05 November 2012
3) Sure, Democrats suck, but the only way to change anything is to Work Within the System. I give this argument more credibility because it is trying to present an actual strategy, something lesser-evilists and apologists often don't do, and because it's frequently made by people I believe have a sincere commitment to progressive politics, i.e., not just people who want to lord their Seriousness over undergraduate hippies with their Chomsky and Zinn readers. For a good variation, see this Jacobin article just published today.
It goes like this: The Left should attempt to take over the Democratic Party by emulating the New Right takeover of the Republican Party (and the Tea Party more recently). Try to insert your own people into Democratic party organizations at a local level, win local offices and work your way up through the national party organization. Meanwhile, try to put forward more progressive candidates for national offices in primaries to knock out terrible right-wing Dems and, even if you fail, discipline the eventual nominee by reminding him/her that the base is restless. .
I see two main flaws with this approach:
A) Where does the money come from? If you want to imitate the New Right, you have to come to grips with how to match the bottomless well of money it has been able to draw on for the past thirty years. Various church organizations, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, various local chambers of commerce, all have massive organizing and/or capital resources to back religious and free-market fundamentalists at all levels of government. By definition, a grassroots movement of the left is going to be organizing people who haven't got money, and, if it has any teeth at all, it isn't going to be a favorite of people who have. And running campaigns takes money, money that can't now be used for anything else.
This is not a complex equation: Political power rests in the right of both parties because that is where the funding is. And American political parties are, first and foremost, fundraising organizations.
But what about unions, MoveOn.org, environmentalist groups, or other members of the Organizational Left? Won't they step up to back a serious Work from Within movement? Well...
...B) Work from Within is basically incompatible with Lesser-Evilism. I hate to plagiarize arguments when I don't remember the source, but I recently came across an interesting theory as to why the popular media assigns the red-blue colors to the parties the way they do, when a global-historical shorthand would suggest the alignment should be the inverse. The argument was that Republicans are red because they are the "revolutionary" party in American politics, and the Democrats are the conservatives. I don't know if the observations regarding the colors is correct, but I think the assessment of the parties' roles in the system is.
Democratic partisans in the current climate have found themselves almost exclusively on the defensive, trying to protect the gains made from 1932-68. Lesser-evilism is the tactical manifestation of this. The Republicans are simply too bad, they say, to ever allow them to win an election. Our man's record is not so important, the main purpose is to prevent the Romney Revolution from happening.
What does this mean for the work-from-within strategy? Well, if you are going to run a primary campaign against, say, a bad senator, you are running a certain risk that, while you may have sent a message to the Democrats' right wing that you aren't to be trifled with, you may lose the general election. And the core tenant of Lesser-Evil Liberalism is that you can never lose. Ever. Because the Republicans are Just That Bad. This is why Democrats obsess over "electability" in primary campaigns (with electability being a nebulous concept largely defined by "who the party establishment funders will get behind") and run headlong into the arms of bland losers like John Kerry. The first Sharron Angle-type figure to come along and beat, say, Dianne Feinstein, and lose a general election will get the full Nader treatment, and that will be the end of your precious work-from-within strategy, hippie. I bet you wanted abortion to be illegal.
During its rise the New Right and its offshoots have shown the willingness to lose elections to maintain its ideological grip on the Republican Party. Lesser-Evil Liberals reject this possibility out of hand. This is why, when Goldwater lost, we got Reagan and the Bushes; when McGovern lost, we got Carter, Clinton, and Obama.
As I've written before in this space, I'm not hard-wired against voting for a "lesser-evil" as a tactical defense against a much more dangerous alternative. But those advocating for this tactic should have a long-term strategy for political action, both inside and outside the electoral arena. To their credit, the sincere work-from-within folks attempt to do this. (There's also an insincere type of this argument which isn't serious but gets thrown out there as a way to make hippies go away.) But they are barred, perhaps even without their knowledge, by the long-term lesser-evilists who have been making the same desperate pleas/threats toward the left for every election of my adulthood, and will no doubt continue to do so in 2016 in defense of Andrew Cuomo or whatever other corporate mannequin the Democratic funders decide is "electable" against the undying Republican hordes.
30 October 2012
Before that, some caveats. First, despite the preening, it really doesn't matter who you vote for in the presidential election unless you live in Ohio or Florida. Other states are either a foregone conclusion or too small to make a difference. This is our great liberal democracy in action. I'm not going to complain one way or the other about who you do or don't vote for, because it's essentially irrelevant to anything but your own conscience.
Second, I am skeptical about third party presidential runs. Yes, it's absurd that the two-party cartel blocks access to debates and that their media mouthpieces shut any out voices not on a simple red vs. blue axis, but even in a perfect world where a third-party candidate could win, he/she could likely achieve next to nothing. The duopoly in Congress and the Washington bureaucracy would unite to make governing impossible and ensure that no such challenge could happen again. A third party would have to be built from the ground up, and I'm not bullish on that happening. Some of the reasons are the same as ones I'll elaborate on when I talk about "work within the party" types a bit later. But also the way American political institutions are set up makes it difficult to break up the duopoly. First-past-the-post elections, Congressional committee chairmanships, and so on. Remember, folks, the Constitution is a very conservative document; it is designed to protect elite power from the mood swings of the public. The last time we had a new party in American politics that had any mass impact there was a civil war a few years later. That should tell you something.
Third, as I've written before, I'm not wholly opposed to "lesser evil" voting. There are times when it might be the tactically necessary thing to do. If people really believe that they most vote for a "lesser-evil" because of their conscience, I'm not going to strenuously disagree with them. See point #1.
Fourth, unfortunately, I don't agree with some of my fellow travelers that a Romney win would buck up the left and cause them to become vigilant about things they used to think were monstrosities under Bush but now handwave away when Obama does them. Doug Henwood's article in The Nation makes a lot of sense and I agree with most everything in it. While we might wish it were otherwise, a Romney administration would just send us back to the Bush years on the left; the party rolls over and plays dead while the Republicans run through them and the rank and file pines for the next Democratic Savior. If you want a backhanded endorsement of Obama, it's that his reign has disabused many young progressives of the notion that the Democratic Party is looking out for their values.
