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Progressive Revolution: We Can't Afford to Play Small-Ball and Tip-Toe Around Right-Wingers Anymore

Lux's new book, "The Progressive Revolution," argues that it's time to stop playing into conservative fearmongering.

The following is an excerpt from chapter 8 of Mike Lux's new book, "The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be" (Wiley, 2009). In this text, Lux argues that a "culture of caution" dominates Democratic politics in the modern era: "When you try something big and fail, even if the failure is due in great part to your own timidity, you only become more cautious. The failure of health-care reform made President Clinton more cautious, and he started playing small ball." As Obama's inauguration approaches, progressives and Democrats in Washington need to overcome their fears of proposing bold policies and stand up for the kind of America they believe in. 

 When Barack Obama based much of his 2008 Presidential campaign on the theme of hope, he certainly wasn't the first candidate to make that pitch. And when John McCain, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, during the years since 9/11, preached fear and more fear and nothing but fear, they weren't the first to do that, either. The entire history of American political debate can, in some sense, be described as the argument between the hope of progressives for a better future vs. the fear of conservatives who want to protect the way things are now.

In recent decades, neither party has been able to get a toehold as an enduring political majority. The Republicans' problem has been that they aggressively overreach, and then their rather extreme policy prescriptions just don't work. We get wars with no exit plans, side tax cuts that result in gigantic deficits, and voluntary goals for industry that never result in anything tangible happening.

For Democrats, the problem has been the opposite. They have been so beaten down by the conservative attack machine that they have allowed themselves to get into the habit of being cautious. When in power, they have had decent policy ideas that have produced pretty good results, but the results aren't substantial enough to make permanent changes or get voters excited about what Democrats are trying to accomplish. Since the tumultuous change decade of the 1960s and the ugly backlash that followed it, Democrats have often been too scared to think big about progressive change, and it has hurt them. ...

Fear and Conservatism

Fear has been a staple of every generation of conservatives .... Fear of the democratic mob. Fear of the freed slave. Fear of the liberated woman destroying the traditional family. Fear of freethinkers destroying religion. Fear of communism. Fear of gays and lesbians. Fear of hippies, "free love," and the drug culture. Fear of the immigrant. In a bizarre twist, Social Darwinism gave us fear of the weak, and in the modern version of Social Darwinism, Reagan gave us fear of the poor on welfare. Post-9/11, you can now add in the ever-potent fear of terrorism. Sadly, while some of those fears have faded with the passage of history, many remain with us, still powerful.

Many conservatives still fear feminism, sometimes to a hilarious degree. Here is one of my all-time favorite quotes, from the inimitable Pat Robertson: "[Feminism] is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

I had no idea feminism was so comprehensive, but there you have it. Of course, many men who are threatened by strong women aren't quite so hysterical, but like threatened people everywhere, they love to mock. Rush Limbaugh, who coined the feminazi, has this definition of feminism: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society."

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