I’ve always found this quote from Molly Ivins to be surprisingly uplifting.
Things are not getting worse; things have always been this bad. Nothing is more consoling than the long perspective of history. It will perk you up no end to go back and read the works of progressives past. You will learn therein that things back then were also terrible, and what’s more, they were always getting worse. This is most inspiriting.
What I love about Ivins is that she understands progressives – their strengths and weaknesses. So there she is poking at us over our tendency to always be in a state of “OMG – things are awful!”
One of the ways that is being manifest lately is with all the pearl-clutching about how the Clinton and Sanders camps are being mean to each other in this primary. Can’t you just hear Ivins saying…”Puhleeze, let me tell you a story about what a mean Democrat really looks like.” And then she’d have us all laughing about some shenanigans in Texas during the days when Democrats were in charge.
Since Molly is no longer with us (may she rest in peace), I thought I’d give you a story. I probably won’t be able to make this one as funny as one that she might tell. But hopefully it does the trick anyway.
It comes from something Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote back in the 1940’s when we all assume that the “establishment” was progressive. This guy – who went on to work on the presidential campaigns of people like George McGovern and Robert Kennedy – wrote a book titled: The Vital Center. Here’s the overview:
The Vital Center is an eloquent and incisive defense of liberal democracy against its rivals to the left and to the right, communism and fascism. Originally published in 1949, it shows how the failures of free society led to the disenchantment of the masses with democracy, and sharpened the appeal of totalitarian solutions. The book calls for a radical reconstruction of the democratic polity based on a realistic understanding of human limitations and frailties.
Sound familiar yet? Here’s an excerpt where Schlesinger describes “progressives” as “Doughfaces.”
The progressive once disciplined by the responsibilities of power is often the most useful of all public servants; but he, alas, ceases to be a progressive and is regarded by all true Doughfaces as a cynical New Dealer or a tired Social Democrat.
Having renounced power, the Doughface seeks compensation in emotion. The pretext for progressive rhetoric is, of course, the idea that man, the creature of reason and benevolence, has only to understand the truth in order to act upon it.
But the function of progressive rhetoric is another matter; it is, in Dwight MacDonald’s phrase, to accomplish “in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality.” Because politics is for the Doughface a means of accommodating himself to a world he does not like but does not really want to change, he can find ample gratification in words. They appease his twinges of guilt without committing him to very drastic action.
…The Doughfaces differ from Mr. Churchill: dreams, they find, are better than facts. Progressive dreams are tinged with a brave purity, a rich sentiment and a noble defiance. But, like most dreams, they are notable for the distortion of facts by desire.
Clearly, the arguments that are being engaged on the left during this presidential primary are nothing new. But no one from the Clinton camp has called anyone in the Sanders camp a “Doughface”… at least not yet. That should, as Molly Ivins would say, “perk you up to no end.”