated Bush (with his policies such as the Patriot Act) about as much than liberals. It is true, though, that libertarians haven’t been known for their supporting the activism that liberals are involved in. As one article stated it:

“For that matter, where was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century? The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion — issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.”

Even so, I’m not the only person on the left who recognizes the role libertarians have played in the anti-war movement. Thaddeus Russell said:

“I’m a man of the Left. I was raised by socialists in Berkeley. I’ve always been on the Left. But I stumbled upon about three years ago and was blown away. I said ‘This is what the Left should be doing! This is what the Left should be saying!’ Libertarians and sort of paleocons–but especially libertarians like . . . like Ron Paul–have been the leading voices of the anti-war movement. They’ve been the most principled–the most consistent–no matter who’s president. They’ve been saying again and again and again, ‘These wars are disasters. The Empire must end.’”

On the other hand, there are libertarians who mistrust and denounce the anti-war protests as being merely ‘liberal’. In response to such a libertarian, here is what one self-identified “anti-war liberal” (username Southern Guardian) said in a forum discussion:

“I never saw the anti-war protests as a political movement, and it’s very interesting that you label the anti-war protests as purely those of liberals. Are you admitting that you and other Ron Paul supporters/libertarians never participated? The protests in 2003-2005 were anti-war, that’s it. I never saw myself apart of any political movement, infact I never even saw myself as anti-war as I personally believe it is necessary at times. My stances along with others were rather a protest against the governments campaign against Iraq specifically and lies contained within. Myself and many others supported Afghanistan efforts until the recent capture of Osama Bin Ladin. ”

He expresses my own view. I’ve never been a partisan. In fact, I can’t stand party politics. When I was involved in the anti-war movement, I never thought of it as being a movement of only or mostly Democrats. There definitely wasn’t any Democratic Party material lying around or anything. It always seemed a diverse group to me. At the Iowa City peace camp, there were students, non-students (like me), hippies, veterans, and even some homeless kids. I never asked anyone who they voted for and it didn’t seem to matter since no one asked me either. I knew Republicans were against the peace camp since at one point they temporarily set up a counter-protest camp, but at no point did I ever get the idea that libertarians weren’t welcome in the peace camp. The anti-war protest movement was a part of the protests against Bush policies in general, and it was out of that defense of civil libertarianism that the Ron Paul libertarian movement gained momentum.

“The third point is a classic liberal response that “we have to fix” the mess we made. The Iraqis have been saying for years that they want us to leave, so they should have the primary say in this matter. More importantly, the US has never had any intention of “fixing” Iraq. US policy put Saddam Hussein in power, funded his war with Iran, provided him with the WMDs, invaded and bombed Iraq in 1991, imposed the most brutal sanction regime on any country in history for 12 years, then invaded/occupied again in 2003. During this current occupation the US has set up permanent military bases, privatized much of the economy, including oil as a means to have greater longer term influence on Iraq’s economy……see Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.””

I’m familiar with all of that. You seem to have misunderstood me. My point was that, if the US destroys the infrastructure of a country in a pointless and unjustified war, then it would be fair and just for the US to at least rebuild that infrastructure to some extent (make roads passable, make water and electric plants operable, etc). I wasn’t talking about nation-building.

I added one even more important point that critics seem oblivious of:

As for Obama, he promised that he would withdraw troops and that is what he is doing. I realize he didn’t do it as quickly as his critics would have preferred, but this seems to prove valid the anti-war protesters who decided to support Obama. If McCain had been elected, maybe there would have been no troop withdrawal at all. I’m not a fan of Obama, but I try to be fair in my assessment of his presidency.

Skepoet would have a point if Obama hadn’t fulfilled his basic promise, however imperfectly. We can argue over various factors, but the broad point remains the same.

The anti-war protesters, Democrats included, managed to accomplish two of their main goals:

  1. They helped swayed public opinion away from supporting the war effort.
  2. They helped bring the Iraq War ever closer to being ended.

Considering their powerful opponents, that is a massive success… even if qualified by the larger context of the War on Terror that continues in that region. It is hardly inspiring to criticize protesters even when they have victories, no matter how minor you may think those victories are. Yes, it would have been better if the wars had ended earlier, but it seems to be clear at this point that they are coming to an end. Yes, military bases and contractors will remain in Iraq for the time being; still, you should accept the victories you can get.

Looking at other criticisms, I came across the following which mentions in some detail the anti-war movement in Iowa City, the location of the peace camp I was involved with in 2003. This critic brings up some good points about what went wrong:

Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?
By Jeff Smith

There is no longer an antiwar group of any relevance in Iowa City. The UIAC is dead, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of a Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.

What caught my attention was the reference to the FBI. I had forgotten about that. The FBI has a long history of disrupting and even destroying grassroots movements. With the Patriot Act, the FBI had been newly empowered to go even further than they would have prior to 9/11.

