Saturday, 21 March 2015

I Have Not Re-Joined The Labour Party, But It Has Re-Joined Me, by David Lindsay

There are not many people who could make me looking working-class. But step forward, Jack Monroe.

11 years her senior, I was on the Executive Committee of a Constituency Labour Party when she was a small child, and a Ward Sub-Agent who secured an overall majority of the total vote on a four-way split in a traditionally Conservative ward when she was nine years old.

I left the party long before she ever joined it, and indeed before she was old enough to vote. I had lasted somewhere between eight and 10 times as long in it as she was later to do.

I am a member of Unite, of the Co-operative Party, of the Fabian Society, of Christians on the Left, of Progress (which needs to sort out its funding arrangements, and then affiliate to the Labour Party like the Fabians), of Movement for Change, Compass, and of the Labour Representation Committee.

It is through the LRC that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and the Fire Brigades Union, both of which long ago disaffiliated from what was then Tony Blair’s Labour Party, remain constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government, as do numerous tiny organisations with funny Leftist heritage names.

They can call themselves the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, or Communist Students, or the New Communist Party, or the Newrad Communist Collective, or Permanent Revolution, or Workers’ Power. They can even, including the unions, field or fund candidates for any other kind of election, although I would not encourage that. Their LRC affiliation formally commits them to a Labour victory at any and every General Election, so hat is that.

I am involved in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and I am a member of the People’s Press Printing Society, which owns and publishes the Morning Star. But I am not, nor have I ever been, any kind of Marxist. Nor has almost any member of the thriving Morning Star Readers’ and Supporters’ Group in Parliament.

I warmly welcome the alternatives to austerity being proposed by Andrew Fisher, Robert Skidelsky, John Mills, Bryan Gould, Ann Pettifor, Richard Murphy, Michael Burke, Éoin Clarke, Michael Meacher, Mariana Mazzucato, Ha-Joon Chang, David Blanchflower, Prem Sikka, Andrew Cumbers, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett and others. I regret Left Foot Forward’s foreign policy positions, but I find its work on economic justice invaluable. I wish that everyone would read James Meek’s Private Island.

I have close ties to Blue Labour, as well as to the American paleoconservatives with their very robust critique both of the neoconservative war agenda and of those agenda’s underlying neoliberal economic ideology. That gives me an affinity with some right-wing British commentators: Peter Oborne, Peter Hitchens, Stuart Reid, Phillip Blond, Freddy Gray, Mark Almond, John Laughland, Tim Stanley, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, and to an extent others.

I agree with Neil Clark about most things politically, and not least because all the right people hate him. However, they also hate someone who was there at the birth of the Henry Jackson Society and of the Euston Manifesto, and who tells me that he strongly supports my domestic policy vision, at least. I despair of the company that Nick Cohen has kept over the last dozen years, but I still value a great deal of his work.

I strongly concur with  Clark’s 10-point account of the neoconservative and the allied faux-Left takeover of Britain by means of the resignation of Harold Wilson, the election of Margaret Thatcher, the acquisition of The Times by Rupert Murdoch, the formation of the SDP, the defeat of the Miners’ Strike, the resignation of Richard Ingrams as Editor of Private Eye, Big Bang, the removal of Alisdair Milne as Director-General of the BBC, the election of Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party, and the election of Nick Clegg as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

For myself, I regard the death of John Smith as the greatest political tragedy of my lifetime, while holding that Bryan Gould would have been a better Leader, ranking as a Great Lost Leader alongside Peter Shore.

I am faithful to a late father whose military service had made him unable to look at Yitzhak Shamir on television, and I am faithful to the Christian roots of modern Palestinian identity. But I accept the State of Israel as a fact exactly as old as Palestinian national consciousness, I bemoan (as much on socioeconomic grounds as any other) the rise of Likud and worse to something approaching hegemony, and I view academic and cultural boycotts as contrary to the fundamental character of scholarship, art and science.

