October 3, 2011
At this moment, there are growing protests on Wall Street in Manhattan, in Boston at the Bank of America, and in cities around the country. These embryonic and creative efforts are targeting the greed of the banks, the collusion of the corporate class with their corrupt elected officials, the high level of unemployment, the huge burden of student loans in a time of diminished opportunities, the increasing numbers of poor and hungry people, and much more. These protests, along with those earlier in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, are signs of revival of a long tradition of popular revolt against excesses of wealth and the corporate class.
The new protests come after a long dark period -- specifically the last 11 years of George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- during which time conservatives have gained more power and ability to control the national debate than they have in the past 75 years. The current right-wing power presence, spiked by the corporate media's obsession with Tea Party protests, came most immediately as a result of the Great Recession caused by the housing bubble and obscene corruption of the banks. This crisis was exacerbated by large-scale anger about the subsequent bank bailout, and corporate-backed attacks on the health care reform package passed by Congress. But that is just part of the latest political news.
The conservative ascendancy is hardly an overnight phenomenon. Rather, it represents a dynamic shift in American politics that has taken place over more than 40 years, beginning in the 1970s. During this time, conservative billionaire donors, corporations and the Chamber of Commerce, all invested in conservative think-tanks and communications infrastructure, while Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a broad and deep media network of right-wing pundits have come to dominate the public discourse.
Subsequently, the liberal/progressive side of the political equation has lost much of its influence from the period of the 1970s and early '80s. How this has happened over time is little understood. In fact, the lack of protest and effective organizing against the right wing during the Tea Party ascension especially has been a mystery to many, and a source of great frustration.
Colin Greer, a transplanted Brit, has observed and engaged in every phase of progressive politics. Greer is the author of a number of books (with his best-known being The Great School Legend), has been a professor at Brooklyn College of CUNY, and for many years has served as president of the New World Foundation, known in the philanthropic world for its commitment to supporting grassroots organizing and providing seed money for many of the most effective progressive political efforts over the last decades. Over this long period, Greer has had a cat-seat view of all the forces that have shaped our last 40-plus years. He has a big-picture take on the turmoil and politics of this period, as major shifts -- globally, economically and culturally; the tectonic plates of change and reaction -- have reshaped our world in ways we have yet to fully understand. AlterNet sat down with Colin Greer in his office in New York in late September.
Don Hazen: Why have conservatives succeeded so dramatically in this period, and liberals and progressives are arguably the weakest in decades?
Colin Greer: There is no single causal factor. The shaping of these two divergent paths begins in the 1980s when you had the last flourish of an expansive society. But the last three years of the '70s were characterized by stagflation and disappointment and took a great toll, forfeiting a real sense that the constant growth of openness in American society and economy was endlessly sustainable. Fast-forward to the present and we have the twin dominance of austerity, i.e. eviscerating public spending as the solution to economic crises; and aristocracy, represented by the protected tax and profit oasis of the wealthiest 1 percent.