Sunday, July 06, 2008

CAN’T TELL YOUR PLAYERS

Where does a year go? We’re closer to an election, our national situation has gotten far worse as the economy – perhaps even the dollar itself – has joined the ‘war’ as a source of serious concern, and all of the foregoing on top of a shrinking manufacturing base, shrinking jobs at decent wages, and a general sense that the whole USA thing, the proposition called ‘the United States’, is in trouble as a political society and culture and as a viable economy and an unbeatable military power. And as a decent member and good citizen and good neighbor among the community of nations.

We the People are going to need to do some very careful navigating to avoid this batch of rocks and make such repairs as can be made to the ship of state. But to do that We’ll need some good maps, and in that respect We are presently in the position of the poor schmuck who brings a knife to a gunfight.

‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ are hugely inadequate to describe the nature of the two Parties today, hence of the options available to Us. Indeed, rather than a ‘classic’ American politics, the current situation seems far more European, in a queasy sort of way. The Republican Party as it is currently constituted is hell-and-gone from being conservative. It is a Rightist/Nationalist party, bolstered by a Fundamentalist religion long known for hallowing the nation and “the powers that be”, worshipful of a world-straddling military and a wealthy uberclass, Power and Wealth both being fantasized as indicators of God’s special Providence and Election. The Democratic Party as it is currently constituted is a balkanized assemblage of Identities whose members by definition cannot be allowed to view themselves as ‘Americans’ first, and its politicians decades ago gave up on the idea of satisfying all of its implacably aggrieved sub-parts, content to pander to the most demanding while quietly getting themselves on the donation-rosters of the ominously swollen multinational corporations and their uberwealthy managers.

Both Parties have been debauched by the introduction of ‘revolutionary’ politics in the late 1960s; indeed, Our entire national politics has been – along with the country’s core economic soundness – going down the tubes these past 40 years. Where once politics was a matter of adults coming together to discuss, deliberate, reason together and – yes, inevitably – horse-trade and compromise to some sufficiently acceptable arrangement, politics is now a matter of the pols seeking to be seen as sensitive to the loudest ‘outrage’, inevitably orchestrated with professional-level skill by advocacy groups that have morphed into lobbyists as competent as those of the corporations. At this point, after 40 years, there are almost no pols who have not spent their careers pandering, except perhaps those as old as Byrd and Kennedy – and Kennedy helped this whole mess get started.

When emotion (‘outrage’ or – as the feminist influence waxed – ‘grief’) trumps public deliberation, when ‘feeling’ demands that We dispense with ‘facts’ and thoughts, when ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ are subordinated to the one desired Outcome, then a democratic politics, the core heritage of ‘America’, is no longer possible.

And so this country has not had a robust, working democratic politics for going on 40 years.

And neither Party has practiced such a robust, working democratic politics for going on 40 years. The Left has been rough-riding over public deliberation and consensus in the desperate effort to woo the votes of its freshly-hatched Identities, each with its own ‘emergency’ that demanded redress far too urgently for the ‘slow’ processes of democratic consensus building. The Outcomes demanded by this and that Identity have been allowed to take precedence over the politics that would ground such redress; and when Outcome trumps Process one is confronted – in an ominous irony – with a dynamic both revolutionary and militaristic. Each Identity’s ‘emergency’ (or, more accurately, ever-replicating sequence of ‘emergencies’) has led for all practical purposes to a government-by-emergency; everybody knows what a bad deal that turned out to be back in the 20th century.

Each ‘emergency’ came handily but insistently provided with an ‘Outcome’ demanded by its parent Identity. Doubt and discussion could not be tolerated, either from citizens or politicians. Indeed – in a regressive raising-up of classically immature thought processes – doubters and discussers were tarred as obstructors and oppressors and oppressors-of-sufferers twice over. Politicians would be judged by their adherence to the agenda and support for the Outcome of this or that Identity, the members of which by definition had to see themselves not as Americans first but as members of their Identity, because of course ‘America’ was their problem and oppressor, according to the general script. Politician or citizen, one was either with the revolution or one was against it – an eerily familiar formulation whose brassy bray was the death-knell for democratic politics in Russia, in Italy, in Germany, in Japan, and half a hundred smaller nations. It has happened here.

