Saturday, February 27, 2010

Utopian Templates, or, Why Progressivism Always Wins In The End

What lies at the root of the differences between different political philosophies?

Exclude the obviously self-serving, such as the ideologies worn by many elected officials like makeup, or those employed by the voiceboxes of corporate power to justify rapaciousness and greed. Let’s confine ourselves to ideologies that people actually believe in sincerely.

Set aside also practical questions of methodology and political reality. These are important when facing real-world problems of implementation, but they are not what the disagreements are about. I am sure of this, because there is simply too little emotional energy invested in the hows, as distinct from the whats, to be worth fighting over. I mean, if you’re driving with a friend and you both want to go to the same restaurant, and you come to an intersection and you think you should turn left while he thinks you should turn right, that’s easily settled. You don’t fight about it. You just pull over and consult a map. Since you’re both trying to get to the same place, the one who’s wrong will shrug it off and say, “Glad you caught me on that one.”

No, the real disputes don’t come over disagreements on how to get there. The arguments happen when you want to go to the Chinese place and he wants barbecue. So it is, I would say, in politics. We don’t disagree about the way to get there. We disagree about where we want to go. If it were otherwise, we’d just pull over and consult the map, and come to an agreement.

If you care about politics at all, if it’s an emotional matter for you, if you pay attention to it and you think about it – if it’s not just another spectator sport for you (which it is to some) – then you are a visionary idealist. That is to say, you have a template in your mind, held there in various states of precision or vagueness, of the perfect society, and you chart your political roadmap based on what you think will take us there.

Now this template is usually not realistic. It can’t be achieved in any great hurry, if at all. If you’re wise, you realize this. But it colors all your political thinking just the same. It’s what guides you to sit up and say, “That’s wrong,” or “That’s right,” when faced with a policy choice. You have a sense that this policy choice will take society closer or further away from the template in your head of the ideal society, and you judge it (consciously or not) on that basis.

In America there are a number of competing utopian templates, which is why we get so much political drama from time to time. Once we even had a civil war and killed almost a million of each other because we couldn’t agree on the templates. Luckily the one that provoked the secession is (mostly) gone, but there are plenty of replacements. There’s the religious right template, which sees utopia in a Biblical theocracy where everybody lives according to the Word of God. The more thoughtful believers in that one will acknowledge that it’s unachievable until the Second Coming, but they still hold it as an ideal to be approximated. Then there’s the libertarian template, in which the perfect society is one with the least intrusive (or just plain least) government. The American patriot template sees paradise arriving in the slipstream of a U.S. Air Force jet fighter and American military dominance of the world. The mega-corporation template sees the ideal society as one that allows the rich to become richest. All of these templates compete for dominance in this country, but all of them are outliers and also-rans compared to another utopian template which has existed from the beginning of our nation and for several centuries before that. This template does not always govern the country, and has never done so without competition, but it is always a strong force and, over the years, has moved us increasingly towards its fulfillment while all of the other templates enjoy at most only temporary success. I refer to the progressive template.

The progressive template isn’t specifically American. It goes back at least to the Enlightenment in Europe, but its roots are older than that. It arose in embryonic form in response to a sequence of technological innovations. It started with the printing press, which boosted literacy rates by providing affordable reading material so that most people had a reason to learn to read. This in turn amplified independent thought and gave rise to a whole string of revolutionary developments, from the Protestant Reformation to the scientific revolution to the Enlightenment itself and the movement for democracy. Further technological developments followed at an accelerating pace, and along with them arose more and more questioning of the way society had been organized for thousands of years. Why should certain people have privileges granted them at birth? Shouldn’t government be by the consent of the governed? Why should anyone be enslaved? Don’t workers have rights that should be enforceable against their employers? Shouldn’t women have equal rights with men? Shouldn’t all races be treated equally?

