Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jeff Cohen writes about How To Turn This Election Into A Progressive Mandate (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/103006O.shtml ). Lemme riff.

I wonder if the country hasn't had enough Progressivism. The Progressive movement of Teddy Roosevelt's time believed in a strong government and in a rightly-minded, elite wielding of the powers of that strong government on behalf of the non-rich, the little people, and just about anybody who wasn't either a Robber Baron or living off of one. The government got stronger and stronger, buttressed by World War 1 and the New Deal, and then World War 2 and what has been aptly termed the National Security State. Well, OK. Nobody said it would have to remain small as the nation and its citizenry increased in size and number. Not even the Founders would have advocated that - except maybe Jefferson in his dewy-eyed moments.

But I think the Founders would have expected that as the government got bigger the People would willingly do even more Peopling, more of the Citizen's task of keeping a close and informed eye on the activities of the government. Because the Founders knew that - aside from the largest natural scourges and disasters - no other predator in human history had caused as much damage as government. Yes, you couldn't live without it and yes, some of them had done some impressive things and even some good things. But a government was by nature a cold and wild thing and you could never really domesticate one.

Much of our problem these days - and we do do do have a problem - stems from the fact that as the government has grown to the point of engorgement, the citizenry has done correspondingly less Peopling. There are a lot of reasons for that: some citizens are lucky if they can keep a roof over their heads, some are having too good a time, some can't imagine themselves connected to such a huge entity except in a mode of subservience, some don't bother because they can't imagine that something so big and so powerful can really go irretrievably wrong (a variation of the Titanic Syndrome).

Worse, some citizens think they're doing a day's citizening when they're really accomplishing nothing good at all. This has been one of the more dangerous of the damaging unintended consequences flowing in a toxic stream out of the recent past. 'Thought' having been demoted because it's too masculine, judgment having been demoted because it's too oppressive, scepticism having been demoted because it's such a downer, and privacy having been demoted because people can go crazy or - worse - inappropriate - locked up in there, then what has flowed in to fill the resulting void is Emotion and Feeling, preferably displayed for public (and hopefully televised) viewing. If you've been Feeling, then you've done a day's work and your life has meaning and - what the hey? - you've probably gotten a good rush out of it as a benny. It hit me forcefully when Princess Diana died: all those people jostling to bring flowers, teddy bears, holy pictures, candy bars ... to be left in a pile near where ... well, wherever. What were all these people doing? Did they have any possible connection to her? I mean: a real, an actual, connection? Yes, if they saw her as another member of the communion of saints, but a) not many of them seemed motivated by such a subtle and strong belief and b) weren't there wakes and funerals closer to home that these folks could attend? And didn't these people have actual and real relationships they might be attending to? Were there not children left alone? Elderly parents? Blood not donated? Anything constructive? But it felt good to be feeling, and to be doing it in a big bunch, which is oddly reminiscent of the 'high' that soldiers experience when performing marching drill (or did; and many vets might dispute the whether that 'high' was worth it). And also eerily reminiscent of the 'high' so clearly felt by those crowds who in their dozens of thousands cheered themselves to tears for the successful Mussolini and the successful Hitler. This is not what The People do. It's what people do nowadays, but that's not at all the same thing. Democrats kindly take note. Republicans, join with them.

It's been mentioned elsewhere on this site that the postwar era has degraded the ability of the citizenry to fulfill its responsibility as The People. While much is made currently of the need for balance among the three Branches of the government, almost nothing is made of the fact that all three rest on a foundation of The People. The People is the great plate upon which the Congressional, Executive and Judicial continents rest, and if that plate goes south then the Branches too will slide inevitably into the abyss.

The erosions of our popultion's ability to function as citizens and as The People in the postwar era - stemming from the Right and the Left at various times, and from the Goverment itself always - have been so insidious and long-lived that most citizens are no more aware of them than a fish is aware of 'water', the medium in which it swims, moves, and has its being.

The National Security State, whose first foundational act was the double atom-bombing of the Japanese while they were trying to surrender, required a People who at their best would be akin to the crew of a ship, waiting unquestioningly for orders that they would execute to the best of their ability, while being 'professional' enough not to raise a fuss if they were sealed up in a flooding compartment should the occasion be deemed to have arisen. To keep up the rush, assorted national-security threats were raised up - some of them based in a bit of fact as was the concern about some Communists among us, some of them easy two-fers, such as hounding gays because they would constitute security risks against the Commies.

