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The Dance of Liberals and Radicals


The Dance of Liberals and Radicals

Robert Kuttner

March 15 was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's best speech, his "We Shall Overcome" address applying the final round of pressure on Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Much of the speech invoked the bravery, dignity and historical rightness of Martin Luther King Jr., and his fellow movement activists.

All of which puts me in mind of the complex relationship between liberals and radicals.


Sometimes the civil disobedience of the right isn’t in the streets. It’s financial engineers illegally destroying the dreams of homeowners; or corporate moguls illegally stealing workers’ wages; or the Koch Brothers and the power of wealth stealing our democracy.

I have a real problem with using the term ‘civil disobedience’ to describe Wall Street’s behavior. Most of what the banksters do can simply be categorized under the term ‘crime.’

Sometimes I like Kuttner’s articles but this one is poorly written and unfocused. The meaning of the word ‘liberal’ - like ‘conservative’ - has become so baggy that the word today is virtually meaningless.



Agreed, equating standing up for one’s inalienable rights in the face of ill-conceived and draconian “law” as “radical”. Nice playing into the latest US/NATO legislation making virtually all non-compliant humans “terrorists” under the “law”.


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The largest problem I had with this article was that Kuttner continously made references to Johnson and administrations before him (namely FDR) and the “radicals” during those times that forced some change in the government. Today such power no longer resides in the public and the few references that Kuttner made since the 1960’s are what I call “corporate friendly reforms” such as Gay rights, women’s rights or contraception which are all reforms that have no effect on Wall Street profits. Unions, Medicare, minimum wage and climate change action on the other hand are a direct threat to the bottom line and therefore all of those topics have been taboo (unless it is to undermine any of them) since the 1960’s as corporate America has been quite successful at steering the majority of Americans away from these crucial issues and placing less important topics at the forefront of our MSM faux debates.
I am not attempting to downplay the importance of something like Gay marriage, but in reality most gays would have exchanged their rights to marry for lasting environmental security, ending wars or eradicating poverty. In contemporary America ‘issues that matter’ are confined to a handful of subjects that never pose a threat to the existing world order, so while Obama may speak about the important advances the government has made towards equal status for our gay population, he is always unwilling to address universal healthcare, raising the taxes on the wealthy, dismantling the military or replacing the War of Terror with a War against global warming and the fossil fuel industry. As the Occupy movement showed a few years ago, corporate America couldn’t care less if ten million people march to demand Wall Street reforms or to protest the latest imperial adventure. Corporate America will simply wait it out as they understand that the system is rigged in their favor and that “democracy” is nothing more than a corporate catch phrase to appease the masses.


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Both comments getting closer to the truth, imo. Many of our fair countrymen are just as aware of the lies, unabashed bullying, and unrestrained greed of the present era. One immediate task is to show that those policies and behaviors are not working even for legitimate short-term goals, let alone long-term challenges and needs. They are afraid of mass movements because they are acutely aware that their control rests on a rickety construct of baseless assertions and assumptions that relies on resigned acceptance for continuance. That’s why Bush told us to go shopping!


@Space_cadet I would agree with most of what you write, but take serious exception to the assertion that Medicare is a direct threat to the bottom line. As it stands today Wall St and medical monopoly corporations have very tight control of Medicare funds–who is allowed to receive them and what they are allowed to be used for. Even those of us who only have basic Part A and B coverage are not fully covered and are encouraged to buy supplemental insurance, otherwise facing large co-pays and deductibles.


As Big Bill Haywood said: “A liberal is the guy that leaves the room when the fighting starts.”


Yes. The “cure” of an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent corporate-state is becoming duh-obvious even to sleepwalking Americans (wandering around without ID at night). And practically speaking worse than the “disease” of foreign terrorists imminently invading us, which after all for most of us is only hearsay.

Eventually this logic–the pathologic of everyday life now in the U.S.–will be glaringly evident to 99% of us: wars 24/7, radical inequalities, militarized cops breaking in scaring the hell out of us, privatized soldiers stationed downtown, national policies competing for cruelest, most immiserating . . .


Liberals and radicals are not on the same team. Liberals protect power. Radicals seek to dismantle it.

Radicals dream of something new, and go out into the streets to demand it. Liberals seek to protect the status quo.

How many liberals in one city block will defend our electoral system, falsely claiming that if only we only eliminate the corrupting effect of out-of-control campaign contributions, all will be well? Or defend our prison system, claiming that we don’t have a better method for keeping “safe”? Or say that we need “police accountability” without seeing the systemic-violence forest for the trees? Or chase some sort of green capitalism pipe dream, when we need real solutions to climate change?

The author seems to define a radical by the person’s willingness to engage in civil disobedience. But this is only one tiny manifestation of what makes a real radical: A vision that is so vast and transformative that it compels a person to act entirely outside the dominant paradigm, because the dominant paradigm is a false and insane set of 3D glasses that only pretends to depict real life.