The following is a better overall analysis:

Where have all the war protesters gone?
The largest demonstrations ever have largely dissipated, even as we’ve launched new wars. Why a movement sputtered

 By Todd Gitlin

The outrage that greeted the run-up to the Bush-Blair Iraq war debacle generated what must have been the largest antiwar rallies and demonstrations in the history of the world. Sometimes in subzero temperatures, millions of marchers in New York, London and elsewhere took to the streets to interrupt the roar of self-righteous crypto-imperial bravado, to barge through George Bush’s strutters’ ball and its fevers of fantastical, deceptive and self-deceptive claims about Saddam Hussein’s danger to the United States and Washington’s promise to parachute democracy into Saddam’s stricken land. In the well-chosen words of one London sign, the marchers were “Shocked, Not Awed.”

Then the marches stopped.

The author then goes on to give many reasons, all of which I agree with. Grassroots is never easy even under perfect conditions, and the situation the anti-war movement faced was challenging to say the least. In response to that analysis, here is a good argument for why the death of the peace movement is greatly exaggerated:

Don’t Exaggerate the Death of the Antiwar Movement
by Medea Benjamin

In an article in, Todd Gitlin writes a convincing obituary for an antiwar movement killed by a thousand blows: crushed by Bush’s pigheadedness, dumped in the media’s black hole, rendered invisible by a volunteer army and drones, overshadowed by more urgent financial crises, chastened by the “unpleasantness” of adversaries from Taliban to al-Qaida to Gadhafi. He leaves out some other daggers to the heart of the movement: grass-roots election campaigns that lured away millions of activists; betrayals by the president and groups like MoveOn who used and abused the antiwar sentiment; craven congressional reps who violate the will of their constituents by continuing to fund war; powerful lobbyists for the war industry who wield enormous power in Washington; and the utter exhaustion that sets in after 10 years of standing up to the largest military complex the world has ever seen.

Despite all these challenges, however, the reports of the death of the antiwar movement are greatly exaggerated. Sure, there are no longer millions marching in the streets — but there aren’t millions marching in American streets for any cause these days. Lacking the staying power of Tahrir Square, our weekend rallies failed to effect policy and left people disillusioned — and bored. That’s why creative and media-savvy activism 2.0 tactics — like flash mobs, Twitter culture jams and YouTube videos — have emerged that engage with the younger generation.

And that’s why the movement has transformed as well. Rather than marching in circles and chanting slogans to ourselves, we’re reaching deep into our communities to make connections between the economic crises our neighborhoods face and the wars that rob us of scarce resources.

The author then goes on to give the examples of the continued activism. Then the author concludes with the following:

Finally, we have been busy trying to insert the anti-war message in the broader movements for social and economic justice. While our message is sometimes rebuffed or marginalized in activities closely linked to the Democratic Party, at every major rally for jobs, civil rights or corporate responsibility, you’ll find anti-war activists.

As Todd Gitlin knows well, movements ebb and flow. We are certainly not at our zenith, but we are still breathing. The Arab Spring has given us new inspiration, and as the 10th anniversary of the senseless war in Afghanistan approaches in October, you can expect to see the antiwar movement not just breathing, but kicking into high gear with an open-ended mobilization in D.C. starting on Oct. 7 and artistic actions throughout the country under the banner of 10 Years and Counting. We invite Todd and others who have been writing about our demise to come join us.

Also, take for example these comments to the above article:

Posted by orbit7er
Jul 21 2011 – 8:56am

My own local Peace Group has been having a Peace Vigil every Friday since
September 11, 2001. We are still there…
At first when Bush started the Iraq War we got middle finger salutes..
But within some months those turned to peace signs and honks of support.
And every week still we get peace signs and honks of support…
The vast majority of Americans want to END these Wars!

Posted by suhail_shafi
Jul 21 2011 – 8:25pm

I do not think that the anti war movement is dead at all. Much of US and Western public opinion is opposed or at least skeptical of the US invasion of Iraq and the NATO attack on Libya.

If the mission of the anti war movement was to end all wars, it has indeed failed miserably. But if the mission of the movement was to galvanize public opinion against the wars, it has been an unqualified success.


23 thoughts on “Death of Anti-War Movement is Greatly Exaggerated

  1. I would like to point out that we are finished with Iraq only because the Iraqi government demanded that we leave and had to respect it under the SOFA. The popular opinion on the matter was somewhat irrelevant. However, going into the scholarly research, it never asserts that the anti-War died. It asserts that the Democratic establishment quit supporting it which gutted its tactical advantages which caused it to lose to steam. That happens to be true. I think undeniably. The situation in Afghanistan has gotten worse and the kill rates on that are actually going up.

    The focus on Iraq was always a tactical and moral mistake. Afghanistan was just as problematic and while relatively lower on the deaths of civilians scale is much more problematic. Hence my concern over the tactic force of the 1/5 of Democrats involved.

    • You can argue motivations for the choice made, but I was merely pointing out the fact of the choice made. Obama stated he would end the Iraq War and now is ending the Iraq War. Would a War Hawk Republican have made the same choice? Maybe or maybe not, but any honest person would have to admit that it would be much less likely.

      That said, I’m not making any moral argument about Obama and the Democrats. I’m not defending them as I’m not a Democratic voter. I’m just describing the facts as I know and understand them.

