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June 05, 2008

Now We're Talking

WARNING: THIS IS A LONG, BORING POST! For those readers who do not want serious political discourse on what is usually a blog about aluminum foil underpants and my robot plans, I would suggest skipping this post. For those of you with nothing better to do, proceed.

In a couple recent posts, I have outed myself as a political observer. I don’t lay claim to any special insights or knowledge about politics, and what little I do know is self-taught. Were I to go to college again, I might rethink the following decision: “theater major.”

Anyway, my last post was about Barack Obama, and I received some great comments about it. I decided to write a follow-up responding to one of them because I think it’s illustrative of a kind of “woe is me, nothing ever changes” mentality that so many people have. I also think the author, Courtney Smith, raises some legitimate points and I would like to give my take.

To reiterate my warning: what follows might not be funny in any way, shape, or form, although I will try to include at least one reference to golf shirts just to keep things spicy.

Courtney Smith writes:

As an actual "pinky leftie," I find it unfortunate that you conflate the left, liberalism and the Democratic Party. The DP has no formal platform, like almost every political party in history. It really exists to check the unbridled disregard for the working class and most of the people in the world that is the Republican Party. As the "b-team" of the ruling class, they swoop in to put a humane sheen on the exact same policies and co-opt social movements in order to dilute and kill them.

This is a common argument, and appears to be the thesis for her posting: if you look closely, there is no substantive difference between the GOP and the Dems. It is a tempting argument to make because it reinforces the perception that our politicians are a bunch of servile hacks bought and paid for by corporate overlords secretly running our nation from an underground bunker on Cape Cod. To say the DP has “no formal platform” is not true. For those of you interested in reading the 2004 Platform, it can be found here. To say that the Democrats are a more disparate party than the Republicans, however, is almost certainly true. The GOP obviously largely caters to the wealthy, whereas the Democrats end up attracting a grab bag of pretty much everybody else. That’s why union members and transsexuals are typically both Democrats. In other words, the Republicans represent the ruling class and the Democrats represent everybody else. Of course there aren’t enough wealthy people proportionally to allow the GOP to survive, which is why they’ve entered into a hypocritical alliance with the Christian right and social conservatives.

To say that the Dems are “’b-team of the ruling class” is simplistic and contradicts your own statement that they “exist to check the unbridled disregard for the working class and most of the people in the world that is the Republican Party.” You can’t argue it both ways: either they are subservient to the ruling class or they are working against the ruling class. And to say they “swoop in to put a humane sheen on the exact same policies and co-opt social movements in order to dilute and kill them” is also specious. (I had to look up “specious.”)

Which social movements are you talking about? What have they diluted and killed? It seems to me that the great social movements of the past century (women’s rights, Civil Rights, social security, the environment, etc) have all been championed by Democrats.

Only political pressure from social movements can force politicians of either party to do something good and the lack of such things (like the last 35 years) allows them to slide to the right, which they have done almost unabated. Not to mention the fact that the gains of the 1960s are being attacked every day.

This is exactly the point of American democracy: social movements should be grassroots up movements that force politicians to pay attention. That’s what’s so great about this country – that such movements can even exist. When you say there has been “a lack” of such things, I assume you mean social movements. If that’s the case, it is not the fault of the politicians. It is the fault of the people who elect them. If there is something you believe in, something substantive that you want to see affected, by all means, go out and get involved. Start your own social movement. If enough people agree with you, I have no doubt that the politicos will sit and up take notice.

Further, to say that the Dems have slid to the right since the 60s isn’t saying much. It would have been hard to go much further to the left. Political will in this country has always swung back and forth like a pendulum. As it happens, the last ten years have been particularly conservative, but I sense momentum shifting back to the progressive side of things. But I don’t think the parties drive these shifts. I think they are driven by societal attitudes.

Also, which “gains of the 1960s” are you talking about that are being attacked? It is precisely because of the gains of the 60’s that somebody like Barack Obama is able to be the nominee of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party is very conservative. Only by dwelling on the details of certain legislation and refusing to see the big picture can anyone really say that the GOP and DP are that different, when it comes to how their rule effects the vast majority of the earth's population.

Conservative and centrist are two different things, and neither applies to the Dems as a whole. There are some very left-leaning Dems, some right-leaning Dems and a whole mess in between. The Dems are considerably less monolithic than the current GOP, most of who seem to be cut from the same cloth (which is, oddly enough, the same cloth we use to make golf shirts). Jim Webb, Charles Rangel, and Nancy Pelosi could not co-exist in the Republican Party: they can as Democrats. As far as your point that “only by dwelling on the details of certain legislation…” can we see the difference is also untrue, but may I remind you that God I in the details. It is the legislative details that keep our water clean, our cities safe, and our elderly fed. Details are what politics are all about.

Actually, everyone on the planet except Americans should elect our President.

What? You would have Rhodesia elect our President?

Just the fact that we have only two parties, that in all essence are almost indistinguishable on the biggest issues, shows how non-existent actual democracy is in this country.

Let’s go down the list of the “biggest issues.” Then tell me the parties are indistinguishable.

• Iraq
• The economy
• The environment
• Taxation
• I’ll lump “social issues” as one issue.

Do you honestly believe there is no difference between the two parties on the above issues? And what does it mean to say that there is no “actual democracy” in this country? How would you define “actual democracy” anyway? A show of hands in the Forum? Do you actually want “actual democracy,” in which the citizens decide every issue that comes before them? Do you want your neighbors deciding how to implement tariffs on Chinese imports? (I don’t even know what I mean when I say “tariffs on Chinese imports, which is why I, for one, don’t want “actual democracy.”) Not me. I want representative democracy, which is what we have.