With that very lengthy prologue out of the way, let's take a look at a couple pressing issues of electoral tactics and strategy facing the left.
1) A Romney Administration would be uniquely catastrophic. Back in 2008, the Democrats won a crushing victory. They completely dominated government in a way no party had in decades. The Republicans were so lost and defeated that some wondered whether they could continue to exist at all. What was the great result of this tremendous mandate for progressive government coming at the very moment in history when conservative foreign and domestic policy ideas had been thoroughly discredited? Half-assed financial and health insurance "reform" (the latter adopted from former Republican ideas*), a too-small stimulus bill weighed down with garbage, a continuation and actual expansion of Bush-era surveillance state and imperial intervention policy, all garnished with a repeatedly-demonstrated ability to lose negotiations to a fencepost. And I guess something about gays in the military which, in a time of worldwide political upheaval, widespread economic desolation, and looming ecological ruin, is the most pressing issue the left faces today. It ended, of course, with a huge defeat in the 2010 midterms, for which petulant hippies were to blame (but more on them later).
Now, however, many people are convinced that a Romney win would mean instant power to bring about the reactionary revolution. Why do people believe that close win with a split Congress means a massive mandate when the result of the 2008 election achieved so little for the other side, and what does this say about their opinion of their own party? Furthermore, these folks have spent much of the last four years trying to calm unruly hippies dissatisfied with the administration's lack of progress by admonishing them that the office of the presidency has little real power. How they work out that Romney will, upon ascending to the high office, cover the land in a second darkness using the dictatorial powers Obama doesn't have has not, I suspect, been completely thought out.
To buttress this argument, some claim that Romney's moderate record as governor of Massachusetts is a facade, and, now that he has been liberated from managing a liberal state, his true extreme-right self is bursting through. Maybe, or maybe not. Romney, as best I can tell, has two political goals: He really, really wants to be president, and when he gets to be president, he wants to enrich his plutocrat friends. Well, on the latter point I suspect he won't get much resistance from the Democrats. Beyond the second goal, Romney has a proven willingness to say and believe anything he needs to achieve the first. He's Nixon with better hair and less jowl. I don't see him doing much to override resistance on culture war issues. Of which...
2) Only Privileged White Males won't vote for Obama: We certainly know that anyone who can't vote for Obama endorses Romney and wants him to win. And they'll stand by ironically while Romney's goons round up America's women and put them in binders. This argument claims that the less fortunate are all loyal Obama supporters, and you'd do well to join them or you're complicit in their oppression.
Though not exclusively, this argument usually centers on the Supreme Court, and the idea that Romney will be able to appoint Supreme Court justices who will immediately overturn Roe v. Wade. I'm far from knowledgeable enough on SCOTUS procedures to know how likely it is that the court could just take a case with the established goal of inverting precedent. But, let's say we are faced with a SCOTUS nomination that would mean the end of legal abortion. What would the Democratic Party, the great champion of reproductive freedom, do? Would they meekly stand aside and watch? A further point, while contemporary SCOTUS judges are certainly partisan hacks, they aren't stupid partisan hacks. They aren't going to touch an inflammatory issue that's going to bite their party at the polls. Reproductive freedom battles will continue to be mostly contested at the state level, in Republican friendly territory, as we've seen clearly in the last year.
This accusation is usually leveled at Glenn Greenwald and the like who primarily write about surveillance state issues and the war machine. Because these apparently things that only affect White Men, except that, well, what? The surveillance state almost exclusively targets Muslims. Certainly Obama isn't bombing many white people in Asia and Africa. We know all about the drug war and prison industrial complex and its calamitous affect on African-Americans. And the effects of climate change will of course overwhelmingly fall on the poor around the world. Where is the Democratic Party on these issues? The secret of the "privilege" argument is that most people making it enjoy bourgeois-liberal class privilege themselves; they're not the ones facing down the American police state. Their notion of "privilege" is deliberately constructed to exclude anything that might include them.
Two final thoughts before I leave this section. For all their lecturing about the comfortable privileged non-voters or third-party voters who are helping Romney win, these liberals ignore the great mass of non-voters (about half the eligible voting population in any given election) among whom the poor and people of color are over-represented. I do wish that these very concerned folks would take their hectoring to said non-voters and give them the "helping Romney win" spiel, preferably as self-righteously as possible. Furthermore, if you do believe that only straight white dudes are Obama skeptics, I encourage you to check out Falguni Sheth, Black Agenda Report, or This is So Gay.
CONTINUED IN PART TWO!
*Liberals really, really hate you pointing out to them that Obamacare was a Heritage Foundation-designed alternative to a pubic healthcare system adopted by Republicans, Mitt Romney most famously, in the 1990s. They will claim it's unfair because Republicans never intended to actually pass it (again, Mitt Romney?). That may well be true, but it doesn't do much for them. The point is that, when Barack Obama moved right to co-opt them, Republicans just shifted to the status quo they always favored. At least the public conversation was once such that the right had to come up with some alternative, however insincere. Thanks to your contemporary Democratic party, that's no longer the case.
14 August 2012
However, Democratic veep nominations are also getting more conservative. The eight most conservative Democratic choices include all five nominated since 1988. Of the five most liberal, only Walter Mondale is post-1960.
The rightward creep of American politics is fast becoming a sprint. The liberal loyalist hold-your-nose lesser-evil faction likes to emphasize the "real differences" between the two parties. Well, this is one of them. The Democratic Party is thoroughly controlled and managed by its right wing, which has steadfastly prevented actual liberals from ascending to any positions of leadership. The loyalists argue for grassroots party-building and "working within the system" but have no plan to unseat the institutional and money power of the conservatives.
17 July 2012
Observing liberal blogs during this election has been educational for how much lesser-evilism has been expanded to convince more and more skeptics where before it was pitched only for a few marginal hippies who were probably too stoned to vote anyway. Sure, there are the usual careerist "liberal" pundits at the Washington Post or New Republic who'll defend Obama's conservative record on its merits, but even the American Prospect and leftward crowd is usually left with half-hearted apologias about "the best we can hope for under the Present Situation." But of course, Mitt Romney is a real shitbag; that cannot be emphasized enough. And this is the Most Important Election in the History of the Species, or at least until 2016 anyway, because if Romney is elected, he will immediately make abortion and cute kitten pictures on the internet illegal. Plus, Obama is a real cool dude, and it would be really great to have a beer with him (oh wait, that was the meme for another guy) I mean, it would be really great to shoot some hoops with him.
