Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Taking A Leaf From The Conservative Book

Liberal Policies

One of the chief problems that liberals or progressive face is that it is more or less a fragmented non-cohesive group. Unlike the conservatives who have rallied around the single issue of how to interpret the U.S. Constitution, an idea called “originalism,” liberals or progressives have not. While this is a good thing for a healthy democracy, it is not good if one wants to gain political power, and thus influence to promote change Lorna Salzman writes: “But let‘s assume that liberals can potentially unify around some common principles. What would that be? Would it be social and economic justice? Peace? Jobs? And how would they arrive at these? I would like to suggest that ecology and evolution are the logical and consistent concepts that unite the various environmental factions, if not those who still think social justice must take precedence.”


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by Lorna Salzman

The New York Times Book Review section of May 12th included an interesting review of potential relevance to those of us who favor (but do not optimistically anticipate) major systemic reforms of the growth-fixated consumer capitalist society and our global ecological crisis.

The book reviewed, The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals, may be too late to give us pragmatic lessons but if you are not a defeatist it offers some interesting guidance. The reviewer, Jeffrey Rosen, remarks on how “economic conservatives, social conservatives, Christian conservatives and libertarians, many of whom disagree with each other on significant issues, (but who) cooperate in advancing a broad conservative agenda,”as the book’s authors Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin write.

Cohen says the authors achieved their many legal victories “by persuading the competing factions of the modern conservative movement to set aside their ideological differences and to converge around a constitutional methodology known as ‘originalism’—the idea that judges should interpret the Constitution as understood by its framers and ratifiers.”

While Cohen says the book does not offer a plan or model for taking the law back from “liberal orthodoxy,” there is no question that it was a successful strategy. What immediately comes to mind is the continuing fragmentation of liberal and leftist groups (usually focused on a single issue) who variously hawk their campaigns for peace, workers‘ rights, environment, economic equity, and social justice, and with little success it should be said.

The failure of the liberals to develop a coherent guiding philosophy and a set of principles equal to “originalism” for social, economic and legislative reform can be traced in part to the existence of the Democratic Party, which was expert in talking the talk but on virtually all counts never walked the walk. The alignment of Obama and the Democrats with Wall St., its scornful rejection of even discussion of universal single payer health care, and its obeisance to the oil and nuclear industries all testify to the naivete of liberal voters and party members, who lambasted Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacy even though it was the only campaign in memory to directly attack corporate capitalism, Wall St. and globalization. The ugly and vicious smears of Nader by The Nation, the Center for American Progress and the usual liberal toadies are hard to forget and harder to forgive.

But let's assume that liberals can potentially unify around some common principles. What would that be? Would it be social and economic justice? Peace? Jobs? And how would they arrive at these? I would like to suggest that ecology and evolution are the logical and consistent concepts that unite the various environmental factions, if not those who still think social justice must take precedence.There are animal rights groups, vegetarians, food safety/organic food groups, groups opposing genetically modified foods, renewable energy groups, wilderness advocates, population control, ocean fisheries protectors, fighters against pollution of air, water and soil, and those concerned about endangered species.

What unites them against corporations, polluters and the “anthropocene” gangs are the precepts of ecology.... biological and ecosystem-based concerns. Is it too much to ask of those with a narrow focus such as animal rights or ocean protectors or renewable energy to try and understand the ecological and evolutionary concepts that underly their own battles?

If the protection of living species, habitats and ecosystems is not perceived as the all-encompassing and imperative objective of activists, what IS? And if these groups and movements are unable to understand the connection of their issue to the preservation of the very fabric of life, a fabric woven over millions of years by evolution that is now being shredded, do they understand that failure to acknowledge this connection dooms THEIR movement as well as all the others?

What I am saying is that there has never been a more urgent moment for ecological thinkers and activists to persist in their path and increase their efforts to educate these other liberal factions on the overriding ecological crisis, a crisis which renders or will render shortly all narrow concerns null and void. Unless the environmental liberals put aside their petty single-issue focus and place their issue in an ecological context, they are doomed to oblivion.

The U.S. Green Party is the perfect example of this failure. It’s time to head off another failure and force the liberals to come to the table and get their heads straightened out. The first step will be to definitively separate from the Democratic Party. That’s the easy part. The hard part is recognizing the futility of their isolated actions and deciding to end this isolation. Not hanging together means hanging separately.

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The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.


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Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.

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