      About the research, I wasn’t necessarily criticizing the research. I was only criticizing the inaccurate presentation of the research.

      “It asserts that the Democratic establishment quit supporting it which gutted its tactical advantages which caused it to lose to steam. That happens to be true. I think undeniably.”

      Actually, that is clearly false. The Democratic establishment never supported the anti-war movement. In fact, the Democratic establishment supported the war like they supported the Patriot Act. You are once again conflating the liberal third of the Democratic Party with the party establishment. Most liberals in the Democratic Party aren’t part of the establishment. Most liberal Democrats were probably against the Democratic establishment’s support of the wars.

      Obama, for example, was never a vocal supporter of the anti-war movement. It seems he only cared about ending the war in his campaign which came years after the anti-war movement had swayed public opinion. Obama was responding to the anti-war movement rather than guiding it. It was because liberal Democrats filled the ranks of the anti-war movement that Obama had to speak to this issue, especially as the more conservative and moderate Democrats were no longer supporting the war. But it’s beside the point whether Obama was genuine or not in his opposition to the war when he was campaigning. The point is that the anti-war movement had changed the narrative in politics forcing politicians to follow suit which made it more likely for the wars to end as is now happening.

      The research simply is invalid for the argument you were attempting to make. First, a larger percentage of Democrats remained active in the anti-war movement even after Obama was elected. Second, the researchers never asked the self-identified third party supporters and independents whether they had earlier (during the Bush Administration) self-identified as Democrats.

      With Obama’s election, many of the liberals who formerly self-identified as Democrats may have left the party and so identified as third party or independent (liberals, after all, being strongly drawn to self-identifying as Independents). The researchers didn’t study these specific anti-war activists over the years (beyond the two year period) to see how they may or may not have changed their self-identity, and so the researchers didn’t know to what extent the same people remained in the movement over time. Any conclusions about that factor are purely speculative. The only fair and accurate conclusion that can be made is that self-identifications changed over time within the anti-war movement, the causes of those changes being unknown according to this data.

      The momentum of the anti-war movement had ebbed and flowed since its beginning. It began with some massive protests and the protesting spread around the country and the world, then it shrank a bit after 2003, then later gained more support again as the wars became increasingly clear as failures and as the public became war weary, then the anti-war movement lost focus because of failing economic conditions and political campaigning (which at the same time boosted other political movements and protests), and then the anti-war movement gained a bit of traction as a resurgence of the left with some very large anti-war protests since Obama took office.

      The researchers weren’t looking at this ebb and flow. They limited their research to a two year window which is a very small part of the anti-war movement. So, they could only make a conclusion based on an ebb that happened between 2007 and 2009. They couldn’t say anything about how the movement may have decreased in number at earlier periods. And they couldn’t say anything about whether the movement continued to shrink or else began to grow again after 2009.

      My point, anyway, went beyond that. If Democrats are to be blamed, every other group in America is to blamed even more. Democrats have been the heart and soul of and the force of change within the anti-war movement in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Only around a third of the anti-war movement self-identified as Democrats in 2007 which unsurprisingly is the same amount of liberals in the Democratic Party. So, when the number of Democrats dropped, we have to be fair by focusing specifically on these liberal Democrats. We can reasonably assert that the vast majority of liberal Democrats were involved in the anti-war movement in 2007 and after Obama’s election only 60% or so of liberal Democrats were involved. Imagine if all political demographics, like the liberal Democrats, had a majority support for the anti-war movement no matter which party was in power.

      Liberal Democrats are the last group you should criticize. Without liberal Democrats, there would never have been an anti-war movement in the first place and it wouldn’t have remained an influential force for the next decade. All I’m asking is for you to be fair and accurate, nothing more and nothing less.

      Beyond that, I was just irritated by your attitude of left-wing self-righteousness in judging the anti-war protesters as being insincere. Why would you even ask about their sincerity? Who cares about whether radical left-wingers like you consider them sincere or not? Even going by the decrease from 1/3 to 1/5, the vast majority of liberal Democrats seemingly remained true to the anti-war movement, and by doing so helped to bring the end to the Iraq War. What more do you demand of them? It’s one of the largest and certainly the most successful protest movement in our lifetimes and all you can do is criticize and question their sincerity. Come on, you should acknowledge that you aren’t being fair. If you don’t like liberals, then don’t like them. I don’t care. But that is no reason to not give credit where credit is due.

      • “Come on, you should acknowledge that you aren’t being fair. If you don’t like liberals, then don’t like them. I don’t care. But that is no reason to not give credit where credit is due.”

        Your evidence is compelling that liberal distaste for war has not decreased outside of the Democratic party. I’ll admit that.

    • By the way, I don’t hold any grudge against you or anything. I’m not even overly annoyed. The question about sincerity did mildly annoy me, but even that was only a brief emotional response.

      Obviously, you are convinced by your own reasoning. I, however, am not. It seems extremely unfair, from my perspective, to portray the events the way you have done. I will point out that perceived unfairness, but it’s only one minor issue. It would seem I generally agree with you on many other issues.