Today I've read in several places odes to the cinematic greatness of the Obama team's newest attack on Romney's record as CEO of Bain Capital, and particularly how it's a pleasant departure from past Democrats' kid gloves approach. Hell, I'll say it had better be good. It isn't as if the Obama team has much else to hang its hat on. Luckily for them the Republicans are putting up ideal competition for the political environment in 2012; an empty-suit embodiment of the American plutocracy who's as dynamic as dry bacon. Oh Lord, make it stop, make it end.
09 May 2012
It's a bit peculiar to see this being hailed by liberals as some huge leap forward. The federalist dodge is a favorite among politicians who want to send a message to their base while declining to take a firm stand on an issue. Saying "I personally support X, but believe it should be left up to the states" is a classic political punt, and it's usually used by Republicans. I am sure if Obama had said "I personally support a woman's right to choice, but I think it should be left up to the states" there would be liberal rioting in the streets. That's a standard libertarian line. Maybe the expectations of Obama's supporters are that low, or maybe there's nothing he can say that will cause them any reaction other than euphoria. Or maybe they're all so used to his standard waffling that any whiff of political courage looks like the real deal.
If the last two months are any indication, it looks like the American political circus is headed toward another election season typified by the erstwhile social issues. The brief moment where Occupy Wall Street appeared as though it could shift the national conversation onto plutocratic rule and economic inequality has passed, and those activists have been shooed offstage (or, more accurately, pepper-sprayed and teargassed offstage) to be replaced by the old standbys of abortion and gay marriage, the only issues that truly matter to the electorate if you believe the press and activists from both parties.
The electorate doesn't really agree:
In a recent PEW poll, gay marriage polled eighteenth on a list of issues, with just 28 percent of voters saying that it is a “very important” issue. This trails obvious election setters like the economy (86 percent), jobs (84 percent), healthcare (74 percent) and other issues down the line like Iran (47 percent), gun control (47 percent) and even the GOP’s cause of the day, birth control (34 percent).
So why do we spend so much time and energy on issues the public doesn't feel are that pressing? And how much are the highly-publicized fights over birth control and gay marriage "real" and how much is fabricated? For Republicans, of course, this has been fairly decided for awhile. The Republican funders throw social issues at the religious base to keep them energized and voting reliably. Why liberals play along has been given less attention, but it's basically the same reason. The people who make up the Democratic donor base are often out of sync with the Democratic voter base, in many more profound ways on domestic and foreign issues than the Republicans are with theirs. Social issues give them a rare opportunity to bridge the gap (or at least reach an agreeable peace.)
Indeed, Obama's gay marriage "revelation" is entirely a campaign posture. It's designed to cautiously put himself in front of the liberal outrage over the success of North Carolina's Amendment 1 and re-energize his base of under-30 liberals whom he depended on in 2008 but who have been slowly decompressing over the past 3 and a half years.
Certainly, there is a faction of the right-wing base whose anti-woman and anti-gay extremism is very sincerely felt. But one has to wonder why they are allowed to monopolize the political arena with fringe issues which the public either sees as settled or as irrelevant to their lives.* It's hard to imagine issues which the plutocracy could give less of a shit about than birth control and gay marriage. All of the political energy which is absorbed by these things is energy which will never be directed at them. The yawning reaction of both the mainstream press and, in large part, the alternative liberal press to the May 1st actions of Occupy Wall Street is a clear indication; the Class War is over, the Culture War is back on, baby!
*Before someone leaps through the monitor to give me a finger-wagging lecture about how "relevant" it is to gay couples that they have equal rights, I mean that most people simply don't care much one way or another. It's interesting that most of these anti-gay amendments come through on popular referendums, I suspect if states were to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative or judicial means, most people would just shrug their shoulders and go on about their business.
03 April 2012
And, I have to admit, as a short term fix this argument carries a lot of weight. No one wants to see President Santorum nuke the moon. As a long-term strategy however, it's a disaster, and we've been hearing it since at least 2000 and probably long before. The 2000 election, of course, is seen as the defining argument in favor of lesser-evilism, and liberals love to place the Bush years on the conscience of those privileged hippies who tried to make an idealistic political statement by voting for Ralph Nader. (I'll have more to say about why supporting third party candidates is an ineffective way of pressuring Democrats in a future post.)
The problem with lesser-evilism, though, is that, while you may get less evil now, you will surely get more evil later. Because your tepid, center-right New Democrats won't win every election. This is still a balanced, two-party system, and the public's preference inevitably swings back and forth from one party to the other. Talk of a permanent majority, of shutting the other party completely out of power for a generation, doesn't work. It was a fantasy when Republicans were kicking around the idea in 2004; and it was equally so in 2008 when some Democrats were crowing about the complete obliteration of the old Republican Party, and how that party would have to reinvent itself to survive. It did reinvent itself, of course, by driving even harder to the right and coming back to win the midterm elections in decisive fashion.
So while liberals mock the "heightening the contradictions" crypto-Leninist model of third-party voting (or abstention), their own embrace of essential lesser-evilism is functionally not any different. It just kicks the can down the road a few years. The long march to the right continues unabated, and they have no answers for it. This year, we have Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, two fringe nuts who would have been laughed off the stage as fringe kooks ten years ago, being serious presidential contenders who have successfully forced the "moderate" Mitt Romney to move rightward to match them. And while Romney likely won't win the 2012 election, one day another Republican will ascend to the presidency who, enabled by a wobbling Democratic Party and its steadfast supporters of lesser-evil voting, will be even more extreme than George W. Bush, just as Bush was more extreme than Reagan, and Reagan than Nixon, and Nixon than Eisenhower, and so on.