I have always lived in the countryside, which in these parts, as in all the old mining areas, is more solidly Labour than the neighbouring conurbations are. I opposed the hunting ban, not least because it was being pushed by my then MP, who was the Government Chief Whip at the time, as a means of cajoling Labour MPs into supporting the Iraq War. She herself did not vote for that ban. But 10 years on, I increasingly see its flagrant non-enforcement as a question of the rule of law, and of class bias in these affairs. I still do not like it, though.

I appreciated Tim Lott’s recent Guardian column on the state of the Left, although I thought that he needed to get out of London. I read Spiked and Rod Liddle, agreeing with every word half the time, and screaming with dissent the other half. I am still semi-officially around a university, and I have absolutely no time for “safe spaces”.

I miss Paul Foot, Alan Watkins, Auberon Waugh and Michael Wharton (Peter Simple). Like my all-American friend Jack Ross, another Lefty boy among the paleocons, I look with hope to Jim Webb, and I look in horror at Hillary Clinton.

Accent or no accent, and opinions differ on that, I am very Northern. I am also very Catholic, although I was not born either of those things. Whereas I was born mixed-race, and I was born abroad.

I was entirely state-educated, and that entirely in County Durham, from playschool to MA. I still live where I grew up. I know every story of pain and glory about the Miners’ Strike and about the closure of the Consett steelworks. I knew them 25 years before they became the undisputed public record.

Yet, for tiresome local reasons, I have not been able to re-join the Labour Party. I shall not use the term “pound shop Jeremy Clarkson”, since I have nothing against pound shops. The Labour Party, however, has re-joined me.

It is more than 20 years since I first described my politics as “One Nation, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation”. It is 20 years since John Prescott talked about “One Nation Labour” in his Party Conference speech. It is more than two years since Ed Miliband returned to that theme in his.

During that time, Miliband has stood up to Rupert Murdoch, to the Israel Lobby over the recognition of Palestine, to the neoconservative war machine over Syria, and to transnational capital over energy prices and public transport.

His opponents have delivered abject failure on the national debt and on controlled immigration. They have delivered the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and the return of the East Coast Main Line to the private sector from which it has already had to be rescued twice.

They have delivered such ruinous cuts in our conventional defence that we now have aircraft carriers with no aircraft on them. They have delivered yet further deregulation of Sunday trading, and used the taxation system to attack the work of charities and churches.

Those opponents want to devastate rural communities by permitting foreign companies and even foreign states to buy up our postal service, already done, and then our roads, for the use of which tolls would be charged where once there were the Queen’s Highways.

They have brought the United Kingdom itself to the brink of dissolution. They still seek to disenfranchise organic communities, as such, by means of parliamentary boundaries designed by and for “sophists, economists and calculators”.

They have failed to deliver the real-terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget for which the House of Commons, including every Labour MP, voted. But they have given Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies everything that they have ever demanded, including our Armed Forces to protect those states from their own ideology, since several of them, including the giant, are quite as bad as the so-called Islamic State, having taught it everything that it knows.

Instead, it is time for One Nation.

One Nation means a broad alliance between the urban and the rural, between the metropolitan and the provincial, between the secular and the religious, between the socially liberal and the socially conservative. It means an alliance including all ethnic groups, including all social classes, and including all parts of the country.

One Nation means the contribution-based Welfare State, with contribution defined to include, for example, caring for children, or caring for elderly relatives. It means workers’ rights, with the trade unionism necessary in order to defend and advance those rights. It means John Smith’s signature policy that employment rights must begin on the first day of employment, and apply regardless of the number of hours worked.

One Nation means community organising, which the British Labour Movement never needed to be taught by Saul Alinksy, Barack Obama or David Axelrod.

Any more than we ever needed Antonio Gramsci to tell us about the insistence on the unity of theory and practice, about the rejection of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism, about the celebration of the “national-popular”, and about an organic working-class culture and self-organisation that included worker-intellectuals.

We already had them all, not only before Gramsci, but before Marx. We urgently need to rediscover them all, in order to restore them all.

One Nation means profit-sharing and similar arrangements: not “shares for rights”, but shares and rights. It means the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, not least in the provision of financial services. We lost the Co-op Bank precisely because it was not itself a co-operative, but was merely owned by one.