Pulling a lever once every two years for one of two millionaires is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, but people's minds are clouded by fear of apocalypse and concentrating only on short-term gains.

Again, this is just familiar classist rhetoric. Should we not vote for somebody because he or she is wealthy? Up until the success of his books, Barack Obama wasn’t wealthy. Bill Clinton wasn’t wealthy until after he left office. Being wealthy is irrelevant to their political ideas. If anything, I’m more likely to trust somebody who was able to succeed in the outside world before entering public service because they are less prone to the temptations of special interests. Mike Bloomberg in New York is a perfect example. Billionaire and Super Mayor (which rhymes).

I agree with you that the GOP has been playing the apocalypse card early and often for years now and it’s tiresome, but fear is a motivator in politics and a pretty good one. If we are afraid we tend to take action. As far as short-term gains, this reeks of the classism you are railing against. Ask somebody who is making 35 or 40k a year about their chief concerns in this election. My guess is their responses will have a lot to do with “short-term gains” like paying their mortgage and feeding their kids.

There's a reason John Kerry denied he was a liberal every time he was called one, that's because he's pro-war, pro-Big Business, anti-abortion and anti-gay.

I don’t want to bother refuting this because, at this point, John Kerry is irrelevant (no offense, John – I still like your hair.)

Democrats just let people think they have principles. In the rest of the industrialized world and must of the developing world, our electoral system is seen for the sham it is.

What are you basing this conclusion on? Do you have some evidence that “the rest of the industrialized” they think our electoral system is a sham? What about the non-industrialized world? Do they like our system any better?

But rather than thinking, Hmm, if voting doesn't do anything, what else is there?

Okay, I’ll bite – what else is there?

People think with the pit in their stomach and decide that catastrophe awaits she who doesn't vote for a Democrat. This argument, lesser evilism, is used every four years, without fail. It's a recipe for inaction.

The people who use this argument are people like you. Certainly the politicians aren’t out there going, “Vote for me because I’m the lesser of two evils.” The people who feel this way are the ones wallowing in inaction because they don’t believe that they can make a change. I don’t believe this.

As long as people pin their hopes on people who will break every promise they make, social movements and people power is no threat to either party.

I just want to point out that you are about to get into buzz words in your next point, so I would like to point out that “social movements” and “people power” are exactly the kind of vaporous and meaningless buzz words that you are about to belittle.

The reason Obama uses words like "hope" and "change" is because he wants to get elected. Notice, however, that these words are meaningless buzzwords used to appeal to people of a liberal persuasion. Liberalism, by the way, is essentially the idea that gradual reform is the answer to real freedom and gain. Activists hate election season because it's the only time in this country when everyone is talking about politics but not saying ANYTHING because there is no debate, there are no issues and the media does it's job by making us all feel so isolated and powerless that we won't use our feet and bodies to vote. Obama will not end the war, he said as much to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (one of the only journalists who asks actual questions) [http://www.democracynow.org/2008/6/2/blackwater_jeremy_scahill_on].

You are absolutely right that Obama is using words like “hope” and “change” to get elected. Why is that? My guess is because people want hope and change. Are they meaningless buzzwords? Yes and no. If you look at any recent poll about Americans feelings about the state of their country, they are all pretty negative. An April 3, 2008 CBS poll reports that “81% of those polled say that the country is on the wrong track.” So if a politician is able to make people believe that he or she can turn things around, is that a bad thing? Hope, while nebulous, is critical. We are a hopeful, optimistic nation. That’s who we are. I would much rather have a candidate selling hope than hopelessness. I prefer change to stagnation. At the moment the country is stagnating, so when Obama comes around and promises change, I believe him. Now, I freely admit he is vague about what change he is actually going to implement. As the general election nears, I fully expect him to roll out specific policy initiatives. And then we can have another debate about the quality of those ideas. From what I’ve heard so far, I think he’s pretty good across the board.

As far as liberalism goes, I don’t know where you’re getting your definition, so I will just take it at face value. You seem to be complaining that you have no “real freedom,” or at least not enough of it. What are you unable to do in this country that you wish you could do? What freedoms are you lacking? And when you say activists bemoan the lack of debate, I have to question what you’re talking about. I’ve heard a lot of debate about Iraq, health care, mortgages, the economy, Iran, etc. What other issues do you feel you’re not hearing about? You’ve expended a lot of words to this point talking about “social movements” and “Issues,” but you haven’t been specific about a single one.

And to say the media “does its job by making us all feel so isolated and powerless that we won’t…vote” seems like the height of cynicism to me. Are you really saying that the media’s job is to make us feel isolated and powerless? That there is some secret cabal of industrialists telling journalists to crank out psy-ops pieces that depress the spirit? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I think the media in general, while occasionally too compliant, does want to report the stories of the day, and with the explosion of the internet, there is certainly no lack of information for those seeking to find it.

Our expectations are so low, we will elect people like Bill Clinton twice. If one takes a moment to examine his record, he is shown to be the contemptuous war criminal that he is. He used the military more times than Carter, Reagan and Bush I combined.

Which use of military force do you object to? Stopping the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia? Sending a missile into Sudan to kill Osama Bin Laden? How is he a war criminal?

