Keeping in mind that the California Recall was closely observed worldwide and condemned and ridiculed by one European opinion-leading publication after another, and that virtually every American left luminary, including especially the Democratic presidential candidates, made pilgrimages here to campaign on Gov. Davis' behalf, consider these comments from veteran leftist Marc Cooper's delightfully titled column Jonestown for Democrats:
Refusing to validate or even recognize the raw voter resentment against the political cesspool of Sacramento, liberals wound up pinned up against the wall, on the losing side of an historic voter revolt. As the insurgency swelled, the best that liberal activists could do was plug their ears, cover their eyes and rather mindlessly repeat that this all was some sinister plot linked to Florida, Texas, Bush, the Carlyle Group, Enron, and Skull and Bones. By bunkering down with the discredited and justly scorned Gray Davis, they wound up defending an indefensible status quo against a surging wave of popular disgust. So gross was their miscalculation that the campaign ended last week with the lobbyist-infested state Capitol being surrounded by 10,000 broom-waving Arnold supporters instead of by what should have been an army of enraged reformers and progressives.
Now, compare them to the following statements by Marxist Norm Geras from his essential essay "The War in Iraq":
[The war] didn't have to be opposed by all the forces that did in fact oppose it. It could, on the contrary, have been supported - by France and Germany and Russia and the UN; and by a mass democratic movement of global civil society. Just think about that. Just think about the kind of precedent it would have set for other genocidal, or even just lavishly murderous, dictatorships - instead of all those processions of shame across the world's cities, and whose success would have meant the continued abandonment of the Iraqi people.
You have to go back to the apologias for, and fellow-travelling with, the crimes of Stalinism to find as shameful a moral failure of liberal and left opinion as in the wrong-headed - and too often, in the circumstances, sickeningly smug - opposition to the freeing of the Iraqi people from one of the foulest regimes on the planet.
There can be little doubt that, twice in the last year, on the most pressing, widely followed, definitive issues of the moment, the left has stood squarely in defense of reactionary institutional and special interests and against any position remotely deserving of the term "progressive."
To Cooper's credit, he also utilizes quotation marks when assigning the term to the pro-Davis/anti-Recall forces:
[F]or the moment, let the Democratic Party and its "progressive" satellites deeply, richly and slowly feel the painful consequences of allying with and defending — to death itself — the likes of Gray Davis. The harder the Democrats now have to work to hold on to constituencies they’d rather take for granted, so much the better. One day they may actually get it.
Cooper has in mind the signs of fragmentation in the Democratic Party's core interest groups - Latinos, women, gays, union members, even African-Americans. As for his suggestion that defeats like this latest one might shake the left out of its stupor and denial (the combination equates with stupidity), I suppose nothing's impossible, but whether the left any longer has any reasonable claim on the notion of "progress" is another question. I'm thinking that it's time for those on the right and center to re-appropriate the term for themselves - recalling Ronald Reagan ("We are the change") even more than Teddy Roosevelt - and not only because even the attempt to do so would annoy so many people so deserving of annoyance. Bush and Schwarzenegger have outlined the model for a truly progressive conservatism - libertarian/supply side economics, democratic internationalism, social tolerance constrained only by respect for enduring values.
If the left remains committed to the wrong side of history for much longer, the center will overwhelm the extremes on the right and the left, and the only debates of any practical significance will be the intramural and practical ones over how exactly to advance the progressive right agenda.