From the Stagnant Fen in the Lost World of the Progressive Swamp

“When logic and proportion
Have fallen down sloppy dead,
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queens off with her head…”

– White Rabbit
Jefferson Airplane

Six weeks ago I entered the online conference “Spiritual Progressives: A Dialogue on Values and Building a Movement” of the Rockridge Institute, a progressive think tank whose scholars are from the University of California. I prefer to call the conference “The Lost World of the Progressive Swamp.”

Although swamps can be among nature’s most diverse and healthy environments, the Progressive Swamp more resembles a stagnant fen, an intellectually shallow bog whose citizens speak “Progresso-babble,” a language emanating from political myths and conspiracy theories. Go to the Rockridge Institute website and click on the “online conference.”

Healthy swamps are fed by a constant source of fresh water. Still, even the most verdant swamps contain stagnant fens; slimy bogs or algae-covered cesspools of pestilence and decay. Welcome to the Lost World of the Progressive Swamp where “logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.”

For the most part, dwellers in this lost world are good-hearted folks sharing similar anti-capitalist, progressive worldviews. They hold that American corporations exploit and oppress groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation and economic class domestically while the Bush administration conducts foreign policy like a neo-imperialist behemoth.

Among them you will find ministers with a heavy burden for social justice whose theologies allow much and proscribe little. There’s a Mid-western university religion professor who quotes Biblical passages to support socialism as part of loving one’s neighbor but ignores portions of the Scriptures upholding traditional Judeo-Christian morality. For him, Matthew 7:1 is the heart of the Gospel, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” because it allows his advocacy for gay marriage. (Check out “The Fairness Project” website.) There’s the college-dropout whose leftist worldview is based on conspiracy theories to include Americans sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, Roswell space alien cover-ups, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the machinations of an evil CIA involved in everything from political assassinations to drug running in Laos and Afghanistan. Finally there’s the artist, a flower child from a bygone age, who thinks good vibes and politically-correct “framing” are the fundamentals which can lead to “a culture of peace and hope which values human life.”

Somehow the term “progressive” seems alien in this intellectually stagnant fen dedicated to “reframing” failed welfare programs from the New Deal to the Great Society and tired old nostrums from the Vietnam era anti-war movement, into a vision enticing to the American electorate. Lest they offend, radical ideas, like a right to gay marriage as “embedded” in the Constitution, must be carefully “framed” to emphasize fairness rather than morality. Nevertheless, the governing assumptions remain constant: the Bush administration was “selected not elected.” The President’s margin of victory in the November 2004 elections resulted from voter-machine manipulation in Ohio and elsewhere (conspiracy?). It’s a given that “Bush and Co. have lied” about “blah, blah, blah-everything” from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program to the No Child Left Behind initiative. Absent new ideas, dwellers in the Lost World of the Progressive Swamp resort to mantras epitomized by a college dropout turned leftist sage’s offering that, “The ‘conservative’ (Fascist?) way of doing things {includes}:  Bankrupting countries promoting immoral hatred and war, fostering religious intolerance, and  attacking diversity.”

Many of these swamp dwellers want the U.S. to apologize to the world for America’s behemoth-like behavior and endow the United Nations with responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, diminish the wealth and power of large corporations and transfer economic planning to Washington or “to the people.” In terms of social mores, fairness not morality should be the governing paradigm, with anything based on religious percepts marginalized if not altogether eliminated.

As difficult as it is to pole a skiff through a stagnant fen, it is far harder to conduct a dialogue in this intellectually shallow bog where ridicule passes for argument. The long-on-activism-short-on-theological-substance religion professor characterized me as a “relative you might fully disagree with but you think is an interesting character whose ideas may even be ‘worthy of ridicule.’” When I pointed out Biblical admonitions against homosexual behavior, another dubbed me, “ugly to God.”  A faith grounded in rock solid Judeo-Christian values and an understanding of history based on facts rather than conspiracy theories are essentials for venturing into the swamp.

As indicated by recent remarks from Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean and by Senator Dick Durbin’s comparison of the behavior of U.S. troops in Guantanamo to that of Nazi and Soviet Gulag camp guards and Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge, the left is in desperate disarray. Ultimately, there are only two valid approaches to the future: faith and a non-polemical grasp of history. The radical left seems incapable of either. That’s why it increasingly resembles a stagnant fen in “The Lost World of the Progressive Swamp.”