One Nation means consumer protection. It means strong communities. It means fair taxation. It means full employment with low inflation, a combination that is taken for granted elsewhere, yet which in Britain is assumed to be impossible.

One Nation means pragmatic public ownership, including of the utilities, of the railways and of the Royal Mail, and always with strong parliamentary and municipal accountability. It means publicly owned industries and services, national and municipal, setting the vocational training standards for the private sector to match.

Public ownership is of course British ownership, rather than the ownership by foreign states, as such, into which has passed much of what we, as a people, used to own. Public ownership safeguards both national sovereignty and the Union.

One Nation means local government, including council housing, fiscal autonomy, the provision as well as the commissioning of services, the accountability provided by the historic committee system, and the abolition of delegated planning decisions.

One Nation means the State’s restoration of the economic foundation of the civilised and civilising worker-intellectual culture historically exemplified by the pitmen poets, by the pitmen painters, by the brass and silver bands, by the Workers’ Educational Association, by the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, and so on.

In order to restore a civilisation in continuity with it, that culture needs to be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity”.

One Nation means the Union, the Commonwealth, and the ties that bind these Islands. Only social democracy guarantees the Union, and only the Union makes possible social democracy in these Islands.

The erosion of social democracy is the most powerful of separatist arguments, despite the fact that the separatists could not possibly deliver it, and very largely would not wish to do so, in the entities to which they aspire.

One Nation means economic patriotism, including both energy independence and balanced migration. Nuclear power and this country’s vast reserves of coal are the core around which to organise all other energy sources.

At the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, Ed Miliband told at least 100,000 people and the television cameras that he was committed to the return of British coal; he was the Energy Secretary when Gordon Brown joined the unions in supporting the massive expansion of British nuclear power while David Cameron called it “a last resort”.

No serious person is against coal itself. We burn colossal quantities of it from the ends of the earth, while sitting on our own, for the sake of a politician who, to stick to unquestionable facts, is dead. This sheer silliness must end.

We cannot deliver the welfare provisions and other public services that our people have rightly come to expect unless we know how many people there are in this country, unless we control immigration properly, and unless we insist that everyone use spoken and written English to the necessary level.

Of course, this problem could never have arisen if it had still been a matter of “no union card, no job”.

One Nation means an approach to climate change which protects and extends secure employment with civilised wages and working conditions, which encourages economic development around the world, which upholds the right of the working classes and of non-white people to have children, which holds down and as far as practicable reduces the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and which refuses to restrict travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.

Climate change is supposed to be anthropogenic. The human race makes the weather. The burning of carbon is the foundation of the working class, the foundation of the Left, the foundation of human progress (problematic though that term is), the foundation of civilisation.

One Nation means a celebration of the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

The problem with the world is not that it has people in it. Which people, exactly? We all know the answer to that. Rather, people produce wealth, material and otherwise. People are wealth, material and otherwise.

One Nation means the organic Constitution, with the full pageantry and ceremony of the parliamentary and municipal processes.

That includes a very British trait of inbuilt self-criticism: Radical and populist, republican and pacifist (I am neither a republican nor a pacifist), Celtic and regional, regional within the Celtic lands as much as within England, parliamentary and extraparliamentary, with the octogenarian Queen and the octogenarian Dennis Skinner each having a distinct role at the State Opening of Parliament as the latest, but not the last, in a long, long line.

One Nation means the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom in the face of all challenges: from the United States or from the European Union, from Israel or the from Gulf monarchies, from Russian oligarchs or from the rising powers of Asia, from money markets or from media moguls, from separatists or from communalists, from over-mighty civil servants and diplomats (including in the intelligence services) or from over-mighty municipal officers, and from inappropriately imported features of the economic and political cultures of the Old Dominions, as exemplified by Lynton Crosby.

This list is not exhaustive.

One Nation means the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom as, with municipalism, the only means to social democracy in the territory that it covers, the democracy in social democracy.

Only social democracy, and not least the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, is capable of safeguarding that sovereignty, national and parliamentary, and that democracy, parliamentary and municipal.

