Tag: left

Why I don’t claim to be a progressive

(crossposted at Voices on the Square)

Back in 2009 I wrote a diary over at Kos: Fundamental flaws in progressive ideology. The point was to show how the idea of being a “progressive” contained the idea of selling out within it. The actual record of “progressives” in this era speaks for itself — forty years of decreasing global growth, neoliberal economic policy, and so on.  We’re not really progressing toward anything — unless you count the future described by Gopal Balakrishnan:

We are entering into a period of inconclusive struggles between a weakened capitalism and dispersed agencies of opposition, within delegitimated and insolvent political orders. The end of history could be thought to begin when no project of global scope is left standing, and a new kind of ‘worldlessness’ and drift begins.

Against this background, progressivism appears as a sort of holdover from a previous era.

In the midst of all of this, in progressive blogs you have recognitions such as: Twilight of an Empire: More Than Just Bridges Are Crumbling In America. Eric Stetson recognizes that austerity planning is already hurting America, and will get worse in the future.  Here is his lament:

Schools, libraries, parks, advanced weather forecasting, and other features of great modern civilizations? Forget about it! All being cut to the bone.

So few jobs being created that labor force participation is the lowest since 1979 and food stamp eligibility is the highest ever?

Who cares! It sure isn’t the government’s responsibility to do anything

about unemployment, right? — the reaction from America’s politicians

on this score is as deafening as John Cage’s infamous symphony of silence.

Even spending money on disaster relief for American cities destroyed by a hurricane or a tornado is no longer

an automatic thing, but instead a political football. Our politicians

are so tight, the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud.

Eric Stetson, however, simply does not imagine more in his conclusion than that America should “demand more of its leaders.” What makes Stetson think that America’s leaders are at any point going to pay attention to such a call to action?

Meanwhile, at the Atlantic, the complaint is now that we have Presidents who routinely break the law, and nobody really cares. Or rather, I suppose, nobody with a shred of power really cares. Our most progressive journalists are telling us: we can expose it, at least for now, but we can’t do anything about it.

And then you have climate change.  Climate change is going to be dreadful if we stick with capitalism, as there will be crop failures and famine, and it’s not going to be mitigated by any climate change bill written by the fossil fuel industries, nor will just a bill for a bill’s sake do.  While the progressives were applauding the EPA’s assertion of its right to regulate “carbon emissions,” what was strictly necessary, as James Hansen was telling us we had to get back to 350 parts per million in atmospheric content, was that we have some sort of phase-out of fossil fuel production so we can keep the grease in the ground.  While radical transformation is necessary, the progressives at DailyKos.com are arguing that “fixing the economy first is not the best way to pass a climate bill.”  How is a phase-out of fossil fuels not “fixing the economy”?

Let’s move, now, to FDL. Michelle Chen, a name I don’t see a lot at Firedoglake, tells us that we have “a budget that tightens belts by emptying stomachs.” Chen ends her lament about proposed cuts to the food stamp program with a pointed criticism of “free markets”:

So that’s the theme of this year’s budget debate: that millions of people can’t afford to eat is not a cause for alarm for politicians so much as a burdensome line item. And erasing public benefits make it easier to make the poor invisible in the public mind. After all, food stamps symbolize not only the failure of “free markets” but the power of social policy to reduce endemic human suffering.

Well, OK, social policy to reduce suffering is good. Is that what the progressives have gotten for us?

Well, not a whole lot of it, unless you’re counting a watered-down and inadequate stimulus (now being erased through sequester) or a Heritage Foundation-inspired health insurance bill. Generally speaking, what progressives do every election year is to retreat on all of their presumed off-season goals and to declare themselves firmly in favor of the Democrat and against the Republican, without any serious consideration of what the Democrat actually supports. This is how the progressive vote was delivered for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama and for numerous lower-ups in Congress, and this is how said vote will be delivered for the next neoliberal austerians who plan to run for Federal-level offices in 2016.

Even worse is the conceptual schemes progressives have had to invent in order to defend their political choices. The Democrats are better than the Republicans, stop whining and start working, you can’t have everything you want, and so on.  The result is stuff like this: we didn’t like it under Bush, but now we’ve changed our minds, say many progressives.

