Progressives are changing from professionals to populists

AFL-CIO Summit on Raising Wages, with Elizabeth Warren and Richard Trumka

Yeah, there’s always been a kind of benign liberal who was well protected from the tragedies of the poor — but it’s not so theoretical anymore, is it? Michael Lind explains in Salon:

Early 20th century Progressives tended to have backgrounds in the mainline Protestant clergy, the professoriate and the law. Woodrow Wilson, a professor who was the son of a Protestant pastor, was typical. From Professor Wilson to Professor Obama, academics and also lawyers have provided much of the leadership and support for left-of-center causes. The expansion of the progressive professoriate compensated for the decline of the liberal Protestant clergy.

Elite professionals have long been associated with a distinct kind of technocratic progressivism—believing in research-informed nonpartisan problem-solving, carried out by administrators or judges shielded from politics and invested with considerable discretion. It is no accident that the ideal public servant of this kind of progressivism—the highly educated, apolitical expert—is a kind of idealized self-image of the professional.

The disinterested, technocratic progressivism of the American professional elite has always had to share the left-of-center part of the American political spectrum with other, less upscale political traditions, like social democratic labor unionism and Jeffersonian and Jacksonian populism. In the late 20th century, the New Democrats associated with Bill Clinton and Al Gore represented, among other things, a rebellion of the expanded professional class created by the GI Bill and student loans against the “Old Democrats” of the farmer-labor alliance, led by less-educated union bosses and rural and small-town populist politicians. By reviving the dusty old term “progressive” and styling themselves as “Wilsonians” rather than “Rooseveltians,” the New Democrats signaled their identification with early-1900s elite Progressives rather than with mid-century New Deal “liberals” identified with organized labor and Southern and Western populism.

As the social base of elite progressivism is wiped out by technology and corporatization, it is safe to predict that these rival traditions of labor liberalism and populism will become more powerful on the center-left, if only by default. The next American center-left will probably speak in the emotional, streetwise accents of populism rather than in the measured tones of technocratic, professional-class expert progressivism. Even if the populist, like Elizabeth Warren, is a professor.

One thought on “Progressives are changing from professionals to populists

  1. What the neo-liberals like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama say and what they end up doing always turns out to be two entirely different things.
    So it will be with Hillary.
    So let’s discuss Hillary’s stalking-horse Mitt Romney.
    When Mitt suddenly jumped into the Republican presidential pool last week everybody was stunned. Why would he do that they asked? It really didn’t make much sense considering the fact that Jeb Bush was already filling the establishment slot for the Republican Party. Maybe Mitt hates Jeb’s guts?
    The answer is that the oligarchy has asked Mitt to play the straight man to Hillary in this two-person comedy act. Mitt will bring up the problems that the Left has with Hillary and she will reply to Mitt when answering his charges against her.
    That’s why Mitt seems to have mysteriously turned into a populist lately. He isn’t and we all know that he isn’t. But he serves Hillary’s purpose of taking on the Left, people like Sanders and Warren, without appearing to be taking them on.
    This Kabuki dance between Mitt and Hillary is the reason that Hillary has decided to delay her presidential announcement until July. She needs to give Mitt enough time to screw with the Left while keeps her hands clean.
    Always the good soldier for the oligarchs Hillary is.

Comments are closed.