Prior to about the 15th or maybe 16th century, the pace of political and social progress was glacial. The same basic paradigm of society held sway for thousands of years, composed of hereditary privilege, monarchy, male superiority, state religion, and a bottom caste of slaves or serfs bonded to toil for the benefit of the elite. The same held true with technology. It progressed over those millennia, but so slowly that one can see this progress only by looking back through history; it was invisible to the people living in it. Then, almost as if a switch had been thrown, the pace of both technological and social progress accelerated dramatically. Now, we see both happening in real time while we watch. This is not a coincidence. The one rises from the other, because as we see technology progressing during our lifetimes, we are conditioned to think of all problems as having solutions and of change as normal.

A fundamental congruence may be observed between two sorts of observations. On one end of the equation, we say things like this: “A thousand years ago, nobody could cross from Europe to America at all. Five hundred years ago, the journey took weeks. My grandparents could make the trip in a few days. Today, I can fly from here to Paris or London in a few hours.” On another, we can also say things like this: “When the Constitution was first implemented, most African-Americans were slaves, women couldn’t vote, and neither could most men who weren’t rich. Since then, we have freed the slaves, and we have made suffrage universal.” Moreover, it is only a short step from this sort of thinking to imagining both technical and social/political solutions to problems that haven’t been solved yet. This willingness to contemplate how things can get better, and better and better, without limit, is the essence of the progressive template. Unlike the others mentioned above, the progressive template isn’t any fixed model of utopia, but rather a vision of a society that continually improves, with better lives for more people as time goes by. Whether the problem is a need for cleaner energy or for cleaner politics, for safer transportation or for fairer distribution of wealth, the progressive position is that it can be solved. No matter what happens, no matter how much things change, that one fact remains constant: they can get better if we put our minds and hearts to it.

And that explains why progressivism (also known as “liberalism”) has always been a major contender for the dominant utopian template in American politics, and, I believe, always will be. Other templates come and go. The white supremacy template, for example, was strong through the 19th and about half of the 20th centuries but has now dwindled to being the preferred choice only of an impotent fringe. The religious-right template has just about peaked and we will see it similarly dwindle over future generations. The libertarian template waxes and wanes but never commands more than a small fraction of the popular allegiance. The mega-corporate template is under siege right now, but is never very popular except with the very rich anyway. So with any other conceivable template based on a fixed ideal society. But the progressive template, because it evolves over time, and is committed only to continuous progress, is always in contention, and so over time inevitably wins. It can lose temporarily, for an election cycle, for a decade or two. But in the end it always wins.

That’s why we no longer have slaves. That’s why we have guarantees of racial and gender equality. That’s why we have workers’ rights built into law. That’s why we have regulations on business to protect workers, consumers, and the environment. That’s why we have aid for the poor. That’s why we have a government retirement program. That’s why we have guaranteed civil rights for sexual minorities.

That’s why we WILL have universal health care. That’s why we WILL have same-sex marriage. That’s why we WILL have an end to poverty. That’s why we WILL have narrowed income gaps. That’s why we WILL have an ecologically sustainable society. And that’s why we will, in the future, have more and better developments that can’t even be foreseen from the present vantage point, but which future progressives will see and will enact.

It’s only a question of when.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Deceptive Silence On The Left

There are more of us than there are of them. We need to remember that.

The Tea Party movement is making a lot of noise these days. They’re scaring politicians in both parties to death, and the Republicans with cause. But they are not the ones the Democrats should fear. The Democrats ought to be afraid instead of the TP’s counterparts on the left, which I’ve unimaginatively called the Leftist Insurgency (LI). (Still would like a better name.) The Tea Party won’t determine whether Democratic Senators and Congressmen can be reelected. The LI will.

