I have to say a few words because this strikes me as one of the moments that is more than just a Straw in the Wind and may actually constitute a Clue as to what’s starting to happen.
Alexander Cockburn certainly puts it succinctly in the title of his article on the Counterpunch site today: “Coakley Loses and a Good Job Too”.*
The ‘good job too’ bit is from the always-marvelous Gilbert & Sullivan. The operetta was “Trial by Jury”, and the particular song is a send-up of lawyers (England of the 1890s) who are merely in it for the money, climbing the ladder by hook, crook, or judicious marriage to “a rich attorney’s elderly, ugly daughter” who “may very well pass for forty-three in the dusk with the light behind her” (no genderist snark intended here).
As he recounts lyrically his rise to status, position, and fortune – when “the Briefs came trooping gaily” (no sexual orientation snark intended) – he confides to the audience: “It was managed by a job, and a good job too!”. “Job” as it is used in the lyrics means “scam” in modern usage.
In that sense of the word, Coakley stands for much of what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party in the past forty years.
And let me put in this pre-note: there are now several cohorts of adults (chronologically, by age, at least) in this country who have never known this country as it was – in its strengths as well as its deficiencies – before the late Sixties began to do their work. A youngster born after 1958, say (and now 52 or so), does not know the country as it was in that distant era: productive, grounded (as much as a consumer-capitalist country, or any bunch of human beings en masse, can said to be grounded), and possessed of a certain Shape – internally, in substance, as well as in appearance – making its way in the booming, buzzing, chiaroscuro Vale of Tears and Possibility that is this ‘world’ of human beings.
The individual person had a certain Shape, whether socialized into that Shape by conforming to some extent to the culture around him/her, or – less often but still not a rare occurrence – internally, by forming the Self on the Trellis of the culture, ‘internalizing the best values’, and thus fortified conducting life. And not simply for him/herself, but also participating among the society of others similarly formed. And not simply participating with other adults but helping to pass on and Shape their children, who were expected to develop themselves along some sort of Trellis into a worthwhile Shape.
And of course, this dynamic – over the course of generations – would yield also the utterly indispensable substrate of a Republic, and certainly the American Constitutional Republic: a society of mature and competent Citizens who would ground their government, which in Lincoln’s pithy but splendid phrase, was a government that existed not on its own authority nor operated on its own whims, but rather existed “of the People, by the People, for the People”.
All that was swept away as the Sixties and the Seventies – through their assorted ‘revolutions’ and deconstructions and ‘creative destructions’ – by unforeseen or intended consequence – pulled the whole vision and foundation apart. Instead of a symphony (or at least a decent high-school band) the whole American thing dissolved into a cacophony of individual instruments, and even players, blasting away in the sure and certain belief that their instrument, or their individual energy alone, could carry the entire burden of the symphony’s complex score and melody. And in many cases, the kazoo or even lesser instruments, were ‘valorized’, tootling away, often without any music score in front of them, but sorta just riffing.
And all of this was considered ‘good’, in the sense of Genesis: a new ‘creation’, made not by God, of course, but by the myriad excitements and illuminations and inspirations of those myriad ‘players’ and instrument groups.
And it was a Politically Incorrect ‘sin’ to imagine that what one was then hearing was ‘cacophony’. Rather, if you just trained yourself to forget what the Music used to sound like, then you could ‘get it’ and imagine that you were hearing not a cacophony but rather a whole new type of music, one without melody or structure but – of course – even better.
And if you had the ill-grace to observe that it still sounded pretty much like a bunch of kazoo-playing kids just killing time (and wrecking the whole experience and concept of Music) then you ‘just didn’t get it’ and were a fuddy-duddy, a dinosaur whose time was now past and the best thing the country could do was to wait for you and your kind to die off and let the brave new world tootle away (not in a march formation or in step let alone in tune) down Main Street into the broad sunlit uplands of total liberation and sensitivity.
I’ve been watching this non-parade for decades now, and its excited but ungrounded visions and its “Dream” (Teddy Kennedy’s shrewd casting of what was happening) have led to all sorts of unhappy consequences (and can you say Iraq War and Af-Pak and deregulated financial sector?).
