What Rationalizing Progressives Need to Learn from Those Who Oppose Creationism

I'll get to creationism in a bit, but first...

Last week, Yves Smith started a wee lil' ruckus among progressives with a post titled "Bribes Work: How Peterson, the Enemy of Social Security, Bought the Roosevelt Name." In that post, she argued:

Bribes work. AT&T gave money to GLAAD, and now the gay rights organization is supporting the AT&T-T-Mobile merger. La Raza is mouthing the talking points of the Mortgage Bankers Association on down payments. The NAACP is fighting on debit card rules. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts back in December. While it seems counter-intuitive that a left-leaning organization would support illiberal extensions of corporate power, in fact, that is the role of the DC pet liberal. This dynamic of rent-a-reputation is greased with corporate cash and/or political access. As the entitlement fight comes to a head, it's worth looking under the hood of the DC think tank scene to see how the Obama administration and the GOP are working to lock down their cuts to social programs.

And so it is that the arch-enemy of Social Security, Pete Peterson, rented out the good name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the reputation of the Center for American Progress, and EPI. All three groups submitted budget proposals to close the deficit and had their teams share the stage with Republican con artist du jour Paul Ryan. The goal of Peterson's conference was to legitimize the fiscal crisis narrative, and to make sure that "all sides" were represented.

Needless to say, well-meaning progressives were rather chuffed. To which Smith responded in "On Fauxgressive Rationalizations of Selling Out to Powerful, Moneyed Backers":

They all illustrate the famed Upton Sinclair quote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." And so it is not surprising that all of them engaged in straw man attacks and failed to engage the simple point of the post: if you have a clear purpose and vision, you do not engage in activities that represent the polar opposite of what you stand for.

These "the lady doth protest too much" reactions reveal how naked careerism has eroded what little remains of the liberal cause in the US. Despite the fact that the left, as does the right, has a moral stance underlying its political positions, operatives on the left have been willing to sell out, not just to make the occasional compromise, but on bedrock principles....

For instance, Randy Wray wrote on the Roosevelt site:

Sorry but Pete Peterson has NEVER funded any open discussion of deficit issues. He has ALWAYS stacked the deck. While some months ago New Deal 2.0 did allow a modicum of dissent from the deficit hysteria, it has closed ranks with the conventional wisdom, made conventional by the massive funding provided by Pete Peterson's billions of dollars.

The notion that students who rely on Peterson's billions will come up with a reasoned position on the deficit, while all anti-Peterson discussion is sidelined from New Deal 2.0 is-shall we say-"quaint".

Yes, Peterson has spent a lot of money trying to convince people that Social Security is DOOMED! Anyway, the reason I brought up creationism in the title is this:

Let's try flipping the right/left wing associations to make what happened crystal clear. Let's say that George Soros sponsored a high profile conference on how to fund abortions. His organizers call the Catholic Church and say they'd like to hear views of young Catholic officials from across the nation and will pay any such group handsomely to attend the conference and present a paper.

Do you think in an nanosecond they'd be takers?

This comparison isn't even adequate, since Soros has spread his donations across a broad spectrum of liberal causes, while Peterson has concentrated his considerable spending on a very few pet issues, with eviscerating Social Security and Medicare top of his list. But you get the drift.

Left wing operatives seem unable to grasp what outsiders see clearly: that what advances their resume is often inconsistent with what is in the best interest of the causes they say they believe in....

The fact that Konczal is in theory aligned with the pinko cause only makes him more valuable to Peterson, not less.

Among the Coalition of the Sane, I can't even imagine an evolutionary biologist attending a forum where creationists and biologists are invited to present talks as equals. In fact, the argument is usually whether biologists (and fellow travellers in the Coalition of the Sane) should openly debate creationists in opposition or completely ignore them. Even oppositional debate is perceived as potentially granting creationists legitimacy.

During the last few years, there is a general understanding about the modus operandi of the professional, hardcore creationists: they do not rethink or reconsider, but merely regroup and rearm. As Yves notes, Peterson has always been in favor of Social Security privatization. When that tack doesn't work, he temporarily falls back to a faux compromise position of weakening it (e.g., raising the benefits age, cutting benefits). He has millions and millions of reasons to do this.

Yet 'progressives' don't seem to understand what they are up against. Yves Smith is partly correct: some of this is careerism. But career progressives also don't view Peterson as an existential threat (especially when vigorously opposing him could cut off private funding...). If you're a biologist or a non-crazy person who thinks biology is important, then you oppose creationism. Period. It is an existential threat to accurate biological understanding and, in its application, towards improving the human condition. But I don't get the feeling that, for the professional progressives, they possess the same degree of desperation that the rank-and-file do. Yves:

If you look at the comments on the Roosevelt post, or the ones by the CBPP, the EPI, and Konczal [progressives], you'll see considerable opposition [to their defensiveness]. That's a reflection of the frustration of the gap between the policy elites and those they purport to represent. And notice how common it has suddenly become acceptable to use the word "elites". If you had talked about "elites" even as recently as three years ago, you would have been seen as a wingnut, whether of the Marxist or Alex Jones variety. Why the shift? The man-behind-the-curtains apparatus has become more visible as the concentration of wealth has increased and the corruption purchase of influence has become more open.

When policy--and consequently, politics--isn't personal, it becomes very easy to barter one's positions.


More like this

Thanks - that's very interesting. Sort of "The Natural History of Fringe Conservatism".

... the Economic Policy Institute supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts back in December.

That's an easy one to check:

Bush tax cuts: Past and future

December 3, 2010

EPI has produced extensive research and commentary about the Bush-era tax cuts, the impact they have had and the likely outcome of extending some or all of them. Attached are some highlights

Let the tax cuts for the rich expire ...

Btw, are you sure that Yves is a she?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 07 Jun 2011 #permalink

This reminds me of the time I wrote to Science Blogs and Mother Jones and asked them why they were both accepting ads from Shell Oil.

By Christopher Wing (not verified) on 07 Jun 2011 #permalink

Yep, Yves is definitely a "she".

I think the point about them actually believing is important. I'm not sure when you get to the level of people like Obama it's clear that issues honestly matter. The game has replaced the goal.

Clearly many care, but many at these higher levels seem to simply be sociopaths. The political side they take is simply a medium to get where they want to go and is effectively interchangeable.