Now, the idea of calling liberals “progressives,” if I recall correctly, started out in the late 1980s as a result of the senior Bush’s campaign against “the L word.”  The idea, then, was to identify liberals with the promoters of what was once called the “Progressive movement” during what was once called the “Progressive Era” (fundamentally, from 1890 to 1920).

In general, the progressive critique of American society’s political dysfunction cannot bring itself to name, correctly, the design flaw operating in both politics and the economy.  The name of this design flaw is “capitalism,” and understanding it as an operating principle of the capitalist world-system is quite necessary to understanding why progressives may have had success in the Progressive Era, but cannot seem to find much of it (outside of legislation protecting gay rights, and a few initiatives here and there to legalize marijuana) today.

Progressives in the Progressive Era confronted a young, expanding capitalism that had not yet experienced two world wars, nor had it fully established the consumer economy of the golden age of capitalism (1948-1971).  This explains, more or less, their success in getting reforms enacted in that earlier era.  Their success was just beginning!

Progressives in this era, on the other hand, are being asked to defend a doctrine of incremental change leading to a better world, when nowadays declining rates of economic growth clash with increasing demands for corporate profit.  As the resultant neoliberal political economy facilitates the theft of everything that isn’t nailed down for the sake of meeting this demand for corporate profit, progressivism is increasingly being forced into either of two directions: 1) the general apparatus of apologetics with which the Democratic and Republican Parties (and other parties, elsewhere) defend reactionary legislation designed to privatize and deregulate the economy and subject it to fiscal austerity while the whole of society is militarized in anticipation of public dissent against the abolition of the middle class, or 2) a general sense of distressed spectatorship as the worlld gets worse, accompanied by a growing sense that something fantastic has to be proposed to cure the disease (such as what one sees in a recent diary of One Pissed Off Liberal).

An interesting discussion of the original Progressive Era in this light can be found in Cecelia Tichi’s collection of biographical sketches titled Civic Passions: Seven who Launched Progressive America (and What They Teach Us). In this regard, Tichi views the Progressive movement of 1890-1920 as a reaction to the “Gilded Age” of the 19th century, and regards our era as a new Gilded Age, one of corporate hegemony and political corruption. Tichi can find corruption in both eras, as well as muckrakers.

Reading history can be comforting, and engrossing, as Tichi’s book amply demonstrates.  The reformers Tichi depicts were able to “get the ball rolling” on concrete efforts to change living conditions for American society’s worst-off individuals, and to instill some humanity into America’s emerging consumer society.  In reading Tichi’s biographical sketches, one can’t help but want to duplicate their successes in today’s society.  One would, for instance, like to campaign much as Alice Hamilton did against unsafe conditions in lead mines, or as Florence Kelley did in organizing against child labor.  One would like to conduct the sort of worker-empowering social science that John R. Commons conducted in Pittsburgh, or pursue the same sort of pioneering efforts for social justice for Black people that Tichi depicts in her biographical sketch of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

Some of the activist strength Tichi extols may still be useful today — but we are no longer in the Progressive Era, and that the efforts of the original Progressive Era activists earned their successes through an emergent, felt need for a class compromise that circulated in the halls of the wealthy and powerful in that, adolescent, emergent stage of the expanding capitalist world-system.  The problems of child labor, horrific work conditions, and excessive poverty merited fresh efforts at reform in light of the increasing prosperity of the capitalist system at that time.  We are no longer in that era, and so if progressive efforts are to continue to have success, they need to be underwritten by some other way of thinking than progressive ideology.  In saying this, I am in solidarity with writers such as Aaron Schutz, whose book “Social Class, Social Action, and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy” described progressivism as a “middle class utopia,” (28) and Shelton Stromquist’s Reinventing “The People,” in which progressive reformers are said to pursue “an ideal of social harmony in which the interests of labor and capital would be reconciled.”  (23)  I also agree to a certain extent with Chris Hedges, whose Death of the Liberal Class complains of the resistance progressives no longer offer corporate elites.  Mild reformism was, without doubt, both effective and beneficial in an era in which the capitalist system required a “middle class utopia” if the crises which it generated were not to overwhelm the system as a whole.  Our era, on the other hand, is an era of a declining middle class, of deepening poverty for the multitudes, and increasing poverty amidst record profits for the super-rich.  The reconciliation of class interests is off the table. The consumer society no longer serves as the pretext for profits among the wealthiest when the wealthiest can just compel the government to print money for their enrichment.  The dire poverty of urban immigrant populations at the turn of the 20th century may not be part of our landscape today, but this fact itself forms a pretext for keeping present-day poverty off of legislative agendas, to the detriment of all of us.  What we need today are more movements such as the Zapatistas, or the various movements for ecological justice, or the MST.

