I had an email exchange with a physician friend of mine who works in underserved communities. We were attempting to raise each others spirits over the desecration of healthcare reform in the United States Senate. She noted a quote from Mark Udall the other day discussing the incrementalism of Social Security. The program originally only covered widows and orphans and now is a nearly universal retirement program. There are other examples of New Deal incrementalism that are now obscured by history such as the Wagner Act of 1935 which established labor rights in American law for the first time. The National Labor Relations Act, the formal title of the legislation, explicitly excludes agricultural workers and municipal, county and state employees from the protections. Through the work of the United Farm Workers in the 1950s and 60s the conditions for agricultural workers were improved and standards were raised. Without the NLRA the struggle for justice in the fields would have been all that much more difficult. Even though the act left out agricultural workers (and still does) it provided a baseline of rights that could be referred to and cited by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the workers themselves.
The rise of public employee unions is less romaticized than that of the United Farm Workers but today nearly 40% of all public employees enjoy the benefits of union membership. Again, without the NLRA would that have even been possible?
I don't like swallowing a shit sandwich served up from Joe Lieberman anymore than Howard Dean or anyone else. The reality though is that we are in an asymetrical war for human rights and justice that has lasted for millenia and will continue for millenia. Reformers are committed to change and the opponents of reform are willing to staandy idly by and watch injustice and suffering. Those opponents know full well that we reformers will always settle for something less than the ideal because even when we settle we're progressing towards a more just world. They exploit that asymetry at every turn and will in perpetuity, that doesn't make our cause less just or our fight less important. The simple fact of the matter is that the cause of human rights and social justice has won out through the centuries and is still winning today. It's a long fight and the trajectory is never a straight and true line but rest assured that so long as we fight justice will win out in the end.
The cause endures...