One Nation means conservation and the countryside, especially the political representation of the rural working class. It means personal freedom, through superb and inexpensive public transport, ultimately free at the point of use.

It means academic excellence, with technical proficiency, refusing to compromise on either. It means civil liberties, with law and order, including visible and effective policing. It means an end to light sentences and lax prison discipline, through a return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction.

One Nation means fiscal responsibility, of which neoliberal capitalism is manifestly and demonstrably the opposite. It means a strong financial services sector, with a strong food production and manufacturing base, and with the strong democratic accountability of both.

It means total rejection of class war, insisting instead on “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”. It means a large and thriving private sector, middle class, and working class; all depend on central and local government action, and with public money come public responsibilities. 

One Nation means very high levels of productivity, with the robust protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, including powerful workers’ representation at every level of corporate governance.

It means an absolute statutory division between investment banking and retail banking. It means a base of real property for every household, from which to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State.

One Nation means a realist foreign policy, including strong national defence, and precluding any new Cold War with Russia, China, Iran or anywhere else. It means British military intervention only ever in order to defend British territory or British interests.

It means a leading role on the world stage, with a vital commitment to peace. It means a complete absence of the weapons of mass destruction that three quarters of Labour candidates are committed to removing.

And One Nation means the subjection both of Islamism and of neoconservatism to an approach defined by our proud history of equal opposition to Stalinism, to Maoism, to Trotskyism, to Nazism, to Fascism, and to the Far Right regimes in Southern Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Dolce and Gabbana Contra Sir Elton John (and Gay Equality?), by Aaron Saunderson-Cross

In a recent interview with Italian news magazine Panorama, fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana made controversial remarks regarding same-sex parenting and children born via IVF fertility and surrogacy techniques.

The pair’s remarks, which included Dolce’s lambasting ‘chemical children’, ‘synthetic babies’ and ‘wombs for rent’, were widely republished causing an internet storm with Sir Elton John calling for a boycott of the luxury brand on Instagram.

John wrote: ‘How dare you refer to my beautiful children as "synthetic"’. The BBC reports that John’s #BoycottDolceGabbana hash tag has been used more than 30,000 times with a list of celebrities tweeting their support including Courtney Love, Ricky Martin and retired tennis star Martina Navratilova.

The Italian fashion designers who recently exhibited their ‘Viva la mamma’ collection for the Milan Fashion Week have sought to clarify their remarks stating: ‘We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression’ and Dolce’s noting: ‘I was talking about my personal view, without judging other people’s choices and decisions.’

In an interview with Corriere Della Sera magazine about their controversial remarks, the pair criticize John’s call for a boycott as ‘unenlightened’ and ‘ignorant’ and complain of a lack of respect and tolerance afforded their position.

Dolce and Gabbana do indeed have a democratic right to articulate their opinions on sex, parenting and family life and it’s interesting that a number of Christian voices have lent their support to the pair’s cause: two powerful gay men breaking ranks and harshly criticizing the moral trajectory of principles widely held as the bedrocks of gay equality (namely same-sex marriage, IVF for gay couples, and gay adoption) is an irresistible story.

The tone and rhetoric of D&G’s remarks is patently unjust and – intentionally or not – works to support existing homophobic narratives regarding unnatural and pretend LGBT families; Charlie Condou and Cameron Laux argue this brilliantly in their guest column for Attitude magazine.

This being said it’s disconcerting that the gay media, notably an interview with journalist Patrick Strudwick for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, have been quick to pathologize the designer’s remarks as the expression of ‘self-hatred’ and ‘internalized homophobia’ which is a strategic attempt to dismiss the substance of their remarks and marginalize the voices of religious sexual minorities (Dolce is a Catholic).

The sexual complementarity of parents, the indispensability of the mother and father, and the centrality of love in procreative relationships, are serious issues, and Gabbana’s praise of the ‘supernatural sense of belonging’ in family life strike me as a charismatic endorsement of the family.

I would then that Dolce and Gabbana had written in length on what they believed that married family life was, rather than on what they believed that it is not.