He chipped away at abortion rights, he dismantled welfare - throwing thousands of poor and often Black women onto the streets, he expanded the criminal justice system so that now we have 2.2 million people behind bars - which even in net terms is the largest prison pop. on earth and outrageous per capita and he bombed a whole bunch of different brown people, including Palestinians - vicariously through making sure Israel (which is not a democracy in any real sense, it's more of a lap dog/attack dog of the US that has worked to PREVENT Arab nationalism and real democracy that would threaten the US's "interests" [those of the ruling class]) gets more "aid" than any other country. Clinton bombed Iraq every week while presiding over the most murderous and harsh economic sanctions in world history.

I’m not going to debate the domestic stuff for now because I agree with some of it and disagree with some of it, but the Israel stuff is a problem for me. Yes I am Jewish, so I am probably biased on this point, but I guess my question to you is: what should Israel do? When suicide bombers continually blow themselves up your country, what is the proper response? They’ve tried peace treaties – they haven’t worked. They’ve offered up the Gaza Strip. Arafat said no. They’ve tried military force – it hasn’t worked. What are they supposed to do?

You need a lot more than your word to back up your assertion that Israel has prevented Arab nationalism. Are you saying that were it not for Israel, the Middle East would be a shiny, happy beacon of democracy and free love? Because I have a hard time swallowing that line.

Are you honestly asserting that Israel is America’s means of preventing “real democracy” in the Middle East? I have refrained from using curse words up to this point, but I have to say: bullshit. My belief is that America desperately wants a democratic, stable Middle East because that would serve our interests far better than the snake pit that exists today. Further, I believe that the real reason we invaded Iraq was to make that democracy happen.

And Clinton did not bomb Iraq every week. Maybe every ten days.

As people have no access to any ideas left of the Democratic Party, I can't blame people for holding them. The feelings come from the right place, but the corporate media is probably the most effective misinformation system in the world. Some former Soviet citizens have said that at least they didn't believe anything the press or government said, whereas Americans do. If the problem were Bush, we could all sit back and wait it out. The New York Times (even before neoliberalism) has been on the wrong side of every issue possible : including calling the Nazi Olympics "magnificent." I shit you not. Make no mistake, I find you very funny and clever. I just feel a responsibility to put a view out there that is held by a lot of the working people who don't vote because they KNOW that neither party has their interests in mind.

First of all, thanks for finding me funny and clever. Second, thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy and thoughtful response to my blog about Obama. Third, if you want to affect positive change for working people in this country, not voting is not the answer. It’s defeatist and only ensures that the change you are looking for will never come. Politicians, as you know, respond to the people who vote for them, not to the people who ignore them. Like anybody else, their self-interest is of paramount important. So, if you want them to listen to you, try talking to them. Write letters. Organize. Make yourself heard. Sitting back and complaining that nothing ever changes doesn’t change anything. Be the change you want to make. This country is not perfect. Our political system is not perfect (far from it), but to use this old chestnut from Winston Churchill:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Finally, if you still think all politicians are the same, and that the distinctions between parties are meaningless, I would ask you to answer this question:

Would the country be in the same place today if Al Gore had won the Presidency in 2000?

(And please don’t respond with all the smart-alecky “he did win!” responses.)

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Susanna

Luckily, I had nothing better to do so I went ahead and read the entire post.

I think it's fantastic that you stand your ground on issues you feel strongly about.

Therese

I've been watching events unfold from across the pond with great interest. What happens in the US directly affects us in England. We've had a lot of coverage in the media, but it's fantastic to get this kind of debate from someone who must actual live with the decisions being made.

Therese

Oops, I meant 'must actually live'. It's late, my typing skills are diminished.

Summer Anne

This is a perfectly articulated encapsulation of what I've been trying to tell my 'socialist' friends for years. Thank you! I'm going to make copies and carry them around with me. About to blog about it. You're the best, Michael Ian Black! The best!

Reen

HOT. Big words. Political debate. Good God.

I read it all like the hungry nymph that I am. I agree, 100%. Except with this somewhat unimportant factor - are you sure Courtney is a female? I googled the name and a there is a male Courtney Smith who is a Political Science Professory type dude, thought it could be him as well...?

So, in addition to your many talents, you can, obviously, hold your own on a Daily Show/Colberish type program. This needs to happen.

I thank you for taking the time to further clarify your stance. I shall read this again in a less excited state and perhaps come up with a coherent and semi-intelligent response that does not involve me having to powder my temporarily rashy bosom.

Alex

First I must say that I had an enjoyable time reading this.

I find it amazing that two politically "liberal" people have such contrasting attitudes and opinions when it comes to politics and specifically Democrats.

Although I would like to leave a long comment adding my two cents to each issue discussed, I think it's important to point out that each subject touched by the discussion is well represented by both sides which is the essence of democracy. One side of the argument may be more extreme than the other (in this case, I found both sides of the arguments a little extreme) but it is that happy balance in the center of a debate that is the more realistic democracy; and it is that realistic democracy that I think Obama represents.

As an outsider looking in at America and it's politics, I find that America and it's people are doing a fantastic job at the finicky ideal that is Democracy (seriously (I hate typing, as it could take on the form of sarcasm) I am not being sarcastic). Although I think America should perfect it's own democratic process's and ideals before imposing them on other countries, the current presidential election seems to be a shining example of what democracy is all about.

