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Fired up and ready to go?  The typical American consumer is tired and fed up, and some of those lifestyle changes we are seeing in the face of high gas prices, growing inflation and the rising cost of living are quickly becoming habits that may have long-term staying power.  

Republicans are brutally effective at taking advantage of whatever conditions present themselves to push forward their odious agendas, but in the face of the economic squeeze, here's a look at what the situation may portend for the long-term progressive agenda, and an opportunity to harness the positive changes for the advance of society.  

First off, MissLaura made an interesting observation in her book review from yesterday of the recent predilection for the term "squeezed."   It seems to be popping up everywhere recently.  And it's a term I think that's specifically in vogue because the overall sense of economic hardship has thus far seemed to lack any meaningful single event.  

Yes, there have been days of Dow droppings, or events such as IndyMac's failure but the catalysts for the ill ease Americans feel with the economy are numerous--and in the face of the lengthy, drawn-out economic clusterf*ck we seem to be in, the term seems highly appropriate.  In fact, the economic situation itself has seemed so diffuse, that most of the responses we have seen have come in the form of more difficult changes in habits and lifestyle, rather than the empty gestures we so often see (Freedom fries anyone?)  People aren't out boycotting France by pouring Beaujolais in the street: they're making the tougher choices to trade in their cars for better mileage or conserving energy in all the ways that Republicans used to ridicule: combining or reducing trips in the face of high gas prices, cutting back on extraneous purchases, or staying home for the summer vacation rather than travel.

But there is emerging evidence that the trend toward conservation, cutting back and a new thriftiness among consumers may represent a more seismic shift in the American lifestyle: maybe this isn't a short term patch after all, but a drastic readjustment to the new reality of American economic life that will extend into the coming decades and maybe even beyond.

From an AP article article by Anne D'Innocenzio, via my own local Ventura County Star:

Consumers Thriftiness May Linger

NEW YORK — Adrienne Radtke plans to keep riding her bike to work even if gas prices drop. Steve Pizzini got rid of his Cadillac Escalade in favor of a 16-year-old Acura and doesn't expect to have another gas-guzzler.
"I had a paradigm shift," said Pizzini, a financial analyst. "I spent the money on a nice car. But to me, it's not worth it. I don't think I will go that route again."

Every economic downturn changes shoppers in some way. But this time, experts say the new behavior — fueled by higher gas and food prices, tightening credit and a slumping housing market — are the most dramatic and widespread that they have seen since the mid-1970s.

So retailers, marketers and investors are all trying to figure out which habits shoppers will keep and which they drop when the economy recovers.  

And the question for us is the implications those choices are going to have on both the current and future progressive political agenda.  From the same article:

According to a survey released recently by market research company Nielsen Co., which tracks consumer habits, about two-thirds, or 63 percent, of consumers are cutting spending because of rising gas prices, up 18 percentage points from a year ago.

The study queried 50,000 consumers by e-mail during the first week of June.

We already know the conservative reaction to the current economic crisis has been to utilize what Naomi Klein refers to in this month's Nation Magazine and her oustanding book The Shock Doctrine as "disaster capitalism," in which "today's preferred method of reshaping the world in the interest of multinational corporations is to systematically exploit the state of fear and disorientation that accompanies moments of great shock and crisis."  We've seen the current calls for drilling in ANWR despite over 68 million acres of current oil leases that sit undrilled, or a demand for tax cuts to the rich and Treasury Secretary Paulson's calls for increasing executive powers for the fed.  

But what does the progressive agenda look like and what possibilities will be open to us as new habits and lifestyle changes are taking place among the American consumer and voters?

Already, we see the public calling for both more energy exploration AND alternative energy funding.

With more Americans riding bikes and flooding onto transit, there is a potential for increased funding and more ambitious transit solutions.

And it is going to drive Republicans crazy, because in the face of all these changes Americans will be confronting, it will expose the true extent to which their ideas are based on divisive but ultimately distracting issues such as race, gay marriage and immigration.  But we will need to be careful to keep the terms of the debate open and honest: while the American people may support both drilling and alternative energy exploration in polls, they won't support it when they realize it as the land grab it is and hear how many millions of acres big oil is already hoarding.  

The changes presented by the current economic situation are tough and challenging, but ultimately the American people are showing through their actions and words that they are ready to take on the tough challenges and do the hard work politically to make it happen.

Open to suggestions of changes we should be pushing for to help make this happen.  Especially things that we might not have previously thought were possible.

Cross posted at PinkSlipNation

Originally posted to theKK on Mon Jul 21, 2008 at 03:49 PM PDT.

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