And this government-by-emergency – anti-democratic and anti-maturity - first developed from the so-called Left, which is by now hell-and-gone from FDR’s Left. And which abandoned FDR’s vision and his promises decades ago.

It cannot be surprising that with the approaching election the Democratic elements are trying to slide past their own history. Most recently, Mark Schmitt in the “American Prospect” has tried to tar the Republicans as the initiators of Identity Politics http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=can_identity_politics_save_the_right.

Schmitt’s article raises – bravely enough – the issue of “identity politics” (“IP”). But he approaches it as a phenomenon primarily concerned with the Republicans. This sort of thing has become par for the course lately, and I suppose it should not be unexpected. Current ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ comment rightly goes on about the numerous pressing problems facing the American people, such as Constitutional balance and civil liberties.

But the sources of these ongoing problems are almost always traced either to the current Administration’s treacherous skullduggery since 9-11 or to Reagan-era programs such as the drug-war. This leaves, among other things, a 15-20 year gap in our national political history. Measures introduced in the Clinton era, even granted that the Gingrich ascendancy coexisted with the Democratic presidency, are never discussed. Yet many of the distortions that were introduced in the flood of domestic violence and sex-offender legislation of that era paved the way in public consciousness and in statute and in jurisprudence for a dangerously unleashed government police power; they are still hugely influential, and they were already in place well before 9-11 and all that has followed from it.

Ignoring the Democratic Party’s role in all of this would make a great deal of sense from the point of view of political tactics. Since the upcoming election is an either-or affair, Democrats or Republicans, then the Democrats would clearly not want to complicate their ‘packaging’, their ‘spinning’, or their ‘branding’ by raising any but ‘good’ points about their record.

But the truth is more complicated than that. And the truth – or rather the avoidance of it – is precisely what is at the base of the current crises that confront the American people.
Schmitt notes that the “very conventional wisdom” defines IP as the “Democratic coalition’s caucuses, interest groups, and competitive claims of wrongs to be righted and rights to be granted”; further that “this very conventional wisdom opened the door to an alternative politics of national identity on the right”. Thus, that once upon a time the Democrats were just doing their traditional, nice Democratic thing, and that suddenly the Republicans were the ones to turn IP to the dark side, and that it wasn’t the Democrats’ fault, and that any idea of the Democrats actually having let a monstrous genie out of the bottle are not true, or at least not nice. But he’s being far too easy on the Democrats here, to the point of untruth. ‘Identity politics’ as embraced, developed, and deployed by the Democrats for 40 years was and still is far more damaging a force, far more lethal to a national democratic politics.

In content, IP consisted of a large number of solutions and resolutions to crises real or imagined or exaggerated, for which no prior public consensus existed (which was not the case with the establishment of black civil rights capped by the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of ’64 and ’65).

And in method, IP sought not to introduce wide public deliberation about its assorted programmes, but rather to ram through huge changes in policy and law, to establish – similar to the Israeli government playbook – so called ‘facts on the ground’, which once established by political force majeure, must simply be accepted with no possibility of deliberation or any possible dissent. The ramming through of these programmes by side-stepping, indeed quashing, public deliberation is the basis not of a democratic politics, but of a revolutionary politics. And revolutionary politics are not at all compatible with democratic politics, or with democracy.

As early as Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ we saw that there were a huge number of citizens who did not agree with the post-’65 gambits deployed by a Democratic party desperate to raise up voter-blocs to replace the Southerners opposed to integration and the blue-collar industrial males considered by feminist theory as obsolescent and – though fellow Americans – dangerous if not downright evil. Nixon didn’t invent the ‘silent majority’ out of whole cloth; he simply gave it a name and – if we may – an identity. And Reagan wasn’t ‘teflon’; that was the explanatory quasi-magical monniker given by a press that didn’t want to explore the actual political realities that really fueled the stubborn and pervasive public tolerance of his often-corrosive Administration.