      I hope you don’t hold a grudge against me for this one criticism I’ve made. I’m not attacking you or your character. I just think you are generalizing too much based on very limited data, especially considering this was only a single study that was narrowly focused.

    • I was thinking about your question about sincerity this past week. It is closely related to questioning the legitimacy of a person’s motivations. I understand why you might feel critical.

      You seem to be a person with high ideals and strong principles. From what I gather, you’ve been involved in some activism. Maybe you feel that you have justified your beliefs through your actions and commitments. It isn’t surprising for someone like you to become cynical about other people’s beliefs and motivations.

      I’m not all that different in this regard. I too have some inclinations toward judging the sincerity of others. I might judge different people and groups than you, but I do judge. But if everyone is judging everyone else, it doesn’t lead to working toward a better society that we all share.

      I’ve pointed out that, as a liberal, I value compromise more than most other people of other ideological views. I’ve also noted that this valuing of compromise has both strengths and weaknesses. It’s the liberal ability and willingness to compromise that makes large diverse protest movements possible (which can be seen in the anti-war movement and now in OWS). Compromise is the heart of democracy. On the other hand, compromise of principles has its risks including outright capitulation. It is the weakness of liberals to want to believe someone like Obama. The Democratic Party is the very manifestation of compromise with its inclusion of people across the political spectrum and of people from many racial and ethnic backgrounds.

      So, the ability of liberals to work together helps to bring large protest movements into a shared and cooperative vision. But the desire for compromise is what makes liberals vulnerable to being co-opted in a different way than is found with conservatives (who are co-opted by those who claim to refuse compromise of principles). Left-wingers, moreso than right-wingers, are split up into sectarian groups each with their own separate ideological vision and uncompromising principles. Or that is how it has been in the past. One complaint of the decrease of Democrat support in the anti-war movement is that it too then became split up by sectarian groups.

      You feel suspicion of insincerity among liberals and Democrats for the reason of their being too quick to compromise. In response, liberals and Democrats feel suspicion of dogmatism among other groups such as left-wingers for the reason of their unwillingness or inability to compromise. Is one side right and the other wrong? Of course not. There is time for compromise and time to refuse compromise. However, right now liberals are in a bind. The Democratic establishment offers seemingly meaningless and ineffective compromise and the left-wing along with the right-wing refuses compromise almost entirely (except for more moderate and gradualist left-wingers such as Chomsky). So, where is the independent liberal to turn in seeking positive change? Where can the independent liberal find allies when the Democratic Party refuses their independence and everyone else refuse their ideal of compromise?

      It seems we are at a moment in history when the value of compromise is being remembered. Liberals have struggled with understanding what compromise can mean in such divisive times and it can seem rather pointless, but still there is value there even when it is only a potential. That potential, however, has become manifest with recent protest movements, and these movements have drawn more than just liberals to this vision of compromise. If left-wingers could remember the value of compromise, then liberals could find a way to once again seek to influence society outside of the Democratic Party. It would be a win/win scenario for all involved. Maybe the perceived conflict between sincerity and compromise was always a false choice, a paradigm of either/or that weakened the left from having much influence these past decades.

      There can always be found reasons to criticize. But the question follows: Is it helpful to constantly attack potential allies? My answer is that it probably isn’t that helpful, even when it feels satisfying to blame someone. Instead of blame, couldn’t left-wingers and liberals praise one another in their bringing together their strengths in recent protest movements? Maybe the success of these movements isn’t in what they outwardly achieve in Washington politics but what they achieve in bringing together groups that have been divided for so long.

      Does that make sense?

      • Yes, it does. Furthermore, I understand your frustration with me; however, this issue is a fundamental one: There are some things we don’t see as possible on compromise because we seem the problems as more deeply entrenched than liberals seem to. On the anti-war issue, for example, we see NATO itself as a problem and the specific focus of a lot of anti-war protesters being on Republican wars and not Democratic ones. However, this may move left-liberals to a realization that their interests are not best served by the Democrats and in such a scenerio, I think there are tactical alliances between left-liberals and non-liberal leftists. I am not arguing that OWS should purge the liberals. That would be stupid. In fact, if you look at my writings on OWS, I think the radicals need to admit that the base of OWS is liberal, but its strategy to co-opt the Democrats again, i don’t think is going to work. It backfired on the anti-war movement.

        We can agree on that. Now, I still won’t give Obama credit for pulling troops out on a SOFA technically. I do, however, give left liberals credit for being more consistent than I thought.

        I don’t appreciate the attack below. My silence, however, wasn’t a rejection of your point. It was because I was busy.

        • I apologize for my attack below. I took your silence to mean something it apparently didn’t mean. That would be projection on my part. So, please understand it in that light.

