Well, it’s late summer time again, so it must be time for another round of internecine blog fighting here in Montana. Yesterday, I posted a call for increasing the minimum wage, and received a typically thoughtful response from JC from 4and20blackbirds:
Yawn. Typical liberal fare.
Smug “progressive” cynicism like that really pisses me off.
The minimum wage matters. Increasing it to the level it should be, if simply adjusted for inflation, would raise the standard of living for 28 million people. Abortion rights matter. Access to healthcare for millions of people who have pre-existing conditions, who are in college, or who simply cannot afford to pay for insurance matters. Any number of programs instituted by the federal government, even this administration, have immeasurably improved the lives of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the discriminated against.
Perhaps some of us are privileged enough to be able to ignore the incredibly difficult struggle of families who live on the minimum wage. Perhaps some of us can dismiss all incremental efforts to alleviate poverty and develop effective social programs, but that kind of privilege seems to blind some to the need for government action.
Dismissing the vital importance of critical government programs that alleviate the burden of poverty or protect the rights of women or ensure access to healthcare for our poor, sick, and elderly is … It may be fashionable in some circles to smugly suggest that government policy is too corporate, too corrupt, too cynical to change the people’s lives, but absent a real alternative, that smugness helps to condemn real people to real poverty.
And the truth is that simply braying for radical change and condemning the current system isn’t an alternative. It’s intellectual onanism, empty and only satisfying for the person doing it.
Even worse, that smug self-righteousness alienates people who would work for the same causes. Had JC the intellectual honesty or decency to ask, he would have found out that I do indeed support the idea of a maximum wage. I’ve supported it since reading about it back in the mid 1990s, when people like Representative Martin Sabo promoted it in Congress.
But supporting a more radical reform of our economic system cannot be an excuse for cynically refusing to engage in incremental reform, especially when that incremental reform will make a profound difference in the lives of real people.
A friend recently posted a quote from David Foster Wallace, who wrote, “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
And I fear that’s the reality of those who seem only interested in criticizing from the outside. Those on the left who are more interested in being the smartest person in the room than in being agents of change, fitful though that change might be, do nearly as much to delay meaningful social progress as the powerful interests who oppose it.
I will not cede the ground of progressivism to those who refuse to acknowledge that it will require both a desire to work within the system to ensure economic and political rights for people today as well as a commitment to a more just future. Wishing for a future utopia while refusing to work for justice today is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Policies matter. Let’s work to pass the ones we desperately need today, which will matter for millions of people, while dreaming of an even more just, more equitable future.
Is that so complicated to understand?