I'd be negligent not to note the final irony, which is that liberals like to pat themselves on the back for being "realists" who understand the political system, while scolding naive "emoprog" puritan idealists, when their own blind spot is a fantastical belief in a permanent Democratic coalition of sensible technocrats, which should have already been blown to bits a couple of years ago.
28 March 2012
But, let's take a look at two possible statements concerning the ACA and its discontents, and the Obama presidency in general
1) Obama is a sellout who has turned out to be far less liberal than people expected/desired. (the "emoprog" position)
2) Obama's personal beliefs are irrelevant, because the political system is wholly owned by wealthy interests who can water down popular policy ideas (such as a public option or single payer HCR), making them less popular with the public but more palatable to the political class.
Which of these would present the bigger problem? The first would be an annoyance, but presumably correctable, which is, one assumes, why Obama's critics tend to focus on it. It gives them hope, if you will, that eventually an election will produce someone more in tune with their own beliefs and progressive outcomes will soon follow. Obama's defenders typically rebut this by pointing to the second, usually without much consideration of what this represents: a shambolic political system in crisis, increasingly unable to do the cursory job of "representation" on which liberal democracy so prides itself. But it's not Obama's fault so, yay, kids!
19 October 2011
Nevertheless I think it would be abdicating some responsibility not to write a few words about what we can loosely call the "Occupy" movement, which is certainly the most significant left movement in my lifetime in the United States and likely the biggest moment for radical politics in the US since 1968.
It was not supposed to be so. The idea of a permanent encampment "occupying" Wall Street was initially conceived by the small radical magazine Adbusters and amplified around the internet by the hacktivist collective Anonymous, claiming inspiration from the Arab Spring and the Spanish Indignants. Few liberal pundits were prepared to take it seriously, foreseeing another small forgettable gathering of unintelligible hippies. Then something quite remarkable happened: A commune of protestors planted themselves in the media capital of the world armed with a simple class-war message, embodied by the ever-present slogan "We are the 99 percent," and began rapidly and inexorably gaining a mass base of popular sympathy completely unaided by the usual partisan Democratic "activist" groups. Copycat "occupations' have sprung up in dozens of cities around the world.
The mainstream press has of course been professing ignorance from the outset about what the "message" or "demands" were, and what they plan to use in place of the current system of power. This is purely posturing which is easily answered by spending any time in the occupied space, which in New York has been redubbed "Liberty Plaza." They are there to fight the war against the ruling class, and have set up a small self-governing city with a decentralized, leaderless consensus democracy of the sort enjoying wide popularity in contemporary anarchist circles. I am reminded of the old IWW notion of "building the new world in the shell of the old," there are numerous other influences as well.
There are considerable challenges ahead, however. The first will come from the political class and its liberal enforcers, who, after a period of scrambling to take stock of the moment, are now lustily eying the protests as a kind of Democratic answer to the Tea Party, an attempt to rescue a party's sagging image with a re-branding. There is no small risk that trained political managers will step into the leadership vacuum, strip the movement of any radical elements (one already hears the usual cowering of liberals from being associated with "anarchists" and other riff-raff) and utilize the branding of the popular occupation to flak for some tepid, ineffectual reform that is more bark than bite. There will likely be considerable resistance to this; much of the core of the movement, beyond the radicals, is made up of disaffected young Obama voters who have seen the deceptiveness of electoral politics in the Democrats' utter failure to deliver barely modest reform in the wake of historically smashing victories.
This would be a disaster on many fronts. The Occupiers have deliberately chosen to rally around the all-encompassing banner of "the 99 percent" rather than the middle-class reformism which Democratic politicians and liberal pundits blather ceaselessly. They have proven, contra the establishment of both parties and their media flacks, that an explicit class war message resonates with the public imagination, even if they are shrewd enough not to use those poisoned words exactly. Becoming an Obama campaign front would ruin much of the goodwill the Occupation currently enjoys, both in its association with establishment politics and the inevitable dilution of its message into a meaningless muddle by the liberal wing of the finance party.
I should also note as an aside that they have produced a popular non-partisan movement which is not enamoured of technocratic centrist billionaires. Old Mike Bloomberg has become something of the Scrooge of this story, in fact. I point this out just because it's fun to think of which hole Thomas Friedman has gone to hide in to console himself.
It is, however, entirely fair to wonder what the protests can accomplish. The electoral arena is dry, but, as of now, the occupiers lack the sheer critical mass to enforce change by presenting a direct threat to the well being of the ruling class. So far, marches have numbered in the thousands; that will have to increase to the millions for something like that to be achieved. Perhaps the most we can hope for at this point is the old left idea of "raising consciousness;" if the occupation continues to preach its beautifully simple, easily understood message, the great inert mass of Americans may yet shed their skepticism for a revolution.
20 March 2011
Yet the president, with this brief set of remarks, has crafted something of an Obama Doctrine for military intervention: The United States will join in a multilateral fight for democracy and humanitarian aims when it is in the nation's interest and when the locals are involved and desire US participation. In short, the Anti-Bush Doctrine.I can't believe that a nice liberal like David Corn would tell me the reason the United States intervenes here but not there can be reduced to a factor of how much the budding humanitarian disaster affects our precious National Interest. Why, David, why? You were always so Serious and so Trustworthy. Why are you throwing in with Gnome Chompsky and the other hippies who see Western imperialist interests behind every military project?
Oh wait, he meant that approvingly? Oh dear, that's interesting indeed.
29 January 2011
The reason for this should be obvious. The government of Iran is an official Enemy of the State, while the Mubarak government in Egypt and, to a lesser extent, the Ben Ali government in Tunisia have both been important US allies in the region and received considerable aid from the American government. The Egyptian police and military are now largely supplied with US weapons; telling photographs from the Egypt rebellion show protesters holding up tear gas canisters and other ammunition with "Made in USA" stamped on them. These thorny issues, of course, can't be brought up in the mainstream press, because of the need to preserve the popular belief in the fantasy that the United States always and only supports "freedom and democracy" in the rest of the world, and would never, ever be on the side of a dictator. (Joe Biden, always good for a laugh, insists Mubarak is not a dictator, so I guess that settles that.)