The Democratic Party – as I’ve often said before on this site – embraced the whole Thing back in the late Sixties, desperate to find (or create) new voting blocs to replace the Old South that had been repelled by that hugely impressive first phase of the Civil Rights Movement (that ended with Watts in July, 1965); and to replace the white working class blue-collar folks who had grave misgivings about turning life upside down by claiming that immaturity was the new maturity; and then ‘men’ as the radical feminists took over the women’s-liberation movement and (having read Mao and his great-grandfather Rousseau) planned a Long March through American institutions to erase the infamy of ‘patriarchal oppression’ and ‘men’ in general in order to replace it all with Sensitivity and ‘knowledge workers’ (and I hold both sensitivity and knowledge in very high esteem as essential to every human being).
Meanwhile, 1970 or so saw the end of the easy American dominance of industrial and economic strength based on its own amazing productivity and its own resources. Competition from newly developing countries and countries finally recovering from the wrack and ruin of World War 2; the inability not only to pump the majority of the world’s oil but even to supply America’s own needs for ‘black gold’; and an increasingly ‘abstract’ nature of American wealth as actual gold-reserves were no longer considered the basis of national and international economy.
Corporations large enough to do it and connected enough to induce the government to let them do it began to outsource; other corporations found themselves unable to compete with rising productivity from other nations whose governments were carefully shepherding their nation’s industrial policy; the dollar began to feel a little queasy as it traced a dizzy path in the ether of ‘international finance’.
A simple recollection of warning signs in the 1970s might remind Us just how things began to slide (beyond the wholesale and gleeful ‘deconstruction’ of American culture and values): in 1971 Nixon abrogated the 1946 Bretton Woods arrangements and floated the dollar (recall now that today anybody under 50 watching “Goldfinger” (1963) would have no idea what was so important about “Fort Knox” or why the evil Auric Goldfinger wanted to grab the “sixteen billion dollars in gold, the entire gold reserves of the United States of America”); instantly there was a ‘sugar shortage’ followed by a ‘beef shortage’; in 1973 oil-producing nations that had previously allowed themselves to be managed by American and British oil corporations formed OPEC, and there were ‘gas shortages’ – the price of gas went over fifty-cents per gallon at the pump (We were told it was temporary and not to worry); in 1978 Chrysler had to be bailed out because it couldn’t compete profitably; by 1979 European upscale cars like Audi were becoming the status symbols for American drivers who had ‘made it’, replacing Cadillac and Lincoln.**
The 1980s didn’t make things any better. Reagan used Nostalgia to assure Americans that the 1940s were back again; but it wasn’t “morning in America” again, it was two in the afternoon and the days were getting shorter on top of that. His solution to Our financial problems was to start borrowing: it was on his watch that this country quietly slipped from being a creditor nation to being a debtor nation.
But politically, it was brilliant: the fake money kept the older Americans thinking – if they were willing to accept the illusion from that Great Illusionist – that the country was still wealthy; it also served a purpose on the Left, allowing the assorted ‘revolutionaries’ to crow that you could have all their favorite deconstructions and still be rich as sin even as they let the productive capacity of the nation slide away since it was all based on “Industrial Age, macho culture” anyway and they would replace it with a ‘woman-friendly’ knowledge economy that the chimpish males were too lumpish to master.
And in the 1990s, as things got even more queasy and shaky, credit was expanded – cards and loans and then finally mortgages. All to give people the (hugely illusory and false) sense that the country was still wealthy and on top and Number One.
Worse, the ‘revolutions’ had undermined the entire structure of a well-informed, deliberative politics and the type of Citizenry needed to participate in such a politics and ground the government. Revolutionary theory doesn’t want to deliberate; it wants to impose. But in a non-shooting revolution, in a long-standing democracy, you can’t just follow Lenin’s and Stalin’s path and liquidate those who dissented or had doubts. No, you had to follow Goebbels’s path to achieve Mao’s goals: you had to manipulate public opinion, soften the public mind, soften individual minds, and make sure that your own cadres’ voices were the only ones who could pass out the Correct line.
As ‘governance feminism’ began to move beyond the support of ‘advocacy journalism’ and actually make inroads in elite academic institutions and government bureaucracy, the Regulatory and Preventive State began to take shape behind the façade of ‘sensitivity’ and ‘concern for victims’; political debate gave way to shouting matches, the purpose not being to inform the Citizenry but to outshout the opposition and spackle up your cadres; education became less a training in critical analytic and evaluative thought based on a careful assessment of realities, and instead became a drill in the Correct mindset by which to make ‘reality’ whatever you wanted it to be (under the guidance of the Correct cadres, of course); justification for ominous public policy change was sought by stampeding public feelings rather than careful deliberation. And that was from the Left.