And, indeed, my prayers are with them.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Vertical Regression, by Martin Kelly

Louis XVI had a famously juvenile sense of humour.

One of his favourite wheezes was to turn on the fountains at Versailles just as dignitaries were passing by them. The duly soaked noblesse would then be obliged to have a good laugh at the practical joke the regal wally had just played on them.

Knowing what happened to him, it was not without a little trepidation that I read the following paragraph in The Guardian of 18/02/15, in an article by Alex Andreou entitled, Anti-homeless spikes: Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty:

Pavement sprinklers have been installed by buildings as diverse as the famous Strand book store in New York, a fashion chain in Hamburg and government offices in Guangzhou. They spray the homeless intermittently, soaking them and their possessions. The assertion is clear: the public thoroughfare in front of a building belongs to the building’s occupant, even when it is not being used.

Plus ça change…

Mr. Andreou’s article is a fascinating critique of the concept of ‘defensive architecture’, a misnomer if ever there was one, for ‘anti-homeless spikes’ are just about the most aggressive feature a civilian architect can design into a project.

They are an interesting example of how human nature never changes. The bow-tied wannabe Vaubans who put features like these on to buildings use CAD (Computer Aided Design) software packages to do a job that the British Army did with bayonets, and the Vietcong with pen knives.

One thing that differentiates ‘defensive’ architects from the disciples of Ho Chi Minh is that the Vietcong never described the pungi stick as art.

There is a horrible sameness to all our public spaces now.

Not only are our shopping streets filled with the same chains (including the charity shops), it is virtually impossible to distinguish one new commercial building from another. The design of their exteriors is effortless; no effort seems to have spent on any of them.

They are all concrete and glass, and give the impression that they were not designed to be workplaces but fortresses; sharp-edged and constructed of impregnable material, with the plate glass enabling those inside to look out while preventing those outside from looking in.

In the study of universal history, such standardisation is a well-known indicator of a culture’s creative exhaustion. So far, so bad for us, but by itself it’s not something we can really learn any lessons from.

In an exhausted culture, that is perceived as being too much like hard work. However, there is another aspect of modern architecture which I find extremely disturbing – the return to the vertical.

I am not a fan of Renzo Piano’s Shard. I think it’s an ugly thing, a dagger stabbing the sky, the flatness of the tapering surfaces giving no rest to an eye in search of a feature to study, question or, God forbid, even admire.

It may not have been intended to be admired; it may have been intended to strike awe. One must swallow it in one go, like a spoonful of cod liver oil. 

Wikipedia describes it as ‘Neo-Futurist’, a description that makes perfect sense, looking as it does as if it has sprung fully formed from the rather warped mind of Filippo Marinetti.

It is a building that only a dedicated consumer could love; and it is the taste of those who consume the most that alarms me.

Architecture can, of course, be vertical for any number of reasons.

The slavish devotion of Glasgow, my city, to Le Corbusier left many former low rise, inner-city Glaswegians as marooned in tower-block reservations of asbestos and damp plasterboard as surely as any Cherokee in the reservation that awaited them at the end of the Trail of Tears.

Yet it is my belief that the megastructures of London and Dubai might be telling us another story, perhaps even sending us a message. If I am correct, the  it is not a very pleasant one.

One of the more well-known signs that a previously wild society is calming down is a change from vertical to horizontal construction.

In his wonderful The Scottish Nation, Sir Tom Devine very pithily called this the move from ‘the tower house to the country house’.

In Renaissance Europe 1480 – 1520, another great wee book, Sir John Rigby Hale made precisely the same point about the social changes that took place in late Renaissance Italy.

In such times and places, when you are important enough to live in a big house, it is a universal good that you feel sufficiently secure in your position that you do not also feel the need constantly to watch the horizon

The countryside is likely to be peaceful, meaning that the share of happiness of everyone in it is likely to be increasing, a medieval trickle down.

The return of megastructures to the world’s great cities suggests to me that those who occupy them do not feel secure in their positions.