One need not be Noam Chomsky to realize this is bullshit. Anyone with even a moderate interest in American foreign relations will shortly discover that our idealistic principles become fungible with only the slightest provocation. Indeed, the job of Serious foreign policy analysts is to explain to those people who become too curious for their own good why support for strongmen is necessary for important things like Stability! and National Interest! This is also bullshit, but mostly from a mere philosophical standpoint; it is at least closer to the government's actual decision-making process.
Why then, dear readers, are we subjected to the charade of the government and media's public broadcasts maintaining our holy, untainted crusader image when most of us have put aside similarly disprovable fantasies by the time we reach kindergarten? That's a question you'll have to answer for yourself.
07 December 2010
1) Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, Amazon; all private companies, all have joined the government's war on Wikileaks without any formal orders from said government. The tremendous power wielded by these corporations has made it more difficult for Wikileaks to receive funding despite the fact that the organization has never been charged or convicted of any crime. What they are doing is strictly vigilante justice, and it ought to worry anyone--regardless of their personal feelings about Wikileaks--who worries about excessive power of the government and the small private elite to unofficially prosecute class enemies.
Then there is the contradiction that seems to underlie much of the liberal tut-tutting about Wikileaks; which is that a) nothing in the leaks tells us anything we don't already know and b) it's dangerous and jeopardizes diplomacy somehow despite everything already being known. Justin of Americana has an interesting theory which is as good as anything I've heard to explain this (lots of other great posts there as well).
What wikileaks is debunking in its 'non-disclosure' disclosures, as the above esteemed members of the media call them, is the faith in the government's massive reservoir of complete information and wisdom. The leaks are revealing the belief that 'the authorities must know something we don't' is an absurd fantasy. In a perverse way, if the leaks truly contained bombshells of information that have were complete surprises and recast previously held opinions about government actions around the globe in a different light, then that would be less of an attack on the government's credibility. It turns out that government officials know about as much as the rest of us, often even less owing to the inherently blinding effects of power, and their pathological behavior is no more than it seems.Indeed. The surprising thing is how much we actually know about how the American empire works, and how little it matters because of the networks of pressures that exist to make that knowledge invisible to most of the public. Even Jon Stewart referenced this recently.
I think you're underestimating how cynical Americans are about our government already. We've engineered coups in Chile, Iran, Guatemala, etc. We sold arms to Iran and used the money to fund Central American revolutionaries. We sell weapons to our enemy's enemy, who then somehow becomes our enemy and forces us to defend ourselves from our own weapons. It takes a lot to impress us. You really should read up on the shit we already know about us.Yet most people probably don't know much about any of these things. Even though the facts aren't really disputed even by foreign policy professionals, the many, many excellent books on these topics from the Unserious are waived away as Trilateral Commission-esque conspiracy mongering in any public forum. It's the American Miracle! Why does the government need to suppress its dirty laundry when everyone knows that if you wish to maintain a good public face you'll ignore it? Are you a young journalist or academic who wants to write about your Unserious conclusions? Then forget about ever being published in the elite media or getting a comfortable think tank sinecure. Worried that donating to Wikileaks might make you a criminal even though the government has nothing but vague threats hanging over your head? Mission accomplished!
As you likely know, Julian Assange has been arrested in what must be a record for the most enthusiasm any international police force has ever displayed over a rape case. I endorse this post by Pink Scare for those who have mixed feelings about this. The charges against Assange are serious if true, though it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that they are being completely worked. The timing certainly is.
01 December 2010
I should back up for a minute. Liberal arguments about the necessity of centralized government are always marshalled in the defense of Reconstruction or civil rights legislation of the 1960s. But this is a case of constructing an argument around a positive conclusion and calling it a good argument. It isn't necessarily so. Cheering on federal troops for enforcing civil rights laws in Mississippi seems like a short stop on the liberal-humanitarian ladder from declaring that we must bomb the women of Afghanistan to liberate them.
Political entities are not immutable, they're just human creations. The Confederacy was created to defend slavery, of course, but what if the balance of power had been slightly tilted the other way? What if Northern states had been fed up at being bullied by the over-represented slave states and decided to take their toys and go home? Would that also have been "treasonous?" What if Vermont decided to secede? Is that also a stronghold of Bubba redneckism that has to be reigned in by the virtuous federal government? The argument, apparently, is that the more diverse the population governed, the more likely the government will have to recognize the rights of minorities to survive. I don't think that's convincing or that it's really borne out by history, and not just the most famous example but United States history as well.
On the flip side, of course, there's nothing inherently righteous about decentralization either. Many rural areas in the United States are ossified class societies effectively run as neofeudalist fiefdoms by a handful of dynastic landlords. The democratic legitimacy of a government has little to do with the number of people governed but the nature of the power represented by that government.
13 November 2010
So as the dust settled or the clouds lifted or the smoke cleared — whatever it was that happened in those first days after Crean arrived — it became abundantly clear that recruiting Cody Zeller would be important. Even as gawky sophomore, Zeller showed as much — if not more — promise than his brothers. He’d had to play them over and over in family games, after all. But this much was inevitable, too: he was the type of player that traditional IU fans wanted the team to be built around. He’s not flashy. He appreciates the fundamentals. He keeps it simple. He plays with gustoLook folks, what I mean to say is that he's white.
02 November 2010
24 October 2010
On the first issue, the chief strike against Robinson's argument is that the business elite, with a notable exception or two, really hasn't embraced the TP candidates very much. We all know the uneasiness is probably unwarranted, but nevertheless there's still a good bit of friction between the baggers and the Chamber of Commerce-types. In order for a fascist party to seize power, the elite has to feel it is sufficiently threatened by a popular movement from the left that its only option left is to empower the fascists. Robinson, being a good liberal, might imagine that the election of Obama represents such a movement, and it is possible that the potential empowerment of traditionally disillusioned segments of the population may have made the ears on a few plutocrats twitch, hence the emergence of the Tea Party as a precautionary measure. We know better than this, however; Obama has never been a threat himself, and has successfully corralled the energy of the popular movement surrounding him in 2008 and his dawdling has sent large portions of it back to the political abyss.
