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Every four years liberals and progressives are faced with the same conundrum: whether they should support the Democratic candidate for president, and in many instances, the candidates fielded in local congressional and gubernatorial elections; support the Green candidates; or simply abstain from voting altogether. On the issues that matter most, rank-and-file Democratic candidates are almost always far from supporting a liberal or progressive agenda, much less a spiritual-progressive agenda.
Faced with the increasing extremism of the right, progressives have tended to stick with the lesser-evil candidate. The reasons are compelling: if right-wingers win the presidency and more senatorial or congressional seats, the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary could be filled with judges committed to serving the 1 percent and the reactionary social agenda of right-wing evangelicals. We could be dragged into more wars, civil liberties and programs to help the poor (including the Affordable Care Act) could be further eroded, and the minimal governmental restraints on environmental destruction could be dismantled.
The counterargument is too often ignored in the national media. The success of the right in the electoral arena is largely due to the failure of progressive forces to articulate a coherent worldview that goes beyond a list of complaints and a limited program of economic redistribution and political empowerment for the most disadvantaged. Rarely do leftist Democrats or even Greens articulate that the individualistic, “look out for number one” ethos of the competitive marketplace leaves many Americans feeling surrounded by people who seem to care only about themselves and who will do anything to advantage themselves without regard to the consequences for others. Many people feel that they are not recognized for who they really are, even by friends and family, but are valued instead only for what they can accumulate or “do” for others. They are angry that the left seems to dismiss their spiritual or religious hungers as proof that they are less intelligent and less deserving than the upper-middle-class and rich people who seem to be running society.
Liberals and progressives rarely address the psycho-spiritual crisis generated by the capitalist marketplace, because doing so would seem too unrealistic and turn off a significant section of liberal donors to their campaigns. And religiophobia on the left makes it hard for them to understand that people seeking spiritual or religious communities are looking for a way to compensate for what is missing in a society dominated by materialism and selfishness. A populist movement, even led by someone as smart as Bernie Sanders, rarely sates this deeper hunger. Without a coherent progressive worldview for fundamental system change, infused with the psychological and spiritual nuances we present at www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant, even when populists win they lack a mandate to challenge the basic distortions of our society.
This is the dilemma facing spiritual progressives in 2016 and beyond. To better understand the stakes of lesser-evil politics, we invited progressive activists and writers to share their thoughts in the pages ahead.
“Less Bad” Isn’t Good Enough
Capitalism, Greece, and the End of Lesser-Evil Choosing
RICHARD D. WOLFF
Time for a New Strategy
A Rare Opportunity for Progressives—Let’s Not Make It Our Last
ROBERT W. MCCHESNEY
Start a Progressive Alliance
Don’t Whine, Organize!
(To return to the Winter 2016 Table of Contents, click here.)
Lerner, Michael. 2016. Less Evil?. Tikkun 31(1): 9.