Friday, September 05, 2008

THE EVIL OF THE BEST

Over on MRzine, Pham Binh has an article about the folly of Us continuing to vote for the Dems as the party of the ‘lesser evil’ and hoping – like Linus approaching the eternal football held by the preternaturally predicable Nancy – that once the election is over they’ll get things fixed and back on track. ( “The Evil of the Lesser Evil”, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/pham020908.html).

There’s something to it.

Binh recites a litany of messes and skullduggery the Dems have gotten Us into – with good intentions or … otherwise – since WW2: Vietnam, “the nuking of Japan [I’ll grant them some leeway here, and I don’t think the Republicans of the day would or could have done differently], opposing and then trying to co-opt the civil rights movement [it was Ike who sent the Army back into the South, but there are no Eisenhowers in today’s Republican party; LBJ did his not-inconsiderable best until Watts pulled the rug out from under him; Teddy Kennedy picked up the tattered banner and then chased numerous dreams with the full force and panoply of the federal governing machinery], repealed welfare, gave us NAFTA and the WTO, deregulated the financial sector, refused to deliver universal health care for over half a century, gave away our civil liberties, and continues this day to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Binh leaves out the increasing tension with Russia and whatever is going on with Iran, and this nation’s still under-appreciated death-hug with the ‘realm’ of Israel, perhaps the only country on the planet since the end of World War 2 that has refused to sign a treaty of alliance with the United States and that attacked and killed American naval personnel (on a gruesome day in June of 1967 – which a Democratic President went to great and dark lengths (successfully) to ignore).

And so much of the list dates from the 1990s, when the Democrats became ‘neoliberals’ without advertising the fact that this was code for abandoning all but a poseur’s allegiance to the ideals of FDR’s day and abandoning blue-collar, industrial males, their families, workers in general, males pretty much as a monster-class, and just about anybody who didn’t have the good taste and gumption to possess a college degree. This was the era when ‘ordinary people’ came to mean an architect with a BMW and a home computer and a big house in a bosky burb, whose biggest concerns were re-defining adulthood to mean taking one’s cue from kids. And while the Republicans were swilling single-malts and thumping their expensively-shirted chimpish chests, the Democrats – erstwhile party of the little people – were attending fund-raisers in McMansions full of the better chardonnays, smirking and tsk-tsking the unwashed, who – by definition – ‘just didn’t get it’.

And We didn’t get it. Or rather: We did get it – right in the keister. But, in the best tradition of the original Progressive movement, the ‘great washed’ were sure that this was ‘good’ for Us. Scotch or chardonnay – We are gonna have to learn to take Our medicine. As my grandmother used to say: At least Jesse James had a gun – you knew when you were being held up. Nor did he require you to thank him or vote for him after he had finished his professional ministrations.

Alas, reality didn’t change as fast as the Dems needed it to, and now they find themselves in great need of a push by some of the very folks they had enthusiastically and idealistically kicked to the curb. You can’t make this stuff up.

Binh writes now from the viewpoint of a ‘progressive’ – with or without the capital – but I’m not sure if it’s widely understood just how freighted that term is. Progressivism historically required a large government involvement in the lives of those citizens deemed to be in need of improvement. A larger government involvement meant a larger government influence and a larger government apparatus.

The size of the corporations in the late-19th and early 20th-century required something like that. But the larger the government apparatus, and the larger government influence (and authority), then the further away We got from the Founders’ anxious awareness that a large government increases the danger to the entire concept of a Republic. And – to avoid the condescension current historical thinking attributes to the Founders – We can recall the 19th century Mexican populist adage: a strong leader makes a weak people.

And this is especially true when the government’s expansion was seen as being ‘in the service of the people’. Whether bringing a higher level of education and better working conditions, or expanding the American ‘empire’ for the sake of expanding markets for her (corporate) industries … it was all in a good cause: the American pie –if I may – although there is always question as to how the slices should be apportioned.

FDR’s solution –working in the era in which he found himself – was to focus on providing for the utterly indispensable economic needs about the value of which – to all but the wealthy and their roadies – there was wide popular consensus.

The ‘change’ wrought by the civil rights movement up to 1965 shared in that consensus – except for the Southerners – and no matter how uncomfortable adjusting to things might have been for even non-Southerners in that year, the vision enunciated so richly by Martin Luther King could not be refuted: the ‘change’ brought to legislative fullness in 1965 was without a doubt merely – no disrespect intended – the completion of the work so nobly advanced by the Union victory in the Civil War.

After 1965, and after 1968 certainly, things got verrry different verrrrry quickly. And there was no such wide consensus, and – perhaps most symptomatically – there was no appeal to a vision rooted in ‘America’, in its ideals, in its aspirations, in its responsibilities to (any) God or any higher law, in its common identity as a nation and a culture and a society. There was only a relentless, tactical, agitprop demand and political pressure to have ‘demands’ met; a this-dimensional, Flat, anti-democratic campaign to impose – immediately and without compromise – this or that agenda.

