It Happened Here: The Bush Sweep, the Left, and the American Future

Stephen Eric Bronner



olitical commentary is always replete with exaggerations: it fits the need of the culture industry. Even the greatest thinkers like Karl Marx and Theodor Adorno tended to take the experience of a crucial historical moment and extrapolate its most dramatic implications into the future: it’s a natural inclination. But the victory of George W. Bush in the presidential campaign of 2004 is pregnant with the most ominous economic, political, and ideological developments. The onus does not simply fall on “capital” in an election that cost nearly $4 billion and in which roughly the same amount of cash was spent on both sides. Enough elite sectors were suffering from a damaged economy and were appalled by the blatantly incompetent handling of the ill-fated and immoral invasion of Iraq. Republicans proved themselves masters of the smear campaign and, most likely, there was ballot-fraud in the two crucial swing states of Ohio and Florida.[1] But 2004 is not 2000.[2]

President George Bush defeated Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) by three and a half million votes and voting reached record highs of nearly 60%; not merely a plurality but for the first time since 1988, when George Bush the Elder beat Michael Dukakis, a majority of American voters made a dramatic political choice. Staring into the abyss in the aftermath of a sweep, which has resulted not only in greater Republican control over the Senate and the Congress, but what is being presented as a new right-wing ideological mandate, the left must now look in the mirror and reflect upon first principles. It must consider what strategy the Democratic Party employed, what the right-wing zealots are planning, what the role of the left might be, and what outlines its resistance should take under conditions in which – it should not be forgotten – the country remains virtually as divided as it was in 2000.

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Dealing with Differences: Could a different candidate have produced a better result? Perhaps, but probably not: outside of Howard Dean, who would have received little support from the careerists within the Democratic Party, and whom the right-wing media would have shredded, none of the other candidates inspired much enthusiasm. Differences between the Republican and Democratic camps were also apparent and, in spite of a relentless and hideous right-wing media blitz against the challenger, the lying and incompetence of the Bush Administration became public knowledge. But it is not that simple. Belief once existed in the willingness of the Democratic Party – or, at least, certain minority segments of it – to stand for certain principles with respect to foreign policy as well as domestic reform. That belief was probably never fully warranted: the Democrats have been the party of aggressive, liberal nationalism for most of the twentieth century. Especially now, however, it has become clear that if the party is to serve as an opposition then pressure must come from outside or what might be termed “the street.”

While the Republican Party ran an explicitly ideological campaign predicated on “mobilizing the base” – by highlighting the threat posed to moral values, raising the specter of terrorism, wrapping the invasion of Iraq in the flag of national interest, and invoking the fear of higher taxes – the Democratic Party was guided by exactly the opposite strategy. It too, of course, wished to bring out its base. But its campaign was driven less by “liberal” principles let alone “socialist” beliefs, which was claimed by various reactionary and religious demagogues in the Mid-West and the South, than by the “realism” of the pollster and the “pragmatism” of the party professional. They believed it was enough for John Kerry to appear as the “anti-George Bush” just as, in the primaries, he had served as the “anti-Howard Dean.” It would seem from the results that the wise guys among the Democrats weren’t as smart as they thought they were.

Asking whether a different candidate would have done “better” then is, actually, the wrong question. More important is to reflect upon whether this candidate left any kind of legacy on which the Democrats might build down the road. That is where the problem lies. Senator Kerry presented his party as a somewhat less noxious version of the Republicans and assumed a reactive, rather than a proactive, stance on the major issues of our time: social issues, the economy, nationalism, and the war. To his credit, Kerry did unequivocally state his support for Roe v. Wade, indicated he would not appoint reactionary justices to the Supreme Court, and spoke about extending health care to the 43 million people who need it.[3] It should have been enough of a reason to vote for him.

But elections are decided less by issues than the mobilization of constituencies.  Kerry said little about the declining conditions of the elderly poor and he did not offer much more to those African-Americans who would prove his most loyal supporters. Senator Kerry was also outflanked on the matter of gay marriage: he opposed the constitutional ban on it demanded by President Bush only to watch in horror as Vice-President Dick Cheney, surely to soften the hard-line stance of his boss, stated publicly that he didn’t see the need for an amendment. The Democrats never articulated the vision of a nation steeped in tolerance and acceptance of the “other,” and ready to meet the needs of social justice in an age of globalization.    