Look at it this way. Precious few of those participating in the right-wing insurgency today voted for Barack Obama in 2008, so their activism is not an indicator of any lost support, either for him or for other Democrats. Obama campaigned on a decidedly left-wing platform: health-care reform, ending the war in Iraq, stimulus for the economy, reducing corporate influence on government, green energy and ending oil dependence, “spreading the wealth around.” Never mind for the moment that he’s broken most of those promises or watered them down to the point of nullity. The fact remains that Obama the candidate was an unabashed progressive of the sort we haven’t seen among Democrats running for president in a long time. And he won. He won big, and he won with the votes and activism of the LI, thus proving that the LI exists, and that it is a lot stronger than mainstream media views of this country as “center-right” recognize.

Now we hear attempts to rewrite history, claims that Obama is losing support because of his overly left-wing agenda. The picture being painted is of someone who campaigned as a moderate and veered left once in office, losing support in the process.

And that’s bullshit. It’s total distortion, total disinformation. You know that, I know it, and everyone saying it probably knows it, too, which makes it not a mistake but a deliberate lie. Obama didn’t run as a moderate, and he didn’t tack left on taking office. He ran as a progressive, and he tacked right, and that’s why he’s lost support.

At this point in time, America is not center-right but center-left, and moving further left all the time. The election of 2008 proves that. If it were not true, Obama should never have been electable campaigning as he did. He was not some kind of stealth leftist. Anyone who voted for him thinking he was promising to govern as a moderate had his head in the sand and his ears plugged. What’s more, the fact that his support came disproportionately from young voters says a lot about where the country is moving, because of course young voters are the future. This division is generation-based, not age-based. Young Obama voters are not going to turn into conservatives as they age (except insofar as the issues of their youth win, and become part of the status quo). They will continue to vote for progressive candidates for the rest of their lives. In any election, the question is not who the people who gave Obama his victory will support, but whether or not they will vote at all. Any gains made by the Republicans in this year’s election will not be because the electorate has moved right. They will be made by default, because we see no reason to vote.

So: there are more of us insurgents on the left than there are of them on the right. The ones on the right are just noisier. Also, they get more media coverage in the old media. Why that is, I’m not sure. Viral memes? More outlandish costuming and absurd extremism, which boosts ratings? Conspiracy? Your guess is as good as mine.

Two weeks ago I posted “The Tea Party paradox” in which I introduced the idea of the LI. One of my readers pointed out that the LI was not very visible in the media. I agreed. But does it need to be? Here’s one interesting thing: Tea Party members are typically older people (as well as white and male). LI members, though, tend to be younger, more new-media-savvy types. While Boomers (born 1943-1960) are not a majority of the TP, they are disproportionately represented, while Millennials (born 1982-2005) are underrepresented although not completely absent. Now I know something about what Boomers are like because I am one. The Boomer style of political activism runs to guerrilla theater. That’s just as true of right-wing Boomer activists today as it was of left-wing Boomer activists in the 1960s and 1970s. Guerrilla theater is, when well done, lots of fun to watch. It’s just naturally going to boost ratings and therefore be something the old media will want to cover (which may suffice to explain the deceptive silence on the left by itself).

But if the LI is not as visible on television, it is no less active. It’s found in the blogosphere, in the social networks, and in action groups that, rather than putting on a demonstration for the media, instead put on an email campaign for members of Congress. The LI is pushing Congress to finish health care reform (pointing out that there’s really nothing to stop them, since a bill has already been passed by both houses of Congress and such differences as exist between them can be resolved through reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority). Congress, and now the president as well (, is responding. Similar efforts are under way to push for a jobs bill, for bank regulation, and for many other measures that have been stalled in Congress by Republican intransigence and Democratic ankle-grabbing. A new aggressiveness is starting to show up in Washington among Democrats that have up to now been about as effective as a tissue-paper tank. The LI is responsible for the change.

That’s typical Millennial stuff: not showy, but effective. Not guerrilla theater, but old-fashioned organization implemented with up-to-date technology. Not outlandish costumes and fringe ideas, but solid progressive politics and civic responsibility. The LI outnumbers the TP, and it’s better organized and a whole lot more practical. Its electoral impact cannot help but be much, much greater.