It is something of a gambit on Schmitt’s part to try to pre-empt a discussion of the Democratic record of IP by calling it “this very conventional wisdom”. I haven’t heard or read or seen very much discussion at all seeking to examine how 40 years of the Democrats’ support for IP have so weakened and corrupted the public’s capacity for recognizing and examining and determining the truth of serious public matters that the Republican Party was then able to simply co-opt the proven methodologies of ‘political correctness’ and the proven methods for bamboozling and stampeding public opinion, and simply deploy that toxic array in the service of a fundamentalist-nationalist-rightist revolution of its own. The effect of Schmitt’s legerdemain is to remove that Democratic record from examination by weaving the illusion that the record has already been thoroughly examined and deliberated upon by a well-informed public opinion; and that the theory of Democratic responsibility for the evils of IP is old news, outmoded … quaint even. This is not true. And worse than not true.

And it's hardly unexpected. I've been watching for quite some time, thinking that sooner or later this divisive party the Democrats started will have to be paid for; an electoral majority will have to be put together, and they will somehow have to patch up what they had so vigorously shredded. Now we're seeing the turkeys come home to roost, as they try to put lipstick on the pig (I couldn't resist). Rather than apologize to the general run of the citizenry (and anger their still insufficiently numerous Identities), they'll just to try to forget history, or maybe spin it a bit in their favor. Sorta like many of the Bushista apparatchiks are doing now, trying to salvage a place on the A-list for themselves in case the election, on top of the war they started, does not go well.

Yes, there’s an election coming up and numerous, grave public issues are at stake. But the issues are so numerous and so grave precisely because for almost 40 years now the public has been deliberately locked out of its role, and harnessed like cattle to the wagons of first the one and then the other Party. And with the neutering of the People, then the debauching of the three Branches raised up by the People’s Constitution was bound to follow. And while the People were distracted by the societal complexities consequent upon first the Democrats’ IP and then the Republicans’ version of IP, the ancient monsters of voracious government power and the unsleeping lust for wealth escaped from their unguarded, unregulated cages and began battening upon the Constitution and the economy, the foundations of America’s very being. And security. And – the hot ironies! – identity.

The Republicans were not long (by Nixon’s administration certainly) in harnessing this type of politics to its own anti-democratic politics: a Rightist/nationalist politics, blessed and buttressed by a Fundamentalism that hallowed as God’s will both aggressive national Power and shameless personal Wealth. They evolved a hardly-novel authoritarian politics, as Outcome-driven as the Democrats’ revolutionary politics of Identities, and equally as averse to the People’s being fully and truly informed and to the People’s deliberation, and both Parties equally as eager for increasing control of the public and of public opinion.

Where the Democrats’ focus was in regimenting domestic culture to a new, ever-expanding Political Correctness, even to the point of deforming jurisprudence and criminal law and Constitutional theory, the Republicans came to focus on imposing the national will outward, into and onto foreign nations and cultures, even at the cost of weakening the Constitutional balance of power and the international legal and political order purchased at such awefull cost by the dead of World Wars 1 and 2, that ‘modern Thirty Years’ War’ as Churchill put it.

Both revolutionary and authoritarian politics, and thus at this point both the Democratic and Republican models, consider the citizenry at best as useful idiots to be manipulated and at worst as hostile obstructions to be removed. And ‘obstructing’ is widely defined to include doubt, skepticism, dissent, and even the simple, quintessentially American instinct to kick the tires of any novel proposal.

Both a revolutionary and an authoritarian politics permit only immediate assent and submission from citizens; after all, in either instance the elite has already determined ‘the truth’ so as to save the citizenry from any heavy-lifting or incorrect thinking (thus, neatly, the elite deserves special privileges). Neither revolutionary nor authoritarian politics have any room for The People; indeed, both consider The People as a rival to be eliminated. Given that the Constitution begins with the constitutive phrase “We, the People …”; can there be any real surprise at our recent national travails about the Constitution?

