As part of the Guardian’s Who Owns The Progressive Future? Series, master social theorist (and a favorite of mine) Zygmunt Bauman wrote a column dealing with the differences between the left and the right on economic matters (or lack thereof). His verdict is quite bleak:
Indeed. What is now meant by the "the left" is either "the left-of-center" or simply, as is the case for the current US Democratic Party, right-of-center moderates who split from the insane warring right (I can safely predict that an Obama presidency will be a right-of-center presidency). Actually, what "progressive" means, if one looks at the major blogs, is the taking-over by libertarians and moderate conservatives of the label "progressive" (the Obama camp and its economic advisers from the University of Chicago), elbowing out old-fashioned liberals (the Hillary camp). That battle was fought in the primary, the liberals lost. The Democratic Party now belongs to conservatives, moderates and libertarians (with the ideological luminaries such as Kos, Huffington and other former Republicans).
It is quite noticeable that social policies rank very low in the hierarchy of priorities of this political clique as opposed to the self-affirmation derived from just being the good guys who "nominated the black guy" as another figure of the "progressive" blogosphere put it a while back. Don’t expect universal healthcare and other social policies. It’s already a done deal that it is not going to happen and the economic crisis provides cover for that. After all, Obama was a strong advocate of the Wall Street bailout while he has already stated that he will not implement social policy plans, on education, for instance, he had indicated in his platform.
But for Bauman, the liquidation of the left (and, for anyone familiar with Bauman’s work, the concept of liquidity is central, so, my pun is definitely intended) has a lot to do with one central aspect of globalization: the declining political and economic significance of the nation-state.
Again, this argument is applicable to the American political situation: the Democratic victory of November (it will be a Democratic victory, the only question will be that of actual numbers of senators and representatives) is actually more the collapse of the Republican party, as dominated by the neo-cons (failure of military and foreign policy), neo-liberals (economic collapse) and religious fundamentalists. That particular coalition is at an end and the rats are leaving that sinking ship as fast as they can (see: Powell, Colin). It will take probably several years for the Republicans to reexamine their coalition and rebuild it.
Either way, the Western block is facing a crisis of legitimacy and the left has not been able to take advantage of the global disasters brought about by US policies to advance a truly social-democratic agenda (at least not yet, one can always hope).
My view on this is that the promotion of a social-democratic program will have to be articulated in global terms and promoted by structures outside of the traditional political party. It will come from the global civil society organizations and social movements (such as the World Social Forum) and will seep through the interstices of the decaying nation-state structures and the current loopholes of the global system. Of course, there will be struggle involved as the current powerholders (the global financial sector) still have the power to demand the emptying of national coffers in the name of the global economic system and obtain the satisfaction of such demands without much protest, which, in itself, is quite revealing of the state of the left, either complicit or neutered or in disarray or co-opted.