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.
• The economy
• The environment
• 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.)