The Morning After
To The Editors:
I have my renewal notice, but I'm hesitant about sending it back, not because I don't find material of interest in The American Prospect but because it seems that the magazine doesn't really want me. I read in Paul Starr's article "The Morning After" [December 4, 2000] about "a very old, sectarian left that most of us thought died long ago." Now, the Green Party is mainly younger people, so I assume Starr is referring to older supporters of Ralph Nader like Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower, Howard Zinn, and Studs Terkel, to name some people whom I respect and view as long-term, active contributors to the historic fight for social justice. Well, if they (and I) are not part of the "us" that Starr evokes--I assume he means the staff and readership of TAP (what other meaning of "us" could be intended?)--then I guess the magazine isn't for me. (I see that non-editor contributors like Harold Meyerson and John Judis do not resort to name calling but rather formulate arguments in which differences of opinion are respected. But Starr is an editor and I assume an authority on who "us" is.) Why should I pay to read Paul Starr when I can read Martin Peretz in The New Republic?
Former Editor, "Working Papers for a New Society"
Paul Starr Responds:
Two aspects of Nader's candidacy mark it as a new version of an old sectarianism: first, his view that the Greens should try to knock off progressive Democrats to clear the way for their own party; and second, his view that the worse things get, the better it is for progressives--as in his contention that just as Reagan's Secretary of the Interior James Watt was good for the Sierra Club, so a Bush presidency would be good for progressives. I wasn't referring to any of the people Allen Graubard mentions but to a political standpoint, regardless of the age of the people advocating it. On the eve of the election last year, I took part in a debate with two campus leaders of the Greens at Princeton, and what I heard was the old-time religion of the sectarian left. It didn't matter that they were born too late to join SDS. They had the same frame of mind. The "us" I was thinking of are people who know better than to go down that road.
Papa Don't Preach
To The Editors:
Few things have depressed me as much in recent years as Danny Goldberg's article "Papa Don't Preach" [January 1-15, 2001]. Goldberg clearly believes that political campaigns should be designed for the public's lowest common denominator, that it is quixotic folly to try to lift the level of our public life. We have, however, a responsibility as adults to encourage the better impulses in young people, not their most vulgar enthusiasms.
In most human communities, one could pile up a lot of votes appealing to racist feeling and class antagonisms. I was three times elected to a city council, and would have been elected to a fourth term had I been willing to degrade the campaign process. I would like to believe that Goldberg's essay was intended to be humorous. Or perhaps he means that candidates should promise one thing and deliver another of higher quality. That would depress me less. A little lying is not as dangerous in politics as demagogy.
Danny Goldberg Responds:
In my view, Lieberman's demonization of youth culture is precisely the kind of demagoguery that you are so proud of having eschewed. Snobbery is not the same as morality.
Decent Child Care at Decent Wages
To The Editors:
As a welfare-recipient advocate, I certainly appreciate the effort Barbara R. Bergmann makes at the beginning of her article to force readers to imagine the difficulty posed to low-income parents in search of child care ["Decent Child Care at Decent Wages," January 1-15, 2001]. This parent could easily be someone who was once on welfare and whose path to self-sufficiency--ostensibly the purpose behind welfare reform--is being blocked by the inadequacy of the income "supports" provided to such wage earners, something Ms. Bergmann makes perfectly clear. However, I do take issue with her belief that the choice for this parent is strictly between a pricey care center and an unlicensed, incompetent neighbor whose devotion to the task of care is fleeting at best. Such an assessment unjustly deprives some providers of due credit.
Low-income families' struggles deserve to be highlighted in any discussion of the problems dominating our country's child care system. Many who have been able to find affordable care have placed their children in the hands of competent, devoted providers who could benefit just as much as their customers from a greater focus on the delivery of care in this country. They are just as deserving of our support, and those who seek change in the system ought to be better prepared to give it.
Barbara R. Bergmann Responds:
Some of those who care for neighbors' children are devoted, and do provide warm, safe, and nurturing care. But some are deficient in matters of safety, attention, and activities that help children to develop. Unfortunately, it is difficult for parents to tell the former from the latter. If the parents have low incomes, they have to go with the cheapest alternative, even if they suspect that there are serious problems. Sheila Kamerman, Columbia University's expert in child care policy, tells of interviewing a group of low-income working mothers. They all initially said they were happy with their children's care, but as the discussion proceeded, they revealed they were desperately unhappy about it, and some wept.
To The Editors:
I write in support of the specific points Robert Kuttner made in his editorial "Who Governs?" [December 18, 2000]. I would, however, describe the problem of Democratic disunity in somewhat different terms.
Institutionally, the Republican Party is now a centralized, ideologically driven party. In contrast, the Democrats are still a decentralized federation of state parties, united by little more than "partisanship" in the narrowest sense. Democrats elected from the rural Midwest and much of the South--places where racial minorities are voiceless (or nonexistent), unions weak, and feminism unpopular--may well support much of George W. Bush's agenda. Yet without them, no Democratic congressional majority is conceivable.
Individually, the conservatives who form the core of the Republican Party live in an encapsulated world bound by Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. With the notable exceptions of academics living in college towns and African Americans in the inner city, few ordinary Democrats have such a supportive environment. Typically, they are surrounded, distracted, and confused by the inanities of the mainstream media and persistent blasts from the right wing. Is it any wonder, then, that during the election dispute, they were consistently more willing to accept George W. Bush as president than the Republicans were to accept Al Gore?
In short, the Democrats cannot hold their own, let alone prevail, unless and until they become as united, determined, and hard as the Republicans. Exactly how this is to be done seems to me the most important question facing progressives today, and might well occupy one or more future issues of TAP.
William B. Hixson, Jr.
Professor Emeritus of History,
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
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