So Gordon’s gone. With his departure it seems that, despite its successes, the Third Way has run its course. Boomers have made it clear that they will not act decisively on the great injustices that still permeate our civilization. Over the past three years I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated at this failure of courage. I didn’t start a blog. Instead I’ve been old fashioned, contrarian, and have been writing a book. David sometimes refers to it as my Gen-X Manifesto. For now, I’ll shrug that title off and simply call the bits that have made it to this post “A Counterpoint to Dr Johansson
So here is my view of what must be done to by those who come after Gordon, those of my generation, as we move now to assert our influence in the progressive movement. This is not, however, a policy discussion. This is a recapitulation of what I see as the four essential projects of the progressive movement. Plenty of policy must be built on these pillars, but today I’m deliberately trying to play above the normal policy discussion.
Gen-X politicians and activists must state clearly what we know to be true: we come to politics with a different set of experiences, informed by the work of those before us, but not bound by or to them. Just as our parents were able to move beyond the tunnel vision of their parents, so too are we. Certainly our own time will come to an end and I’ll find my daughter making the same claims of me, but that is for the future. What I see now, is that our time has come. We are still fearless. We have not discovered our limits. Now, we must commit ourselves and our generation to the advancement of human progress and social justice. We must stand up and clearly tell others what we stand for, because I truly think many have forgotten what it is to be, or vote for, a Progressive, a Liberal, or a Social Democrat.
Too many Boomer politicians are ready to turn a blind eye to poverty and ignore the hollowness of commitments on human rights, for the sake of not upsetting a sense of middle class comfort. Not necessarily because they don’t believe our causes are just, in principle, but because they have taught themselves that to speak up and declare these truths is to scare others off, alienate the media and live in the wilderness of opposition.
I see four interrelated moral and social crises which span the globe, and reach down into the lives of ordinary people. These are human crises, and they were created, or are allowed to persist, by our inaction. Their resolution can be the only measure of an honest a commitment to justice and progress. Gen-X must make renewed progress, urgently, although their ultimate resolution will span our careers, and take the commitment of our generation, for at least a generation.
We must aggressively pursue solutions to global poverty and economic injustice. We must set the people free, and keep them free, by acting on our commitments to human rights. We need to acknowledge our past expedient inaction or prevarication, and push for an end to state aggression and pursue peace and security through non-violent reconciliation of disagreements between peoples. Finally, but with the utmost urgency we must confront and rebalance our global activities to avert the worst of the climate crisis bequeathed to us. For crisis it is, and we cannot act as past generations and pass this to our sons and daughters. We are out of time, and this must be fixed by us.
If we hold our rights as humans to be self-evident then so too is our need to stand firm on their unequivocal application. We cannot tolerate slavery and human trafficking, its existence is a stain on us all. All people deserve equality under the law, and the rule of that law must prevail. Exceptions created for the sake of illusory ‘safety’ cannot be excused. All of us have the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association, assembly and participation in democratic governance. It sounds simple to say these things, but all too often we fall short in living up to these principles.
Wealth accumulation causes many positive outcomes, but the inequitable distribution of wealth in societies also causes much social harm. Progressives must remain committed to healing this, to regulating markets and deriving social good from individual activity. It is not acceptable for the wealthy and their vehicles to privatise profits and socialise losses, as they seek to do time and again. We must remain committed to the underlying principle that the distribution of resources has consequences.
Setting relative poverty to one side, there can be no excuse for our failure to end absolute poverty across the globe. We know the solutions, it is time to stop sitting on our hands. The provision of adequate food is a problem of distribution, not an absolute lack of food. Drinking water quality can be guaranteed at relatively low cost, as can sanitation. Publicly available healthcare for severe illness and reproduction, adequate shelter, and primary and secondary education provide more systemic and societal challenges but they are by no means insurmountable with concerted action.
Trade is the greatest form of aid, and the West must turn away, once and for all, from beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism. We all deserve the fruits of our labour, regardless of where we live.
There are deeper challenges that connect absolute poverty to relative poverty – mostly around access to services, but in the end commitments to work to close these gaps are matters of simple humanity. As a start, only by ending absolute poverty can we expect other societies to follow us on the wider progressive path.
Finally, we cannot embark on these commitments without safety and security, in both traditional and environmental senses. We cannot strive for a just society if we destroy ourselves or the planet in our efforts.
Too many of the older generation have misunderstood Bismark’s maxim that “Politics is the art of the possible”. While this artfully encapsulates real politik and the essence of pragmatism, too many have come to believe that only that which is possible is worthy. It will take fresh perspectives from a fresh generation to remind ourselves that Progressives must always strive on the basis that politics is the art of making the impossible possible.
James lives in Christchurch where he works in local government. James worked for the Clark-led Labour Party in government as a ministerial advisor to Cabinet ministers Margaret Wilson, Mark Burton, Pete Hodgson, and in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Alongside his day job, he continues to work and think on progressive politics.