Thursday, November 13, 2008

DEFINE BEFORE YOU CAN RE-DEFINE

George Packer has a piece on Truthout, “The New Liberalism: How the Economic Crisis Can Help Obama Redefine the Democrats” (http://www.truthout.org/111108D ).

His point is there in the title. The gist of it is that since We are now facing an economic crisis at least as serious as the Great Depression, then Obama can become a new FDR and re-define the Party as FDR did.

Obama has already left himself room to do this. In his pre-election statements he has referred to America’s need for “someone whose interests are not special but general, someone who can treat the country as a whole”. Well, who can deny it? There has been little enough concern for ‘the commonwealth’ and ‘the common weal’ for lo these past many years. And decades.

Of course I wouldn’t expect him to say it, but the problem is even worse among the Democrats than among the Republicans. The Democrats espoused Identity Politics pretty much from the get-go, and the general ideas of Identity Politics is … well, that your first Identity is your (fill in as needed: race, gender, sexual orientation, musical preference). Your ‘American’ identity is secondary; and after the metastasizing of Multiculturalism in the early 1990s, ‘oppressive’ and generally to-be-eschewed. This gives a whole new twist to the classic phrase "The American Experiment" - can you sustain a large nation when your philosophy is that the country itself is evil and baaad? Wheeeee! Let's seeee!

Mind you, when I speak of ‘American identity’ here I am not using code for some American Legion jingoism, or for the stupefying dampdreams of the former Confederacy now posing as a ‘land’ of super-patriots in the service of a Fundamentalist Jehovah who has deputized ‘the troops’ to go and smite this, that, and every other ‘evildoer’.

When I speak of the ‘American Identity’ I am speaking of that People Shaped by vision and spirit that Founded the country and dedicated to conducting the affairs of that Republic in such a way as to achieve “a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”. We fought the one Civil War, to preserve the mechanism by which that must be done and to erase the monstrousness of slavery – that original sin of the colonies’ earliest years – which by common acknowledgement, however grudgingly admitted, was always a monstrousness to be abolished. (And it is a profound commentary on the frailties of human endeavor and human nature that before, during, and after that terrible War, the Indians were continuously exterminated, through deceit and treachery and savagery far more than through military defeat … as would later be the fate of the Filipinos.)

We fought the one Civil War, when ‘secession’ was resorted to as the vehicle to shatter the ‘American Identity’. One hundred years on, the ‘American Identity’ was assailed not by the 19th-century weapon of secession, but by the 20th-century weapon of ‘revolution’. It was not a ‘shooting’ revolution, although there were some bombs and shootings involved, but that simply lulled folks into thinking that it wasn’t a revolution. But in purpose and plan it was.

Its marvelously sinister – and so 20th-century gambit – was to mask itself as something else, indeed as its own opposite. As with the perverse cynicism of Stalin, whose guile in these matters left Hitler – if not Goebbels – in the dust, it was draped in the garments of ‘liberation’, and insinuated itself into a ‘liberalism’ that bore a far brighter lineage.

Forty years and more later that revolution (several of them, actually) is now the unthinkingly accepted wisdom of several generations of American adults. Many of whom are members of the Democratic Party, who are looking now – oy – to see those revolutions finally ‘completed’, whatever that could possibly mean.

Obama was wise to speak obliquely.

He was also canny, since he left room for a different task: the Rooseveltian task of ensuring that Oligarchy and the malefactions of Great Wealth did not destroy American society. That the extreme concentration of wealth and the political power that it bought did not concentrate in the hands of a never-sufficiently-competent few the levers that would control the political processes of the Republic and – sin being ever what it is – impoverish the many for the luxuries of the few.

It was a masterful bit of diplomacy, that speech of Obama’s. He reaffirmed that “the United States is one organic entity, that no interest, no class, no section, is either separate or supreme above the interests of all”. He might have added ‘no Identity’, but that would have been to wave the red flag in front of the bull. As it is, this speech could never have been given by a national politician in the early 1990s. It still probably couldn’t be given at faculty convocations on many university campuses today.

Roosevelt went on – as Packer relates – to assert that he was “a liberal” and that he intended to exercise “moral leadership”. What ‘morality’ could possibly mean today after the corrosions and deconstructions of the past forty years is anybody’s guess; although they don’t like to discuss it except among themselves, the vanguard elites of the Identity revolutions don’t put much stock in it. As Mao pointed out that “political power flows from the barrel of a gun”, the elites here believe that ‘political power’ is the first priority and ‘morality’ – unless maybe it be Machiavelli’s (although he was – eeeeuw – a ‘male’) – is only going to get in the way. Today there are few if any moral assumptions common to the American people (at least officially, or that can be discussed in public), however incompletely they are actualized.