We’re in a bit of bind: election year politics are accorded a certain freedom from strict truth, but it is precisely the ‘freedom from truth’ that has rendered this election as desperately urgent as it is. The Identities claim a revolutionary warrant to define or simply ignore truth (“facts don’t matter”, as one university professor at Duke trumpeted during the late, profoundly disturbing sex-offense brouhaha there); or, more recently, the ‘warrant’ stemming from some ultimate mandate to relive ‘pain’ wherever they see fit, at home and abroad, however they see fit. The Republicans claim a Biblical warrant to do the same, as well as reasons of ‘national security’ that somehow work out to an erosion of civil liberty and a national foreign policy of pre-emptive war and occupation. And in either the Democratic or the Republican case, invasions domestic and foreign have been the result.

We need more truth, not less. The People are not cattle to be stampeded, not even in a ‘good’ cause; the IP presumption that the citizenry cannot be trusted to judge wisely or rightly is toxic and constitutes a tremendous and now decades-long treachery on the part of both Parties.

Let Truth be done. Truth first, Justice after. Justice without Truth cannot be Justice, but merely the summary exercise of police or military power, whether its pretext be ‘the victim’ or the ‘national interest’, for ‘the children’ or for oil.

Further, it is in exercising Our ability to discern Truth and to determine Our opinion accordingly that We fulfill Our role as We, the People. Government, manhandled by the Left or the Right, wields the raw police and military power to exercise ‘justice’. It is We, the People who bear the responsibility and the authority to make police and military power correspond to Truth. Unfettered by Truth, as best The People can discern it, police and military power become unhinged, like a huge ferris wheel released from its moorings, and will inevitably crush the weakest in its path, until declining momentum and weakened structural integrity collapse the tottering monster itself.

So to the choice posed to Us by the upcoming election. It is not simply a question of which of the individual candidates has the more attractive program or – oy! – personality. It is a question of which, if either, of them will be able to actually effect the changes that have now so long and deeply deformed his Party’s politics and Our country’s politics. We’ll have to think a lot more, and thus to know a lot more, before We can answer so momentous a question. Not that the mainstream media have retained much interest in helping Us in discharging this task. But perhaps they haven’t been asked loudly enough and often enough lately.

Let Truth be done. Justice and Freedom cannot exist without it. Let Truth be done by the People, and let the power of Truth be imposed by the People on the government which was designed to be of them, by them, and for them.

Let Truth be done; no Justice can be done without it. Otherwise this election will simply be one more rearrangement of the furniture on a ship of state with far more urgent problems.

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5 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Obama is listing to starboard in search of white male Republicans who are unmoved by messianic militarism. Green Party is in total disarray. I suppose I'll park my vote with Nader for the third time.

As Phil Berrigan once said, "If voting meant anything, it would be illegal." The important thing is to help organize direct, grassroots political participation year round on local as well as national issues. Politicians won't change unless we pressure them to do so.

12:40 PM  
Blogger publion said...

Ah,Phil Berrigan. He was on to something when he said this. Of course, compared to where we are now, the mid-'60s seem like garden days for the Republic. You are spot on about involvement on a local level ('grassroots' holds too many painful connotations for me). Ditto that pols won't change unless they are pressured: indeed, it was the type of pressure, and the fact that no counter-pressure was permitted, that created this unholy trainwreck to begin with. And indeed, what would be ideal would be for individuals to express Ideas, and let other citizens consider and deliberate - for themselves and among themselves - those Ideas, and leave 'pressure' out of it as being too damned hydraulic and too damned early-20th century European, if ya get my drift. I think wayyyy too much of our late-60s 'politics' was pulled out of the cloud-wrack of that early-'30s European politics. Nor do I deny the importance and validity of the Civil and Votoing Rights Acts of '64 and '65; but what followed was something else again indeed. A genuinely democratic politics needs mature Peopling before it needs anybody's pressure, no matter how good the Cause purports to be.

6:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

Dilettantes drop out of movement politics when the going gets tough, the odds improbable and the results too long term. After a while, one is left with the politically mature and some crazed fanatics who are acting out some intrapsychic drama.

Obama phenomena is a faux movement (perfect for dilettanti). It was confected by the power elite so easy electoral success is guaranteed to please the fickle mob in search of bread and circuses and lack of any significant "Change" will please the sponsors of this charade. A 'twofer'!

7:52 AM  
Blogger publion said...

Now is as good a time as any – considering what time may be left to Us – to recall that there were two rocks that the Founders were trying to steer clear of: tyranny and stampedes.

As every schoolkid used to know, they wanted to avoid the government reprising the role of king and effecting a ‘rule of men’ vs. a rule of law. But they were also very concerned about the rock on the other side of the channel: that the vast majority of folks, uneducated or unwilling to mature, who could – in sufficient numbers –be riled up into a stampede, a ‘rule of mob’ rather than a rule of law.

This latter concern was forgotten as the Federalist Ascendancy gave way to the Jeffersonians and the Jacksonians, and later in the century the mass immigrations that provided the voter-base for the big-city Democratic machines. Although Teddy Roosevelt deployed the federal power to curb the corporation’s abuse of the working man, it was FDR who has the chance to weld a Democratic and democratic unity, using the financiers and corporations as the bad-guys (which hardly required a leap of the imagination).

Let’s face it: today the Beltway elites – Democrats as well as Republicans – fear the ‘mob’, and not as the Founders feared ‘the mob’ but as the Robber Barons and their indentured pols feared ‘the mob’.

The task is for the citizenry to take upon itself the task of acting as The People, and not leaving the field to the dilettantes and whackjobs you rightly describe. Neither dilettantes nor whackjobs will ever exercise the gravitas that The People – envisioned by Jefferson and Lincoln – can exercise. ‘Activists’ can perhaps get some things done, especially using the remarkably durable Israeli playbook, but without the purposeful heft of The People grounding it,no such ‘revolution’, no matter how good its intention, can root and bear unpoisoned fruit.

10:19 AM  
Blogger publion said...

Now is as good a time as any – considering what time may be left to Us – to recall that there were two rocks that the Founders were trying to steer clear of: tyranny and stampedes.

As every schoolkid used to know, they wanted to avoid the government reprising the role of king and effecting a ‘rule of men’ vs. a rule of law. But they were also very concerned about the rock on the other side of the channel: that the vast majority of folks, uneducated or unwilling to mature, who could – in sufficient numbers –be riled up into a stampede, a ‘rule of mob’ rather than a rule of law.

This latter concern was forgotten as the Federalist Ascendancy gave way to the Jeffersonians and the Jacksonians, and later in the century the mass immigrations that provided the voter-base for the big-city Democratic machines. Although Teddy Roosevelt deployed the federal power to curb the corporation’s abuse of the working man, it was FDR who has the chance to weld a Democratic and democratic unity, using the financiers and corporations as the bad-guys (which hardly required a leap of the imagination).

Let’s face it: today the Beltway elites – Democrats as well as Republicans – fear the ‘mob’, and not as the Founders feared ‘the mob’ but as the Robber Barons and their indentured pols feared ‘the mob’.

The task is for the citizenry to take upon itself the task of acting as The People, and not leaving the field to the dilettantes and whackjobs you rightly describe. Neither dilettantes nor whackjobs will ever exercise the gravitas that The People – envisioned by Jefferson and Lincoln – can exercise. ‘Activists’ can perhaps get some things done, especially using the remarkably durable Israeli playbook, but without the purposeful heft of The People grounding it,no such ‘revolution’, no matter how good its intention, can root and bear unpoisoned fruit.

10:19 AM  

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