A Leading Progressive's Strategic Thoughts About The Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Sep 14, 2010 at 08:42:45 PM EST
Longtime social justice activist Urvashi Vaid has an exceptionally thoughtful essay at her blog titled "Ideas Needed to Defeat the Right."  One needn't agree with every point in order to find it an excellent starting off point for people seeking to approach the subject of what to do.  It is long, nuanced and well worth reading and discussing among those who take the long view.  

One point that she highlights as a critical need is for serious research and documentation that can lead to better understandings of the Right.  Excerpts on the flip.

What was striking about the Glenn Beck rally was its familiarity, not its strangeness. Everything about it was a repetition of messages and ideas reinforcing the version of American tradition that `imagineers' on the right have promoted for decades. A national identity erased of color or class or gender or religious plurality. A restoration fantasy of "taking this country back" (to the pre-civil war 1850's at least, if not the 1760's). The banal invocation to "do good" while acting really badly against anyone defined outside of the Christian nation.

In a similar vein, Jane Mayer's expose of the Koch brothers in the New Yorker was also eerily familiar -- another excellent analysis of the strategic funding and ideological commitment of right wing donors. How many times have we read this story? Yet, each decade it seems that mainstream and even progressive minded people newly "discover" the Right. We are reminded (again) that they have built a comprehensive totalitarian infrastructure (from ideas to action to communication). Liberals are shocked to realize how much money the ideological Right commits to consolidating its political power. People bemoan the collapse of a moderate wing of the Republican party. Alarms are sounded and everyone goes on as usual.

Sadly, there is a shortage of ideas about how to respond to and how to defeat the Right wing culturally and politically. This column is an effort to think about progressive strategy and invites others to offer their experiences.

One certainly has to know whom one is up against. Research and analysis is critical. Research on the right has shown how religious conservatives married cultural conservatism to economic conservatism; links between the intelligence communities and the right; links among hard right militias and racist elements in this country; funding trails between mainstream donors and fanatic shock jocks; links between US religious groups and global missionaries whose actions result in terror and violence against LGBT people. The research shows us an ideologically broad coalition that effectively unites across class through its nationalism, racism and misogyny.

But our research is not sophisticated enough to help us develop our vision of the future and put it out to America. Our think tanks fail in developing ways to communicate beyond a narrow elite base. We need to think how we can address the worries and anxieties of the rank and file followers of the Right - even the ones who are falling for racist and misogynist appeals with our very different message. To defeat the right, we are going to have to offer a coherent and inviting vision, a different kind of nationalism....

Only a handful of think tanks monitor and study the Right (e.g. Political Research Associates, People For the American Way, Southern Poverty Law Center to name three). Liberal and progressive philanthropy has desperately underfunded the study of how to respond to the Right because it correctly fears that Right wing Congress-men will turn their regulatory ire on the Right's enemies. The fear is warranted but cannot excuse cowardice. A lot more funding needs to be directed immediately to stem the neo-fascist movements growing in the United States.

She recommends a number of books to get started. I am honored to note she included one of mine.

Read, for example: Sara Diamond (Roads to Dominion), Jean Hardisty (Mobilizing Resentment), Rick Perlstein (Nixonland), Chip Berlet (Eyes Right or Right Wing Populism in America), Frederick Clarkson (Eternal Hostility), Chris Hedges (American Fascists), Michele Goldberg (Kingdom Coming), Max Blumenthal (Republican Gomorrah), Kevin Phillips (American Theocracy), Jennifer Burns (Goddess of the Market),Dan Gilfoff (The Jesus Machine), Amy Ansell (Unravelling the Right),Michael Kazin (The Populist Persuasion), David Niewert (In God's Country). These are just a handful of suggestions; there are dozens more great books documenting the roots, intersections, tensions, and ideologies of Right wing movements in the US.



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Another problem with the Left, at least here in NYC:  The most visible grassroots progressive groups, e.g. the ones that organize the biggest anti-war rallies, do not encourage people to vote.

In my experience, the groups that have organized the biggest anti-war rallies are fronts for communist sects, e.g. the Revolutionary Communist Party or the Workers' World Party.  The RCP, in particular, is so radically alienated from the system that a lot of its members don't even vote themselves, let alone encourage other people to vote.

In my opinion, an effective grassroots political movement needs to educate people about the candidates and encourage people to vote.  Electoral politics is by no means the be-all and end-all of politics, but it is an essential link in the political chain.


by Diane Vera on Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 09:59:31 AM EST

finding practical, coherent, and sustained approaches to electoral politics continues to elude progressives of all kinds, even as the religious right has found many ways to be effective.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 09:20:17 PM EST
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if there was an "opposition" party. When the president we helped elect goes behind closed doors to make deals that are opposite what was promised, such as fighting for a public option, when we found out later Obama had already nixed that deal.

Rahm Emanuel thought that the WH could tweak the noses of progressives because, who would we vote for otherwise? Hey, howsabout, none of you?

Yes, that means that the right will take over and really foist their nonsense on the populace. Oh well, there's no money is supporting the regular people, so what do we expect would happen when corporations are allowed unfettered access to our representatives?

by trog69 on Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 10:55:47 PM EST
we are drifting a bit off topic, but Vaid, Diane, and I all agree that progressives, unlike the Religious Right, have not developed an effective capacity to carry out that basic function of constitutional democracy we call elections.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 11:02:44 PM EST
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