In this environment “progressivism” appears as a sales-pitch for the Third Way.  Progressives are now people who tell you to vote for the Democrat because she/ he is better than the Republican — it might still ring true, but it becomes less and less important with each passing election, with each issue that becomes vitally important everywhere but in Washington DC.  Once progressivism was robust; today it has reached a cul-de-sac.  If anything, today’s world needs a class struggle more than ever, and a vision of civilization free of capitalism and the crises it promotes with increasing frequency (see e.g. Greece, Spain, global warming, pollution in China, war in Africa) today.  When the capitalists, with their governments in tow, are forcibly undoing all of the good done by the progressives and social democrats around the world, while at the same time bringing Earth’s ecosystems into increasing crises, another compromise is not going to restore the world to stability.

***********

Indeed a recent Gallup poll tells us that the number of liberal Americans is growing.  But this poll result is itself the product of an impoverished political discourse both with the Gallup pollsters and with America as a whole.  So, for instance one can also read of polls that say that “young people are more likely to favor socialism than capitalism” as well.  What I’d like to suggest, here, is that an opposition to the 7% at the top (as their fortunes improve) will have to be made up not just of progressives, nor even (perhaps) mainly of progressives, but of people with a diversity of political beliefs (socialists, anarchists, post-capitalists and so on) outside of progressivism.  These people exist already — the leap forward is not that a non-progressive Left needs to be created from nothing, but rather from the mere discussion of theory to an engagement with the world.  Bhaskar Sunkara:

After all, the problem with the Left isn’t that it’s too austere and serious; it’s that it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to make the changes necessary for political practice. We can be rigorous and ideological – without being afraid of being heard outside our own circles. Mass exposure wouldn’t spell the end of a vibrant socialist critique.

The future of resistance is in the diversity of non-progressive Left approaches, and in making that diversity actionable, not in progressivism or liberalism.  Being a “progressive” or a “liberal” is easy, but obsolete.  I’d like to think I can do better, so at this point I don’t claim to be a progressive.

Jeffrey St. Clair: The Silent Death of the American Left

St. Clair gave an address which I just read in digest form in Counterpunch. In it he echoes one of the themes I’ve been riffing on for years, OWS, notwithstanding. Though he does not mention Occupy or Wisconsin or any of the rest of the happy face the left has been putting on activism for the past year or two they stand in as silent sentinels–they were the last gasps of a tired and finished movement.

Does the Left exist as an oppositional political, cultural or economic force? Is anyone intimidated or restrained by the Left? Is there a counterforce to the grinding machinery neoliberal capitalism and its political managers?

The answer is, of course, no such movement exists.

This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.

St. Clair is a deeply insightful political thinker who is unafraid of the truth, despite the fact he had to work under the shadow of the petty-tyrant Alex Cockburn. His article is a tale of woe. He notes how the American public actually favors many progressive ideas yet the left gets no traction–he doesn’t say why–his article is just a cry of the heart.

Never Mind the Bollocks

I’ve often said that left and right are both important in any political system (or any other system). Too much order (conservatism) and you get rigidity and an inability to react to changed circumstances. Too much innovation and change and the system looses integrity and tends to overreact to situations and the solutions often become worse than the bad shit we want to change. The French and Russian revolutions point so some of these sorts of problems. But in our system the left/right duality is all confused. The right wants change the left wants to hold on to the status-quo and in some areas the situation is reversed. But today the populist right has descended into lunacy and the left has been living in a world of illusions.

The chief illusion is this: that we live in a society that is, more or less, as described by the system we learn about in government class. In short, even the left in America believes in “American Exceptionalism” that somehow the plots we observe in Shakespeare’s plays or read about in history most graphically in Livy’s history or the history of the late Roman Republic or the machinations that were a deep part of European history over the centuries just don’t happen in America.