As for the economy, Kerry was content to oppose “tax cuts” for the rich, but not for the “middle class”; oppose the “outsourcing” of jobs but not put forward a plan for mass scale job creation; oppose privatizing the social security system but not speak about raising benefits. Intent upon developing “business friendly policies,” Democrats split the interests of working people from those of the “middle class” families with incomes around $60,000. They also refused explicitly to accuse the Bush Administration of engaging in class war even though it had redistributed income upward from the poor to the rich more radically than at any time during this century, constricted union political activity and the right to strike, and opposed raising an already pathetically low minimum wage. Too little was made of the way in which, for the first time during a war, programs for poor and working people were actually eliminated.

For the Democrats, it was always less a matter of challenging elites or reinvigorating the welfare state than engaging in what Bill Clinton liked to call “triangulation,” which involves standing just a wee-bit further to the left on economic issues than the Republicans. Kerry publicly evidenced the inner conflict of a man burdened with an exceptionally “liberal” voting record in the Senate while feeling the “pragmatic” necessity of running against it for president. During the last week of the campaign, indeed, he ultimately spoke less about a plummeting economy than the loss of 350 tons of munitions in Iraq due to the incompetence of the administration.

To continue: what was true in terms of social issues and the economy became even more embarrassing in terms of dealing with the culture generated by 9/11. Much is made now about the role of religion, and the inability of Democrats to deal with the faithful, but actually the number of voting evangelicals remained roughly what it was in 2000 and it was among non-regular churchgoers that President Bush increased his vote.[4] Most voters were concerned, especially in the swing states, with “national security” in the face of a terror attack and the conduct of the Iraq War. Indeed, while religion and “moral values” surely played a role,[5] it was the inability to deal with the insecurities associated with the post-9/11 climate that sent the Democrats to defeat.

Senator Kerry was effusive in his nationalism and preoccupation with making the country more “secure” throughout the campaign. Rather than appear as the decorated veteran that he was, in fact, he sought to turn himself into a war hero. Kerry threatened to “hunt down” and “kill” Osama bin Laden and the rest of the terrorists with as much fervor as President Bush. The only difference was that Kerry did “flip-flop” on his past as a resister to Vietnam, remained ambiguous on the Patriot Act, and unrealistically argued for ending the Iraqi occupation by sending in more troops while maintaining that he could persuade the United Nations and our economically strapped former allies – whose citizens overwhelmingly opposed the invasion from the beginning – to provide “help.” The Democrats were simply not as convincing in their obsessions with security, militarism, or nationalism as the Republicans.

Maybe they were not quite as obsessed. This only makes sense since, for right or wrong, the Democrats were considered the party of opposition and they were supposed to offer an alternative. That was, after all, their rationale in the election of 2004. It was a rationale, however, which they neither fully embraced nor fully discarded. Senator Kerry criticized the set of lies that legitimated the invasion, but never called upon the United States to exit Iraq. Until the end of September, near the conclusion of the campaign, he said that he would have authorized the war even had he known that Iraq was not harboring weapons of mass destruction. Kerry lambasted the President not for waging a useless and immoral war, but for the incompetence with which it was being waged. This stance left him open to the charge of not believing in the legitimacy of the invasion while, simultaneously, engaging in Monday-morning quarterbacking: Kerry’s catastrophic ambivalence on legislation calling for $87 billion to further finance the war, which he apparently supported while voting against the bill, was symbolic of his entire take on the conflict. That the invasion of Iraq was misguided from the beginning – in principle and in practice – never, ironically, became part of the electoral debate. And for good reason: most of the Democrats along with a new set of left wing “fellow travelers” took the bait and – especially when it looked like victory was near – fell over one another in expressing support for the Iraqi war. That the cheers turned to criticism – once victory was no longer at hand – looked hypocritical though, tactically and pragmatically, the shift in opinion only made sense.

Senator Kerry shied away from proposing a new approach to foreign policy or dealing with the need for a planetary politics in a planetary age.[6] The doctrine of “pre-emptive strike” was never subjected to criticism and the loss of the “street” in so many nations, the squandering of sympathy and support that the United States had gained due to 9/11, was never linked to the pursuit of a unilateral foreign policy in favor of an explicitly multilateral one. Again and again, Kerry disclaimed the idea that any foreign nation or organization would hold a veto over American actions under his presidency. The problem therefore was not that the Democrats refused to embrace nationalism, fiscal responsibility, the feelings of the religious right, or the war effort; it was that they did not do any of this with the same degree of conviction and consistency as their Republican opponents.

