I don’t have much personal experience with moderate Democrats attacking those philosophically to the left of them, but it’s a real thing. You see it lately whenever, say, Glenn Greenwald or Jeremy Scahill criticize the Obama administration for killing Muslim civilians with drones: a deluge of angry blog posts and tweets about how these alleged allies of the progressive cause are providing conservatives with ammunition. And you can see the moderates’ point — the Republicans, it’s safe to say, would kill just as many Muslim civilians with drones, so all things being equal, why not unilaterally support our guy for now, so we can at least get other things right that the Republicans wouldn’t, like legalizing gay marriage and keeping Planned Parenthood funded? The problem with that position, of course, is that the longer you wait to address the problem of dead Muslim civilians, the less likely it seems it will ever get addressed. A president presides no more than eight years; are you supposed to wait until we’ve had three or four consecutive two-term Democrats in the office, or something? Because in the meantime, those inconvenient Muslim civilians keep getting killed; and, you know, that ought to matter.
In the post I linked to above, Freddie writes:
I used to wonder, quite often, why…the endless host of centrist Democrats are so endlessly enthusiastic in their hippie punching, why their passion for it is so clearly superior to their passion for fighting Republicans. I don’t, anymore. They defend our brutal and murderous system for the same reason that everyone does, because it is their system, and they have grown up into an ecology of propaganda that conditions them to justify it.
This is what I call the “we all like to shop at Target” problem. We’re not likely to ever see any major systematic reform from either party because both parties are part and parcel of the system. Democrats can argue against the unfair disparities that result from capitalism as we practice it — but most of them are generating those arguments by way of laptops no more than two or three years old, using expensive high-speed internet connections to do so; and that goes for the peanut gallery too, most of whom enjoy a lifestyle, economically speaking, that permits them to spend a good chunk of their time following political arguments online. Arguing politics and reading political arguments online are pretty enjoyable ways to kill a few hours. If you enjoy that sort of privilege, you’re just not likely to want to rock the boat too much. We all like to shop at Target. We might, in theory, wish people in faraway countries weren’t getting killed by our military apparatus. But a far more immediate concern is our need to quickly and cheaply replace the coffee maker that broke yesterday.
I don’t think this is a moral failing, exactly — or if it is, I’m inclined to forgive it. This is partly because I’m absolutely guilty of it myself. But more important, how do you expect anyone to worry more about people in faraway countries than they do about their own day-to-day needs and wants? The capacity to worry about people in other countries, in fact, is in itself at least as much a privilege as a newish laptop, a high-speed internet connection, and several hours of free time each week to kill. To cut through the cultural miasma that tells you only to concern yourself with your own status, and that of your family, friends, and country, you really have to have received fairly in-depth training in philosophy, and to have been consistently exposed to an unusual level of empathy — empathy strong enough to operate in the abstract. Maybe it’s not even about exposure, and it’s just something you’re born with. All I know is that history serves as evidence that it’s a rare quality, caring about people who are suffering in ways you’re not and don’t have to, and caring about them enough to suffer for them.
So how do we foster that? I have some thoughts, which I hope to get to eventually. But it likely won’t be through anything as mundane as a political party, certainly not one of the two that rule American politics. Political parties are media in the McLuhanesque sense — artifacts that enable us to interface with reality in a particular way. And as McLuhan said, the medium is the message; the content is irrelevant. You might like the content of the current Democratic Party better than the current Republican Party (and generally speaking, I do), but neither provides an escape route for reforming the system, because they’re both integrated into the system in pretty much the same way.