          I’m fine if you don’t want to give Obama credit. I generally don’t want to give him credit either. But I did want to give credit to the anti-war activists, however imperfect the movement was, who created the atmosphere where pulling out the troops became more of a possibility for Washington politicians. We must give professional politicians like Obama the opportunity and the motivation to do the right thing. The only credit I’d give Obama is that he seems to be the type of professional politician who is open to such activist pressure, all the more reason for leftists and liberals to work together (as a liberal, I’d rather compromise with left-wing activists than with partisan Democrats; this compromise would include the seeking of shared understanding and vision, shared principles and objectives).

          Are some things not possible through compromise? Sure. I’m not naive. However, I also realize that most of the failure of attempts at compromise are actually the failures of people rather than the failures of compromise. Compromise offers more possibility than many are willing to see in it (for compromise requires us to believe in what seems impossible during such divisive times, liberals seeing compromise as opening up rather than closing down possibility). Compromise, after all, is the very foundation of democracy. Still, I understand where you are coming from. I have enough left-winger in me to agree with a lot of what you say, but the left-wing isn’t my starting point. I’d prefer to see where compromise can get us. If compromise fails, then and only then seek more direct methods of influence. But first compromise has to be actually attempted before it is put aside.

          “I am not arguing that OWS should purge the liberals. That would be stupid. In fact, if you look at my writings on OWS, I think the radicals need to admit that the base of OWS is liberal, but its strategy to co-opt the Democrats again, i don’t think is going to work. It backfired on the anti-war movement.”

          I didn’t think you were arguing that. As I see it, most people in most protest movements (like most Americans in general) aren’t radical left-wingers or radical right-wingers. Most people are fairly moderate, although I would argue becoming more left-leaning. Activists on the wings can be leaders, can be the movers and shakers; but they must share power with liberals if they want real change to happen. I see in recent protests this potential for cooperation.

          If you don’t want OWS to be co-opted by Democrats, then it is up to left-wingers and independent liberals to offer up alternative visions that can compete with the Democratic rhetoric. The Occupy movement is offering some kind of vision that could potentially compete in the political arena. The real battle is always between narratives, between ways of framing. The discussion has to shift before politics itself can shift… or so it seems to me.

  2. I must admit that I’m disappointed. Skepoet seemed like someone who might be intellectually worthy, but it seems he lacks intellectual humility. He couldn’t admit he was wrong about a simple issue of facts. I get tired of ideologues.

    I’ve looked at some of Skepoet’s recent posts. He is sincere, but his insight is definitely limited by his ideology. He seemingly continues to conflate liberalism with the Democratic Party. I pointed out to him how misinformed such a position is and he seemed to understand, but for some reason he feels compelled to blame liberals for the problems of the Democratic Party. In recent history, liberals (whether as Independents, Third Party voters, or Democrats) have accomplished more than left-wingers could dream about in their wildest wet dreams.

    It’s ironic to see one recent post where Skepoet attempts to give adivce to the Occupy movement. Left-wing activism has been a dismal failure in recent generations, at least in the US. He takes a self-righteous stance as if he knows anything. If he was so wise and certain, left-wingers like him should’ve been doing long ago what is being done now. For all his complaining, there is a reason why movements like the anti-war movement are filled with more liberals than left-wingers.

    As long as left-wingers arrogantly judge liberals, left-wingers will continue to fail and liberals will continue to have to struggle to maintain these large movements. It’s not that all left-wingers are ideologues like Skepoet, but sadly I suspect many are. Too many left-wingers are disgruntled and cynical. They would rather criticize liberals willingness to compromise rather than actually work together with liberals in finding ways of compromising that benefits everyone.

    • “I must admit that I’m disappointed. Skepoet seemed like someone who might be intellectually worthy, but it seems he lacks intellectual humility. He couldn’t admit he was wrong about a simple issue of facts. I get tired of ideologues.”

      Whoa. That’s personal. I haven’t engaged because I didn’t see the comments. I wasn’t following them so I didn’t know what you were saying. I am tired of liberals misreading what I criticism on AND their special pleading on ideological orientation, Ben.

      “I pointed out to him how misinformed such a position is and he seemed to understand, but for some reason he feels compelled to blame liberals for the problems of the Democratic Party.”

      I don’t think you understand what I mean by liberal. I do, however, blame liberals for their inchoate ideas. For example, that they themselves are not ideologues. This is just not true. I see that as an intellectual lack of humility as well, Ben.

      “It’s not that all left-wingers are ideologues like Skepoet, but sadly I suspect many are. Too many left-wingers are disgruntled and cynical. ”

      I am actually one of the lesser on evils on that point because I am open to the possibility of reform. However, there are points with we view the systemic problems of an issue essentially unreformable because they are too easily co-opted. The interesting thing is that the spread of an essentially liberal attitude in the public has predominated over the same period as the political move right-ward, Ben.

      “He takes a self-righteous stance as if he knows anything. If he was so wise and certain, left-wingers like him should’ve been doing long ago what is being done now.”

      That’s just low. “As if I know anything.” As if I don’t have friends on the ground or arrested or involved in it. That is a personal attack. An unjustified one.

      • I am letting this stand, but was shocked at the ideological denunciation that got both personal and nasty. I’ll admit to not being entirely fair. I’ll also be more clear in my criticism. However, I still think your comment here was undeserved.

