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By Michael J. Smith on Friday March 27, 2009 09:31 PM

"The Administration hewed to the belief that if the U.S. be but willing to exercise its power, it could ultimately always have its way in world affairs."

-- 'The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem,' Pentagon Papers

This bit of sad retrospective wisdom came to mind today as I browsed through forty-odd pages of wankerplate from the Center For American Progress. This scout troop of Smart Warriors seeks to convince Obie that he should count on ten more years of war in Afghanistan. They also think he ought to send even more troops to Afghanistan than he already plans to. Here's their calming pastel-colored toy-soldier graphic (you may have to right-click and "view image" or something to read the print) :

Oh, and CAP wants to suppress poppy-growing there as well. Two wars for the price of one!

Tom Hayden, the subject of one of Gore Vidal's most-quoted mots(*), is to be found on Alternet and the Huffington Post, scratching his puzzled head over this development:

Why Is a Progressive Think Tank Telling Obama to Escalate the War in Afghanistan?
By Tom Hayden

The Center for American Progress has positioned itself as a "progressive" Washington think tank, especially suited to channel new thinking and expertise into the Obama administration. It therefore is deeply disappointing that CAP has issued a call for a ten-year war in Afghanistan, including an immediate military escalation....

Tom clearly would like to think that there's some contradiction between being "progressive" and being a warmonger. Alas, history provides little basis for this notion.

On a more general plane, Tom's fuddlement shows why nobody should ever use the word "progressive" except in a clearly sarcastic context. It's a vague feelgood term that by design avoids all the real questions and plasters over all the real divisions. Calling themselves "progressives" enables these swine at CAP, and anybody who can stand to draw a breath in the same room with them, to believe that they're good, well-meaning people forced to make tough choices. Yes, we may differ about the desirability of certain things -- like invading and occupying other countries -- but in the bigger picture, we all want the same thing, right? And that would be... progress!

Progress. Toward what? We never ask. It's amazing how a word with no concrete content at all can have such a soothing, sedative effect. I suppose this is what people mean when they talk about "floating signifiers."

We should all take a vow never to let these words pass in conversation without pulling the speaker up short. "'Progressive?' What the hell does that mean? Does it mean anti-war? No? Then fuck progress, and the jackass it rode in on."


(*)"Tom Hayden is the kind of politician who gives opportunism a bad name."

Comments (19)

I am not one to defend "progressive" Obamaniacs. I too am rather baffled by the fact that one or two of them are expressing shock when they discover he's a bigoted, warmongering corporate pawn. However, it is comforting for me to know that at least one or two of these...Obamaniacal fundamentalist "progressives"...have stopped trying to live the change they want to see to be (or whatever the hell that vapid slogan was) long enough to look around and scratch their heads.

People I once considered to be friends have gone all Linda Blair in The Exorcist on me for suggesting that Obama might be full of shit. I cannot believe how many otherwise meek, well-informed, and kindhearted people I knew practically ripped my head off and shat down my neck for emailing them Paul Street's articles about Obama during the primaries.

Of course, I have a big mouth and, like many other people in my stereotypically loud Cuban-Puerto Rican family, I can't seem to keep it shut. I am sure the Stonewall Democrats have a price on my head by now for all my anti-Obama ranting. Unlike the HRC-sexuals, however, I don't piss myself with excitement simply because the POTUS didn't have "exterminate the queers" as part of his platform during the campaign.

I AM SO HAPPY I HAVE FOUND THIS BLOG!!!!!!! Thanks for having the courage to speak out.

In solidarity,



Okay, Crabby Appleton, "progressive" is out. Fine. Now we're down to about two names and about ten sympathizers. "Radical"? Nah - Michael Neumann demolished that one a few decades back. Quasi anarcho-syndicalist? Good luck even trying to spell it. Nihilist? Getting warmer, but still there is a reality we wake up to every day. How about futilist? Where are you hoping to get a purchase on worldwide social betterment? Is the last bit of fun trashing our own?
I'll sit down to my milk and cookies and await your pronunciamento.


mjosef: how about democratic socialist? That one usually comes between liberal and socialist, followed by communist. For where we are now, I'll take dem soc.

I don't have a problem with people being "opportunists", as long as they make sense. Tom Hayden usually makes sense; he was the first to write a realistic plan for withdrawal from Iraq, with the repair of Iraq the primary goal, not furthering some fantasy of the American state.

Progress in the American context has concrete content. An ethnically-cleansed landscape, dammed rivers, clear-cut forests. American progressives simply want to bestow these benefits of progress to the world.

Michael Hureaux:

The only thing that has been surprising to me about any of the Obama mayhem is how little time he took to shed the pretense. I thought he'd ride it out a little longer, but with so few "progressives" "putting his feet to the fire", why should he have bothered?