Following the loss of great numbers of its Southern and then its Northeastern voters in the mid-to-late '60s, the Democratic Party desperately sought to raise up new voters to replace them, bringing them in en bloc according to a now classic 'script': Outrage perpetrated by Evil Other creates an Emergency that Requires Immediate Gratification of Demands by said Outraged Identity ... Thinking, Doubting, or Abiding by Established Rule of Law is tantamount to Approval of the Outrage and even Indicts One as Co-Perpetrator of Same. The role of the People in this scenario was to function for all practical purposes as the extras in a Hollywood crowd scene or as the four-legged actors in a stampede scene. No previous experience required; talent not an advantage; thought prohibited. Nothing we have seen since 9-11 can justify our suprise at the stunning erosions of our Republic, unless we also admit that we haven't been paying attention as a People; and that, like some folks during the Vietnam years, we were busy having 'another agenda'.

As has been noted elsewhere on this site, the Democrats have become placators of the very Identities (whose name is now Legion) that they raised up, helter-skelter. They can barely take a stand on any issue, for fear of alienating or wrong-footing one or more of the Identities. Can 'judging' be used to mask racist discrimination? Then no judgment is to be exercised. Can 'maturity' be used to criticize the behavior of some? Then no maturity is to be sought. Can 'God' be used to frustrate the desires and aspirations of some? Then 'God' cannot be discussed - well, not publicly, but we of the Party still think a lot of .. ummmm .. the deity, or - what the heck? - the Deity .. or Deities - please don't be hurtful or negative by asking - so please go home, however you choose to define 'home', and pray, however you choose to define 'pray', and please have the good taste not to be rocking this boat we've cobbled together here.

And the role of the People in all of the foregoing: Don't ask questions, don't rock the boat, don't be negative, don't inquire as to what happened to stuff that's disappeared from public discourse; as one university handbook put it with the graceless succinctness of the true revolutionary apparatchik: it is not permitted to discuss the fact that certain topics are not permitted to be discussed. Again, all that the other side had to do was to take this script plan and deploy it for their own purposes, stampeding the now-degraded People in the service of a different agenda, but one that still required their performance as organ-grinding trained monkeys.

Imagine the Scriptural Prophets addressing Israel, as they memorably did, as a fallen woman. Having thrown away her dignity, yet the Prophets called 'her' back. Substitute Lincoln or your favorite Founder for the Prophet, and The People for the biblical Israel. We've had quite a time, and maybe let ourselves go. And now night is coming, and it will be dark and cold. But we are called, re-called, to our dignity and to our high purpose, and thus to our duty, and to our true Identity.

It's not going to be easy. Just about nobody wants us to function as The People anymore. Not the Advocacies, not the high and middle and low-priests of war, not the sellers of this and of that. Thinking, sifting, judging, using our famous frontal lobes - no, none of that is desired. Disciplining ourselves to self-mastery so that we can perform our duty as The People with a clear head and a clear heart - nope. As a matter of fact, once told that we were at war, we were immediately told to go shopping, by which is not meant quite the same thing as 'making a purchase'. Making a purchase is a careful task made by serious sober people who have finite resources and various needs, and they must make the painful calculus of possibility. 'Shopping' is something else again: closer to Bonnie and Clyde making a raid to scoop some goodies and to summon back from its well-deserved grave the childhood exhilaration of having your immediate desires gratified immediately- wheeeeee!

A People must be made of sterner stuff, for it must deal with sterner things.

Can it be any surprise that the Members of Congress - Democrats even more than Republicans - have proven so helpless, so feckless in the face of the present challenges? The Congress, like the other Branches, is founded in The People. And when The People are incapable, the Branches will reflect that lack, that failure, that absence. And when The People is degraded in its abilities or - what the hey? - its character, or even it's Character ... then who can claim surprise that the Branches become degraded as well?

To find themselves as a Party the Democrats must be willing to support the Raising of The People, for far too long lulled into helplessness like King Theoden in "The Lord of the Rings". But there will be, there can be, no Gandalf here. This must be a group effort. Democracies are endangered by wizardly powers, however benevolently they are exercised. Humans have some wonderful ideals and are capable of some wonderful acts, but on the whole one is best advised to recall (without embracing) their dark side. Keeping in mind the possibilities of that darkness, a People's mind can be wonderfully concentrated upon its stern duties. Thus the Founders, who took the game to the next level and kept fixed firmly in front of them the Ultimate Danger. No, not sex-offenders in the house next door or in the park or in the computer upstairs or around the holiday table or even in Washington ... no. The Founders saw that the Ultimate Danger, upon which all would rise or fall, was the Government, the Great Predator. Of course, being capable of far more insightful analysis than is possible or desired nowadays, the Founders also realized that this Great Predator was at the same time capable of some Great Acts and of doing some really Good stuff. So they wanted to harness it. Thus the checks and balances.

