Can The Progressive
Movement Escape Death?

Jesse Jackson isn't running for President, is anybody surprised? Now, I like Jackson, and would vote

for him over George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, or whoever happens to be Pat Robertson's waterboy in 2000. But I've often criticized Pat Buchanan running for president, given that he couldn't get elected to the U. S. Senate or governor's mansion of any state in the union. Anyway, running for president just because you are tired of being a TV personality is hard to justify. Try as I may, I haven't figured out how my complaints with Buchanan don't apply to Jackson as well.

But with Jackson gone, who will represent the progressive voice in 2000? Senator Wellstone? Not this time. Senator Kerry (choose either one)? Not going to happen. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader? He's too ethical to accept any public money--even free rent at the White House.

In this post-Gingrich era, are there life-signs of a liberal-progressive-an-inch-to-the-left-of-center Democratic movement in America? Or a similar political movement under any other name? Sadly, none that this journalist can uncover. Of course there are remnants, here in my neighborhood in New York City, Hollywood, Madison, Wisconsin, and a few lily-white places like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Land. Add it all up and what do you get? One percent of the population, more than a Saddam Hussein fan club, less than the number of people willing to look at Sen. Strom Thurmond naked on the Internet.

Nearly 20 years ago Ronald Reagan proclaimed that "government isn't the solution to our problems, government is our problem." Sadly, that one-size- fits-all ideology is now a part of the political DNA of most Americans and it infects every political debate. Yes, I said MOST Americans. This is a reality that the progressive movement fails to understand.

Recently I attend the Ethics of Meaning Conference (where I was a seminar leader) put on by Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine and "Politics of Meaning" fame. Hundreds gathered from around the country; their ideologies spanned from mainstream liberal to hard core Marxist. All the speakers called for a more ethical society, one not dominated exclusively by the goal of corporations to maximize profits at all costs, regardless of the impact on the environment and the worker. Goals I share, as do most Americans.

Polling data were presented showing strong majorities of Americans concerned with corporate greed, environmental pollution, lack of health care, and rising income inequality. The speakers implied, "Aha! See, most Americas really are Western European Social Democrats. If only we could get rid of the evil media or the bad corporate campaign contributions, 'The People' would turn the United States into Sweden."

It is true that Americans have tremendous fears about the growing power of corporations. But the conservative propaganda machine has nullified the solution. The only force in a society that is strong enough to put a check on wealthy corporations is government. But government solutions are rejected not just by the wealthy or the elite or conservatives. Strong majorities in most demographics reject "Government solutions".

Where does this leave us? Most Americans want better health for all Americas, but don't want "socialized medicine" (polls showed that in 1994, two-thirds of Americans favored the Clinton health care plan when they were simply told of the contents, but two-thirds were against it, once they were told it was "The Clinton Plan." This was dismissed as a "big government solution.") Most Americans don't like corporations and fat cats buying off politicians with campaign funds, but voters don't trust the government to institute public financing. Voters claim they care about rising inequality, but even lower-middle class voters--the ones who would benefit most--dislike a more progressive income tax.

Michael Lerner called for a corporate social responsibility amendment to the constitution. This amendment would require corporations to prove they have been socially responsible in order to have the right to continue conducting business. I'm agnostic as to whether this is a good idea. But as long as Rep. Tom DeLay and Sen. Trent Lott are running the show in Washington (yes, I know that Dennis something or other is technically the Speaker, but ... ), how does Lerner think "social responsibility" will be defined by lawmakers? My bet is that DeLay-Lott would define a corporation as socially responsible as long as it donated money to antiabortion organizations and the Republican Party.

If the progressive movement is to escape death, it must spend every ounce of its energy promoting the idea that government and government regulation can benefit all Americans (think the National Park Service, The Environmental Protection Agency, interstate highways, even a strong military). If this marketing campaign is not begun immediately, it is only a matter of time before conservatives continue to dismantle every scrap of nonmilitary, non-special-interest benefiting government spending and corporate regulation.

The assault continues on "big government." The so-called social security crisis, is yet another vehicle for corporate interests to exploit peoples' paranoia that "government can't do anything right--it will bungle my retirement funds." Can privatizing clean water be far away?

TJ Walker is the executive producer of TJWalker.Com, a news and information web site featuring original audio/video/text news and perspective. For a free subscription, write to

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