        • I was being an asshole. My comment was venting emotion.

          Your question about sincerity really got under my skin. I’m not entirely sure why. Also, your initial comment here for whatever reason didn’t lessen my irritation… I suppose because your comment didn’t take up that particular issue of sincerity which was the fundamental issue that had been bothering me. I at first resisted getting personal because it is stupid and pointless to do so, but my irritation finally overcame me.

          I think I responded personally because your question about sincerity seemed to cut to the personal. It was a direct questioning of personal motives, of the honesty and authenticity of whether the activists in question even really cared about stopping the war… or else were just in it for partisan politics.

          Can you understand why that bothered me so much?

    • There is a fundamental misunderstanding here. I think this comment came out of frustration. Here’s the issue. If I accept your evidence, and I do: I do think the liberal anti-war movement is still relatively strong and I will move away from a critique of liberalism as conflated with Democrats.

      But I am going to refocus on this: “They would rather criticize liberals willingness to compromise rather than actually work together with liberals in finding ways of compromising that benefits everyone.”

      That ENTIRELY depends on the liberal, Ben. In so much that they are not shills for the Democratic party and don’t see working within that framework as a prerequisite for their activism. I am totally willing to work with them. I am not advocating for a violent revolution. That needs to be clear. In fact, I get called a liberal by many of my colleagues on the left as an insult FOR that reason, which is why I find this particular comment hurtful and ironic. I apologize for not following the comments and not keeping up the dialogue, but I have been busy doing political organizing for the global occupy, which you accuse me of knowing nothing about.

    • “. In recent history, liberals (whether as Independents, Third Party voters, or Democrats) have accomplished more than left-wingers could dream about in their wildest wet dream?”

      That’s funny since as a global force the left has much more power and success in third world, China, etc. This is childish. Furthermore, given that most of the Democratic or independent liberal pushes since the 1980s have only been victories on lifestyle issues and not economic ones is part of why the welfare state itself is in danger in Europe and North America. You agree with me that it is? In the early part of the 20th century: leftists, not liberals, took Russia and China out of the most conservative feudal system on the planet at the time. The New Deal, however, did have the distinction advantage of not having the body count that Russia and China do have. I’ll admit that the Old Left failed to really live up to its own promises, and the new left pretty much became liberalism. Leftist worked with liberals in the US to avoid a revolution and to fight degeneration of Soviet communism. We were burnt, however, over and over again on corporate tax reforms, regulatory lope holes, and placating a small right-wing voter base in the US. We were burned in Latin America and Europe by left-liberal governments passing economic reforms and IMF packages that sent Columbia, Argentina, Chile and many other central/South American states into free fall and poverty. We were burned in the UK by Tony Blair, and in the labor reforms in Germany with made jobs that pay only 400 Euros a month a mandate for services. These were liberals “compromising” for the good.

      Now, I know that this is not representative of the average liberal on the street or you, or whoever, but this is the history. That’s not one based in ideology but hard material fact. Now, you can listen to our criticism as to what can be compromised on or you can dismiss us as ideologues.

      However, the view that liberalism is somehow uniquely victorious when it is accosted on all sides and its reforms being undone in both North America and Europe as some sort of unique victory is problematic. That’s not victory. That’s buying time.

      But this is what I mean by ideological blinders, you have them too. Everyone has them. I do too. I am fair enough to admit when I am wrong, nor do I “hate” left-liberals. What I don’t think we agree on is what the terms of victory are, but we both agree that at the moment: neither the left nor left-liberals are winning. The question is can we trust each other.

      You gave me hope that maybe we could because left liberals themselves are seeing the corrosive affects of the Liberal Establishment in the Democratic party. If that wasn’t the case, there would not be OWS. Furthermore, leftists are seeing the cracks in the fact that we have either hit in dreams of the 1930s or 1968 since the exposure of the internal contradictions in Soviet Communism and China going into a mercentilist mode. We both have problems as ideological sets.

      But if you are willing to look at the bigger picture, I am willing to take you in good faith. This comment, however, is not an act of good faith and I still processing my entire response to it.

    • “For all his complaining, there is a reason why movements like the anti-war movement are filled with more liberals than left-wingers.”

      Do you actually know the history of the what you speak? For example, most of the early organizers of the anti-war movement, particularly during the Afghanistan war, were leftists. That there are more liberals because their opinion is supposedly represented in a party while leftists is not is hardly a measure of either the effectiveness or the sincerity of those involved.

      I’ll admit I was unfair to left-liberals in the anti-war movement, but that isn’t license for you to start pushing an false narrative.

      United for Peace and Justice had a relationship with ANSWER Coalition which was on the ground before most of the liberal groups. The relationship was severed in 2005 when ANSWER and UPAJ, but the tensions go back prior to that to 1991 when “Sanctions not War” slogan was being ran and the ANSWER coalition objected saying that sanctions were essentially the same thing, which led to the death of hundred of thousand of Iraqi children. In 2005, however, the break seemed to primarily about the relationship to the Democratic party.