And I guess I did leave a long comment. However it is only to do justice to the thought-provoking (and entertaining... heheheh... golf shirts) blog of Mr. Black.

alex

Courtney

Firstly, I'm a revolutionary Marxist activist (a lot to explain) or just radical or revolutionary (or progressive+). I do not sit back. Those who believe they must only pull a lever several times a decade are the ones sitting back. It's a shame that talking about politics is a matter of manners here. I have an Indian professor who told me she is so frustrated because in India when there's a speech or something important, the buses and everywhere are BUZZING. If people discussed things, we would all have a better sense of what's up.

I have gotten this response before. For some reason, you either must buy into the legimacy of electoral politics OR you must be a pessimist and a defeatist. Personally, I believe it is much more depressing to believe that this is as good as it gets and that's it's truly representative. If the Democrats were going to change anything, they would de-fund the war and call for immediate, [or if that word is too scary] very rapid withdrawal of all troops (and contractors) from Iraq. Bush would veto, but everyone realizes it's a disaster and it could be overriden. It's only a matter of containing the disaster and finding out how to maintain our grasp on that geopolitically essential region to imperial domination. We deserve better than the electoral college and super-delegates - both of which are designed to prevent popular control.

"It is a tempting argument to make because it reinforces the perception that our politicians are a bunch of servile hacks bought and paid for by corporate overlords secretly running our nation from an underground bunker on Cape Cod."

Acknowledging the centrality and influence of economic power is not equivalent to conspiracy theory. Obama would not be where he is now, at such a level in our government, without conceding any of his principles and values that would cause trouble. He has a checkered past, but he used to go to pro-Palestian events and was a corporate lawyer, he said he was against the war from the beginning but keeps funding it. When electoral politics is a business and journalism is too, what else does one expect? I ask you to look to any other country in the world to see that the parameters of political debate in this country are so narrow, that people arrange their own expectations around them. If Democrat=Left and Republican=Right, than we surely need a new spectrum. On the whole spectrum, from Fascism to Anarchism, all of our elected representatives are somewhere in the middle. People don't know much about politics because it's either made so dull that it would be silly to pay attention, it's preoccupied with inheritance taxes rather than wage increases or people don't have time because they're working constantly and still want some time to be themselves and relax everyday. If we had genuine democracy, the Iraq war would have ended the minute 2/3 of people were against it - we would have had a referendum. If we had genuine democracy, a similar margin could force a politican out of office that was not doing what he promised. Immediate recall is one of the least thinkable principles of socialist (meaning after a working class revolution, which spreads throughout the world and doesn't leave a country like Russia out in the cold, poised to collapse in on itself) democracy is that representatives make the same wage as everyone else and if a majority feels they are being betrayed by their leaders, they can remove them. This means that political oppurtunism doesn't even make sense.

"In other words, the Republicans represent the ruling class and the Democrats represent everybody else."

What proof do you have of this? If you look at corporate donations, many smart corporations have switched to supporting Dems to guarantee they will bet on the winning horse, although, the REALLY smart ones bet on both. These corporations are given so many tax breaks and giveaways and won't pay their workers enough to get health care or own homes or get out of debt, that they have unthinkable amounts of money to throw around. They very reasonably (in capitalist logic) give such substantial donations that whoever gets into office gives them tax breaks and giveaways! It's a cruel cycle.

"To say that the Dems are “’b-team of the ruling class” is simplistic and contradicts your own statement that they “exist to check the unbridled disregard for the working class and most of the people in the world that is the Republican Party.” "

The key word is UNBRIDLED. Republicans will practically say, "Fuck poor people" and "Fuck international cooperation." Democrats won't. They will say absurd, racist and fucked up things like the Iraqis need to pay for what we destroyed and proceed to kill, maim and repress themselves in our place. To claim that one is a party of capitalism and the other is not is to ignore the great amount of continuity between Whigs and Republicans and Democrats throughout the history of the country. "The candidates of the two great parties have accepted their nominations, understandingly and distinctly. And these nominations have not been more distinctly and understandingly accepted than have the platforms; both came from the same bodies, and were presented at the same time, and accepted at the same time. There can be no mistake about it. " -Frederick Douglass
(unfortunately, this tag team dynamic is older than the Democratic party itself)


"Which social movements are you talking about? What have they diluted and killed? It seems to me that the great social movements of the past century (women’s rights, Civil Rights, social security, the environment, etc) have all been championed by Democrats."

"Championed" is wishful thinking. Dems are a capitalist party. They want votes but they wouldn't get the corporate funding needed to be a "legitimate" candidate if they didn't serve corporate interests. So, they pay lip service to movements but ALWAYS make sure they steer movements into the Party fold. For example, our anti-war movement at the moment is shit. It is not independent and so people will make these unfounded and idealistic demands that we "wait and see" and not "rock the boat." NOW didn't call a single protest during Clinton's administration. Gay rights organizations stayed silent when Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Act, Don't Tell. Anti-war activists also did little during his "humanitarian interventions." If you put trained killers into a country and give them free reign, nothing good will come of it. Just look at Kosovo or Somalia. I wish to god that campaign promises weren't meaningless, but they're the ones who sign the laws and send the troops, not me.

Did you just say "classism"? These people don't HAPPEN to be wealthy, they are NECESSARILY WEALTHY. Why do you think Kucinich and Nader can't get in debates? It's because laws to get on ballots and the debates require a certain amount of funds that excludes regular people from running. Classism is a concept that I've never understood. If the government serves the interests of capital and capital makes sure there is a small group of owners and a vast group of workers, classism against rich people is the least we can have. We should be contemptuous of them. Hillary doesn't care about women or working people. And if she does, as a politican, she can't act on those things. Just like Obama, a minority politician in a high office must sell out the rest of their brothers and sisters in order to be allowed to kick it with the reps of the bosses.

