Don't Know Much Philosophy

A recent piece by Michael Tomasky in The American Prospect has provoked quite a bit of discussion on the web: in it, Tomasky argues that Democrats talk too much about strategy, and not enough about philosophy -- or, I suppose one might say, ideology. Liberals, he says, are not particularly aware of their own creed's history; though he doesn't go this far, I would say that Democrats sometimes appear to be a party bereft of ideas, a curiously empty fund-raising machine that mostly reacts to Republican initiatives. Tomasky writes:
Democrats just don't talk about fundamental ideas enough, and anyone -- a person, a movement, a political party -- can't really, deeply, profoundly know what he or she or it stands for without such conversations.
I'm not sure this is entirely accurate (liberals do talk about ideas sometimes) -- but it does have some relevance to much of the talk I've heard about progressive prospects in the South. Too often the discussion seems to devolve into top-down strategy or tactics: "How can we win over the South? How can we get those gun-toting, Confederate-flag-loving redneck pickup drivers to support our issues? How do we appeal to them?" Obviously any movement needs strategic thinking; but to me (and I'm sure to other, less progressive-minded folks) it can sound like so much flim-flammery, like "we" (right-minded progressives) are trying to fool "them" (benighted Wal-Mart-shopping hicks) into putting leftist policies into effect.

The implicit "us/them" dichotomy is important. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if progressive change is going to come to the South, it won't come from the outside. It will happen because Southerners (by which I mean simply people who live here, not only seventh-generation sons of the Confederacy, though I mean them, too) want to change their neighborhoods, towns, or states for the better. And one important way for this to come about is for progressives to discuss and push their ideas (living wages, national health insurance, protecting Social Security, limiting corporate control of government and public life) and explain why they are important for Southerners. This would seem to be a much more productive way to expend progressive energy than debating how best to "reframe" issues, whether or not to reposition ourselves as centrists, or how to pick "electable" candidates.