      Now, here’s what I find funny, Ben. You were debating with me in good faith and then this comment, which the more I read and reflect on it, the more I find it troubling. You’re accusing me of having ideological blinders on as “not knowing anything” because we leftists are arrogant.

      I wasn’t always a leftist nor am I actually a particularly doctrinaire one now: you actually don’t seem to know what leftist think even though you have marched beside them. You, by your own admission, have been a liberal most of your adult life. You are frustrated with the liberal establishment in the Democratic party; you are also frustrated that I link liberalism to the Democratic party.

      This seems to be to indicate that you don’t really understand liberalism troubled relationship to leftism has not be rooted in our ideological rejection of your principles or of the idea of compromise. It has been an rejection of your reading of history from the perspective of failures of the center-left to stop the neo-liberal (admittedly an unfortunate name) policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Plus the failure, really of popular opinion to significantly put pressure on the military structure and fundamentally reform the war-apparatus in the ground.

      In terms of consciousness raising, the anti-war movement was a success, but it was not a liberal or a left success. Both sides became more distrustful of the other, particularly after the election of Obama.

      “As long as left-wingers arrogantly judge liberals, left-wingers will continue to fail and liberals will continue to have to struggle to maintain these large movements.”

      Do you not see that is exactly what you are doing, arrogantly dismissing a criticism on ideological grounds. Except, unlike myself, you are not even clear that it IS on ideological grounds. The large movements in the anti-war protest or in the labor movement only decline after the liberal end purges the left end, which almost always happens.

      ” They would rather criticize liberals willingness to compromise rather than actually work together with liberals in finding ways of compromising that benefits everyone.”

      Given the history of Democratic party and the liberal establishment, why should we trust liberals? Seriously? We’re not criticizing you because you are successful where we weren’t: very, very few leftists turned against the post-New Deal Democratic party until the Vietnam War. Most leftists I know voted against George W. Bush. Most of them marched in the anti-war marches, and are on the ground in the OWS. There just isn’t that many of us because we have failed to be critical of our own ideology, but without the left as an ally, inertia favors conservatives despite the popular support on policy to the contrary.

      I am willing to work with left-liberals–I do. I did when I worked in battered women centers, I did with a organized for teacher and student welfare in Georgia, I do with the OWS. I, however, do not trust inchoate ideas. Compromise is a tactic, not a political program. I am willing to compromise in person, on the street, and in actual governance. I am not willing to compromise my vision of an ideal society. This is not an issue of the cliche “perfect being the enemy of the good”–this is a difference over both what is perfect and what is good.

      I will quit bombing your page. We’re both obviously disappointed. I was wrong on my judgment of anti-war left-liberals. I’ll admit that. I’ll also admit that liberals exist outside of the Democratic party as is obvious. I won’t grant you the rest of your diatribe here, however, because it’s just as wrong-headed as my unfair assertion about left liberals. For all we have been wrong in the past about movements, let me turn your own question on you: Why has it taken so long for liberals to return to left tactics? If liberal electoral politics had worked, there would not be an OWS. The tensions between liberals and leftists are going to come to a head unless external forces remind us that our enemies are more dangerous than our friends. That external force in the OWS that has been beating the ever-living shit out of liberal and leftist protesters alike has been the police departments of Democratic mayors.

      This is not about ideological dick-waving ultimately: we can go on the litany of sins by both sides for hours. This is about something far more problematic: Does the other side even understand the other to listen to the criticisms? I suspect not in regards to be leftists and liberals.

  3. This break down has given me much to think about Ben. It may end up being illuminating to what I think the problems of the left are and what I think the problems of the left-liberals are. There are severe problems on both sides. I am willing to keep the dialogue up if you are.

    • I’ll answer this comment first, even though I haven’t yet read any of your other comments. Yes, I am willing to keep dialogue up.

      Please understand that I’m often in a bad mood, not that I’m making excuses for being so critical. I’ve spent so many years with varying degrees of depression that it is practically my normal state of mind. It’s just the way I am. When I feel irritable (which is often), I express it.

      That said, I try to not to hold grudges and I prefer people who don’t hold grudges. Moods come and go. All of life is a work in progress, my life in particular.

      I often judge people about what I struggle with in myself. Some of this probably is projection, but I prefer to think that some of my thinking is rational and objective and maybe even fair. I don’t deal well with conflict, with others and in myself. I constantly feel conflicted and I see these conflicts play out in the world. For example, my liberalism and my leftism often conflict in my experience of life and in my thoughts. I try to overcome these conflicts, to see the world from a larger perspective… when possible. My desire in this regard isn’t always shared by other people, but some people do share it and I’m guessing you might be one of those people.

      I see all this potential on the left (myself included). Yet so much energy gets wasted in bickering. I think the left has a certain kind of potential the right lacks. The right most often finds agreement through a common enemy, but the left has a different kind of focus (based on different motivations, values, etc). Unlike the right, those on the right all share a vision of progress even as the details differ. So, the left has progress to fight for whereas the right has progress to fight against, albeit a simplification. It seems to me that an affirmative vision can potentially be much more powerful. The left has been weakened for it has lost a shared vision, but it could be speculated that a new shared vision is forming.