"And when you say activists bemoan the lack of debate, I have to question what you’re talking about."

I had to step back and see if you actually wrote this. This is a seriously wishful and deluded statement. Debating how we are going to continue the occupation does not count as debate. Debating whether abortion is "tragic" or wrong is not a debate. Debating whether the super rich ought to be given some more money or a lot more money is not a debate. Up until the 70s, the wealth distribution in this country was not like it is today. Literally, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poor - here and everywhere. When most of the country is against the war and yet no one will come out as solidly anti-war and NO ONE (including Obama) will present immediate withdrawal - it has nothing to do with "electability." Public opinion IS anti-war, but Democrats are not. Nixon didn't leave Vietnam because he was anti-war. He left because the military was falling apart, the Vietnamese continued to resist and the anti-war movement made it necessary. He established the environmental protection agency to drive a wedge in the AW movement (believing that some environmentalist would give up and go home). Not to mention he designed the law & order/War on Crime talk by saying "we need a system that acknowledging that the problem is with the Blacks, without appearing to." Poor blacks standing up for their rights is just about the scariest thing in the world. All of that crime junk is coded, it's all racist hysteria.

Well, the Israel thing is actually only an issue in this country. The rest of the world, including dozens of UN resolutions blocked by the US, recognizes that Israel is illegally taking land. A democracy does not STARVE indigenous people. It doesn't ghettoize its minority citizens and it doesn't stipulate possessing one ethnicity (ex. "Law of Return" - anyone whose mother's vagina was Jewish can become a citizen immediately, but "Right of Return" is denied to those whose grandparents built this or that house or planted this or that grove). There cannot be an all Christian democracy or an all Muslim democracy or an all Jewish democracy. Without the help of anti-semites, like Churchill and the backing of imperial powers, Israel couldn't exist. Every one of these, "But the Palestinians refused to....." is totally backwards and confuses timelines. If the US government gave two shits about Jews, they wouldn't have turned refugees back, the wouldn't ignore their plight and they would have accepted them en masse after the war. Rather than accept them into their country, the British decided to "let" them have another country, which it had no right to give to someone else.

Both Jews and Palestinians ought to be able to live on that land, with equal rights and human dignity. But giving Jews special roads, bulldozing Palestinian olive groves (the tree of peace, ironically) and houses and only offering UNACCEPTABLE offers is no recipe for peace. If Israel wanted peace, it would have it immediately. But it refuses to give up any territory. And 60 years since the Nakhba has led to generations of Palestinian who see no hope because if Palestinians demonstrate or protest, they are repressed. Palestinians have no rights. And why? Because they EXIST. Sharon said "Palestians don't exist." Not all Zionists are that brash and that racist and that committed to outright ethnic cleansing, but Zionism is a recipe for war and inequality. Zionism uses Judaism as an excuse and abuses the concept of anti-Semitism (effectively confusing what it means and leaving the door open for actual anti-Semitism to go about its business), as Zionism is a political movement. One cannot quote the Bible and say that that justifies displacing and collectively punishing millions of people because they live somewhere. One Jewish woman, who fought in 1948 said they were taught in school 5 days out of 6 from the Bible as if it were non-fiction. Believe what you want, but you can't use a religion book that has been changed hundreds of times as some transhistorical justification for being a colonial settler state.

"When suicide bombers continually blow themselves up your country, what is the proper response?"

It's a sad fact that the US media is actually less critical of Israeli policies than the Israeli media! Our media (owned by several men and shareholded by a much larger number) only present things like suicide bombing because our media is about ratings and entertainment. When a qassam rocket actually hits someone (which is rare because Palestinians don't have American made weapons), it's reported as more evil and wrong than systematized state terror. I don't remember the actual number, but a little while back an Israeli was killed by such a rocket and I condemn suicide bombing, they didn't mention that it had been some two years since that had happened, while during the same period, Israelis had killed hundreds of Palestinians. The ratio of deaths in the Lebanon debacle was 1 Israeli to every 100 Lebanese. Similar to the ~1.2 million Iraqis: ~4000 American deaths.

I want people to know things so they can make educated and logical opinions. But if you have seen only these events, people naturally (and because they are human and have feelings) feel with the Israelis. I don't want Israelis to die. But the media presents Israeli life as intrinsically more important than Palestian life. If the media bothered to report Palestinian deaths as carefully as Israeli deaths and didn't sensationalize suicide bombings and show them as more sinister than coordinated military action with US weapons (like the IDF does), then Americans would no doubt be critical of Israel instead of single-minded for everything it does (no state, not a socialist state or union or anything should be defended no matter what it does). The IMPROPER response is to continue to terrorize a population that is devasted on par with Iraqis. Do you realize that just for being Palestinian and refusing to live in a refugee camp in another country, you can be subject to the whim of any Israeli soldier at check points? People die and give birth and can't work and burn in the sun while 19 year old kids raised on the idea that Palestinians are animals play around with people. And they build more check points constantly. It's a prison. Gaza and West Bank are open-air prisons and nothing can justify that. "Law and order" policies that only lead to repression don't curb crime. The cause of suicide bombings and children throwing stones at IDF personell is that they have no voice. I'm not a fan of Hamas, but I'm a fan of democracy and if the Palestinians elected Hamas, it's no one's right (least of all the US's) to punish them for it.