Facing Despair and the Move Towards Authoritarianism

There have been a spate of articles in places as varied as the WaPo, Huffington Post, and the usual places where leftists publish articles (CounterPunch, TruthDig, here, and so on) about what is at stake in this election. Most of these articles do not tell us to vote for Obama but rather to seek some kind of alternative at best and something close to despair at worst. One of the best of these articles by Henry Giroux (Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism) has just been posted on CounterPunch. This article should be read by all here and offers about as exhausting an analysis as you could want on where we are at politically at this point in time.

Here Giroux provides a clear statement:

A catalogue of indicting evidence reveals the depth and breadth of the war being waged against the social state, and particularly against young people. Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a nation that fails to protect its young, such a war speaks to nothing less than a perverse death-wish, a barely masked desire for self-annihilation-as the wilful destruction of an entire generation not only transforms U.S. politics into pathology, but is sure to signal the death-knell for America’s future.  How much longer will the American public have to wait before the nightmare comes to an end?

None of these articles provide us with a viable course of action (Giroux may be an exception), not because there isn’t one as I’ve often pointed out, but that, from a cultural perspective it is out of the question. For example, I have, for  years, made the point that power comes from organized, committed and focused communities who are willing to go to the barricades if necessary to assert themselves. I’ve suggested communities, communes, cooperatives, and even creating leftist-oriented corporations either for-profit or non-profit. From that base power can evolve and be used to influence public policy. At this point in history the cultural reality is that people who profess leftist views can’t or won’t cooperate with each other but prefer to live, in large part, fairly atomized lives with occasional bursts of spontaneous chaotic action (Wisconsin and Occupy) during which they fill themselves with fantasies and illusions about their own sense of righteousness.  Much of the fantasy around Occupy went like this: “isn’t it obvious that we represent the 99% and once we get out in the streets most people will join us.” Well that didn’t happen, in fact, most people, on balance, opposed these efforts in part because they were chaotic and disorganized and thus inspired little respect or trust with people who know, as a pragmatic reality, that that is not how the world works.  

Green Candidate Wins Primaries, Blasts Obama

Green Party* candidate Jill Stein, who ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2010, has taken the lead for her party’s nomination to run for president against dictator Barry Obama and whoever his Republican counterpart is this November.

According to Ballot Access News and other sources, Stein has won enough of the vote in various state primaries to qualify for matching funds.  She is competing for the Green Party nomination with Kent Mesplay and Roseanne Barr, the latter of whom she did a Skype session with to Greens across the country.

Stein has blasted Obama for his many betrayals.  She criticized his signing of the FAA Re-authorization bill, which further erodes unions, his overtures of war against Iran, his decision to support portions of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would cause further destruction to the environment and jeopardize human health and safety, his assaults on civil liberties including the “Defense” Authorization that allows American citizens to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, his taking of single-payer and a public option off the table in favor of an insurance-industry-authored mandate to buy private coverage or face stiff tax penalties, and other far right policies embraced by the incumbent.

Stein’s alternatives to all these things and more reads like a leftist’s dream: a Green New Deal to create environment-friendly jobs, an energy policy dedicated to 100% conversion to clean, renewable sources, expanding Medicare to every American and generous funding of public education (including the forgiveness of student loan debt), protecting America’s Safety Net, and ending America’s imperial wars.

Stein does not appear to be on record so far as to prosecuting America’s war criminals, including Obama, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the thugs in their respective regimes guilty of war crimes, but I can’t imagine she would let them off the hook, since it would only reinforce the notion of total immunity for high-ranking lawbreakers – a travesty of justice.  (I’ll keep you apprised of this as I learn more.)

With many progressives determined to sit out this election, Stein’s candidacy appears to be offering a welcome alternative.

The Left is Dead, Long Live the Left (reborn from the right?)

I will first refer to Chris Hedges’ book The Death of the Liberal Class. His analysis of the Americna left’s turning it’s back on the very values it professes is beautifully presented. I will not re-capture his argument here. There are YouTube videos of him giving talks on the subject that I urge you to listen to if you are unfamiliar with his POV. Suffice it to say that what it left of the left is fairly isolated and so far-outside the mainstream that most Americans don’t even know it exists. What the right, for example, terms as “the left” is largely fantasy and projection based on the bizarre idea that Obama is a socialist despite the fact that even rhetorically he is, by Euro standards solidly center-right politically, if not on the right.