Secondly, if there is to be a successful authoritarian movement in the United States, it's not going to take the form of a classic, one-party dictatorship. Indeed, if there's one thing Americans learn from the cradle to the grave it's that "democracy" means "you get to vote every couple of years." Take that away and immediately everyone knows something fishy is up. And why would you bother with such a step? The elite already has everything it could possibly want now. Elections are contested between two political parties which are often indistinguishable, have nebulous policy aims, and regularly collude to keep pressing issues off the table. In the wake of one of these elections, the "will of the electorate" is evaluated, interpreted and presented back to it by media pundits who determine the mandate of the new government. The press itself vigilantly bars Unserious views from its pages and uncritically vomits government propaganda, all without any need for a minder. What more could you ask for?
This is the blueprint from which the next generation of totalitarianism will be built. A consumerist state, where "democracy" is not something that we make ourselves, but a world where politicians are produced and sold to us and we are only so delighted that we have such freedom to choose! Who needs to be a citizen when you can be a consumer? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a human hand swiping a credit card, forever.
23 October 2010
Millennials take a very different view of politics from older cohorts of Americans. For example, offered a choice between a government that offers higher taxes and more services, or fewer services and lower taxes, older Americans choose the lower-tax alternative.
Sixty-two percent of over 65s prefer the lower tax alternative, as do 58% of voters in the 50-64 group, and 56% of voters aged 30-49.
Under 30s prefer bigger government by a margin of 53-43.
Under 30s are more socially liberal too, and less nationalistic than over 30s.
This year's surge of Republican enthusiasm is a male phenomenon. The simplest explanation for McMahon's lack of female support is that female voters aren't the ones who want to replace Democrats with Republicans.Here is a paradox for you, friends. Young people, who face a lifetime of paying taxes ahead of them, are more likely to accept that tradeoff if it means increased spending on social programs. Old folks, who are heavily reliant on social spending, want to see lower taxes and Small Gummit. There is only one explanation for this that I can see. Old folks don't view Medicare and Social Security as government provisions; they view them as receiving their own money back from a private lockbox that's been kept by the government. They are only opposed to social spending that might make life easier for young people. Why? Because they want to see young people get screwed over. That's all.
In West Virginia, Republican John Raese leads Democrat Joe Manchin by 9 points among men but trails Manchin by 10 points among women. Time has Wisconsin Republican nominee Ron Johnson ahead of Russ Feingold by 15 points among men, but tied among women.
And in Washington state, where Democrat Patty Murray is running against Republican Dino Rossi, women favor Murray by 31 points, while men favor Rossi by 15. That's a 46-point gender gap—McMahon's gap is 27 points—with nobody making anybody bark like a dog.
If you want to explain American political behavior, you have to start with these two phenomena. Why do men hate women, and why do old people hate young people?
22 October 2010
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, AS REVEALED TO ST.GLENN, ST. SARAH, ST. MIKE, ST, JAMES, AND ST. BILL, THE APOSTLES
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
He sent forth his prophets to warn Israel about the righteous path and to write the Scriptures.
He sent His only Son to atone for the sins of the world.
For the next 1750 years, God rested.
Then God realized His work was not finished. Thus he brought forth his Kingdom on Earth, which was called America, through his many disciples including Judas who was called Thomas Paine. And through His Founding Fathers He created a paradise to be ruled through His servants the clergy.
God's new Kingdom mostly walked a righteous path, but were from time to time tempted by servants of the Lord's nemesis. Among these enemies was the New Deal, which was an abomination unto the Lord, and He sent forth His prophet Barry Goldwater.
But the Lord knew that, while He loved his Chosen People, they were not fully prepared to do the work He intended. They elected Jimmy Carter, and then the Black Muslim from Kenya, and bought tickets to Michael Moore movies. Their wickedness was a sore in the eyes of the Lord, and so He once again sent His Son down to bring them righteous teaching and correction.
SERMON IN THE MALL
Jesus procured a soft pretzel and, after revealing himself to the crowd, went to the top of the escalator in the food court where He taught them saying;
“Blessed are the rich in material wealth, for they own the Kingdom of earth.
Blessed are the war-makers, for they shall inherit the Earth's natural resources.
Blessed are the merciless, for they are real men of strong discipline.
Blessed are those who beg to be persecuted for their righteousness, for theirs is a permanent home on cable news.
Blessed are you who revile and persecute and falsely accuse others on my account. Your reward is great in the warm feeling it gives you to smash others under your heel, just like the prophets did before you.
You have heard that it was said “Do not resist an evildoer, but if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But I say to you, if someone strikes you on the left cheek, you are free to kick his ass, invade his country and set up a puppet government. You have also heard that it was said “If someone sues you and takes your coat, give to him your cloak also.” But I say to you, occupational safety regulations are the devil's handiwork. If the Lord had wanted steelworkers to have fingers, He would've given them new ones.
Do for others no more than what they do for you. This is the Platinum Rule. Keep a ledger if you lose track.”
Practice your piety before others so they may see you. When giving alms, do so as loudly and proudly as possible, so that the poor may know to whom they owe the privilege. Otherwise they may think basic human dignity is a right.
When you pray, do not be like those cowards who pray privately in the secrecy of their own homes. Pray as loudly as you can in public, preferably before graduations or sporting events. Always mentioned that you are likely to offend someone or get sued, because the Lord is a small Lord who can't survive the 9th Circuit Court. Then after praying run the ball for a three-yard gain, because the Lord knows that defense and the running game win championships.”
JESUS PRINCIPALLY REFUSES TO FEED THE FIVE THOUSAND
The next day Jesus taught an all-day seminar on sharing your faith at a megachurch in suburban Chicago. A snowstorm had knocked out power in much of the city, and the attendees had nothing to eat. Many stragglers from the street joined them as well. '
The Youth Pastor approached Jesus saying; “Lord, we have many hungry people, and all we have to eat are these five loaves of Wonder Bread and two Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Can you bless this food and create enough food for this multitude?”