Indeed, there are probably several younger generations who may not even grasp the concept of ‘morality’ or a ‘common morality’ or a ‘common public morality’, so ruthlessly have those concepts been erased from education and discourse. And actually, there are many college-graduates (John Judis's 'idea'-class upon whom the entire natonal culture and economy should rest) who have been taught that one merely needs to 'transgress' - toujours transgress, and all will be well. And one will establish oneself thereby as right and very clever. And take one's place among the ranks of the 'new' Democratic Party. Yah.

It shouldn’t be a President’s role to “exercise moral leadership”. If he is himself ‘moral’ as a person, then his efforts – informed by his maturity, his experience, his prudence, his character – will be ‘moral’. But a President is not a Pope. And while it would be nice if the President could use his bully-pulpit to run a national morality class, that’s not how citizens really learn morality. That’s another whole problem altogether now. The spiritual and moral infrastructure of the country has not simply been neglected – like the bridges and highways – but it has been actively deconstructed, not to say ‘assaulted’. And it’s been going on for quite some time.

Remarkably for Us, Roosevelt then goes on – Packer relates – to point out that he is neither a conservative nor a radical, but rather a liberal; and FDR deftly continues forthwith to define that for everybody as someone who “recognizes the need for a new machinery” but – sagely – “works to control the processes of change to the end that the break with the old pattern may not be too violent”.

These are the words of a kind of man who would not stand a chance of being elected in 1968. Too bad for Us. Too too too bad.

While not all the hopes and desires of Identity Politics were impossible, the revolutionary mindset and the end-run-around-The-People methodology, supercharged by the eagerness of the Democratic Party to keep its replacements (for the lost Southern voters) happy, resulted in a domestic political situation not unlike Iraq now: some high-profile, telegenic, ‘victorizing’ at the outset, followed by long, long and bitter resistance – and who can completely blame the resisters? (By Carter’s administration the Dems’ plan for stabilizing matters was to pander to the Identities piously while engorging their campaign coffers by selling themselves to the corporations. Think of it not in terms of ‘morality’ but in terms of ‘politics’, and all in a good cause.)

Packer notes that FDR “was not wedded to any overarching theory”. He’s opened a worthwhile door here. FDR was not wedded to any particular economic theory; this gave him the conceptual room to experiment and improvise, which under the circumstances was what was needed. Still, and especially today when We have the benefit of the improvisations that FDR deployed, We know that there are a couple-three basic ground-rules: 1) human beings, money, success, and greed interacting as they invariably do, some higher authority or power has to regulate the playing field; 2) Congress and the Executive have in their respective ways more than enough authority to do that (presuming, of course, that they are acting ‘disinterestedly’ for the good of The People and are not – like the prostituted Congresses of the Gilded Age – on Big Money’s payroll … but, then, there were the PACs that the Dems themselves erected in the mid-70s).

So it’s good in these matters to retain some freedom from ‘theory’, while at the same time retaining the capability of exercising a regulatory authority through – if I may – higher power.

There is a symmetry here with the matter of ‘morality’. We cannot allow Ourselves to be locked into a narrow theorizing that is more concerned with its own flashiness than with accurately and efficaciously addressing the challenge through serious and deliberate and comprehensive study. But We must have some higher platform from which control and judgment can be exercised over the ‘field’. The ‘deconstruction’ of morality that has been going on for the past forty years has unGrounded the whole American reality: political functioning, societal unity, the very maturity of the individual citizens who comprise The People.

This is not some coded plumping for ‘religion’; think of it as a simple fact of the physics – if I may – of human existence. Sort of like: airplanes cannot be made to fly backwards. No amount of revolutionary ardor or urgency or ‘perception management’ or 'cutting edge idea-making' will make an aircraft fly backwards. This is not, I admit, the ‘spirit of ‘68’, but that’s the point, isn’t it?

It did not serve the purposes of ’68 that human existence would have a ‘physics’: if there are some ground rules that don’t change, if there are therefore ground-rules that can serve as higher ground and platform from which to assess and judge … well, ya shouldn’t be ‘judgmental’, was the way it went back then, if memory serves.

And if you got out of the habit of being judgmental, then who could tell if the things you were believing before breakfast were impossible or not? And with all the transgressing that was then all the rage, judgmentalizing was only going to get in the way, and label you as a fuddy-duddy. And an oppressivist obstructionizer. And an enemy of the revolution(s). Who 'just didn't get it'. In modern revolution's homeland, there was only one fate for people like that.