Does that mean the Democrats are, polls and pundits to the contrary notwithstanding, going to pull off a win this fall and actually increase their representation in Congress? It’s possible, but not likely, and that’s because the LI is no more an arm of the Democratic Party than the TP is of the Republican Party. If its collective mind chooses to support the Democrats enthusiastically this fall, then yes, that will happen. But it won’t – not every Democrat in Congress, it won’t, because some of them have not earned that support.

But while Democrats will probably lose ground this year, progressives will not. And that bodes well for the future.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Totem Spirits

In the first entry of this blog, I mentioned that the dragon is “my personal totem in a deeply spiritual sense.” I think it’s time to discuss just what that means.

A totem is a source of magic and an image of the soul. The word and concept come from shamanism. Traditionally, a totem is the image of an animal, something that a person living in a primitive society might meet while wandering in the world near his village. Obviously that’s not quite the case with mine, though. No one is likely to meet a dragon in the flesh. Dragons are not part of our physical-plane existence, any more than unicorns, fairies, or honest politicians. But even in its aboriginal form, a shaman’s totem animal was never the same as the beast that bore its name and image. A shaman with a bear for a totem would not by virtue of that be able to turn to a bear in the forest for aid, and indeed might be mauled and killed by one like anyone else. In view of which, I’m just as happy that real, physical dragons don’t exist in our world.

But if my totem is not a physical dragon – and if the bear totem or wolf totem or eagle totem of someone else is not a physical bear, wolf, or eagle – what is it? Is it merely an imaginary creature?

No: because the imagination does not deserve to be called “mere.”

Unless you are currently out hiking in the wilderness and reading this on your smart phone or some such, most everything you see around you is a product of the imagination. Your home or office, the floor beneath your feet, the device you’re reading this on, the clothes you wear, in short everything man-made, existed first in someone’s imagination and could not have been manifest in physical reality if it had not first been imagined. Imagination links the world together and recombines its elements in new patterns. Imagination is crucial to all thought, all feeling, all social interaction, all life. Imagination is the essence of art, of science, of problem-solving. The reality we experience is composed of four elements, sensation, thought, emotion, and imagination, and imagination is as important as any of the others.

To make a contrast between the imaginary and the real is sloppy thinking. The imaginary IS real. It’s just a different type of reality than what comes in over the sensory lines. Imagination has power. Imagination remakes the world.

A totem, then, is a powerful creature of the imagination. Through the power of association, it links a person to some aspect of the universe which has particular significance for him. It expresses and strengthens certain qualities of a mage’s personality and character. It provides guidance, companionship, insight, and empowerment.

One interesting thing about a totem compared to other imaginary forms important in magic, such as deities from religions or mythos, the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life in the Kaballah, the Major Arcana of the Tarot, etc. is that a totem is very personal. The dragon isn’t everyone’s totem, it’s my totem, and my particular dragon is only my totem, shared with no other mage, not even those who also have dragon totems. It relates to aspects of my nature in its power of flight, its intelligence and cunning, its visionary depth, and its ruthlessness. It cautions me as well through its dark side, its potential for selfishness and greed, arrogance and autocracy. I know that all of these are qualities I share with it, even the power of flight or to breathe fire, though of course these are symbolic and not literal. Another person with a different totem will also find that its personal characteristics resonate with her own.

So how does one choose a totem? One does not. One feels the resonance, the attraction, to a particular image, a particular animal. It isn’t a rational decision any more than falling in love. Not much in the working of magic is rational; one can apply reason to understanding how it works, what it can do now and what it might be able to do in the future, and to the design of rituals, spells, and magical systems, but the actual doing comes from the shadow side of the mind, the moonlit night, the self of dreams. It comes from the heart and the soul more than from the mind. In a very real sense, the totem chooses the person.