What person or group who feels secure in their position would feel the need to barricade themselves in towers surrounded by earthworks, which is what ‘anti-homeless spikes’ really are?

It is insulting to call them ‘anti-homeless spikes’; a child who falls on them is as likely to be hurt as a homeless person who tries to lie on them.

It is more appropriate to call them anti-personnel devices; smarter, funkier and less messy than mantraps and depleted uranium cluster bombs, but anti-personnel devices nonetheless.

One should not really be surprised at the return of vertical construction around the world; less vertical construction than vertical regression, going up without growing up.

Wild societies were based on unregulated capitalism, for pillage is as unregulated a form of capitalism as it is possible to get.

The short two decades between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the banking collapse of 2008 were marked by often riotous celebration of unregulated capitalism, even while the growth of inequality and the widening gap between rich and poor, unregulated capitalism’s constant companions, became visible and then unmissable.

The megastructures could just be a statement by those who won the economic battles of those short two decades, that they are here to stay, that they are digging in, that the drawbridges are going up, and that the rest of us should keep out.

Who’s got the pitchforks?

Jim Webb, Jonathan Chait, and the Left's Moment of Truth, by Jack Ross

It remains the most peculiar feature of contemporary liberalism that during these waning years of the Obama era it is still in search of a set of organizing principles.

In practice, of course, appeals to increasingly crude identity politics reigns supreme, with what passes for an overarching narrative being the so-called “coalition of the ascendant.”

The pernicious assumption behind this idea is that everything can be reduced to demographics and that no appeal to common sense or conviction is necessary; the advantage of such intellectual laziness, of course, being the support it lends to the self-satisfaction that to be aligned with the naturally harmonious and enlightened coalition of all racial and sexual/gender minorities is to be on the right side of history, and all critics therefore self-evidently illegitimate.

Jonathan Chait’s much-discussed essay of this past week identifies and deplores this phenomenon with the aged and less than satisfying label “PC culture.” 

The point they all seem to be missing is that Chait’s argument is not so much about free speech in abstract principle but about the mainstreaming of this phenomenon in American liberalism.

Indeed, the nerve that Chait seems to have struck so deeply in many on the left is to have pointed out that what has made radicalism so painfully irrelevant in the post-Cold War era is that virtually without exception, it has been hobbled by the same affliction as liberalism: the idolatry of identity politics.

It is doubtful that Chait intended this, for as his detractors have not tired of pointing out, he is a product of The New Republic in its heyday as a bastion of what leftists have obnoxiously labeled “neoliberalism.”

(Speaking for myself, though I would have still labeled Chait a left-neocon as recently as five or six years ago, he is far from the only alumnus of Marty Peretz’s TNR to have proven thoughtful and worth reading once freed from his grip).

In other words, Chait has historically identified himself with that faction of American liberalism that first elevated cultural appeals at the expense of bread-and-butter economics or any appeal to historical liberal principles. 

What’s interesting about this ambition is that it’s about to intersect with a political campaign in which the champion of liberalism will be a Clinton — when the original Clintonism, in its Sister Souljah-ing, Defense of Marriage Act-signing triangulation on social issues, is a big part of what the new cultural left wants to permanently leave behind. . . . Can Hillary, the young feminist turned cautious establishmentarian, harness the energy of the young and restless left? Or will the excesses associated with that energy end up dividing her coalition, as it has divided liberal journalists of late?

Enter the most likely and formidable alternative to Hillary in the coming primary, Jim Webb. 

To begin on a personal note: in 2006, I had just moved to New York and finished college, kicking over the last traces of illusions about the radical left and any prospects for it. 

It was first seeing Jim Webb on The Colbert Report that summer that made me think I could in fact stand to be a Democrat again.

The taxonomy by which the DC establishment made sense of the Democratic victory that year on the strength of antiwar sentiment was both confusing and misleading, perhaps deliberately so – red-state Democrats who won opposing the war and the Bush economic agenda, in many cases with strong labor movement credentials, represented the triumph of “centrism” as resurrected by the absolutely wonderful Rahm Emanuel. 