The left, in terms of function, today is mainly made up of the extreme right-that is, it is on the right that you see real commitment to revolutionary and fundamental change since the liberals and progressives seemed to have abandoned much interest in the working-class. The militant masses have gone right not left and the most fertile ground for the left is on the libertarian right particularly those gathered around Ron Paul. Paul represents a critical interest that should be first and foremost on any real leftist’s mind. That concern is structural and procedural. How do we re-establish Constitutional rule (in case you haven’t heard it has, in many ways, been suspended) and basic rule-of-law. Honest law, honest law-enforcement, honest courts, and so on are essential. The left cannot succeed at anything if the oligarchs can jail us, torture us, kill us, seize our property, watch us, enter our homes without a warrant often without any reason. Lettres de cachet are now mainstream law. War is carried out on “terror” which is impossible no matter the definition you have of the word-you can have war on France or even a criminal gang but you cannot have a war on terror. Yet this Orwellian term is accepted by the mainstream without any sense of irony, without any question as if it was all perfectly sensible-well it is not in any way sensible. And if you accept that “war” then you accept nonsense and illogic.

It is the libertarian right that is on the forefront of talking about civil liberties, about clearly illegal wars and the growing power of the federal government. As a social democrat it is difficult for me to say “government is the problem” but today I will say that government is the problem. It is the problem because, in most situations and in most of the government, it is acting in the interests of the oligarch class and not the majority of people and furthermore is so constructed that it is furthering an anti-Constitutional, anti-liberty, and anti-human agenda that the libertarian right-wing condemns and the left seems to be ambivalent about. Nothing the government does can be trusted to be anything other than some form of racketeering just as nothing that is said in the mainstream media can be believed even if some of what is said is true. The government is now in service of a criminal class and the right notes that more than the left which seems stunned and hypnotized by the magician Obama.

And worse, it seems more common to see 9/11 skeptics on the right than on the left. The left seems to have swallowed the government/media story without any question–this is stunning in itself. I repeat, even most of the more radical left, including Hedges, accepts the government narrative without question–it is still forbidden on blogs like DKOS to suggest even a minor quibble about the events on 9/11. This to me stamps what is left of the left as dead. When you abandon reason, when you, as a leftist accept government proclamations without question, then how can you consider yourself on the left?

What Is Morality?

Note: I originally posted a version of this at FireDogLake.com, only to see it flagged as spam and my account deactivated.  I guess certain persons don’t like having their lack of any moral foundation challenged.  Oh well.

In my previous two entries, I discussed why it is important for people who call themselves left-wingers to have a solid moral foundation.  To sum up, one cannot call one’s self a progressive or a liberal and support the extreme right-wing policies of those in government.  To support Obama’s continuation and expansion of Bush-Cheney fascist policies, whether directly or by refusing to challenge him electorally, or by simply remaining silent in the face of ongoing crimes and usurpation of Constitutionally delegated powers, is immoral.

But what is morality, and how should the American left apply it to politics?

The I Got Nuthin Files. Both Sides’ Violent Rhetoric?

The Main Stream Media – in lockstep with the “fairness doctrine” (suddenly in popularity again) are talking about the violence of the extreme left and the extreme right.  About the “nuts” on the left and the patriotic gunrights advocates of the right.  

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=acquistare-cialis-on-line-in-italia How many people were shot on the jeering other side in the huge anti-war marches in Chicago.

Umm – let me think.   None.

go to link How many people were violent in those marches?

Umm – well the police occasionally.  And to be fair – some bottles were tossed.  In most of the marches I attended families with children in strollers attended – and there was no violence at all on our side.

comprare viagra generico 25 mg spedizione veloce a Verona Did these wild crowds in their frenzied madness tie up traffic for an hour or so?

Yes but to be fair it was more like two hours.  

see Were any motorists attacked?

None.

go to site How many people throughout the world during those marches carried guns and used them?

Hmm.  I don’t think any used them.  But, of course, in the interests of fairness perhaps some carried weapons.

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=dove-acquistare-viagra-generico-25-mg-a-Roma Sputter sputter — but flags were burned.

Yes, they were and there was some amusing and on-target theatre also going on.

http://maientertainmentlaw.com/?search=prednisone-20mg-tab-qua How is Iraq doing now?