But Jesus rebuked them saying “You naive simpletons! Do you not understand how the Kingdom of God works according to the laws of the market? I do not produce wealth only to see it distributed to those who are starving with no food. What motivation will I have to invest in new luxury cars or provide jobs for domestic servants if I just go around sharing with my fellow humans? Do not worry about feeding the hungry; instead convert them to Christianity, for soon they will starve and be with me in paradise. As the prophet said:
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die”
JESUS DOESN'T HEAL THE SICK FOR FREE
When Jesus was leaving the track after witnessing a stirring display of stock-car gladiatorial combat, a woman who had long suffered from hemophilia came near to Him and touched the belt loop of his jeans believing that Jesus had the power to heal her illness.
Jesus turned to her and, addressing the crowd, said “Truly I have met no one with any greater faith throughout the land. Unfortunately I also haven't met anyone with less health insurance. I say to you that the Lord your God does not give handouts, and being healthy is not a right but a privilege determined by your ability to pay.”
When they heard this, his disciples were moved, saying “But Lord, what about those who are saddled with medical bills they cannot pay?”
And Jesus answered them, “Those without health insurance must hold a community fundraiser with balloons, clowns and a bake sale. If they are deemed worthy in the sight of their friends and neighbors, then truly their sick shall be healed of their afflictions.”
HOW TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
When Jesus was wandering in the wilderness of Arizona, he was approached by two immigrants who asked him, “Master, how do we know if we will be allowed in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
And Jesus replied to them saying “When the Lord your God sits on the throne of judgment at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, he will look to those seated on his right hand and say 'come, enter my kingdom you who have blessed me. For when I was hungry, you picked my tomatoes for low wages, when I was thirsty, you carried me cold drinks on a tray, when I needed a scapegoat to explain social dysfunction, you went to prison for me, when I fondled your breasts in the office you didn't sue me, when I needed cheaper clothes you gladly gave up your job to a peasant in a third-world country with no labor regulations.”
And the inquisitors looked at Him saying “Lord, when did we do all of these things for you?”
Jesus replied “Truly, what you have done for the most of these, my servants on Earth, you have done it to me.”
THE LORD'S MESSAGE TO HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE
Jesus was in his office on a Thursday night calculating third-quarter profits when two journalists approached his desk saying;
“Lord, we know America is Your chosen country from the day you sent General Washington down Mount Sinai with the Constitution on two stone tablets, but we do not know how to measure the value of all other humans when compared to the elect. How many are we allowed to slay by aerial bombardment and remain holy?”
Then Jesus taught them saying, “Gentlemen, if English is good enough for Me, then it is good enough for you. Therefore, all English-speaking white people are equal to nine-tenths of one of you. Be careful of harming another of these brothers or sisters, because it may accidentally show up on the evening news. Especially if one of the sisters is blonde and attractive.”
The two journalists took studious notes as Jesus continued.
“White non-English speakers are secretly plotting against America in their gibberish tongues and should be watched carefully. However, most of them are too concerned with being lazy in their decadent welfare states to cause you any trouble. Brown People, encompassing the greatest mass of humanity are on the other hand an invaluable resource and can be used however you see fit, as their lives are essentially meaningless. Blow them up, use them for cheap labor, whatever you want. Occasionally try to convert a few of them to Christianity so it looks like you care about their needs, although in a strictly non-material way of course. If I had wanted them to be something other than dirt-poor and starving, then I would have seen to it.”
JESUS RECUSES HIMSELF FROM THE ALDURTERER'S TRIAL
Jesus was kicking back in the Orange County sun when three of his disciples came to him with a young woman in tow. Jesus said to them “Why are you bringing this woman to me?”
They replied, “Lord, we grabbed her coming out of the Planned Parenthood and she has admitted to having an abortion. Shall we post her picture on the internet and make sure everyone she sees knows that she is a whore?”
Jesus looked forward idly, stirred his drink absentmindedly for a few moments and then said finally;
“Look, isn't one of you going to cast the first stone? Gentlemen, the Son of Man is too busy being a wealth-producer to sit in judgment of every little thing. That's why I need people like you to go forth and do it for me.
I am the Subway, the Wal-Mart, and the MetLife. No one comes to the Father except through my appointed representatives on Earth. In my father's house there are many McMansions, which I am preparing for you once you make CEO or head pastor, or both. So I don't have the time or inclination to go rustling through everyone's private lives. That's your job.”
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT WEALTH
One day an unemployed recent graduate came up to Jesus while He was seated behind the church's table at a city job fair and said “Lord, what must I do to have eternal life? I have kept all the commandments to love my neighbor as myself, honor my parents, and not to kill.”
Jesus gave him a look of disdain and said “That's not important. In fact, if you had joined the military and gone to kill some infidels you would be sitting pretty right now. If you want to be saved, renounce all the government handouts you are getting and sign up for a real job washing shoes or something. Make sure to never join a union, always follow your boss's orders even when he is stone drunk and incoherent and then take the blame when he decides to change his mind later. And always, always vote to cut his taxes. I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a moocher and parasite like you to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
And the young man went away discouraged, for he had no possessions.
JESUS DOESN'T DIE FOR YOUR SINS, HE MAKES THE OTHER BASTARD DIE FOR HIS
After Jesus had tired of his careers as a hedge fund manager and financial adviser to megachurches, he settled on a career in the military where he quickly proved his value as an expert in overthrowing governments who transgressed against God's holy will and ushering many men, women and children into the afterlife. One day He was summoned by the representatives to give his testimony before Congress.
While being questioned Jesus said to them “All who live by the cruise missile shall continue to live by the cruise missile, because the other suckers have already been bombed back to the Stone Age.
Truthfully I say to you, every day you must give an offering of thanks to the American military, for through them you have received your salvation; the gift of freedom to work 80 hours a week for minimum wage, to not be able to pay the rent, heating bills, or give your family three meals a day. The freedom to choose your elected representative every couple of years between two candidates with nebulous, indistinguishable views who have been bought and sold several times over by the wealthy. The freedom to be told who you can marry or whether your religion is acceptable, and the freedom to sell your labor and become dependent on a boss for the rest of your life. All of these things have been freely given to you by the sacrifice of a few heavily armed men and millions of impoverished people around the world.”
