Several left-liberal readers tackle the question:
I live in Texas, and believe me, there is plenty left to fight for that is noble and righteous and shouldn’t be left-only but is, if only for the same Christianist factionalism you describe as regards marriage equality. Voting rights? Women’s health care? Any healthcare at all? Sitting here in Texas I can celebrate a special Pride weekend (as did 400,000 Houstonians and our openly lesbian mayor) but all other kinds of shit is about to rain down on us.
It is possibly just a matter of days before photo IDs for voters become required in Texas, that the unfair Texas redistricting that under-represents Hispanics was sent back to the drawing board by the courts will simply become fact, and our state of 26 million will have but five clinics where abortions are available?
The Democrats’ new sweetheart, Wendy Davis, was almost redistricted out of office before – perhaps she will be now! Perry is refusing to add folks to Medicare and Planned Parenthood clinics (not just the ones that provide abortions) are shutting down everywhere. Studies show that last year Texas had about 11,000 additional unplanned and unwanted pregnancies that bore live children thanks to reduced access to birth control. We have one of the lowest rates of health insurance, highest child poverty rates, and our governor has CUT education, CUT healthcare funding, and refuses federal funds for the latter. Andrew, there is PLENTY left to fight for.
Short answer: Climate change. Long answer:
Preventing or slowing climate change is the biggest social, economic, geo-political issue that will define the left. Through action or inaction, this will be the defining issue. If the left has any sense or courage, they’ll make this their defining issue of the early 21st century.
The goal, I think, is not solely to prevent climate change from changing our planet for the worse. Rather it is to change our culture and economy to reflect the sober reality of how gravely human activity impacts the rest of the planet and thus protect the delicate balance amongst complex natural ecosystems and contrived systems surrounding human activity. Industries, ingrained behaviors, and our collective expectations of what economic progress looks like will need to change. The notion of an “entitlement generation” as you’ve spoken of recently, neatly applies to our current cultural expectations regarding consumption and economic enfranchisement.
While abortion, the death penalty, gun control, and numerous other causes heralded by the left spark the passions of both sides, these issues exist in disparate microcosms of American life which only seldom overlap (which may explain the inability of the left to secure lasting progress in these areas). Letting climate change stampede onward however, whether through total inaction or impotent half-measures, will touch each and every corner of American life.
I don’t mean to write these other issues or those who fight for them off, and I do feel strongly about each of these, but they seem to be legacy issues of the current left. Those struggles will continue, no doubt. But what can really be said of the struggle to stop climate change and secure this abstraction “sustainability”? It is only just beginning and its importance will only become more pronounced as time goes on.
You basically thread-jacked yourself. You posed a question – a very good question – and then instead of considering it you ended up talking about how (a) gay marriage is not solved and (b) gay marriage isn’t even left. I agree on both points.
I also agree with Friedman and Lithwick that the left in this country has effectively lost its way, and I think that it’s been like this since Carter left office in ignominy. Clinton was no leftist; Obama is clearly no leftist. In the last five years, which might as well be the last 20, I find it very difficult to find even a single issue where I – a dyed in the wool, Greenpeace-supporting, union-dues-paying leftist – can look at the actions of the Democratic party and applaud.
What is Clinton famous for? Welfare reform; intervention in Bosnia; NAFTA (and Lewinsky and DOMA). What has Obama done? A healthcare reform that left every progressive idea off the table; a fiscal policy that just gave the biggest government spending cut in history to the Tea Party on a platter; tremendous latitude given to banks and finance; militant foreign and domestic justice policy; and continual cold water thrown on environmental concerns. Moreover: an unconscionably high incarceration rate, an unconscionably high deportation rate, targeting whistleblowers, an escalation of the surveillance state, a blind eye to war crimes.
His singular “progressive” achievement is that he was willing to change a few executive branch policies on gay marriage that, apologies to you and your readership (and my Facebook feed), is just not a significant issue when millions of people are being thrown in jail unjustly and destroying their families, when millions are falling into abject poverty, when a seven-figure balance sheet is a prerequisite to pursuing national office, when 121% of the increase in wealth over the recovery accrued to the top 1% (pdf), when infrastructure is failing and when our collective inaction on climate change is now materializing in violent and costly ways (which, of course, affect primarily the poor). This is a profoundly conservative era in this country, and gay marriage is just the cherry on the top of it.
Excuse me, but what? Corporations and banks run roughshod over the government on all manner of issues, particularly with a Supreme Court that nearly always puts their rights over the lives of working people. The amount of long-term unemployed continues to grow as companies take subsidies and tax breaks and ship whatever jobs they “create” overseas. That we have to fight so hard just so that two people who care for each other can begrudgingly get official recognition of their status shows how remarkably ignorant and backwards we continue to be.
And one thing we’ve definitely seen is that the right never stops fighting, never sleeps, and given an inch, they’ll take a mile. Ever watch an old rerun of All In The Family? That show aired 40 years ago but you’d think it was current, because we’re still fighting those same tired old battles we thought we’d won. Because the rich and powerful true conservatives will always want a government that protects their interests at the expense of everyone else.
That gay people are freer to get married today than they were a few days ago is a good thing, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the work that needs to be done, that will always need to be done, to create a more perfect union. In every age and under all circumstances, as Teddy Roosevelt said. The fight goes on.
(Photo: State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) holds up two fingers against the anti-abortion bill SB5, which was up for a vote on the last day of the legislative special session on June 25, 2013. A combination of Sen. Davis’ 13-hour filibuster and protests by reproductive rights advocates helped to ultimately defeat the controversial abortion legislation at midnight. By Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)