This has persisted into discussions of the coming election, with Webb not infrequently described as prospectively running to Hillary’s right.

It is downright bizarre that Jim Webb should be seen by anyone as the second coming of the Democratic Leadership Council. 

Perhaps his biggest domestic policy passion is criminal justice reform.  His economic populist appeal is no less unyielding than that of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. 

His record in the Senate is at least as suspect to the Israel lobby as that of Chuck Hagel before him.  His most prominent criticism of recent American foreign policy has been regarding the intervention in Libya. 

In short, it would be difficult to devise a record and platform whose substance was more diametrically opposed to that of Bill Clinton in 1992.

Webb’s return does bring back certain fond memories of that highly hopeful political moment of my youth, but it has not been without hesitation that I have embraced him as the anti-Hillary.

I was at first excited about Brian Schweitzer, who may or may not re-emerge from whatever hole he disappeared to a few months ago, and if he does I’ll certainly give him a hearing again. 

My main reassurance came from Ryan Lizza’s rather glowing profile in The New Yorker last November, which not only informed me that Webb did in fact have an impressive record of achievement during his time in the Senate, but offered the most convincing portrait I’d ever seen of what a realistic and non-demagogic yet satisfying answer to the outrages of Wall Street since 2008 would look like.

What about the other darlings of the left these days? 

On Bernie Sanders, I can speak from personal experience. In 2013 I attended the annual Fourth of July Parade in Warren, Vermont, where sincere yet rather tepid applause for the governor was followed by absolute pandemonium for Bernie. 

As a certain grizzled old Vermont leftie explained to me a few days later, two things account for such near-universal adulation and the 70% votes to back it up: activism on veterans issues and an A rating from the NRA.

Bernie deserves great credit for being able to pull this off, but if he’s smart – and he typically is in matters of politics if not always of policy – he’ll marshal his well-earned influence behind the candidate better suited to replicate this nationally.

Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, I’ve been forced to conclude is merely the Chris Christie of the left: a loudmouth who specializes in riling up the base, not completely lacking in substance but getting by on the bare minimum.

I made a point of keeping an open mind about her, that perhaps she could have serious national appeal beyond the base.  But after the last midterm, whose emblematic figures – from Wendy Davis to Mark “Uterus” Udall to the street theater emphasizing the word “vagina” that allowed the battle-scarred Scott Walker to win re-election and become a first-tier Republican contender – made clear that the Democrats had learned all the wrong lessons from Obama’s re-election, there can be no doubt that Warren would be as clobbered in Iowa (and the other bastions of forgotten Democrats who can still decide primaries) as Howard Dean.

Why so little love then for Jim Webb?

In addition to his positions outlined above, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that in every public statement he has shown himself to be a perfectly conventional down-the-line liberal on the key culture war questions of abortion and gay marriage.

That being the case, one can only conclude that resistance to Webb by any principled progressive who wishes to deprive Hillary Clinton of the Democratic nomination is motivated by rank cultural prejudice, no more no less.

The recent essay in this connection by Jackson Lears in the London Review of Books is a must read; what better indictment can there be of the identity politics idolatry of contemporary liberalism than that the allegedly presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is a woman just a couple of shades to the left of Joe Lieberman, for practically no other reason than that she’s a woman?

One will inevitably raise the further question, how can any hope be seen at this stage to reverse the trajectory of the Democratic Party and American liberalism toward the union of PC culture and Clintonism?

The answer can be found in a historical analogy – a very old and tired analogy with dreadful baggage, but nevertheless particularly apt in this case. 

The rise and fall of Communist or “Popular Front” influence in the liberal coalition of the 1940s, culminating in the bizarre presidential campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948, can be compared to the place of the subjects of Jonathan Chait’s essay in mainstream liberal discourse in many respects; specifically, a pervasive if not overwhelming influence in media and cultural institutions that created the appearance of intractable dominance, yet highly vulnerable to a methodical decapitation for lack of real grassroots support. 

