How to have reservations (aka The Political Post)

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and glorious life would begin: and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far off, and that what was to be the most complicated and difficult for them was only just beginning.
-Anton Chekhov

Anybody with a bunch of liberal sites on their RSS feed has been reading a lot of wonderful, optimistic posts on the election results, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and Pelosi’s appointment as Speaker of the House. I’m feeling pretty sunny about the whole thing myself. However, I’d like to collect a couple of my recent comments on the subject from other sites, where I’ve been giving voice to some skeptical concern. The first comment is from N. Pepperell’s Rough Theory, and is responding in part to an exuberant (and thoughtful) post at Larval Subjects. So this is my response to the thesis, “We have witnessed the beginning of a new era of American liberalism.” The second comment comes from Irrelevant Narcissism, and is my response to the thesis, “We have witnessed a victory by Democratic Party centrists.”

First off, Rough Theory:

I agree with the idea, suggested in your post, that we should not be too hasty in declaring a giant leap forward. The election in the United States of Nancy Pelosi to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives does not mean a solution to the ongoing, global problems of widespread, localized conflict and environmental devastation. When those endemic problems take their next toll, in the form of weather disasters, fuel shortages, terrorist acts, or [small-scale] war, we will risk regressing back to a politics of fear.

Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of artefactual sedimentation in the achievement of progress. The Internet (not just blogs, of course, but also political, journalistic, and organizational websites of all kinds) is one place where one can see progressive ideas taking hold, being re-stated simultaneously in many places, and surviving the cold winters of reactionary politics. The process by which historical documents, such as Western constitutional texts or the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” accumulate to make practices like slavery harder and harder to justify, has accelerated in a fashion that I think bodes well for the larger “waves” of political change.

Second, Irrelevant Narcissism:

More is at stake than simply election-year strategy; the leadership of the Party must go one way or another. In my opinion, the nomination of Nancy Pelosi, who is very liberal, to the position of speaker is awfully good news.

This is a crossroads, rhetorically speaking, and it appears that many Democrats in leadership positions want to demonstrate a renewed commitment to the Left by putting people like Pelosi and Dean up front. If, meanwhile, we’re going to fund less radical Democrats in contested races, I support that one hundred percent.

…[The] belief that the Lieberman and Whitehouse races are much more significant than other ways of viewing the election results is really a rhetorical move, just as my references to Pelosi and Dean are rhetorical. I want the Democratic Party to keep leading America left, after years of watching the Republicans lead us to the right.

Why would we think that centrists are capable of solving the environmental problems facing us? Will centrists be able to reform American health care? Will they get the public school system back on its feet? The only thing a centrist government can do competently is slowly begin a withdrawal from Iraq, one that doesn’t leave the Middle East in even greater chaos.

I understand that it’s important to be realistic about American politics. [But] there is no doubt in my mind that policies based on what America considers “centrism” will land us, in fifty years on the outside, in the middle of unimaginable crisis: environmentally, militarily, and economically.