December 14, 2009

Here’s the thing

Democrats know they have no more excuses. And what better way to dodge this realization than to whine about obstructionism from Republicans and Blue-Dogs while snark smugly to themselves about Sarah Palin. As many in the mainstream media are asking whether Obama’s “base” will show up at the polls in November for mid-term elections, we might as well state, for purposes of disclosure, the all-too-obvious: despite controlling both Houses of Congress, as well as having rejoiced just over a year ago in the election of Change-candidate Barack Obama, Democrats, and liberals especially, have – in less than a year! – transformed from being cheerleaders for political powers they had little interest in understanding much less contesting to becoming complacent pathetic goobers.

Consider this rationalization offered by Matt Yglesias as a response to Matt Taibbi’s well argued criticism of Obama’s ties to Wall St. Or even this pathetic laugher by Steve Benen which tries to piggyback on Yglesias’ attempt to get Obama off the hook. Even more to the point, both not only sidestep the waning enthusiasm of Democratic voters but explain away the smooth transition from GW Bush to Obama by suggesting critics “change focus” onto Congress where, they allege, the real problem exists. What Yglesias and Benen are actually doing is absolving the structural failures of the Democratic party. Their myopia – if one can call it that – is of course endemic to the “realism” and “compromise” prized by “centrists” especially during the Clinton years. But that it has infiltrated the thinking of “progressives” today who still confuse a party with a movement, a fight with a strategy, and who remain blind and beholden in their analyses to false choices and false oppositions, is even more disconcerting. 

I guess for some the antics of the GOP will always make the Dems look good enough. The question however is whether we continue to allow the GOP to set the standard of expectations. While Yglesias and Benen clearly find it difficult to admit that both parties are failing, and that people are increasingly catching on to this, they also cling to incremental policy tinkering by Washington insiders who stay silent on the defining powers of the day: corporate and financial power. Ultimately it is simply naïve – as well as disingenuous – for people, (“progressives” especially,) to believe that a political system that has been bought, sold, and hollowed out by corporate power will ever bring meaningful change to ordinary folks without a real struggle, without some direct democratic activism, to draw the proverbial-line-in-the-sand and counteract that power. The most important opposition for people to recognize today also happens to be the most difficult to go fight: democracy vs. corporate power.

In this spirit Chris Hedges provides one of the most scathing critiques of “the liberal intelligentsia” in “Liberals are Useless,” where he lambasts also “the liberal class” for having pretty much earned the “public derision” it has received.

“Anyone who says he or she cares about the working class in this country should have walked out on the Democratic Party in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. And it has only been downhill since. If welfare reform, the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, which gutted the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act—designed to prevent the kind of banking crisis we are now undergoing—and the craven decision by the Democratic Congress to continue to fund and expand our imperial wars were not enough to make you revolt, how about the refusal to restore habeas corpus, end torture in our offshore penal colonies, abolish George W. Bush’s secrecy laws or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of American citizens? The imperial projects and the corporate state have not altered under Obama.”

If Hedges suggests the case nevertheless for a renewal of democratic progressivism – one that opposes the corporate plutocracy dominating the two-party system – he clearly points the finger directly at “we” who refuse a more activist struggle. For the hypocrisy and complacency of liberals and progressives during times of economic collapse can only have dire consequences.

“The gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right, although it may well inherit power, but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what it espouses.”

Indeed populist rage is out there; but remarkably it not coming from anyone bemoaning Obama’s continual catering to corporate plutocracy and militarism but from the Paleo-conservative right. See The NY Times here.

How might we intelligently confront the corporate-feudalist-populism of the right?  Consider Noam Chomsky’s take, when remarking on populist anger on the right,

“These people think, ‘I've done everything right all my life, I'm a god-fearing Christian, I'm white, I'm male, I've worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I'm supposed to do. And I'm getting shafted.’ And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there's nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered - it's the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don't care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.”

“Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren't we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh…. (D)on't ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, ‘Take over your factories.’”

Waaay easier said than done, I know. But it is interesting to see how the idea of appealing to the interests of your ideological opponents actually reaches across the aisle in ways liberals and progressives today cannot even imagine. Unfortunately, for commentators like Yglesisias and Benen anything too far outside the mainstream, like a Chomsky, Hedges, Klein, or Kucinich, is damned right out of the gate even though everyone knows that it is the “experts” and “insiders” who have driven the country off the cliff and plundered the lives and savings of millions. 

Liberals surely have much to be angry about, as nearly everyone these days. But they also appear to take comfort in having Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher do the talking for them. Seeing all those protesters in Copenhagen made me wonder: Where is the anti-war movement? Why aren’t the masses of unemployed occupying the offices of elected representatives? Why aren’t millions taking to the streets to demand health-care? to demand a regulatory and prosecutorial cleanup of Wall Street? If it is not difficult to imagine Democrats and liberals nodding their head in agreement with “a movement” or even those seen on TV engaged in popular resistance, it is difficult to imagine them actually doing something to actively participate in them.   

Interestingly, today’s “liberal” moniker has been a stigma imposed rhetorically by Republicans for decades eager to paint Democrats as weak, complacent, and hypocritical. And yet, remarkably, who would have imagined that the name’s sticking power could become strongest precisely when “liberals” finally elect one of their own?


snarky mcsnarkster said...

Everyone - and I mean everyone, the "the low information voter" especially - knows Democrats are shills for private lobbyists and big $ yet the Yglesias and Ezra Klein types continue to tell critics to grow the fuck up.

Excuse me a moment, I have to go remove somethings from off my car.

Pietro de Simone said...