[P]rogressives need to act like they are the natural leaders of this country again. But we can't do that because we have too much distrust of power. We're so busy standing on the outside critiquing the Establishment that no one is going to hand us the keys to become the Establishment. And too many liberals don't want that responsibility because it would tarnish their purity. Stoller doesn't have an answer to Ron Paul because he's decided the system is so rotten that it is not only indefensible, but irredeemable. That leaves him with no solutions. And a progressive without a belief in progress is just a crank.I think this is right and important, but I do fear that in putting the point in terms of the Establishment BooMan is inviting misunderstanding. I think it is important to distinguish Establishment (which seems to me inevitably to have conservative connotations) from Government.
The critique of tendencies to corruption, sclerosis, unaccountability, inertia, insensitivity, orthodoxy, authoritarianism in incumbent-elite orders is a vital, inevitable, and necessary dimension in most progressive, democratizing struggles and movements. Democracy is in a sense inherently anti-establishmentarian. Given the role of peer-to-peer network formations in the revitalization of the American left (the dKos "crashing the gate/keepers" figures this nicely concisely) this isn't a point to which you want to seem insensitive. But it is also true that to the extent that democracy is more than simply an uncritical assertion of good will, amounting to a kind of moralizing or aesthetic sentiment, democracy is also indispensably connected to an espousal of Government. And it is here that I think the real force of BooMan's critique is to be found (this indispensability of good government is what his focus on assuming "leadership" and taking "responsibility" both ultimately depend on).
At the heart of any proper democratic left outlook must be an insistence on the desirability of good, accountable, responsible government. And such an insistence demands a prior insistence on the possibility of such government.
I quite understand why BooMan wouldn't want to write as pedantically as I do (who would?), but I don't think this is the flaccid logical truism it may appear to be, but an enormously important insight of those who are truly devoted to politics of progressive democratization. After a generation of Movement Republicanism driven by (sometimes crypto, sometimes assertive) anarcho-capitalist pieties, crafted by Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, and then implemented in the fervor of the Reagan Counter-Revolutionaries, the Gingrich Contract on America, the Killer Clown Administration, and the Tea Party's Death Penal Summer and Mid-Term Debacle, it is not surprising that even those with the good sense to recognize the catastrophe of Movement Republican ideology and policy have accepted as their own at least some of the deeper premises from which that very Movement Republicanism takes its own energies (Clintonian and DLC neoliberalism is attributable in an important measure to the same self-defeating assimilation of anti-governmental premises to democratizing temperaments).
Republican anti-democracy in its anarcho-capitalist Movement Republican epoch has depended on a confusion of anti-establishmentarianism with anti-governmentality that Stoller and Greenwald may not have managed yet entirely to shake, and which BooMan and the rest of us cannot help them shake unless we explicitly dispel it as BooMan has not quite managed yet in his response. It is no accident that it is the discussion and reaction to Ron Paul, who depends so assertively on precisely the conflation of his idiosyncratic anti-establishmentarianism with a more general anti-governmentality, that brings out these doctrinal tensions among progressive advocates. What these "defeatist" progressives (in BooMan's phrase) need to grasp is that it is not paradoxical, it is not ironical, it is not accidental that Paul's own anti-establishmentarianism is in fact a stealthy advocacy of a neo-confederate re-establishmentarianism (I justify that term "neo-confederate" in another anti-Ron Paul jeremiad). So-called "individualist libertarians" or "market libertarians" always count on precisely the false conflation of Government with Establishment, and hence always advocate reactionary anti-democratization under the colors of progressive democratization.
Not to put too fine a point on it, you cannot champion civil liberties without first affirming the civic. This isn't a minor quibble, it is a fundamental point from which a whole swarm of consequent confusions inevitably arise: So-called "libertarian" isolationism is actually profoundly different from principled anti-militarism, "libertarian" indifference to diversity as anything but a potentially profitable niche markets is actually profoundly different from principled celebration and facilitation of diversity, "libertarian" advocacy of a radical neglect of the sufferers of drug abuse or exploitative sex work or gun violence is actually profoundly different from a principled opposition to the racist war on (some but not all) drugs and puritanical sex panics and advocating the regulation, taxation, and education of their responsible consensual adult use. Good government has an indispensable role to play in the advocacy of an actually principled progressive stance on each of these issues, and whatever their superficial similarities with certain "libertarian" positions, in every case their anti-governmentality renders the similarities completely insubstantial.