"Are you saying that were it not for Israel, the Middle East would be a shiny, happy beacon of democracy and free love?"

What I'm saying is that Iraqis and Iranians are known for organizing powerful social movements. Arab nationalism is a threat to making sure that the richest countries have access to and have their hand on the spiget (and thus can set the price, etc) of the Arab world's oil and natural gas reserves. If the Arabs all got together and decided that it's their oil, the US and the other industrialized nations would be fucked. A fine analogy is if the slaves in the US led a successful revolt - this would ruin the whole PLAN. Haiti is poor because it's been punished for having a democratic revoltion made by Blacks. The US has prevented democracy. If Jews had really been so interested in going to Palestine before they got a paid for trip there (without any offers for sanctuary), they could have lived there. Arab animosity is a result of the fact that Israel has been at war with all its neighbors to show they're not to be fucked with.

"Further, I believe that the real reason we invaded Iraq was to make that democracy happen."

For serious? If we wanted Saddam gone, Bush I might have not had the US (during the Gulf War) quash the uprising that would have toppled him. I want democracy everywhere, but the US doesn't. If every country on earth took the example from Latin America, than the sources of imperial power - unfettered access to resources, ability to block any UN resolution and being the only power that has the military might to actual enforce UN resolutions, control of the IMF, World Bank and WTO - would no longer be accessible. Although colonialism has ended in a formal sense, these economic instutions have continued it. It's so infuriating that an American (because the US gets to name the President of the World Bank, I think, I might be mixing them up) can say to all poor countries (that have been responsible for rich nations becoming rich - slaves, resources) that in order to get loans that they desperately need, they MUST buy from certain multinationals, cut social programs, keep or become a cash crop economy - which means they can't be self-sustaining, can't have tariffs, etc. This is an outrage. It's such a racket. You need the loan, you take the loan, you transform your country and remove all limits and control of capital and then you keep paying back the loan until armageddon. If the US wanted democracy in Iraq, it wouldn't have supported Saddam until it was no longer convenient. The vast majority of dictators were placed there by the US or allowed to come into being by it. Musharraf became president in a military coup in 1999! And yet he's "our guy." We say we support democracy, but Saudi Arabia is a flippin monarchy. We are allied with them because the have sold out every other Arab and decided to follow Washington's dictates. But a King doesn't really have the freedom of his population at heart anyway, now does he? We've tried to assassinate Chavez because despite all his flaws, regular working or unemployed people have started reading their constitution and being involved in politics. When you really have a state in something, you'll involve yourself.

"Would the country be in the same place today if Al Gore had won the Presidency in 2000?"

If people were willing to put pressure on him and not trade in activism for passivism, then it might be. A President does not magically control everything that happens in a country. JFK escalated the war because he could. He signed the Civil Rights Act because he knew that if he didn't, he would need to use force that would likely only increase the power of the movement.

As long as we look to one person to fix everything, wages will continue to decline, the death penalty will continue to exist (yay, we're the only industrialized nation that uses it!), young Black men will continue to be warehoused in prisons (to prevent them from recreating anything like the Black PAnther Party), abortion rights will continue to disappear, the US will continue to invade, occupy, arm and threaten whoever it wants to.

"Be the change you want to make."

What does this even mean? I am the change I want to see. I attend countless boring meetings, I read theory and history, I call people up that I don't actually know, I stand on the street and talk to people about politics. Self-activity is the only way. No one is going to legislate us into anything that a human being deserves out of the goodness of their heart. Also, why is there this assumption that we are stuck with this? I can't guarantee a revolution, but I can make sure that I never stop fighting. If you never fight at all, you are allowing the status quo to continue.
http://www.isreview.org/issues/58/feat-elections.shtml

Election 2008: Beginning of a new era?
By LANCE SELFA

Electoral politics in bourgeois democracy is "deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament" - Karl Marx, 1871

I would like to thank you for responding. I find it kind of funny that you say my arguments are typical. If this were so, I think the country would look a lot different. I'm not against elections. One can vote for whomever, but to invest everything in them doesn't make sense. If movements didn't end around election season (because activists become campaigners and because certain things become taboo - 'We wouldn't want to embarass ______ by bringing up a demand they won't agree to' - it's self-censorship), I wouldn't care. If we didn't have a two-party lock, I would revise my positions. But progress is not going to come from this or that politician. Since it's been 35 years since the last period of sustained struggle, so many have never seen or participated in strikes and meetings and organizations and boycotts and strikes. Our own history is hidden from us and the media is no help. And people get really irrationally defensive of Dems when it comes to having other parties. The argument goes: if people vote for the progressive, the ultra-conservative will win rather than the centrist-conservative. We don't have a LABOR PARTY!!!!! What the hell? I know that other labor parties get coopted, when there is no struggle, bureacracy sets in and people become very settled and comfortable.

By the way, Gore did win and it's shameful that 'Recount' makes it seem like it was maneuvering. Voter disenfranchisement and scheming was huge, but Gore didn't stand up for himself. So he, as a politican, deserved to have the presidency stolen from him. It was either Clinton->ClintonEXTREME or Clinton-Clinton. That's not a choice.

If choosing a soda drink were as important as electoral politics is considered, this CHOICE would be equivalent to choosing between Pepsi or Coke. We have choices on things that don't matter.

