These are heady times and emotions are very raw. It's tough. What's being debated-- in Wisconsin and in the larger deficit push-- is not discrete questions of short-term and conditional budget shortfalls and entitlement adjustments. What's being debated is the fundamental question of how resources are distributed in this country, and what recourse working class people have to improve the material conditions of their lives. Look at this chart, and you'll understand what is being fought for on the streets of Wisconsin.
The question of the day is whether there is no limit at all to the downward pressures we are willing as a society to enact on workers. Make no mistake: that is what is being fought for on the streets of Wisconsin. Workers have been attacked for thirty years. The deficit warriors will tell you that they are fighting for even worse conditions for American workers because of this moment and its conditions. What they will fail to tell you is that every moment since the dawn of the Thatcherite/Reaganite age has had the same prescription: make things worse for workers. When things were good, we attacked the workers at the behest of the rich. When things are bad, we attack the workers at the behest of the rich. California's Republican governor devastates the state budget with flagrant fiscal irresponsibility; soon enough, California's public sector employees will be asked to pay for it, and the gatekeepers of fiscal responsibility will deem this mature leadership.This is the condition of our times. Whatever the time is to push the scales back in the workers' favor, that time is never now.
For this reason, because the stakes are so high, it's right that we should fight and it's right that we should fight passionately and angrily. It saddens me that it's difficult to maintain personal relationships when the issues are so big, but if that's the way it has to be then so be it. I hate that fights seem so personal but the consequences of our winner-take-all economic platform are profoundly personal for those on the bottom. When I ran that post about the blogosphere and the left, I got some emails that were generally supportive but said, "why did you have to name names? Why not keep it general?" If you don't name names nothing can change. It surprises me, the number of perceptive, thoughtful people who fail to see how easily this whole enterprise can slide into a morass of friendship and patronage, where principle is always secondary to relationships.
My beef with the progressives has always been about this: that politics is about orientation towards power, towards winners or losers, and they have refused to choose and to fight. I have heard the phrase "non-zero sum" enough that I hope to never hear it again. It's a pleasant fiction, but a fiction it is, and the harsh realities of all or nothing America reveal it every day. Perhaps the thing for me to do is to stop expecting people who don't feel as I do to take the stands I want them to. It's high time I realize that, for example, Matt Yglesias simply sees the world differently than I do. It's unfair to him to keep expecting that to change. On this issue, he chooses not to fight. That's his stance, and he's entitled to it. And just like on his belief that the work of liberalism is complete, that difference is irreconcilable. I wish him well, and it's time I looked elsewhere.
In any event, I know some people hoped that 2011 would put the angry battles of 2010 in the past, but the fight is just beginning. I am sorry for whatever personal rifts are to come, but the order of the day has made this nation into nothing more than a machine to siphon more and more resources to those at the top, and it can't endure. I am a pessimist by nature, but it is necessary to define the conflict: the people will reverse the tide and stop the flow of wealth from the many to the few, or they won't. What bloggers and journalists and pundits must come to realize is that one way or the other, they are choosing sides. To choose, and to know that you are choosing, grants you the ability to write clearly and, at times, approach poetry in taking your stance. To try to not choose is to sacrifice that gift.To attempt not to choose is to choose by default. I know where I stand. I don't know what's going to happen.