Advisors to Senator Kerry like Mary Beth Cahill and Bob Shrum along with the “mainstream” associated with the Democratic Leadership Council wanted to be “pragmatic,” “realistic,” and slick. They were. But the result was merely a watered down version of the campaign that they opposed. The contradictions and vacillations over foreign policy became ever more glaring. The Economist was not wrong when, while supporting Kerry, it claimed in its election issue that the presidential race involved a choice between “the incompetent and the incoherent.” The real lesson of this election is not merely that the former appeared less noxious than the latter, which it did, but that the only hope for progressives – now irretrievably on the defensive – is to recognize that competence requires coherence and that progressive interests must be linked to progressive principles.

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Republican Plans: President Bush actually put the matter well when he stated in his victory address that he had now earned some “political capital” and that he was willing to spend it. What’s coming will be, if possible, an intensified version of what has been. The political trajectory for the administration over the next four years was set during the electoral campaign and it will revolve less upon what campaign strategist Karl Rove termed “mini-ball” than the “big” issues with respect to foreign and domestic policy. When seeking to understand this ideologically driven Republican Party, when constructing an image of neo-conservatism, more is subsequently involved than discrete issues like privatizing social security, eliminating taxes on inheritance and savings, introducing radical tax cuts, or even repealing the Wagner and the Fair Labor Standards Acts. Such policies would undoubtedly increase the deficit. But man does not live by bread alone. This would make it possible for the Republicans to justify eliminating state programs though, naturally, not those concerned with “national” security or further bloating an omnivorous military budget.

Shrinking “big government” was never actually the aim of neo-conservatives. Bush’s deficit in 2004 was $413 billion and his military budget will run to $419 billion. Roughly $4 billion per week will be spent covering the costs generated by Iraq and Afghanistan and the partial privatization of Social Security could reach $146 billion by 2009.  A $258 billion budget is projected for that year without even considering the further costs of the war in Iraq.[7] The point is plain enough: only in terms of cutting welfare programs – and this often as a “stealth issue” – were neo conservatives ever intent upon, in their parlance, “starving the beast.” They were always more than willing to expand the size of the military and the intelligence agencies.

Laissez-faire,” wrote Kevin Phillips, “is a pretense.”[8] The government is now part of the economy: the real question involves the priorities it should set. Ideology is necessary in privileging one set of priorities over another. Viewing the state in terms of a family budget helps provide a basis for provincial thinking about the “fiscal responsibility” while the vision of an imperiled community, strengthened by the incessant terror alerts, creates the justification for building an ever-stronger military capable of enforcing a foreign policy consonant with imperialist aims Those wishing to confront the Republican Party will thus have to deal with the connections it has forged between imperialism, militaristic nationalism, a new provincialism, and the waging of an economic class war.

Many now speak about the dangers of American intervention spreading to Iran, Syria and other states that are included, or might be included, in what President Bush called “the axis of evil.” That phrase is now already almost forgotten but it remains important for making sense of America’s role in the world. More is involved than the particular flashpoints for potential crisis or even the seemingly unending attempt to read the present back into the original response to the attack of 9/11 and the assault on the Taliban. Generally ignored have been the basic nationalist and unilateralist assumptions underpinning the invasion of Iraq that were presented by Republicans – now even more than before – as a line of demarcation between “us and them.”

More than 56% of Americans now doubt whether the Iraqi War is worth the costs. That number is steadily rising along with the dead and wounded. But the election of 2004 suggested what is actually at stake is less Iraq than the self-understanding of the United States as the predominant world power with the God-given right to intervene where it will. Hard to ignore is the way in which America has lost the moral standing it acquired in the aftermath of 9/11. Republicans turned this in their favor. Former allies opposed to the Iraqi invasion and the international forum in which the Bush administration suffered its most embarrassing public setback, the United Nations, became targets of unrelenting criticism. The need for self-reflection by the United States and developing new forms of western unity were transformed into an unthinking nationalism, resentment against the rest of the world for its ingratitude, heightened preoccupations with “security,” and feelings of cultural superiority for leading the “war against terrorism.” The same hot air, the same propaganda, is now filling the trial balloons concerning the threats to our national security posed by Iran and Syria. Why not? Such talk helped the Republicans generate a new provincialism within the American polity.