To the extent that the Democrats can become again a party of The People, they have a future. To the extent that the Democrats can only seek to stem the rising tide by attempting more desperately to play the placator to any Advocacy that will have them, then they will defeat themselves. They will defeat themselves as surely as the neocons are presently defeating themselves on our 'Eastern Front'.

But to become a Party of The People the Democrats have to respect just what an awe-full being is The People. The Democrats as know-it-all elites for whom 'the people' are required merely as extras in those crowd or stampede scenes ... no, that way lies extinction, and not only for the Party but for the Republic. The standard bearers of 'the democratic masses'? No, The People is not 'the masses' - however democratic, nor is The People a 'mass'. The People is a communion of individuals, adults, upon whom ultimately rests the future of their Republic.

So to the extent that for the sake of lubricating the agenda of this or that Advocacy over the course of the past few decades, 'maturity', 'judgment', critical and sceptical 'thinking', 'seriousness', 'character' and - what the hey? - virtue and Virtue have been kicked to the curb, to that extent The People have been degraded. Nor do I for a moment deny thereby the awe-full advantage which the present Administration's assorted interests have taken of this gaping civic weakness. Nor do I try to smiley-face-away the awe-full Nemesis that must await the active but also the passive perpetrators of such terrors and horrors. Nor do I propose an embrace of the type of 'religiosity' wherein believers are simply actors on a flat stage, vigorously going through the motions of belief and - with breathtaking presumption - redemption.

I suppose I'd have to say that just as the ancient Christendom was yet based - despite the weight of its massive organizational 'footprint' - on the heart of each of its individual believers, supported by the communion of other believers under the umbrella of 'church', so too the Republic must - despite the massive organizational 'footprint' of the postwar American government - be based on the vigorous heart and mind of each individual Citizen, working in concert with the other Citizens and thereby forming The People. Whether against that People the forces of demagoguery and manipulation and and ignorance and disrespect shall prevail ... is a chapter yet to be written. It is for this generation to write its own chapter in the Book of the Republic; it is this generation's rendezvous with Destiny, and it is every bit as important as the rendezvous with Ares Ferox proclaimed by FDR on that December day 65 years ago.

Once the task of Re-Calling The People is well begun, then we can debate whether Progressivism or Scoop-Jacksonism or some variant of a combination of them or of some other possibilities, is the best path to take. But until then, with the great engines stilled and the water pouring in, discussions about which new hat to try on, which new image to project, which new set of objectives to be photographed with ... or even earnest debate about any of the foregoing, will not be equal to the situation that confronts us now. Now more than ever, we need to be told, as we were when once a very mature and insightful adult spoke from the White House: "It is in your hands, fellow citizens, and not mine, that the momentous question ... rests."

Do the Democrats dare to Re-Call The People? Does anyone? If not, then it is certain that we shall meanly lose this nation that has been a beacon and the hope of humankind. The dark work of that loss is already much advanced. Who will stand and speak for America? If we might borrow from D'Annunzio: "A qui l'America?' And The People must accept and affirm: "A noi!".

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1 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

NY Times/CBS released a poll today (11-1-06)in which 80% of Americans expressed the belief that we are losing the war in Iraq and 75% of Americans think that our troops will be withdrawn more quickly under a Democrat-led Congress. Vox populi, right?

Joshua Frank at brickburner.org observes: "Of the 23 Democratic candidates in tight races or running in open districts across the US, all but one was chosen by the Chair of the Democratic Campaign Committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel. Perhaps not surprisingly 22 of his picks are ardently pro war. One is suspect."

There is a cute little website at peaceteam.net where genuine peace candidates have gathered to raise money together. I had no idea there were so many of them. The problem is: none of them have a chance.

If any of them were actually facing a vulnerable Republican, Emanuel would have shoved them aside and poured millions into their district to elect a pro-war Democratic candidate. There were examples of this in the primaries cf. counterpunch.org/walsh10142006.html

The only Dems with a chance in next week's elections are ideological clones of Bush The Lesser bankrolled by the corporate-driven Republicrat imperial agenda which has been bringing you vast Democratic majorities for every legislative horror the 'unitary decider' could dream-up since 9-11.

The Repugs could decide to further fix the elections electronically or through voter suppression. If they do, they might even have to face some demonstrations with Bush's new power to activate the National Guard for police actions against Americans without the cooperation of the relevant state governors.

Electoral chicanery and the possible resulting violence are not, however, really necessary. The Dems have already been bought and paid for - whether they win or not.

The People will sooner or later tire of the mendacious siren song of 'lesser evilism' and realize that they are living in a one-party state and that party cares not a fig for their opinions.

This has happened before in American history. The decline and disappearance of a corrupt political party is not to be feared. It is an opportunity to be welcomed.

9:16 AM  

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