And that is no way to run a railroad. Or an economy. Or a country. Or to conduct the affairs of a Constitutional Republic.

Was all this invisible back then? Strangely, it mostly was, stampedes and manias being what they are. And here We are.

So when Packer quotes Peggy Noonan as saying that this is “the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment”, it can only be hoped that this is not simply a ‘moment’ when the same old fake-liberal failed game plan will be run again. It was never ‘liberal’ and it was fundamentally insufficient as a strategy, causing far more harm to the country than any ‘experts’ imagined (eerily like the Iraq War in that regard).

If this is to be a ‘new liberal moment’ then liberalism has to be re-defined, and expanded to cover the utterly essential ‘base’ of the higher ground of morality.

Otherwise a restoration of ‘activist’ government is simply going to yield more of the same divisive floundering that has fractured the polity. An ‘activist’ government, ‘unregulated’ by any higher ground of assessment and judgment, is merely going to continue trying to win its various ‘wars’ domestically with even less success than it is waging its wars overseas. Activism without morality is an unguided missile and a runaway train.

It’s no help that both the Identities from the Left and the corporations from the Right (abetted by the National Security State – War on Terror government) are all seeking to fulfill their agendas unfettered by morality. War, ‘business’ and revolution are famously intolerant of any constraining factors: ‘success’ is the only morality … and yet in the absence of essential morality neither war nor ‘business’ nor the revolutions have succeeded in doing anything except hastening Our decline – as a civilization even more than as a hegemon.

And with the Malefactors of Great Wealth seeking to turn the rest of Us into an economic peasantry, and the 'idea-liberals' trying to establish a new 'knowledge aristocracy' whom the rest of Us would serve, then the only thing to reasonably expect is a New Feudalism.

I don’t know what Packer means when he says “For the first time since the Johnson Administration, the idea that government should take bold action to create equal opportunity for all citizens doesn’t have to explain itself in a defensive mumble”. For the past forty years the government hasn’t been ‘mumbling defensively’, it’s been mumbling deceitfully, not wishing to discuss or have Us discuss just what it’s been trying to do. The Democrats with their pandering to the Identities and the Republicans building corporate-military ‘hegemon’ and both trying to turn Us into an unquestioning corral-full of donkeys.

Worse, the government’s “bold action” is a deceitful characterization of a deceitful effort to do an end-run around The People, ramming through whatever its Identity or corporate clients wanted to see happen and purposely stifling or stigmatizing public deliberation and discourse. There is no more ‘mandate’ for more of this than there was a ‘mandate’ for Bush in 2004 to continue with more of his wars. The Left, the Right, the Identities, the corporations, their lobbyists, the politicians – they’ve all treated Us like chumps. And here We are.

Roosevelt took ‘bold action’ to do something that just about the entire population – except the very wealthy – thought was the right thing to do.

This has not been the case with the ‘bold action’ since the late-60s, which has served only to divide the country so frakking badly that even when running against a sleazy and possibly traitorous loon like McCain and a blow-up doll like Palin, the Democrats could only win by a small percentage after the frakking national economy took the worst dive since the Great Depression itself.

And just what “equal opportunity” means is a question that demands a very clear and specific answer. Because if “affirmative action” is – see the previous Post – a code for “a nonhierarchical society”, then obviously a big part of the ongoing deceit inside the Beltway is that they’re speaking in ‘code’ and that We should take nothing whatsoever for granted as actually being what it seems. I’m not saying that there should be no ‘equal opportunity’, but I sure as hell want to know precisely what any speaker and especially any legislator or policy-maker means by the phrase before I agree.

There’s got to be a lot of tire-kicking come January, even more than ass-kicking.

And in fairness to Obama, his legal adviser Cass Sunstein is quoted as saying that “the governing philosophy of an Obama Presidency” will be “the idea of ‘deliberative democracy’”. Well damned good on him! But that better not be any Beltway ‘code’. This country and this People have been robbed of deliberation and democracy for far too long now. If Mr. Obama wants to bring back that quaint old tradition, then he’s on the right track.

It will be an indication of just how far the vampires have taken over the town when We start seeing how many sources of resistance he runs into.

He’ll need back-up. Democracy will be an adventure again for The People. “Allons enfants de la patrie …” Not to wage ‘liberation’ in the streets, but to conduct the affairs of this Republic as they were meant to be conducted: by a mature, serious, dedicated People, exercising their authority over their elected representatives – sworn under Almighty God to serve the interests of the common weal – toward that “just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all peoples”.

Now THAT will be an historic Moment. And nothing less will save Us now.

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