The Democratic Party had no response to the wave of sentiments and attitudes reminiscent of the great character fashioned by Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt. The new provincialism reflects the overlapping consensus between the “middle class and the depressed rural elements of American society. It exhibits not only a fear of criticism, but of expanding individual choices and legitimating different life-styles that challenge communitarian norms and religious strictures. It evokes the Bible thumping of the half-literate preacher, the attempt to introduce creationism as an “alternative” to evolution, and the thought that stem cell research and biological engineering will alter “human nature.”[9] The new provincialism is the neo-conservative response to what Norman Podhoretz called the “adversary culture” of the 1960s. Grounded in the basic concerns of the moment – abortion, gay marriage, and the right to own a gun (any gun) – this parochial and reactionary ideology is ultimately intent upon challenging the most basic elements of the progressive tradition: cosmopolitanism and tolerance, civil liberties and social reform, and – above all – the attempt to constrain the arbitrary exercise of institutional power.  

Abortion was cleverly pitched in terms of a “culture of life” for the Republican base even while George W. Bush largely focused on “partial birth abortions” in the presidential debates. But there is little doubt that the Bush Administration will attempt to mitigate or even reverse Roe v. Wade with the appointment of possibly three new justices to the Supreme Court. The popularity of the new provincialism also provides justification for those who deeply resent abortion in principle and seek new conservative legislation. Newly elected Senator David Vitner from Louisiana has called for banning abortion in all instances while Tom Coburn, the newly elected Senator from Oklahoma, actually has called for arresting doctors who perform abortions and trying them for murder should that procedure become illegal. Similarly, the newly elected Senator from South Carolina, Jim De Mint has made the modest proposal that neither gays nor unmarried pregnant women should teach in public schools.

As for gay marriage, of course, it was a stroke of political brilliance for Republicans in eleven states to place bans on gay marriage on the ballot: they were universally successful. But it remains an open question whether President Bush will fulfill his campaign promise of seeking a constitutional ban. The price would be very high. What is not an open issue, however, is the question of guns. Rather than take on the National Rifle Association, whose supporters would most likely vote Republican anyway, the Democratic Party simply concentrated on the importance of retaining the existing ban on AK-47s. Cries of “USA! USA!” directed against outsiders and unbelievers, however, did not vanish. And for good reason: The forest was missed for the trees. Ignored was the political role of ideology in favor of a narrow understanding of economic interests. Only by bringing ideology back in is it possible to glean hints of what will surely prove important not merely for Democrats winning the next election, but for combating what must be understood as a more general “distortion of democracy” that pervades the American landscape. The Bush Administration has already begun packing the lower courts with conservatives. Three new reactionary justices on the Supreme Court could have a devastating impact on civil liberties no less than social issues like abortion. Then there are the various “anti-terror” intelligence bills along with the Patriot Acts I & II. They give new powers to the federal government with respect to issuing subpoenas, denying bail to those accused of terrorism, instituting the death penalty for terrorist crimes, developing “enhanced surveillance procedures,” sealing off borders, and “removing obstacles to investigating terrorism.”

But the threat to democracy, no less than democracy itself, is not simply a formal matter. It is not merely the direct assault on civil liberties through legislation, and various attempts at censorship, which is crucial. Just as important is the spirit of intimidation and the self-censorship generated in what is becoming an ever more militaristic and provincial climate of opinion. The belief is growing ever stronger not only that the United States has been divinely endowed with the right to exert its power when it wills, but that intellectual activity is an affront to religious faith, that the political exercise of democratic rights is an impediment to national “unity,” and that the concern for economic justice involves an assault on the individual. Neo-conservatives are bent upon strengthening the military, waging imperialist wars abroad and intensifying a class war against the least fortunate at home under the cover of a hyper-nationalism.[10] Cultural reactionaries and religious fanatics, advocates of the new provincialism, are intent upon contesting the practice of liberty and the progress of knowledge. Support exists not for Nazism, or for old-fashioned forms of racism and anti-Semitism, but for a new American form of authoritarian populism.[11] That is bad enough.