I do not wish to live in a world in which we radicals are used as a tool of liberals so that they can achieve their policy objectives.

No, my friends, I do not see radicals and liberals as needing each other. I see radicals as the real visionaries. Liberals are the ones telling us to be practical, sell out, compromise. But no. Our dreams do not stop at your policies. We dream outside the margins of the systems that you hold dear. Liberals are not needed by radicals so that they can wash out and dilute what we are really aiming for. No radical needs a liberal to do that.

Please, my friends, let yourself dream bigger, and dream in full color!!

~Lacy MacAuley


Much has changed since Reagan. I think the popularity of the “1% vs the 99%” theme betrays liberal ignorance. In reality, what the rich are now doing to the middle class is what the middle class already did to the poor. The proverbial masses were deeply divided this time, pitted against each other. America is about money, and human worth itself is determined by class.

Dig up Martin Luther King’s speeches about the class war. We forgot that he talked about the fact that the majority of US poor were (and are) white, and that it was in the best interests of black and white poor people to unite, stand together and push back. Much work went into pitting the poor against each other by race.

LBJ’s Great Society was built on FDR’s New Deal. In fact, what came to be called AFDC was actually first included in FDR’s Social Security Act. The Clinton Dems ended that, and began "reforming"Social Security, targeting the disabled. Although Obama restored disability benefits, the Clinton Dems in Congress promptly resumed targeting the disabled. Reportedly, they are now either considering or have already agreed to extreme cuts in disability benefits, well exceeding Clinton’s cuts in the 1990s. There has been silence from the liberals.

Radicals? They obviously don’t have a voice in the public forum. I think they are waiting. Think about it: We looked at the policies and programs that took the US to its height of wealth and productivity, from FDR to Reagan, and chose to do the opposite. Now America is paying a heavy price. Maybe radicals will speak out on behalf of the “masses,” drowning out the liberal calls for bourgeois elitism.


What radicals? Liberals dream. Radicals are those who no longer have anything left to lose, any consequences to fear. Liberals dream of a kinder, gentler world. Radicals recognize the hard core realities of right here, at this moment – the increasingly brutal treatment of our surplus population (those who can’t work, and the jobless poor) resulting from a gravely damaged economic system. They recognize what it means, that we imprison a greater percentage of our population than any nation on Earth. The tensions keep growing, and periodically explode – only to have those incidents (protests, etc.) carefully narrowed down or redefined, largely by lib media. The overall quality of life in the US went from #1 when Reagan was first elected, launching the long campaign against our poor. By the time Obama was elected, this had already plunged to #43. Liberals continue to wave the banner for middle class elitism.


Damn! There’s my inspiration for the next six months. Thanks!


What I mean by Medicare being a direct threat to corporate America is that corporate America would prefer if Medicare didn’t exist at all. To many corporists, Medicare is a stepping stone to universal Medicare. I agree with you whole heartedly as well that corporate America has a tight grip on the funds, but I feel that it is still not considered an ideal situation for many healthcare companies. Medicare has been watered down every year since its inception and pales in comparison to the medical care seniors (and everyone else!) receives in more advanced countries like Germany, Norway or Canada. In my opinion, private healthcare companies should be abolished all together. This is definitely a position Wall Street wouldn’t share with me.


I don’t doubt that some Wall Street types were nervous and that several "law enforcement"agencies were given the green light to crack down hard on the activists. But I also feel it was only a handful of corporate fundamentalists that pushed the panic button. Most of the Wall Street henchmen were little more than amused by the mass movements as they felt comfortable in the belief that most Americans didn’t take Occupy too seriously. Millions protested in the streets against the war in Iraq, yet Wall Street went ahead with an aggressive invasion anyway. I could be wrong here, but I feel that most of the 1% still sleep pretty well at night.


@space-cadet Wall St would certainly be upset with the destruction of insurance companies. An added bonus for same.

However, the way I see it, and I’ve been part of this and watching this for a very long time, once one gets past emergency/trauma conditions and necessary surgery, most of the time and money spent on medical care is a waste. It is useless to try to reform payment systems until one destroys the monopoly (led by MD’s and pharmaceutical companies) because they decide who can be paid and what they can be paid for. For decades now they have blocked cost-effective treatments and have persecuted the doctors who used and/or promoted those treatments.

One of thousands of examples: Administering vitamin C via IV so larger amounts can be given can successfully treat almost any acute viral illness and some cancers. When a man in New Zealand was successfully treated for swine flu a few years ago the response of the FDA was to try to shut down the companies that produced IV C. The list of things like this is endless. It is easy to search this episode as well as Dr Robert Levy, one of the strongest proponents of this treatment. Just for fun, one can also check out Dr Fred Klenner, who was using IV C to treat flu and hepatitis in the 1950’s!