What Happened to the Left?

September 30, 2011

In Michael Kazin’s recent essay in the New York Times, he pointed out that measures that became institutionalized during the New Deal – Social Security, minimum wage, occupational health — didn’t come simply from popular outrage at the Great Depression; the issues had percolated through decades of steady work and clarification.
    It’s ironic, Kazin says, that in many ways the great American middle class of the 1950s and 60s was built with the help of these programs, such as Social Security and Truman’s G.I. Bill, that many Americans deemed radical when they were first proposed.
    Conservatives took the lesson. When they were out of power in the 1970s, they responded by organizing and developing their own voice and infrastructure, including much of talk radio now.
    Now the tide has changed again, Kazin argues, and progressives need to fortify institutions and create a coherent movement that articulates anew how they propose to improve Americans’ lives. They cannot assume their programs are transparent in their benefits to Americans; they must organize.
   Yesterday Kazin was on National Public Radio discussing his argument with listeners and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, who insisted that there are progressive movements that are demonstrating for changes in America. She blamed the media in part for not reporting on these movements, including the American Dream Movement.
    A final note: this week we say farewell to our friend Stetson Kennedy, who died last month. We say farewell with a celebration of his life tomorrow afternoon at his beloved home of many years, Beluthahatchee (the name means ‘place of peace’). If you’re near Jacksonville, turn out for what will be a remarkable party. Details at www.stetsonkennedy.com.

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