Marx wrote that all models of freedom are modeled on "free" market capitalism. So, it is freedom for Blackwater and KBR and Pepsi and Raytheon. But not for the rest of us. Real choices would be like being able to choose a candidate that is anti-imperialist or demands single-payer health care (neither Clinton nor Obama's plans curb the obscene profits of health insurance and pharmaceuticals - which is exactly why it's expensive!) or demands an immediate exit from Iraq (like not leaving 50 military bases behind, etc).

Thanks again for responding. I get passionate, just as you obviously do. So, I mean nothing personally when I use harsh language or rhetoric. So passionate that I have totally been stopping working (it's without supervision) for however long it takes to type this stuff. I'm like one of those people who want to get through to people so much, I might knock them out or tie them up to do it. (Kidding). I love finding out why people think things and what people believe. I think debate can only be a good thing. I respect you and thank you for responding.

I promise never to post a pamphlet in response to any of your posts!!

Also, I loved your kitty cats post! ;)

Also, I'm not a liberal. A radical defines herself as different from a liberal because a liberal thinks we can fix this government and reform it into something humane and radicals don't. I'm a leftist. And not even an ultra-leftist!!!

Jaime

Oh my lord Courtney. Don't your fingers hurt?! Whew!

:)

KM

I started reading Courtney's response, and then noted that he/she called him/herself a Marxist, and that's just silly. Almost as silly as people who still call take Nietszche all that seriously.

Anyway, while I disagree with a fair amount of what MIB said, this post has given me an even greater hope that the presence of a review by Stephen Colbert on the cover of your new book means that you'll be appearing on his show soon.

Because I don't know if I can handle the sheer awesomeness of the two of you talking to each other on TV for 5-7 minutes, but that's a risk I am willing to take.

Ryalye

Seriously Courtney? You don't think that what soda you choose is important? Because being able to choose what soda I want means the world (okay maybe just America) to me, and when I take that first sip of the beverage of my choice, you know what it tastes like? Freedom. I may not always have the exact soda I want at hand, but there is probably still one I would choose over others because I feel that it can quench my thirst, at that time in my life, the most.

As you can see I’m all about soda. Now politics? Not so much. In fact I’m not even going to vote, although that’s mostly because I still won’t be legal to.

Now I think we should all turn our attention back to kittens and their cuteness.

Zane

Well said. I agree with all of what you have written and not just because I am a simple, doting sycophant, but because what you write makes sense and is logical. I applaud Courtney Smith for originally responding, although her arguments tended to blur into a sort of "crazy lady on the bus" rant to me. I thought it impressive how you were able to (and willing to) break it down and address her issues here, in effect saying "This is why you are a dumbass" without actually saying that at all, leaving her with her dignity and you showcasing your incredible gift of articulately entertaining and hopefully educating a few people on what should be every American's duty to get involved in this election.

Nicola

"Do you want your neighbor deciding on tariffs on Chinese imports?" is one of the wittiest arguments for representative democracy I've read. Well done! This whole post makes me respect you on an entirely diff lev. (I don't know why I shortened those last two-- I think because the sentence would have sounded too formal and serious if I didn't.)

I was thinking of minoring in political science, but after taking a couple of classes I thought I would end up strangling someone before finishing, so I gave up the idea. (But mostly because I realized a minor in political science would make me too successful, too soon.)

Summer Anne

"If Democrat=Left and Republican=Right, than we surely need a new spectrum. On the whole spectrum, from Fascism to Anarchism, all of our elected representatives are somewhere in the middle. "

Why do you think our elected representatives might be 'in the middle' and how has 'in the middle' become a synonym for 'bad'? Okay, so my personal ideals and ethics are pretty far to the left of Barack Obama's. However, it's easy for me to recognize that my ideals and ethics are also pretty far to the left of Most of America. And I believe in democracy. So, what to do? On a social and grassroots level, I will work to convince people to see my perspective. Perhaps, over time, people will change and my views won't be as extreme as they are now. I certainly don't think that they deserve to be. In the meantime, I'm all for electing the guy that will start to pull troops out of Iraq, pass environmental legislation, meet with willing leaders of foreign countries, and protect my right to an abortion.

Imagine we have all kinds of presidential candidates representing all kinds of ideologies. Let's be 'conservative' with our estimate and say we have four viable candidates: a socialist, a democrat, a republican, and a libertarian. No matter who gets elected, it's a pretty safe bet that a large majority of the country voted against that person. That seems dangerous to me, at best.

I'm all for radical change and I agree that people need to do more than just vote, but I don't see what's so bad about choosing someone who represents at least a big chunk of the issues that are important to me while maintaining the support of a lot of people who are likely to completely disagree with me if it came down to a point-by-point discussion of views. It's 'compromise', I guess, but isn't compromise part of what a free society is all about?

Camille

WARNING: THIS IS A LONG, BORING POST!

Thanks for the warning! Now I have time to scoop the catbox,write out a grocery list and sign up for a community college course!


GO CELTICS

Thank you Michael for believing in America. The saddest thing for me is Americans who hate America--no matter which political party they belong to. Nothing good has ever come from a Negative Nancy.
In the 60s during the Civil Rights movement, activists did not get all the support they wanted or deserved from their local and national government, but that did not discourage them. They believed in the power of American Democracy and knew that it was their best chance for successful change. And look how successful they were.
I believe that is the biggest difference between people who demanded social change then and those who do now...so many more now have lost their faith in America, and it's sad.

Tim

I have to say that I enjoyed reading that, although I can't say that I'm convinced by Obama. While I can understand to a certain extent the cynicism and despair that Courtney might feel, it's good to see logic being used in a political discussion/argument on the internet in lieu of the usual curse words and personal attacks that we see both on the left and right.

