«Ideology is not dead»
Michael Kazin, co-editor Dissent Magazine, interviewed by Martina Toti 21 March 2011

Is it true that ideology is dead?

Those academics must not have been writing about the United States! Ideology has been very much alive since 2000 at least. In fact the ideological divide between liberals and conservatives in the US has not been so evident and bitter since the 1970s. The conflict over public workers is one that pits Keynesians and labor liberals on one side vs. free market ideologues on the other.

That is to say that one can still draw a line between right and left. What does it imply to be a US conservative in 2011 and what to be a US progressive?

There are different sorts of conservatives and progressives in the contemporary US. But, in general, a conservative believes in allowing property owners to use their property as they see fit, thinks the US is an exceptionally virtuous nation, wants to ban abortions and same-sex marriage, and is mistrustful of alliances with any nation other than Israel and Great Britain. Progressives are the legatees of the New Deal and the Great Society and the left-wing social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. They want a stronger welfare state, cherish multiculturalism and gender equality, and are wary of military intervention.

In US conservative states and in Europe – where the majority of governments are conservative – public sector and its workers are under attack. Do you think the real cause is in the need of saving public money?

On the one hand, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic do believe in a smaller and less expensive welfare state. But they also want to weaken their opposition – and public sector workers are a large and politically active constituency which favors retaining and,if possible, augmenting the welfare state.

Politics is the art of compromise. In order to administrate, Mr. Obama and his party need to find a compromise with their Republican counterparts. But there are also social counterparts such as industrial and financial lobbies and trade unions. Who is winning, who is losing?

Judging from public opinion polls, Obama and the Democrats are winning – since a majority of Americans are favorable to unions, want to retain the large majority of federal benefit programs at their current levels of support, and blame “Wall Street” for the financial crisis and recession. On the other hand, the Republicans are more aggressive than the Democrats and, in 2010, were far better at turning out their electoral base. And because most Americans don’t trust the federal government to solve their problems, Republicans are winning what Gramsci called “the war of position.”

Let’s get back to Wisconsin and Ohio to discuss about the trade union movement. Unions there – but one could really say also in the rest of the world – are in a defensive position. Do you see any positive perspective of a step forward or is there an internal fragility in the union movement that is undermining it both nationally and internationally?

American unions have been in retreat – both in terms of numbers and in their ability to influence public policy – since the slump of the mid-1970s. More recently, unions in most Western European nations have followed this downward trajectory.  But the large and spirited resistance to Gov. Walker’s offensive in Wisconsin has given unions in the US their best opportunity in years to make their case to the public and, perhaps, stop their slide. It’s not clear if they have the imagination and resources to take advantage of this, however.

One final question, surveys say the majority of Americans are against the assault of collective bargaining which conservatives are carrying on. However it was just a few months ago that Republican won the midterm elections. How is US public opinion moving and shifting, if it is?

The percentage of Americans who voted Republican and support unions is rather small – perhaps 15%. But these are the swing or independent voters – many of whom are or were members of unions or have a union member in their family. And they tend to be less ideological than stalwart Republicans or stalwart Democrats. But this doesn’t mean that the majority of Americans have shifted their views. In most polls, Obama’s popularity is in the high 40 percent range, about where it was last November – and Congress is still extremely unpopular.



Please consider giving a tax-free donation to Reset this year

Any amount will help show your support for our activities

In Europe and elsewhere
(Reset DOC)

In the US
(Reset Dialogues)