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What Now? : Not since Richard Nixon defeated Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) in 1972 have the hopes of the left been so thoroughly dashed. The greatest voting registration drive in American history, the most remarkable fund-raising effort ever, seems to have led to nothing for the Democrats. They were out-mobilized by the Republicans.  Even worse: evangelical fundamentalists and those threatened by the more liberal and cosmopolitan elements of modernity, seem to have voted against their immediate economic interests and in favor not merely of a radical redistribution of wealth upwards, and an old-fashioned class war directed against programs of benefit to working people and the poor, but of a costly and unnecessary war in Iraq. The country seems to have been driven even farther to the right and it appears to stand more divided than ever before.

If the map above has any validity, however, the present divide is not quite as “new” as it would seem. What becomes evident is a general division between rural areas seemingly threatened by modernity and urban areas intent upon embracing it. This translates into a conflict between the class and groups embedded in rural existence with its religious and cultural traditionalism confronting the class and groups embedded in urban life with its secularism and multicultural dynamism.[12]

Interestingly enough, however, there is nothing new about that either.[13] Just as capitalists generally harbored an affinity for the free markets and civil liberties associated with classical liberalism, and workers historically identified with either Marxism or some form of social democratic thinking, the middle class sought refuge in the security of traditional values while pre-modern groups including farmers and small entrepreneurs and the like tended to identify with pre-modern ideologies. And they did so precisely because the modern world both in its secular – liberal and socialist – theory as well as in its capitalist industrial and technological practice is imperiling both the existential and the material foundations of their pre-modern way of life.

Herein is the source of the new provincialism. Nostalgia for the power and glory of the American imperial past, which was questioned during the Vietnam War, inclines rural and pre-modern groups towards embracing nationalist propaganda even in what is manifestly a failed cause. Fear of the outsider, in this case the Arab not the Jew, similarly predisposes them to appeals concerning “security” in the face of a looming terror attack. Ironically, if such an attack should occur, it will most likely take place not in some small town, but in precisely the kind of major urban area whose citizens vote “left.” Nevertheless, the new provincialism does not merely speak to issues of foreign and national security: it also bleeds into domestic concerns.

Most important, perhaps, is the rejection of a rights based culture in favor of the “community.” The decline in “family values” is bemoaned without the least sense of the way in which “the culture industry” is undermining them. The preoccupation with “creationism” as an alternative to evolution by the rural, religious, parts of the citizenry complements their anxiety over complex scientific developments like stem cell research. All of this reflects the deeper – perhaps unconscious – and totally legitimate insight that the small town is anachronistic for the modern world. Herein is the source of the oft-noted “rage” and “resentment” that these groups direct toward “liberals” and “socialists.”[14] They appear as the cause of their distress, and this mistaken perception leads to contradictions in which the poorest counties of a state like Kansas will vote Republican, citing religion and the like, even though Republican policies are doing nothing for them and, actually, are keeping them poor. But simply citing the irrationality of such beliefs, even while understandably calling for a new economic populism, misses the point. Privileging “reason” or utility in dealing with social problems is itself a function of modernity. This part of the citizenry may be voting against their material interests, but not their existential ones. Thus, when the question arises “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”[15] The answer is: nothing at all.

Political finesse does not ultimately help in dealing with this paradox. Something serious is at stake that becomes even more serious in periods of crisis when religious or mythical and traditional or reactionary appeals generally assume heightened importance for precisely these groups. To be sure: in America during the 1930s, when they were offered something in terms of legislation that would manifestly better their lives, the faithful and the rural poor briefly aligned with the labor movement and urban immigrants.[16] The great divide was also bridged at other moments in American history. It is only necessary to consider the “New Nationalism” of Teddy Roosevelt (R-NY) or the elections of Democrats like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. More recently, of course, there were the presidential victories of Governor Jimmy Carter (D-Ga) and Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Ark.).

But it is important to remember that these electoral successes were built upon maintaining a racist political structure in the South and, with perhaps making an exception of FDR, essentially employing a rank nationalism that brooked no opposition in the realm of foreign policy. Once President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and mass opposition to the Vietnam War began, which resulted in a “trauma” born of nothing more than the desire to render foreign policy decisions accountable to the citizenry, the “solid” South dutifully moved from the Democratic into the Republican column. It only returned when Jimmy Carter began the retreat from the achievements of 1968 and Bill Clinton, after running a smart campaign against George Bush the Elder in 1992, introduced his strategy of “triangulation” and welfare reform.