We’ve pretty much ruined it in sanctioned and targeted bombing of the population.  Smart bombs you know.  But lots of people are making money – the governing class, of course.  In 2010 according to the UN, over 140,000 refugees fled to Syria and Jordan, et al.  And thousands more in prior years.  Over a million are internally displaced.  Of course, we musn’t forget that a statue was toppled and Sadam was eliminated.  So – there’s that.

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=acquistare-viagra-generico-100-mg-a-Genova What about Falujah?

We destroyed it for its own good.

http://maientertainmentlaw.com/?search=accutane-austin But we’ve secured oil for ourselves in any event.

No, not really.  I believe for instance other nations such as China are buying that oil.  And they didn’t have to go to war – smart people.

follow Why aren’t there any marches now?

The American people are dispirited by a government that is not interested in them, yet takes away their money for the upper classes. And let’s face it – huge numbers in the world came out and no one paid any attention to us before so…. Oh — plus we’re scared now.  

I got nuthin.

End the Farce at Least in Your Own Mind

Chris Hedges has written a book called The Death of the Liberal Class that says a lot just by its title. He is saying, essentially, that the liberal class which is the class of intellectuals, professionals and so on that are the cornerstone of any economy or ruling coalition, is finished and reform is impossible. Liberals in our context are people who have been able to “solve” the contradictions of capitalism by putting pressure on the oligarchs to provide reforms that can keep the system functioning. Liberals are and always have been anti-communist and anti-socialist, in this country at least, because they believe that capitalism can evolve into a friendly and progressive system through things like humane treatment of workers, social-safety nets, and universal health insurance (the last gasp of liberalism was the failure of HCR).

But let’s be clear here: liberals exist at the pleasure of the ruling elites. The minute liberal ideas threaten the system in any way liberals are crushed–and this goes for any society not just ours. Hedges is saying that this class in this country is finished as a class because it can no longer deliver reforms to the system. This is what I’ve been saying for some time. There was no need to put liberals in prison or assassinate them. Liberals have purged themselves by accepting cushy jobs in the system and learning to keep quiet all the while engaged in the illusion that they were “doing” something by voting for Democratic Party politicians who are designed and branded by Madison Avenue to keep the liberal class from facing reality or looking in the mirror.

Cross posted at Writing in the Raw.

The Virtues of Ranting in the Former USA

As long as we don’t take it too seriously ranting may be all we have left as a productive political activity. Sure, organizing and all that is a good thing–but on what basis? On the left, where most of us here live, there is no solid intellectual framework for us to rest. In America Marxism never took hold though it provides us with an excellent frame of analysis of our current system but it isn’t the only one. I prefer our native pragmatism which can step outside of systems and allow the “data” to guide us to see patterns. Marxism is useful to orient us but I don’t think it offers, as a general intellectual framework, a system that works for the current environment. Still, I consider Marxists the most valuable contributors to the project of the left. Certainly the time for liberalism is over because reform, in all foreseeable political arrangements is now impossible.

On this the day of the full-moon I urge that we howl at the Moon and rant. Ranting is a way to find out what we really think un-censored from the super-ego which in this country is fraying anyway and won’t last too much longer. We need to touch the truth and to touch it we need to find an authentic place in each of us. We need a new dispensation and that will only be made clear by a process of de-programming ourselves from the current discourse.

Let me be provocative here. I think the time to say “it isn’t fair” is over. It’s time to stop with careful analysis of the political situation when we lack a strong framework. The criticism from the American left always comes down to some moral complaint–that the rulers are, in some way, immoral. Really? I think that’s a pointless and bootless complaint. The problem is in the system that has emerged, not in the people that run it. The system has been constructed to meet a need on the part of the oligarchs to bring stability to their power-positions (not only them personally but their families as well) on the one hand–and on the other hand the need of the vast majority of the American people to take away their responsibilities as citizens because to try and understand the world around them without a solid framework of certainties is simply too painful–thus they want to be assured that they are indeed brave and virtuous when really they are, increasingly (by historical standards) quite the opposite because their focus in life is to have their job and their cable-TV where they can live in fantasies. Most people want to live in fantasies because reality is, to most of us (myself included), almost incomprehensible. This is enforced by a system of laws, cultural practices, structures like “security” (which reflect a profound collective cowardice) which gradually are eliminating any semblance of freedom as envisaged by the Founders. In short, to put it bluntly, we have to face the fact that the majority of the American people (in my view) consciously or unconsciously want to be in chains–it is the only conclusion that I can reached based on the data in front of me.