And in their desperate but also cocky quest for political and electoral viability, the Democrats for all practical purposes abandoned the fundaments of FDR’s achievement. But b) they didn’t actually allow public discussion of that and a) they didn’t ‘expand’ FDR’s vision but rather over-extended it into non-tangible areas about which there was not only no consensus, but which could only work in a democratic politics and in a community governed by democratic processes through a process of large, long, wide public deliberation.

But there was no time for that. And no respect for it.

This, I will say, has been a disaster for a democratic politics and for the Republic. While 9-11 catalyzed a stunningly toxic reaction, the elements available for that reaction had been forming for decades prior to that: the weakening of The People’s cognitive, emotional, and moral maturity and thus of the very capacity to exercise the role of stabilizing the great wheel of Constitutional government; the debauchery of all the Branches leading to the congressional evasion of responsibility for genuine and effective assessment of legislation and the Members’ self-indenture to Big Money while pandering to Big Identity, and the Supreme Court’s (s)election of the incumbent with the subsequent erection of an aggressive Unitary Executive to fill the void left by the hugely weakened People and the debauched Legislature.

Much needs to be changed if We are to recover.

The ‘progressive’ gambit, however, appears to be making some of the same large mistakes as the previous (dare it be said?) ‘liberal’ Democratic approach. Within the ‘progressive’ agenda as it is being presently put forward, all of the pre-neoliberal initiatives, run not by The People but over and around The People, are presumed to be ‘established’. This is politically understandable, and tactically shrewd, but is it wise to continue the impositions and evasions which did so much to create Our current situation in the first place?

As best I can make it out, the original plan had been to establish it all so quickly that nobody would be able to mount an opposition. And this would be accompanied by a massive media-amplified campaign to 'spin' matters so that the only thing Identities 'remembered' about their past in America was that it was baaad.

When that failed to work quickly enough, immigration was encouraged to bring in large numbers of folks (and no disrespect to them) who would at the very least have no working memory of how things ‘had been’ prior to their arrival. And of course, the young – who by definition have no memory and who by temperament are too impatient to imagine that they need any – are ‘valorized’ over the ‘old’ (i.e., those who remember the way things were before things got the way they are now); and in this regard, We cannot forget that it was precisely Hitler’s plan to appeal to the young, merely cowing the ‘adults’ of his era of Germans into submission to his Reich while the young were taken and formed to define themselves by it, to submerge themselves in it, to embrace it with heart and mind and soul.

I guess it follows that the Democrats, for all these decades, have – willy or nilly – operated on the assumption that whole ‘demographics’ , whole chunks of the American citizenry, were in one way or another no longer ‘on the cutting edge’ of the brave new world they needed for electoral security. Sort of a ‘Soylent Green’ scenario except they didn’t eat old people and actually it was a lot larger a bunch than just ‘old people’.

And, not only older ‘established’ classes (not – of course – to include the wealthy) were presumed ‘unnecessary’; huge swaths of the poor – rural as well as urban, many of the race so set to benefit from the progress of the Glorious ’65 – were collateral damage as well.
But now democracy must be faced before the revolution is fully established. It wasn’t, I imagine, supposed to happen this way. Ach, how often that can be said in History!

It’s hard, though, to feel sorry for the Democratic Party leadership, in its various incarnations over the past four decades. In another Post I referred to them as ‘sorcerer’s apprentices’, and so they have proved to be, losing control of forces that they conjured up but did not understand well enough to control or even to shape. But more literally, they have proven stunningly disrespectful of the fundamental processes of a democratic politics and of the effect of an anti-democratic politics not only on the foundational strength of the American polity itself but on the deepest and most humanly definitive capacities of the citizenry and on the quality of their lives.

“Freedom” and “empowerment” at the cost of the comprehensive maturity – even if it is not a perfect maturity, and it can never be that – is not only purchased at a ruinous price, but such “freedom” and such “empowerment” is illusory.

And haven’t We seen this country’s and this society’s ‘decency’ fall off as its maturity has fallen off? In domestic affairs? In foreign affairs? And all of the Branches of government have demonstrated corrosion and even corruption. And – ominously – all the organs of authority, those forces entrusted with the Westphalian state’s monopoly of sovereign violence.

Binh – and I think accurately – terms the citizenry’s continued espousal of the Democratic Party as “the world’s longest running abusive relationship”. There will no doubt be mutterings and keenings that he is belittling – or at least stealing – the marquis ‘outrage’ of an already established Identity. Like the Armenians trying to ‘steal’ the Holocaust. But he’s on to something.

We cannot expect that Obama can singlehandedly – or with the help of his running-mate – make all of this ‘better’. We cannot even expect that he can sufficiently alter enough to level off Our decline.

Binh suggests that Our simply electing Obama will not suffice. I agree. As I have always said, the role of The People is absolutely essential, now as ever before. On the morning after the election results are in, Our work – no matter who is elected – will have just begun.

And if We fail to reassert Ourselves We not have many more opportunities. No matter who ‘wins’.

Because no matter who wins, We won’t. America won’t. And We shall go down in history as a generation of The People whose stewardship of the Constitution and of the Republic was as profoundly a failure as George Bush’s presidency.

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