Such compromises, however, are no longer acceptable. Or, better, it is now the task of progressives to block the Democratic Party from entering into compromises that would sacrifice the interests of their base – people of color, women, unions and the poor – in order for careerists and party professionals “to get elected.” Many, of course, see things differently. Mainstream Democrats, who so heavily contributed to the ethical collapse of their party during the onset of the Iraqi War, are now already demanding that it shift even further toward the “center” in 2008. Given that the “center” has gradually inched ever further to the right since the 1990s, however, such a strategy can only intensify the identity crisis of the Democratic Party. It can only further diminish its appeal for traditional constituencies, and enable the Republican Party to fashion an even more reactionary politics. Such a strategy of “appeasement” will surely legitimate the anti-democratic and know nothing elements of the new provincialism.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the noted columnist of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff, who – in the wake of defeat – has called upon the Democratic Party to temper its support for abortion and gay rights and its battles for gun control and against symbols like the Confederate flag. But why stop there? Perhaps Northern liberals can even be induced to buy pick-up trucks, hang their guns and flags inside, and then drive those always-willing people of color and poor women to the voting booths where they can cast their ballots for the always-deserving Democratic Party. But Kristoff is not alone. Another of the “great compromisers,” changing somewhat a phrase from Nietzsche, has an even better idea. Steven Waldman, editor in chief of, insists that Democrats should now empathize more deeply with how “Christians” – unlike the working poor or gay people or people of color let alone Arab-Americans – feel “misunderstood and persecuted.” It doesn’t seem to matter that not all “Christians,” but rather the religious zealots – the missionary advocates of the new provincialism – are the ones who feel themselves alienated from the Democratic Party. Perhaps those degenerate secularists on the coasts should start building a new coalition with them by insisting upon re-opening the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Chipping away at the right-wing allegiances of pre-modern sectors in American society is possible, even necessary, but “winning them over” through talk of a “new nationalism” or a “liberal nationalism” contemptuous of multiculturalism and the achievements of the social movements is an illusion.[17] Obviously points of common interest and even solidarity can bind the most divergent groups: perhaps progressives should support “faith-based initiatives” when it comes to the homeless, AIDS victims, and even prisoners so long as it doesn’t involve privileging a reactionary alternative to left-wing forms of community organizing. But it is equally obvious that conservatives can find reactionary ideological points of unity and fashion deep and sustainable alliances with reactionary constituencies more easily than progressives. And conservatives need not qualify their support.

Dealing with pre-modern groups and classes, which the media likes to define simply as “religious and rural” or “middle class” voters, is – again – not simply a matter of political finesse. Snapping military salutes, wearing goose hunting gear, and loudly identifying with religious values – as Senator Kerry did – won’t do the trick. It evidences only condescension for small town voters with strong religious and traditional values. They sense it, too. That is an important reason why the Republicans were successful this past election in identifying “religion” with evangelical fundamentalists and the most reactionary elements of the religious community. As for the pragmatists and compromisers in the Democratic Party, those who hold so little sympathy for ideological conviction, the suspicion will always exist among those “red state” voters that they are panderers and hypocrites.

Despite the crowing by fundamentalist groups like Focus on the Family or The Christian Defense Coalition, however, they do not represent the religious community of America. African-Americans and Hispanics are both deeply religious constituencies: 89% of the former and 53% of the latter voted for the Democratic Party in 2004. Then there are the Quaker organizations like the American Friends Service Committee, radical groups within the Catholic Church, and other religious institutions were all once committed to building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Most remain committed to fostering progressive domestic legislation and a humane foreign policy. Rather than speak about compromising with religious fanatics, or adherents of the new provincialism, it would be much more practical and principled for secular progressives to highlight their connections with the progressive elements of the religious community.

The purpose of parties is perhaps “to get elected,” but getting elected – especially over the long haul -- often depends upon the party acting as a vehicle for “protest.” That is the situation today. Economic divisions in the United States will become worse, a spiteful culture of intolerance will further harm the democratic discourse, and the domestic “war on terror” has no end in sight. The rush to the center, which will be presented as benefiting “us” not simply the party regulars, is precisely what will lead to papering over the gravity of these developments. It is what progressives must resist. Reinvigorating the Democratic Party is possible only by reinvigorating its base. Or, to put it another way, providing core constituencies with proposals and ideals that working people, women, minorities, progressive religious institutions, the poor, and the young can be enthusiastic about.

