I used to be able to recognize lefties by smell, touch or sound. They cared about progressive taxation, economic justice for the poor, a decent level of government services and the environment and had a healthy suspicion of big business.
Somewhere in the last six months they slipped one past me.
Some leading Dems are tossing most of that stuff overboard. They are embracing Republican economic policies, while still clutching hard to Democratic ideals on identity politics.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the most outspoken exponent of this new kind of politics. He’s creating a new kind of beast: the “Progractionary”…the “Congressive”…the “Coniberal”…the “Libactionary.” It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of politics, and the outcomes are unknown.
Cuomo’s state budget and his rhetoric were from the hard-right playbook, the one with chapters titled “Read My Lips, No New Taxes,” “The Problem Is Spending and Unions” and “Cut School Aid and Health Care.”
By telling us New York has to cut spending and can’t afford any more taxes, Cuomo paid a hefty price from traditional Democratic constituencies. He’s looking hard at a national future, which requires left-wing credentials. What to do?
His answer is shrewd and insightful—maybe. He has adopted the economic policies of the Right, but is aggressively supporting the liberation and identity struggles of the Left. He is carefully courting the leaders of New York’s many religious, ethnic and language minorities, and has made enactment of a gay marriage bill a top priority.
Cuomo exercised considerable muscle to get it done, with Democrats falling in line and Republicans preparing to trade enough votes for other things they want. He’s betting that a true human rights victory, and an important one, will allow him to reclaim the liberal mantle his father fashioned and wore for so long, no matter what his economic policies are.
Maybe being progressive means something different now. Conservatives never liked the New Deal or the Great Society, never liked Social Security or Medicare or progressive taxation, always favored unleashing the economic and political power of large corporations and hated government programs that softened the hard edge of wealth and income inequality.
Democrats, on the other hand, stuck with those principles as inarguable and fundamental declarations of their social vision, until now. The erosion of Democratic solidarity in this fight will have huge consequences.
Identity politics rose from the civil rights movements, the women’s movement and a growing awareness of historical repression and injustice against once-stigmatized groups of Americans. Ensuring decent treatment of all Americans is central to any society’s long-term health and decency, but it lacks the broad unifying appeal of economic issues.
The Right never supported the civil rights or women’s movements, or most of the others. Those causes became linked to Democrats almost as powerfully as economic justice. Now identity politics may have trumped economic concerns among Democrats. It’s a little scary, but Cuomo has launched that boat.
In an era when corporations dominate economics and politics, the collapse of support for economic fairness will have enormous consequences for most Americans.
These policies built the American middle class, made upward mobility possible, made old age bearable and created a politically active and involved citizenry that encouraged democratic values.
The new beast slouching out of Albany onto the national stage is an unfamiliar creature, and a dangerous one. It’s not that labels matter, but labels matter—and smushing together right-wing economics and left-wing identity politics deserves a new name.
Progractionary? Congressive? Coniberal? Libactionary? You choose. But it could change America for the worse no matter what you call it.
Richard Brodsky is a Senior Fellow at Demos, a NYC-based think tank, and at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Administration. He served in the state Assembly from 1983 to 2010 and chaired the corporations and environmental protection committees. He appears regularly as a contributing editor on WRNN-TV.
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