Sen -

No, I'll let you have the "democratic socialist" moniker. Democracy was practiced in Greece, I believe, long before public relations firms, advertising, corporate political "consultants," the Moral Majority, push-polling, PACs, or Arizona came on to the scene. Democracy as a term means nothing to me, because I've never seen it: there are always power hierarchies, from families to the global supersystem to who does the work on my car, making "equality" an absurd pretense. And if you want the "will o' the people," look no further than Proposition 8, or perhaps George W. Why would I be in favor giving final say to easily manipulated hordes of Doritos addicts and Pentecostal parents?

As for "socialism," now the epithet of choice for adolescent American teens, why would I wave the flag of an -ism that ain't nowhere? There is not a single socialist "leader" who hasn't become a statist. Even the International Socialist Review has confirmed that for me recently.

Jay Taber's "concrete content" wins the day. Step out into an American downtown, and you'll step into that brand of "progress."

I tend to agree with the point, and I certainly don't like Hayden as far as I can throw him, but I retain an asterisk on this one.

Progressive may be a weaselly label for short-term politics, but there is progress happening, of a kind many good people dimly perceive and greatly covet. Compare attitudes and expectations and even behaviors now to pretty much any point in the past on race, gender, ecology, science, even class and democracy and human hapiness -- the changes are mostly much for the better, despite the institutional context.

I agree that a Haydenian battle to purify the "progressive" label might be impossible and/or stupid, but what if there were a political force that started fighting for something like "progressive survival"? Wouldn't that go pretty far toward saying what the goal ought to be?



Okay, Crabby Appleton, "progressive" is out.... Is the last bit of fun trashing our own?
I don't quite know any more what sort of an -ist I am, so I tend to sidestep the question and go for the concrete. When asked I say I'm for labor and against capital, against empire and for people who resist it, for privacy and autonomy and against the police state, against Uribe and for Chavez, for Palestine and against Israel, etc.

Since self-described "progressives" are usually not with me on any of these matters I don't feel that I'm "trashing my own" when I go after 'em.


Elián Maricón writes:

I don't piss myself with excitement simply because the POTUS didn't have "exterminate the queers" as part of his platform during the campaign.
Exactly. But when it comes down to it, that's just why all the "progressives" thought we should all go for Obama. "At least he doesn't want to exterminate the queers!" -- or whatever.

This logic underlies the collusive character of "conservative"/"progressive" dialectics. The "conservatives" get worse and worse, so less and less is expected of the "progressives", and they can get worse and worse too.


Save the Oocytes:

This didn't post last time, so I'm trying it again without the link tag: what do you guys think of the following suggestion?


Progressive is a static label. It fits most people who take on that mantle; they've made their peace with the hard edges of the system.

Troublemaker is what I aspire to.


"There is not a single socialist "leader" who hasn't become a statist"

hows that for a coincidence

no seriously folks ...

here we thought
the state was to wither away
instead socialism withered away

Clio is such a vixen


Troublemaker is what I aspire to.

me to
alas i fail
i'm just not nearly enough trouble
to be troubled
by about or with

Al Schumann:

StO, I read it. I think it's laudable to wish to do something that could, conceivably, wipe the smugness off bankster faces. I commend the author's interest. But to be efficacious, the "soft" bank run would have to be matched by more than depositor flight to credit unions and the less evil banks. A general default on debt and a general obstruction of debt collection efforts would hurt, significantly. The depositor flight by itself won't.

And from the look of things, widespread consumer debt default is going to happen anyway. The energy that would go into the soft run would be better spent on active and passive obstruction of the banksters' collection Javerts.


"credit unions and the less evil banks"
its a wonderful life
was a hollywood product
pretty good rule of thumb

if jimmy stewart is the star

its prolly
tales from ole ranger reagan time again kids

note small banks bought the commercial mortgages that are now foundering

the 80's
s and l gig
started small and local

the dust bowl bust bowl
was speckled and spackled
with failed small community banks

sublation is often far
simple miniaturization

paleo populisim is for frank capra
judge roy bean and lassie


Senor MJS,
Our social world is emphatically more complicated than good/bad, or the execrable Hedges's good/"evil." Maneech, the younger, I believe, to be the poster boy for this simplism of the mind. Police state bad - but then what?

Al Schumann:

Police state bad, citizen's basic income good.

The vicious binaries do exist, albeit not as anything remotely approaching an honestly posed dilemma, and participation in the horror show of the enforced choices between them is driven by fear.

It's much easier to be uncooperative with the process with a little money in the pocket.

If we're still looking for names for -isms, I'll go with Gorgeous Georgism. Blame Owen for that, not me.


"i am not a georgist"

portrait of the tyrant as a young iskra


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