President Bush and his followers promulgated an ideology concerned not merely with fostering imperialist ambitions but with rolling back the policies and values associated with the most humane traditions of economic, political, and social reform. And ideology, as Max Weber reminds us, is not like a taxi that can be stopped at will. Can the Republicans veer even further to the right? Is that possible? It is if we on the left let the obsession with “security” justify the constriction of civil liberties and a centralization of intelligence and police agencies. It is if we let an arbitrarily defined “axis of evil” and the current contempt for international law go unquestioned. It is if we forget about the lying and the distortion of democracy that have shaped the American landscape. It is if we accept the right-wing identification of religion with fundamentalist zealotry. It is if we don’t link the war abroad with class war at home. It is if we let a momentary mandate appear as a fundamental consensus. A new authoritarian populism is possible, in short, if progressives don’t stand up to defend the values that have informed our best traditions: economic justice, political liberty, and cosmopolitanism.


[1]  Greg Palast has estimated that Republican chicanery at the polls probably did not cost the Democrats more than 1 million votes and it is important to consider that, after waiting hours presumably checking the print-outs, Senator Kerry obviously reached the conclusion that counting the “provisional ballots” in the crucial swing state of Ohio would not have changed the result.

[2] Douglas Kellner, Grand Theft 2000: Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

[3] “The number of people with health insurance rose by 1.5 million between 2001 and 2002, to 242.4 million, and the number of uninsured rose by 2.4 million, to 43.6 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today. An estimated 15.2 percent of the population had no health insurance coverage during all of 2002, up from 14.6 percent in 2001, according to the report, Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2002. The proportion of insured children did not change in 2002, remaining at 64.8 million, or 88.4 percent of all children.” The situation has only gotten worse since these figures were published in the U.S.Department of Commerce News (September 30, 2003). For the full report see

[5] A Zogby Poll conducted for the Catholic Peace Group Pax Christi, the New York based civic advocacy group, Res Publica, and the Center for American Progress found that 42% of voters cited the war in Iraq as the most pressing moral issue and 31% cited “poverty and economic justice” as against 13% who cited abortion and 9% who cited same-sex marriage. See:¬2.html.

[6] Noted the anthology Planetary Politics: Human Rights, Terror, and Global Society edited by Stephen Eric Bronner (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).

[7] Jonathan Wiesman, “Analysts Call Outlook for Bush Plan Bleak: too Much Deficit, Not Enough Revenue” in November 5, 2004, pg. A08.

[8] Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (New York: Broadway, 2003).

[9] Such primitive fears are given sophisticated forms in Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Picador, 2002).

[10] Frances Fox Piven, The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush’s Militarism (New York: New Press, 2004).

[11] When Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here (1935), which dealt with a fascist takeover, that movement with its anti-Semitism was a salient reality and also international in its appeal. By contrast, exaggerating reactionary possibilities, manipulating the frisson of Nazism through continuing references to the 1930s, employing the old anti-Semitism in new conditions, both misrepresents the primary potential victims and distorts the real threat of the present. Note the vastly over-praised novel by Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (New York: Houghton Miflin, 2004).

[12] Note the map of states broken down into red and pink, blue and baby blue, counties in the website of CNN;

[13] Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works 3 volumes (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969) 1:394ff.

[14] Pre-modern class formations have traditionally served as the mass base for fascism in Europe and other right-wing authoritarian movements in the United States like the Ku Klux Klan. The classic analysis is by Ernst Bloch Heritage of Our Times trans. Neville and Stephen Plaice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pgs. 97-148.

[15] Note the fine study by Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004).

[16] Instructive, in this regard, is the preacher Jim Casey in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. See the internet article by Mark Solomon, “What’s Next? Let’s Build The ‘The Mother of All Coalitions’” in on November 12, 2004.

[17] Michael Lind, The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution (New York: Free Press, 1996) and also his Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is wrong from America (New York: Free Press, 1997). Not merely a less opportunistic, but a more coherent position is offered by Charles Noble, The Collapse of Liberalism: Why America Needs a New Left (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).


Stephen Eric Bronner is the senior editor of Logos and the author, most recently, of A Rumor about the Jews: Anti-Semitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion’ (Oxford University Press) and Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement (Columbia University Press).  He is Professor (II) of Political Science and a member of the Graduate Faculties of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Rutgers University.