JESUS GIVES HIS DISCIPLES THE HOLY INVISIBLE HAND
Finally Jesus elected to retire to a nice seaside resort town to further his wind-surfing habit. One day on the 15th fairway he gave a final message to his disciples. “All power and authority on Earth I've given to you, but you already know that. Go forth and subjugate all the inferior nations of the world, baptizing them in the name of the Sport Utility Vehicle, the Holy Hand Grenade, and the Holy Invisible Hand of the Free Market, teaching them to obey everything you tell them if they want to stay in one piece.”
“Now, watch this drive.”
21 October 2010
Let us not be too hasty to judge Mr. Dennison, dear readers, because we can't know his particular circumstances. Instead, let us analyze this sentiment as it is most assuredly pronounced within the same short sequence of breath by those who are deeply, deeply concerned with burdening their children and grandchildren with a crippling national deficit. Yes, brothers and sisters, thanks to Tea Partyism not only will our children be saved from functioning roads, hospitals and libraries, they will not have to worry about having a habitable biosphere either. Because, children, the Lord did not give the earth to you, he gave it to us!
“Climate change is real, and man is causing it,” Mr. Hill said, echoing most climate scientists. “That is indisputable. And we have to do something about it.”
A rain of boos showered Mr. Hill, including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.
“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”
Oh well, not like it was going to last anyway.
19 October 2010
The premise of Jon Stewart’s “Million Moderate March” is vacuous. There’s no inherent virtue in political “moderation.” The “moderates” weren’t the ones who were right about whether we should have marched into Iraq; it was the so-called extremist peaceniks who had it right from the start. The “moderates” aren’t the ones who are right about the priority we should be giving to the threat of global climate change; again, the people who are correct on this issue are labelled as “extremists.” And contrary to Jon Stewart’s foolish assertion, while it may be “moderate” to reject charges that the Bush Administration committed war crimes, it’s also wrong. Because in fact they committed war crimes. (Nor are the current administration’s hands much cleaner on this score, and those who point this out continue to be marginalized.)I certainly love The Daily Show; it's the finest mainstream outlet for ridiculing the American political scene out there. But Stewart seems to have let the news clippings about his great political influence among the youth go to his head. The"Rally to Restore Sanity" is based around the idea that he is the lone voice of rationality crying out in the wilderness, and that our political problems could be hashed out if everyone put away their signs and let the nice sensible people sit down and have a crack at governing. Which makes him far from iconoclast he apparently fancies himself to be. Rather, he is taking up the mantle of every wannabe High Broderist pundit in the mainstream press; oh, if only we could come together, hold hands, and agree to a solution that both Republicans and Republicans can agree on!
Liberals who are looking to get some yuks at the expense of Tea Party yokels should take heed. As should be clear from the announcement video, the rally is steeped in the sort of conventionally equivalence that says that if you must find fault with a conservative, you have to find several hippies to punch to make up for it. If you marched against the Iraq war, in favor of LGBT or immigrant rights or workplace safety or anything else, this is not the rally for you. It is, by Stewart's own definition, a rally for people who don't go to rallies. In fact, given that Stewart's audience is mostly comprised of hip liberals like you, you are precisely the target audience for this message. "Leave us alone" the political class cries, "to do the Sensible Moderate work of the American people!" Is it any surprise that the rally is being organized by a couple of ex-Clintonite flacks and has been enthusiastically endorsed by celebrity peddlers of wishy-washy nothingism such as Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington?
Finally, blaming "extremists" for the present condition of the American political climate is a cruel joke. Most of the present crises facing us, from the wars to the financial and climate disasters and the complete ownership of the legislative process by business interests, have been fully approved abetted by a bipartisan consensus that the Broderists insist they are always seeking. The problem with the likes of Glenn Beck is that he is a raving hack and dishonest huckster, not that he is an extreme political outsider. Vile as he is, neither he nor his cohort have as of yet any actual political power to affect any of these problems for better or worse. People who consider themselves to the left of the center-right wing of the Democratic Party should be careful about tossing in with the same folks who would gladly kick them to the curb shortly after they finish making fun of the bad spelling at a Tea Party rally.
What we need are more political extremists willing to put a few applecarts upside down in the name of dissent, not to have them herded like docile cattle to be told that the Sensible, Serious people have everything under control.
27 August 2010
""Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith -- and I don't care what it is."-Dwight Eisenhower
There are plenty of interesting and baffling things about Glenn Beck. Here is another. Glenn Beck is a Mormon. (Even stranger, apparently a convert.) You may not consider that unusual until you consider that Mormons used to be considered vile heretics by the same sort of evangelical Christians which Beck spends a great deal of time and effort wooing and hobnobbing.
Beck in this way is in the same boat as soon-to-be perennial presidential candidate Mitt Romney. You may recall that Fellow Mormon Romney gave a much-hyped speech during the 2008 primaries for just this purpose, to reassure other religious conservatives that the contents of any theological debate are moot in comparison to the broader shared experience of being pious about something and conservative (I stole the Eisenhower quote from this slacktivist post on the speech. Fred has a couple others as well.)
It's not just Mormons, however. The general trend among conservative public figures of any sort, and the particular stock in trade of the Beck/Palin populist variety, is to talk vaguely about "values" and "faith" while only very rarely making any specific comment on creeds or doctrines. The enemies are no longer people of the wrong religion (with the exception for the moment of Muslims until the Middle East runs out of natural resources), it's people of no faith, or at least people who don't believe faith should interfere with the political process. It's oddly ecumenical for people who would otherwise regard ecumenism as a dangerously relativistic liberal subversion. These are people (various Protestant sects vs. each other and Catholics, Christians vs. Jews etc.) who have historically been at each others' throats over doctrinal minutiae, who adhere to strict scriptural literalism, and regard the tiniest heresy as tempting damnation. Why are they suddenly able to handwave all of these differences and get together in a friendly drum circle?
It's because they do not believe in any creed so much as the ecumenical creed of conservatism. They have discovered that their shared interests--preservation of sexual/gender hierarchies, etc--and a shared duty to act as a barrier between the elite and the working class trumps any temporary concern they might have about eternity and damnation and all the rest. So shockingly, religious conservatives are not sincere in their beliefs. Hoocoodanode?