Powered for the most part by Bernie Sanders nationally and the teachers’ union locally, the left has risen from political obscurity in the past few years.
The Democrats who call themselves progressives certainly have become a major factor in national and Chicago elections, even if they may not end up winning the biggest of those races.
There’s plenty of reason why the left is drawing more support — though not majorities of voters — here and across the country. All you need to do is look at the growing gap between the most privileged of the haves and the rest of us.
We journalists also know as well as anybody how prevalent corruption is, particularly in Illinois, and how government policies are designed to favor the wealthy and politically connected at the expense of everybody else.
But all too often here in local politics, as in the Democratic presidential race, the most devoted members of the newly reinvigorated left are showing themselves as intolerant of criticism as the right wing long has been.
“The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote last month. “It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters.”
This was Krugman’s characterization of the “Bernie bros” who have personally and nastily targeted anybody who would dare oppose their guy.
It’s also a situation a lot like what you hear as a journalist trying to describe the more parochial battles between Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Gov. Bruce Rauner and their detractors.
There’s plenty to criticize at City Hall and in the Republican governor’s administration. We in the media are happy to provide ammunition for those arguments.
Like the far right, the leftists love to lap up any fodder we can provide for their worldview. And like the right, the leftists seem to think we should write only what can serve as fodder for their worldview, turning instantly on anybody who questions them or raises contradictory facts.
Report unflattering stories about something progressives revile — charter schools, for instance — and they instantly will leap up to declare you worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, declaring you a brother in arms.
Question any of their sacred cows, though, and you will just as quickly find the same people calling you a lazy corporate hack or inventing rumors you’re joining the payroll of the Emanuel administration.
The most sacred cow for the progressives of Chicago and Illinois appears to be the future of government pensions.
We can disagree on how we got here, but we all know the finances of City Hall, the Chicago Public Schools, state government and other local taxing bodies are in utter ruin. It’s a mess as severe as anywhere in the developed world right now except maybe Detroit, Puerto Rico and my ancestral homeland of Greece.
Progressive public-employee unions can spin the pension debate with terms such as “increased employer contributions” and “revenue enhancement.” Still, there’s no getting around the fact that government workers, including teachers, will not get all they’ve been promised unless taxes are raised much higher, for them and for the rest of us alike.
It’s easy for the leftists to howl that they are in the right. They often may well be.
Yet, really affecting policy is about much more than blasting your real or perceived foes in social media or feeling good about marching in a colorful and loud protest.
The heart of democracy is in persuading at least some who might not be on your side originally so that you get a majority to agree with your choice at the polls.
The left clearly has not accomplished that yet, not nationally nor in last year’s Chicago mayoral election. It might not be because they lack passion, but because they are showing too much of it.