NEWS

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August 16, 2006

When rhetoric and the aims of that rhetoric collide

I spent much of my allotted blogging time today putting together a column for the orientation issue of the Maroon. It is a discussion of how rhetoric has consumed the tools by which progressives have sought to achieve their goals, particularly in the fight against poverty. I start with a pretty standard attack on Chicago's big-box ordinance and the proposal to increase the federal minimum wage, which brings me to here:

Defenders of the minimum wage can cite a litany of evidence on its behalf, but at its best, that evidence does nothing more then show that small increases in the minimum wage don’t hurt that many people. It is absurd that a policy with such a dubious track record would become the main plank in the fight against poverty for so many progressives, yet there it is, front and center on nearly every Democrat’s website.But the problem here isn’t with politicians on the Democratic side of the aisle; instead voters who label themselves as progressives have to think about more than the rhetorical value of the policies they support. I don’t say this because of any ill will I have for progressives, in fact I wholeheartedly agree with many of their goals. But you ought to try and actually achieve the goals you set for yourselves—something lost on many progressives today.Partial responsibility for the disconnect between the goals of progressives and their actual policy stances is that most effective tools in the fight against poverty aren’t the type that are likely to inspire anyone, let alone progressives. I’ll admit that proposing to raise the Earned Income Tax Credit may come off as wonkish, nothing like the great progressive crusaders of the 20th century that bravely confronted the political and economic establishment, demanding higher wages, union rights, and basic human dignity for the America’s working class. But those fights were a long time ago, and just as the nature of the fight against poverty has changed so should progressivism. Progressives need to stop consuming themselves with the fight against poverty and need to focus on actually trying to win the fight against poverty. The tools are at their disposal, the only question is whether they are willing to give up the rhetoric that has motivated their cause for the sake of achieving its expressed goal.