This longish paper shows a new way to picture political
constituencies, as a political compass, with four directions, instead
of our usual bankrupt left-right description. The new imagery says:
east vs west, north vs south, and would allow us to describe any departure
from where we now are as being at an angle, say northwest. This image
of a compass heading pointsthe way to helpful redefinitions of who
constituencies are, and what they stand for, and offers the possibility
of a new democratic politics. It also has the symbolic value of pointing
out that acompass is orienting us to what we need to see, rather than
just labelling someone as right or left.
We are entering into a time of transformation, i.e., changing shape
and function, of many of our institutions. Our political institutions
are very much in need of repair or replacement, and this paper shows
how to look at the emerging culture of our time as a support for positive
change. Indeed, it says that political culture, which is the substrate
politics rests on, has already been changing for some decades now,
and at this point in history, leads to new kinds of political demand.
Todays politics is dismal in part because of its rigidity, its
corruption, and its inability to supply what people want. We are looking
at the political equivalent of what would be called market failure
in economics and business: the breakdown of supply and demand. Our
democracy is at great risk of turning into a plutocracy: rule by and
for the benefit of the rich.
In partisan political terms, we are looking at a slow decline of both
left and right, and of both political parties. The term center
doesnt communicate anything, and my research suggests it is
a fiction. Social conservatism is slowly declining as its underlying
culture slowly dies off: In the last fifty years, Traditionals have
shrunk from about half the population to under a quarter. We are also
looking at the demise of the left, since only about twelve to fifteen
percent of the people identify with it any more. Big business is distrusted
by over 70 percent of Americans and they can get only 14 to 19 percent
of the voters, so they depend on money power to keep control. Politicians
are rated down there with used car salesmen as an occupation.
Voting is still at an all time low.
Figure 2 at the end of this Executive Summary is based on survey data,
and shows the casual reader the main idea. A new political constituency
is emerging, whom I call the New Progressives, and the easiest way
to describe them is that they are at right angles to Liberal left
and Social Conservative right, and they are directly opposed to Big
Business Conservatism. That means that politics really has two dimensions,
but we have not recognized it yet.
There really is no center for timorous politicians to run to: all
that is in this center are the politically alienated and ignorant
who dont vote. The second dimension pits globalization and big
business interests against ecological sustainability, womens
issues, consciousness issues, national health care, national education,
and an emerging concern for the planet and the future of our children
and grandchildren on it.
On the four points of the compass, this new group is definitely not
the center or mushy middle of Clinton lore. And they are
also the biggest of the four constituencies at 36 percent of population
and 45 percent of likely voters. I describe the new constituency as
New Progressives, because they reflect the concerns of all the new
social movements and consciousness movements that have emerged over
the last 40 years. Most of their issues are claimed by the Left, and
sworn at by the Right, but they dont identify with either left
or right. They are no more similar to liberal left or religious right
than business conservatives are. And they also reflect the wave of
values change that has been slowly moving through American life for
the same time period, which gave rise to the subculture whom I call
Cultural Creatives. Some 55 percent look like a relaxed definition
of who are Cultural Creatives.
The New Progressives are more likely to be volunteers and give money
to good causes, and are more likely to have been in multiple social
movement constituencies, and care more about changing the culture,
than the rest of society. They are at the intersection of all the
movement constituencies, and the marginal cost of mobilizing them
should be small. If they are mobilized under a single banner, as a
big political tent that contains the movements, they may wind up replacing
one of the political parties and dominating American politics for
the next generation or more. This paper gives several pages of questionnaire
responses by NewProgressives to show what they look like on values,
attitudes, opinions and issues. What is evident is people want politicians
to start dealing with the real emerging problems that threaten our
The paper describes all four sides of the compass, and then shows
how this has emerged from cultural change, answering the question
What happened to the Left? in detail. In brief, the answer
is that the leaders of the left have not kept up with the changes
in political culture upon which all of our political institutions
and political activity depend. And because those changes grow out
of all the new social movements of the last 40 years, the corporate
media are very careful not to cover them, or interpret them accurately.
Theyre mostly bad for business as usual, and it is those movements
which also set in motion the Cultural Creatives, who are creating
the emerging culture of the 21st century.
I also show the six underlying dimensions of the wave of cultural
change that produced this change, and how the data resembles a wave
of change. Imagine politics-as-usual as a tightly knit ball of ongoing
conflict that is supported by the cupped hands of the political culture.
Without the continual support those webs of agreements, norms, values,
social interpretations, worldviews and daily practices, no institution
can survive. What happens next if the culture moves on, and the politicians
and institutions are so preoccupied with power and locked in their
conflicts that they rigidly refuse to change? Probably that they fall
out of those cupped hands, splat on the floor! That is, legitimacy
and confidence are withdrawn from politics.
I end by speculating on the future of the New Progressives politics.
Political parties have been declining for a generation or more, and
the last round of campaign finance reform will weaken them even further.
Nature abhors a vacuum in politics at least as much as anywhere else.
We stand at the cusp of a major realignment in political parties,
the kind of dramatic shift that happened when the Whig party gave
way to the Republican party in the early 19th century. Any big tent
mobilization strategy for political North must start with a recognition
enormous overlap of the constituencies of all the movements, an overlap
occupied by the Cultural Creatives. With effective mobilization and
legislative strategies, the political North will rule at some time
in the future. A four party political system is quite conceivable,
and I speculate on how that would go.