M

I don't usually post comments, but I just want to express how annoying it is to read assertions that people (Courtney in particular) make without facts. Take the time to search for crap on the Internet and link to it if you want to make ridiculous sweeping statements about history. Or at least acknowledge that you may or may not be totally accurate (like MIB does often, and I do on a regular basis).

AmbroseKalifornia

Wow. That's amazing. Nobody had a problem with Courtney being two steps away from shouting "Death To Isreal"?

Or am I the only one who managed to read it all?

Seriously, man if you're gonna hate Jews just come out and say it. This is the internet. I can't really come over and punch you in the ear for siding with those terrorists.

that stoner kid

I had to look up specious too. Also, I think I might die if Colbert interviews you.

Reen

Ambrose, I read it all too - saw the slam -but would rather leave it to the big guns.

But for shits and giggles, here's my "keepin' it at a 5th grade level" take. (5th grade because that's the level I can safely ingest politics...and fruit smoothies).

Uh oh! Here comes a disclaimer!

Disclaimer: I could be way off because I haven't even consulted, like, Wikipedia on the below stated matter.

Ok. Seems to me that Israel has always been Americas buddy, and vice versa. We share a lot of the same values, democratic and otherwise, do a lot of hand holding and back rubbing and head patting, (weapon exchanging/military training), yadda yadda, etc etc. We can count on them to allow us to use their land for our interests - they can count on us to step in and kick ass, if need be. Maybe the friendship is also based, more or less, on religious reasons: The Big Guy wouldn't want it any other way, etc. In the end, I'd say the average American supports our Israel connection. Afterall, they're our ally and have backed us through most, if not all, of our conflicts. Oh. And the Brits have been there for us too, sticking by us dorks through thick and thin.

Where am I going with this? I guess I'm disagreeing with Courtney, and agreeing with you, Ambrose, and you Michael. Therefore, you may both kiss my hand.

So. I feel much better. Do you? Thanks for helping me sort all that out.

And guess what? I think I just NOW got to the bottom of why I like hot Jews and sexy Brits!

Theeeeeeeeeeeeee End.

By: Reen the American

mette

I like your blogs about cats better. And I don't even like cats.

CokeVsPepsi

Dearest Michael:

You're really funny, obviously very intelligent, and passionate about these subjects. It's important to express your opinion when you have celebrity attention (*cringe*, even internet celebrity).
The major presidential contenders have a shit-ton of that attention, and it's all being wasted while they use it to get elected!
Personally, I think "the President lied to start a war" should be on the lips of every congressman this year.
Really, only Congress members can enforce the law on the executive, they are the police as far as treason is concerned.
(special prosecutors, like Ken Star are appointed by congress members)

What I see in the Democrats right now, running for office or not (not naming any names here), is a police officer watching a crime in progress. Maybe then the chiefs of police give a press conference:
"What you people saw was perfectly legal, please keep moving, nothing to see here"

Here's some democrats scrambling for excuses:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcWa5MPcdp4

It's important to realize, it has been determined as fact: Intelligence leading up to the Iraq war was invented, falsified, made up.

This is more important than any "domestic issues", or "wedge issues", or "quotation overuse issues".
I mean, its a war. A war of aggression.
The President lied to start a war.

Seems like telling everyone to move on, or ignore what happened is a get out of jail free card... except with a big fucking pile of American corpses that need to be buried.

I know it's been done to death, and Democrats make wanking motions and roll their eyes when anyone unaffiliated speaks/types/rolls-eyes-makes-wanking-motions.

Thats why I can't vote for a democrat again.. They are the police, and they say some men are above the law. That's not an analogy, they ARE responsible for justice in the executive branch. Straight up.

I'll do a little research here and find out if any Democrat Senators were privy to Iraq intelligence as falsified before authorizing military action.

I'm sure we can get to the bottom of this!

spankie

i see some comments mention soda for some reason so now i'm thirsty. and i read most of this blog but skimmed some too cuz that's how i read boring stuff.

Jillian

Maybe Courtney was trying to point out the decline of radicalism in the DP and was trying to equate that to a lack of "action" or "change." If so I agree with him/her mostly... but hell, I'm still going to vote. And I'm still going to stand up for my beliefs. I'm not just going to bemoan the lack of free-thinking in major politics. You're absolutely right Michael- that "social movements" should start from the grass roots and move up to the politicians who will [hopefully] listen. And if no one listens then fucking do it yourself! I mean if we're going to take about the gains from the 60's...

One really powerful thought that I heard at an SDS conference that I'd like to share with Courtney:
Don't rely on the power given to you by others. Rely on your own power- make your own movement and make your own changes. Your ability to make change isn't determined by what others say you can do.

Jillian

Maybe Courtney was trying to point out the decline of radicalism in the DP and was trying to equate that to a lack of "action" or "change." If so I agree with him/her mostly... but hell, I'm still going to vote. And I'm still going to stand up for my beliefs. I'm not just going to bemoan the lack of free-thinking in major politics. You're absolutely right Michael- that "social movements" should start from the grass roots and move up to the politicians who will [hopefully] listen. And if no one listens then fucking do it yourself! I mean if we're going to take about the gains from the 60's...

One really powerful thought that I heard at an SDS conference that I'd like to share with Courtney:
Don't rely on the power given to you by others. Rely on your own power- make your own movement and make your own changes. Your ability to make change isn't determined by what others say you can do.

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