Does all this mean I believe magic to be real, of the sort I write fiction about? I imagine some reading this may wonder at that. Yes and no. The sort of magic that Correl could do before he became a Star Mage, yes, that’s real. Deep-tier magic, manipulation of probability at the molecular or quantum level of events, is theoretically possible but I have seen no evidence that it can actually be done by any real person; it’s a fictional device, an element of fantasy and that’s all it is to the best of my knowledge – at least for the present. Thus I cannot, as my characters do, physically assume the form of my totem. It would be a splendid thing if I could. How delightful to soar on the wind above the ocean, my great wings spread until they blot out the stars. How satisfying to cast my shadow upon the makers of war, the greedy and tyrannical, the merely human monsters of our world, and send them fleeing and disrupt their wickedness. But it may be that Correl is right, and the universe does not trust human beings with power like that. Or at least, does not trust this particular human being. And I have enough self-knowledge, partly thanks to the dragon spirit itself, to recognize the possibility that the cosmos is wise in this restraint.

But if in reality and outside of fiction the power of a totem spirit (and of magic in general) is more subtle than that, it is still an intoxicating thing. Although I must leave my flesh behind to do it, I can indeed soar on dragon-wings against the starlit sky, and see the world through eyes not bound by the human spectrum, and contemplate the timeless mysteries with a dragon’s understanding. There is a deep knowledge and an instinctive wisdom buried at the roots of the brain. To connect with a totem spirit is one way to access that knowledge and wisdom.

Nothing comes free, and there are prices to be paid for this. To invite a totem spirit into one’s life is to invite painful transformation. It shouldn’t be done lightly, but then, that’s impossible anyway; a light call is not answered, only one made from deep in the heart. In any case, a totem’s gifts and the price for them are not separate things, but two sides of the same thing. It’s the paying that’s the gift, and it’s the gift that pays.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Tea Party Paradox

In The Stairway to Nowhere I have a Plot Device called the Crystal. It’s one of two powerful magic talismans, each of which has an order of magicians built around it. The magicians of the other talisman, the Star, are the Good Guys. The Crystal’s magicians are the Bad Guys. They’re nasty, ruthless, and mean. They cast spells on people and turn them into slaves. They torture people in creative ways just for the fun of it. They practice human sacrifice (the Aztec religion was their idea). In so many ways, these are Not Nice People. But they play a crucial role in the Star’s secret plan to turn human society into a utopia. It couldn’t be done without them. They provide the goad of pain to move humanity in a direction it would not go unless pushed. As the Star itself put it: “Each set of adepts has a role to play, and I appeal to each in the language they can understand. The Crystal’s selfish power drives the world forward, towards the supposedly ideal world the Star promises. The Crystal adepts are being used for a goal not their own. I give them what they desire, though. They are not deceived in that. It’s simply that there is a larger process of which their selfish ends are subroutines. The Star’s agenda is that larger process.”

Turns out the Star’s agenda itself is a subroutine of an even larger process, but that’s getting away from what I want to talk about this week, which is the Tea Party movement. If you want, you can read some more about the Star and the Crystal here: The coupon from last week’s entry is still good for a free copy.

Now, about the Tea Party movement. It’s not a perfect analogy. I’m not suggesting that our misnamed modern Samuel Adamses are nasty, ruthless, Not Nice People. But I do believe that they are, in the pursuit of what they desire, serving ends not their own, just like the Crystal’s adepts. Strange as this may seem, those ends may well be appealing to those of us on the left side of society’s political divide. (You thought I was going to say they were being used by the Corporate Interests, didn’t you? I believe just the opposite, in fact.)

The Tea Party movement, like its unfortunately less-visible and less-active left-wing counterpart, cuts across the lines formed by the political parties. (I can’t think of a cool and catchy name for the leftist insurgency, so I’m going to be unimaginative and call it the Leftist Insurgency, or LI. If you can think of a better name, post a comment.)