      Many have complained about liberals in their share of these problems. My perspective is that liberals (as a class or a movement) can only stay true to liberalism when there is a left-wing strongly pulling left and the lower classes strongly offering support, both of these being more or less lacking in recent decades. Many liberals, sadly, will sell out to mainstream politics (the last refuge of the liberal) when there is no alternative outlet for seeking real change (liberals will always seek to work together with others, i.e. compromise, whether with conservatives or left-wingers, whether with Washington politicians or independent activists). Liberals feel lost when there is no left vision to inspire them and it is left-wingers who are best at stoking the fires of the political imagination.

      So, that was the context of my griping. Either leftists and liberals work together or fall separately.

      But now let me actually read the rest of your comments.

      • I understand, I am moody too. In fact I got pretty insulted by the last comment and kept trying to figure out what bothered me about.

        “So, that was the context of my griping. Either leftists and liberals work together or fall separately.”

        In the current context, yes, I agree. Here’s my first concern: if the liberal establishment has marginalized, more or less, left liberals to maintain power and already abandoned leftists for being radicals, then what do we really have to say? That situation is bad for a lot of reasons, one it makes outcomes like Oakland a lot more likely.

        • “if the liberal establishment has marginalized, more or less, left liberals to maintain power and already abandoned leftists for being radicals, then what do we really have to say?”

          There are many independent liberals and independent-leaning liberals who only vote Democratic because there are no other viable options being offered. Of course, they aren’t being offered largely because these people often aren’t seeking these options or supporting them when available.

          The question is: Why aren’t they?

          It’s not just about theoretical choices. The crux of the matter is about vision. For reasons beyond my comprehension, the left has lacked real vision in recent decades or at least has lacked the ability to express a vision. There is a failure somewhere. The far left hasn’t given a clear and compelling alternative.

          If Paine hadn’t been offering his radical vision, the American Revolution may never have succeeded or may never even have begun. If there wasn’t someone like MLK giving beautiful speeches that expressed a clear and compelling vision, then there wouldn’t have been so many people in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s not just about a single person, but there does need to be at least one person (hopefully more) able and willing to communicate the alternatives.

          Consider Nader or Chomsky. They have been two major figures on the left speaking to alternatives, but neither of them comes close to a Paine or a MLK. I remember Nader even saying he found that riling up the crowd didn’t achieve anything helpful other than getting people to temporarily feel inspired. I loved Nader’s sincerity and I voted for him, but could you imagine if MLK had thought that way? Chomsky, when asked about leadership, spoke like a true anarchist and dismissed the question. Why are those on the left afraid of their own power?

          I don’t know the answer. I just know there is this need that isn’t being fulfilled. If you had someone like an MLK speak to the Occupy movement right now, there would be massive marches on Washington and clashes with power across the country. It would be a sight to see. There is a powder keg waiting to be lit. Who is going to light it? Who has the courage and vision to take that role?

  4. I’ve been sensing a difference between at least a certain kind of liberal and a certain kind of leftist, but I’m wary at the moment to generalize too much. What I sense is a difference in focus and agenda.

    When I read about politics being discussed by left-wingers, it seems there is often more of a focus on how to change systems and overhaul structures. It’s very externally focused. Alter the framework of political power and economic relationships and society will follow. Left-wingers, for this reason, tend to put out more specific plans and more grand visions.

    From a liberal perspective, I think there is much more of a focus on shifting culture. Liberals want to change people in that they are very focused on process, of getting people to work together. They hope that new ideas and visions will arise out of the process. To the liberal, if we continue to use the same process of seeking change, we will continue to get the same results.

    Maybe this is a difference between insiders and outsiders, between liberals who are closer to the mainstream of our society and leftists who are more often outside looking in. Liberals have faith in the power of culture: the arts, higher education, journalism, etc. Liberals have faith in these things because these areas are filled with liberals doing their thing. Left-wingers, on the other hand, are more often forced to the periphery and so they realize their influence on mainstream culture is limited.

    I’m sure this division doesn’t apply to all liberals and leftists, but I sense it is a possibly important distinction between certain liberals and leftists.

    I thought of this when you spoke of tactical alliances. To my liberal sensibility, tactical alliances seem like a limited way of seeking change. But I also see that tactical alliances are pragmatically necessary. What a liberal wants is to go to the heart of the culture, not as an outsider forcing change from outside but as an insider seeking to work with others on the inside. Tactical alliances are absolutely necessary, especially from the outsider position. But it seems to me that left-wing visions could have so much greater impact if left-wingers sought to integrate themselves into the heart of our culture. A tactical alliance implies that we are separate groups with separate agendas whereas the liberal view is focused on what we share in common.

    I’m not exactly clear about what I mean. Maybe it’s that I’m wondering if left-wingers have been outside so long that they’ve forgotten how to work on the inside. Likewise, a left-winger could wonder if liberals have been on the inside so long that they’ve forgotten how to work on the outside. Both fair points. So, how can the outside and inside be bridged?

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