This is not the proposal that all governments are good, or that governments that have done good things are justified in the bad things they have done by those good things, indeed, one would expect that those who believe in the possibility and desirability of good government would be all the more ferocious in their denunciations of bad government (and often, naturally enough, in the form of anti-establishmentariansims). But it is actually quite crucial to grasp that these denunciations of bad government propound a profoundly different proposition from the declaration that government is bad as such. The latter proposition, even if it has occasionally provided a vantage from which progressive anti-authoritarian movements and reform have derived some of their strength, is at its heart a regressive and reactionary viewpoint, and more often than not it has produced regressive and reactionary politics.
It is crucial to grasp that there are some outcomes indispensable to the creation and maintenance of an arena for the free expression of diverse viewpoints, to the nonviolent adjudication of disputes, and to the provision of equal recourse to law and a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of private and commercial life (eg, to form a more perfect union and establish justice), to the reliable and equitable maintenance of the security of the our persons, households, and communities (eg, to ensure domestic tranquility and provide common defense), to the responsible and sustainable administration and investment in common and public goods (eg, to promote the general welfare) for which legitimate government is the indispensable agency. Anti-governmental "libertarianism" declares itself dedicated to secure the blessings of liberty through the abolition of the very agency without which those blessing cannot be secured, and hence is a contradiction in terms.
As I said elsewhere (yes, in yet another recent anti-Ron Paul post):
Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, but this is best understood not only as an affirmation of individual dignity as it is part of a larger commitment to the elimination of violence from public life (that people must also have a say in the decision as to what will count as violence in public life yokes these commitments ever tighter together, even while rendering the experimental implementation of these commitments interminably dynamic). Democrats defend the widening of the franchise and accountability of election to public office to provide an alternative to the violent transfer of authority over public institutions, they defend the law to provide alternatives to the violent adjudication of disputes otherwise, they defend welfare programs to secure a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms on which we deal with one another in our commercial and private relations, and defend the public administration and investment in common and public goods to overcome tendencies toward structural violations that inevitably attend other administrative arrangements of such goods: nonviolence and equity-in-diversity suffuse the democratic vision across all of its layers. Ron Paul, like all market libertarians, declares market exchanges and contractual arrangements "non-violent" by fiat, whatever the misinformation and duress that actually prevail over their terms; he believes that the contingent historical artifact of regulations, treaties, pricing conventions, provincial customs, norms, infrastructural affordances that passes for "the market" here and now is somehow an eternal and natural and spontaneous order; and he believes that the contingent historical artifact parochially construed by him as a reasonable responsible resourceful possessive individual subject is likewise given and natural. Like all market libertarians (and I do suspect all libertarians, always, even those who imagine themselves to be of the left) his is a vision of freedom and dignity that requires the treatment of key assumptions and institutions of the status quo as natural and inevitable rather than as artificial and historical, and hence his is a profoundly reactionary viewpoint at its base. It is from this reactionary base that arise all the reactionary details, from the racism of his defense of segregation to his rejection of public health, safety, education, which those who view him as a paradoxical figure seem to want to regard as accidental or incidental to his "civil libertarianism." Not to put too fine a point on it, one cannot properly be civil anything if one repudiates civics as such. For Ron Paul individualism means isolation, liberty means neglect, free to choose means free to lose (even when the loss is an avoidable one and a loss to us all). There is nothing paradoxical about his worldview -- except perhaps the usual Republican paradox of those who declare their detestation of government scrambling to find a comfortable home in government all their lives long. But I daresay that is better described as hypocrisy than as paradox. Like all libertarians, Ron Paul's point of view is an essentially pre-political one. Democrats who discern paradox in Ron Paul's positions would do better to grasp the consistency that unites Ron Paul's anti-democracy as well as unites the democratic commitment to nonviolence and consent, to equity-in-diversity.That progressive democrats should reject Ron Paul's politics is obvious, but that the rejection of Ron Paul's politics seems to provide a real and necessary teachable moment for the acceleration of a genuinely democratizing movement peer-to-peer online and face to face in the streets may be far more important in the long run.