One can oppose the status quo from either the left or the right these days. That’s because the Democrats and Republicans today together form a deceptive system of control that was crafted during the 28 years from the administration of Ronald Reagan through that of George W. Bush. Although there are individuals in Congress who are not part of this system, enough are to make it work, and all of the presidents of those years (including the lone Democrat, Bill Clinton) played important parts in it as well. The system presents an illusion of political conflict and electoral choice, or rather it presents real choice but only on strictly limited issues. In any meaningful sense, the Democrats (most of them) aren’t liberal and the Republicans aren’t conservative. Both serve the Corporate Interests, because that’s who pays their campaign expenses for the most part, and without that money they wouldn’t have a job. At the height of this system’s power, which means during the Clinton years – it began to come apart under Bush 43 – the political discourse redefined “liberal” and “conservative” in terms of positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control, and a few quite trivial economic issues around the margins of the system. Politicians of both parties argued vehemently and demonized one another over this nonsense, while remaining silent (and silently agreeing) on questions of marginal tax rates that encouraged concentration of wealth into very few hands, trade policy that encouraged outsourcing of jobs and loss of industrial capacity, deregulation of banks and other industries, environmental shortsightedness, and a foreign policy designed to ensure a plentiful supply of raw materials, particularly oil, and of cheap labor. Anything the Corporate Interests cared about was a matter banned from discussion between the two parties, who were consigned to dispute only issues of no importance to those Interests one way or the other. The important thing to recognize here is that, while there were a few remaining politicians (most but not all of them Democrats) who still represented the public interest, the majority in both parties represented the Corporate Interest instead. And so the victory of one party over the other was really no more a victory in any meaningful sense than vice-versa.

The system began to break down under George W. Bush. That’s partly because Bush himself was so clumsy a politician and so inept an administrator, but partly because during his administration many of its inherent problems reached a boiling point. In other words, it wasn’t entirely his fault. A lot of it was just the luck of timing. At the beginning of his presidency, our ugly foreign policy provoked an even uglier terrorist attack, which in turn provoked two very ugly wars. In the middle of it, the government bungled response to a disastrous hurricane. At the end of it, imbalances in the economy finally led to a massive breakdown, the worst since the Great Depression. The public distaste with all this elected Barack Obama and a big Democratic majority in Congress, but this wasn’t really a solution (see above). Obama was elected because he talked as if he was going to clean up the system and restore government in the public interest, and the Democrats mostly because George W. Bush is a Republican.

The LI gave Obama his margin of victory. But after he took office, another insurgency arose on the right, greatly annoyed with, among other things, Obama. Now, that should be bad news for liberals, right? Wrong! Because although the Tea Party movement is in some ways “conservative,” it shares with the equally-distraught (but, alas, not equally visible) LI a state of being fed up with Government Of, By and For the Corporate Interests. Moreover, although the Tea Party’s Public Enemy No. 1 is the president, as a practical matter a lot of their main targets have an R after their names. After all, Obama’s not up for reelection this year. Where this movement has an impact in this year’s Congressional elections, it is likely to torpedo the campaigns of about as many Republicans as Democrats. And it is also likely that their victims will be exactly the right Republicans and Democrats.

The movement has helped secure an upset in two early elections last year and this year, and I contend that we may take these outcomes as templates for likely impacts in the general election this fall. The first was the 23rd Congressional district of New York. This election saw a third-party candidate backed by national populist conservatives against the Republican nominee, throwing the race to the Democrat in a district that had been staunchly Republican for decades. The second race was the Massachusetts special election for U.S. Senator to replace Ted Kennedy. Here, a populist, moderate Republican secured an upset victory against a machine Democrat. That race actually deserves a closer look.

Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, is not much of a prize, frankly. She has a record of support for heavy-handed police actions that are questionable in terms of civil liberties, such as the use of forensic chemical testing of alleged illegal drugs without any opportunity of the defendant or defendant’s counsel to cross-examine the expert witness, or the overreaction of Boston’s emergency services that mistook signs advertising a cartoon for bombs and disrupted traffic for hours. On the other hand, as state Attorney General she has been quite lenient towards Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, declining to investigate his office for alleged illegal destruction of public emails, and earlier as District Attorney of Middlesex County towards Somerville police officer Keith Winfield, declining to prosecute him for the sexual abuse of a girl under the age of 2, for which he was later prosecuted by Coakley’s successor, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Her career in public service has shown her to be deferential to those holding power, whether corporate or political, at the expense of ordinary people. Throw in her staunch defense of abortion rights (the faux-liberalism of the corporate-owned Democratic Party) and you have a very typical corporatist Democrat in the Clinton mold. By any reasonable appraisal, Mr. Brown is the better – and even the more liberal – choice, and only the arithmetic of Senate rules could suggest to the contrary.

Note that in NY23, the TP supported a right-wing wacko, while in Massachusetts, they supported a moderate Republican. The common feature of both these candidates was that they gave the impression of being outsiders, and of not being the paid-for property of the Corporate Interest. The wacko lost. The moderate won.

Taking these two races as templates for this fall, we can expect our right-wing populists to have an impact in various close races. But which races? What effect?

The LI is, alas, not as noisy or as visible as the Tea Party movement, but it’s almost certainly bigger. It was that insurgency, which unlike the TP is concentrated in younger people (the TP is largely a movement of the middle aged and elderly), that put Obama in the White House. It can put genuine progressives into control of Congress, if there are enough of them running, and if it votes, and the second follows from the first. That is, if a genuine progressive is running for office in any given district, the leftist insurgency will come out to vote for him. They may also hold their noses and vote for a corporatist Democrat if the alternative is a thorough right-wing wacko (as happened in New York). In a race between a corporatist Democrat and a corporatist but non-crazy Republican, or even more so between a corporatist Democrat and an apparently non-corporate-owned Republican, the leftist insurgents will mostly stay home, as they did in Massachusetts.

Which brings me to an analysis of likely Tea Party effects on the coming election based on hypothetical consideration of who’s running. Bear in mind the TP is unlikely to do much to influence Democratic primaries; they will be targeting Republican primary races for the most part, or general election campaigns.

If a genuine progressive, anti-corporatist Democrat is in the race, he’s invulnerable. The LI will come out and vote for him, and he will win, and the TP won’t make any difference. (The exception would be if he’s running in a seriously Red district, but progressives don’t run in those districts anyway, so that’s not a real exception.) The only races the TP can influence are ones without a progressive, and as I see it there are only two possible outcomes.

One, the TP may support a right-wing wacko challenger in the GOP primary. The wacko may win, in which case the Democrat will be much more likely to win the general election. Or the wacko may lose, in which case the outcome will be unaffected or affected in unpredictable ways. Net effect: increased probability of a Democratic victory.

Two, the TP may support a non-wacko challenger such as Brown in the GOP primary. The challenger may win, in which case the Democrat will be much more likely to lose the general election. Or the challenger may lose, see above. Net effect: increased probability of an anti-corporatist Republican victory.

The net effect will almost surely be a weakening of the corporatist majority in Congress. There may also be a weakening of the official Democratic majority (that’s the norm in midterm elections with a D in the WH), but so what? If the debacle of the health-care reform initiative has taught us anything, it’s that the terms “Democratic majority” and “progressive majority” are not synonymous. The weakening of the health-care bill, the removal of any provisions in it threatening to the health-insurance industry, and the transformation of it into something corporate-friendly – these were not accomplished by Republicans.

So in short, the TP is not something to be feared by the left. Like the Crystal Mages, in pursuing their own agenda, they’re helping ours.

Of course, ours would be helped even more, if the LI were to take a leaf from the TP’s playbook and become more visible, noisy, and active themselves. But that’s another subject for another day.