Particularly salient are analogous circumstances in the Republican midterm victories of 1946 and 2014: the former was measurably aided by the Democratic primary victories of Communist-aligned candidates, particularly in the western states and including the merger of the Democratic Party of Minnesota with the Communist rump remnant of the once-formidable Farmer-Labor Party.

The essential irrelevance of this sanctimonious pundit class once the voting public must inevitably have its say may be best illustrated by the recent demise of what was its flagship publication in both 1946 and 2014The New Republic.

It is no accident that, having long taken many nominally extreme left-wing positions on culture war questions to paper over its fellow-traveling of neoconservatism, for at least a decade been the most vociferously opposed to the rise of any potential Democratic standard bearer who could leave the culture war behind. 

When Jonathan Chait aptly described the majority of his detractors as “anti-anti-PC” he no doubt was deliberately invoking the vintage concept of “anti-anti-Communism” – in other words, pointing out that most of the contemporary liberal pundit class are not intersectionalist ideologues but allow their distaste for the latter’s enemies to determine their views.

The irony indeed appears to be lost on both Chait and his detractors that in doing so they are aligning perfectly with the priorities and agenda of the “neoliberals” whose menace determines their “anti-anti-PC” attitude, which prompts such personal animus toward Chait and with whom he has indeed been aligned historically.

One could concede all of the above and still conclude that none of it matters, because the Clintons have a complete grip on the Democratic Party fundraising apparatus and even notwithstanding could easily outspend any opponents.

There are many answers to this, including the myriad ways that money is slowly but surely becoming less decisive and the many potential sources of adequate funding for a candidate to stop Hillary.

But perhaps more to the point would be to unpack the narrative of inevitability itself.

Why the media, and many otherwise thoughtful people, have forgotten that the recent history of American politics is littered with inevitable nominees that weren’t (Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani being only the two most recent) remains a mystery. 

What virtually no one seems to remember, very strangely as it was integral to the backdrop of today’s political and media elite coming of age, is the highly analogous inevitability of Ted Kennedy in the years leading up to the 1980 election

Hillary’s weaknesses and baggage from the 2008 campaign have only grown with her current inevitability – and we now know that Barack Obama is not an unprecedented political genius, revealing just how weak a candidate she has always been in the first place.

Finally, a word must be said about Jim Webb relative to the other, more widely discussed symbol of anti-establishment sentiment in this political season, Rand Paul. 

Immutable differences in economic policy cannot be dismissed easily, not least considering the historically close relationship of both Ron and Rand to the National Right to Work Committee.

I will certainly maintain that Rand Paul represents the most promising path for the Republican Party to move on from the era of George W. Bush and Fox News.

But it does not seem likely that this transformation can take place just yet, due to both Rand’s own and the larger structural barriers that remain in the Republican Party.

I have always said to libertarian friends that I don’t have a problem with Rand Paul playing politics, but that he’s just not very good at it.

His overeagerness to find compromise positions with the neocons and Republican establishment result in a poorly thought-out product, and if anything the audience in the Republican Party for his domestic reform agenda is even smaller than on foreign policy. 

He has a neat bag of tricks, but its a limited bag of tricks and he doesn’t seem to recognize that its limited. 

Without making a moral judgement in either case, the difference between Rand Paul and Marine Le Pen in their public relationships with their fathers respectively is revealing in multiple respects.

However short of a non-interventionist ideal Jim Webb might ultimately come down, we know that it is not in his nature, for good or ill, to vacillate and equivocate, and thus there are myriad reasons to conclude that Webb would be a more reliable standard bearer for a principled realist foreign policy than Rand Paul, and on other civil liberties concerns certainly no worse.

That there’s even a question of such a Democrat with a strong economic populist appeal as an optimal standard bearer for a principled left is the most damning possible indictment of the transformation of the American liberal left detailed by Jonathan Chait.

In his posthumously published Thinking the Twentieth Century, Tony Judt wrote that “the choice we face in the next generation is not capitalism versus communism, or the end of history versus the return of history, but the politics of social cohesion based around collective purposes versus the erosion of society by the politics of fear.” 

That choice may never be more plainly and dramatically be decided than in the Democratic primary of 2016.

This originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the request of the author.