The only answer I have is to rant.  

One Nation–Nice Notion

I went to the One Nation rally today–walked around as much as I could took photos and so on. The day was beautiful–this is the best time of year in the Washington area.

The focus of the rally was really on organized labor and the multi-cultural community and it very much reminded me Jesse Jackson’s old rainbow coalition. It was a pleasant outing with some a lot of speeches, Marian Wright Edelman speech struck me as important–the rest, with the exception of Harry Belafonte’s (rightly warning us about the spreading authoritarianism) speech weren’t much to write home about.

I liked the fact that labor unions were so well represented. It always makes me sad to see unions try to organize and represent people–it’s such an uphill battle for them and all the cards are stacked against them and they know it.

The rally wasn’t that large, it was, as the papers say, in the tens of thousands–for once they got the crowd size reasonably right.  

Where the Battle Really Is in American Electoral Politics

For those manning the barricades at DailyKos, fending off the DLC and OFA hordes, it’s been a tough couple of weeks.  Horrible news arrives on a daily basis about the latest betrayal by the Administration, Congressional Democrats or the party apparatus, but discussion of these outrages is blocked or at least blunted by well orchestrated legions of loyalists.

Cassiodorus referred me yesterday to a link about “democratic centralism,” a Leninist, top-down approach to political organization that brooks no dissent once the majority has made a decision.  He noted the mind-numbing consistency of the loyalists’ message:

  1. Praise Obama.

  2. Cite Obama’s big resume.

  3. Denounce all of Obama’s critics.

All this has made me even more skeptical about the value of conventional politics in the United States, and confirmed my view that the Democratic Party is worthless.

What’s interesting is how the same thing is taking place in the Republican Party.  A Naked Capitalism link led me to David Frum’s lament about purges taking place in Republican think tanks.  Frum himself was a victim earlier in the year when he was fired by AEI, but today he’s writing about Cato purges:

The summer’s biggest inside-Washington story was the abrupt and simultaneous departure of co-authors Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson from the Cato Institute.

Lindsey was Cato’s vice president for research; Wilkinson a Cato scholar. They were working together on a book arguing for a new political approach fusing libertarianism and liberalism – a concept that Cato has previously endorsed on issues like drug control, foreign policy, and sexual freedom.

Frum then despairs about the effects of these purges on Republican policy initiatives should they gain the majority in either the House or Senate:

Right-of-center think tanks claim to do objective research that can be trusted by all policy players, regardless of point of view. They boast that they care about ideas, not parties or personalities. They aspire to set a broader agenda for the right, in lieu of the narrow demands of K Street special interests.

These claims look increasingly false. The right-of-center world is poorer for the dessication of the institutions that used to act as the right’s brains.

We are likely soon to have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, maybe the U.S. Senate too. And what will that majority do? The answer seems to be: They have not a clue. Unlike the Republican House and Senate majorities of 1994, unlike the Republican Senate majority of 1980, these new majorities will arrive with only slogans for a policy agenda. After staging a for-the-record vote against Obamacare, and after re-enacting the Bush tax cuts, it will be policy mission accomplished.

There’s little other policy inventory, because the think tanks have not done their proper work. Without a think tank agenda, the new majority will rapidly decline into a brokerage service for K Street.

What we see are the two major political parties both engaging in an intense effort to purge those interested in policy, those who dissent from party political strategies and those who care more about ideology or principle than loyalty.

The rationale for the purges given by the parties’ leadership and its spokespersons to party members is that a great battle for the future of the nation, if not Western Civilization, lies ahead.  Only if “we” win can the world remain safe for the “middle class” or the “free market,” for LGBTs or Christians, for African Americans or whites, for freedom of religion or a Christian nation.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  The policies of the two parties are indistinguishable because, as Frum points out, the source for policy for both parties is the same: K Street as it symbolizes the international, Capitalist Corporatocracy.  Imagine that you have arrived from Mars and been told a little about the history of the Democratic and Republican parties and the ideologies around which they supposedly coalesce.  Then consider how you would answer if you were asked which of the following enacted programs, foreign policy, military strategies and legislation were supported by which party:

Medicare Part D

2010 Health Insurance Reform

Iraq surge

Afghanistan surge

No Child Left Behind

Gramm-Leach

Telecom Deregulation

Welfare “reform”

It is all but impossible to identify any of these as distinctively Republican or Democratic because the ideological and policy distinctions between the parties, minimal as they were in the pre-Reagan, pre-DLC period, have now shrunk to almost zero.  Note that you were asked only about those things that actually became law or were adopted as policy by the Executive branch, not those things that were advocated by either party but never enacted.  Republicans have benefited from the support of the Christian Right, but what part of the Christian Right’s agenda has ever become law?  At most, they have seen a little tinkering around the edges of abortion restrictions, some of which did not survive court challenges, something fully expected by the Republicans who enacted the bills.  Democrats have made many promises to Labor over the past two decades.  What of it has ever become law?  Immigration issues are treated similarly by both parties.  Each party panders to different interest groups, but the status quo that satisfies elites, is carefully maintained.

Both parties tell their members that absolute party loyalty is required because the effects of losing to “the other side” would be so catastrophic.  Yet it is all but impossible to determine substantive differences between what is enacted by Republicans when they are in power from what Democrats do when they are in control.

The two parties do differ greatly in how they portray themselves and each other to the general public.  Republicans are consistent in their internal and external messages.  They tell both their membership and the wider electorate that Democrats are traitorous socialists who must be defeated and defeated completely.  The Democrats, however, are completely inconsistent.  They send out internal messages to their own members that Republicans constitute a grave threat to constitutional democracy, peace and the rights of minorities, but they follow a policy of reconciliation and bipartisanship when dealing with the opponents in Congress or in the press.  It’s no wonder that the two parties are often compared to the Globetrotters/Generals “competition” where one team is masterful and always victorious while the other is a perennial weakling and loser.  The only difference is that there are times when the public is so dissatisfied with how things are going that the “loser” party must step up, absorb the “throw-the-bums-out” votes of the majority and assume power for a while.  Once in power, however, they immediately revert to their Generals’ schtick and prove as ineffective and bumbling as ever.

If there is any battle left in electoral policy, any hope for change, it lies either in the emergence of third parties or in the battle for control within the existing major parties.  Inter-party politics, if confined to the Republicans and Democrats, is meaningless.  The behavior of the Obama Administration has confirmed that once and for all for anyone on the Left, just as the behavior of the Bush Administration confirmed it for conservatives like Frum and Bartlett.

The are several questions that Leftists need to ask themselves.  How they answer those questions will determine how they focus their individual energies in the coming hard times.  That Leftists answer these questions in different ways is not a bad thing, however.  There’s nothing wrong with concentrating energies in different venues if we do so in solidarity with one another and with strategies that complement each other’s efforts.

The questions:

1) Do you believe conventional electoral politics at any level offers any opportunities for change in the coming decade?

2) Do you believe conventional politics at the national level offers any opportunities for change in the coming decade?

3) If you answered “yes” to #1 and/or #2, do you believe that third party efforts or a takeover of existing Democratic Party structures offers better opportunities?

Depending on how those questions sort us out, we could find people working for change in a number of different ways:

1) organizing communities to become more humane, green, resilient and self-reliant and eschewing party politics altogether;

2) working to take over the local Democratic Party with the goal of preservingimproving public transportation and education;

3) building a regional third party movement to run a economic populist against a Blue Dog Democrat and a Lunatic Republican in a southern Congressional district;

4) coordinating a national movement to change the Democratic Party rules for nominating a Presidential candidate.

Ironically, even DailyKos can be used a tool in some of these efforts because the FAQs explicitly call for the site to be an “anti-Establishment” force in the Democratic Party.

Any effort to re-build a Left in this country must begin with the acknowledgment that the “competition” between the two major parties has no substance.  It even matters little to the party elites because they benefit as long as they play their designated role.  It is mere distraction, a way to absorb the ever growing dissatisfaction with the American social, economic and political systems.

In my view, there is no definitive answer to those questions posed above.  We can argue about them, but at this point, it may be best just to come up individually with the best answer we can and agree that we can disagree and still be comrades.  If we find that a particular strategy is working, great.  More focus can be placed on it.  If something appears fruitless, it can be abandoned.

One thing is clear.  Continuing to do what most of the Left has been doing is insanity.  

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