The Right responded by developing its own ‘bases’, mimicking the Identity Politics of the Left, and deploying those same manipulative Goebbelsian techniques and that same either-or, fundamentalistic mindset that the Left – oy gevalt! – had introduced into the mainstream of American politics the decade before.
As Lincoln might have prayed, echoing the concerns of a lone traveler caught in a powerful thunderstorm out in the dark woods at night: Oh Lord, if it’s all the same to you, a little more light and a little less noise! But ‘noise’ was all that political debate had become.
Nixon had come up with the concept of ‘the Silent Majority’ in the late Sixties. He was trying to get at the reality that while the noise was coming from the revolutionary cadres of the Left (rapidly becoming revolutionary rather than ‘liberal’) the great substrate of American culture, the working class, were by nature and temperament not ‘noisemakers’, but simply put their heads down and – not to put too fine a point on it – worked and produced, steadily and efficiently. And raised their kids and hoped for the best.
But the advocacy media had also become addicted to sensationalism, and there was nothing like a well-honed cadre for the agitprop street-theater in front of the cameras to make the evening news look both jazzy and ‘with it’ and ‘concerned’ – a hat trick!
Anyhoo, back to Coakley: Teddy Kennedy held the Massachusetts elites (though never the mass of its voters) in his beefy paws (increasingly well manicured as he achieved ‘senior status’) to the end. And the Identity Politics and all its pomps and all its works became “The Dream” (Martin Luther King’s noble phrase) and Teddy styled himself as the Old Warrior, fighting for that Dream (a dream hell and gone from Martin Luther King’s when you compare them).
Teddy finally went wherever it is he has gone (after a final shrewd effort to fix the Judge by sending Obama to the Pope asking for prayers last summer – the President as Postman … or perhaps Bagman). The aging feminist elites began to issue a spate of ‘victory-lap’ histories trying to spin their ‘revolution’ as hugely successful and ‘transformative’ (and who can deny that the country – in the past 40 Biblical years – is not indeed ‘transformed’?)
But Teddy was wrong on most actual things and the assorted revolutions of the assorted Identities of Identity Politics and all their deconstructions and all their pomps and all their works have borne huge negative consequences, if anybody wants to look around.
The Democratic – and Beltway – solution has been to amp up the kazoos and start distracting wars – both to keep the public mind off what’s actually going on around them and to provide some sense of a ‘national unity’ that has become so ‘deconstructed’ that the only thing left to unite Americans as a society and a People is an attack and War. (And that overall political strategy cannot end well.)
Martin Luther King’s appeal to American traditional values and religious and spiritual ideals, Lincoln’s appeal to The People – all of these have been ‘deconstructed’ and can’t be publically embraced. What’s left but War and the primal appeal to the beserker glories of military adventure? This is ‘progress’? This is ‘liberal’? What has happened to Us?
When it comes to the economy and the usefulness of ‘service jobs’ instead of the old-school ‘industrial jobs’ – take a look around and compare a Bell Telephone or General Motors employee of 1955 with a Wal-Mart employee or cell-phone seller of 1995 or 2005 or 2010.
The working-class – whether the purportedly chimpish, lumpish ‘males’ or the women in UAW windbreakers – saw it all. And, I think, they very much resembled what Flannery O’Connor had said about Southerners in the late 1950s: we still have enough values to know the freakish when we see it. The whole idea of Political Correctness was that you were not ‘judgmental’ enough to say the emperor had no clothes, and to really ‘get it’ you had to train yourself to see clothes on the emperor even when there were none there; facts, after all, don’t matter – as the cadres always say.
Such massive and sustained illusion has never been the hallmark of the American working class, or of workers anywhere. Even Lenin – watching the Russian workers overthrow the Czar – had to come back half a year later with his own Red revolution TO OVERTHROW THE WORKERS. They, after all, ‘just didn’t get it’ and would need the impositions of his Party cadres in order to see their lives fulfilled.
So along comes Coakley – not only a poster-person for all the Revolution of the past 40 years but also a poster-prosecutor, enforcing and enabling the Long March to the Regulatory and Preventive State, where the government can do whatever it wants if it thinks it’s a good idea; the Citizens don’t know what’s good for them … they should just trust the government to be ‘sensitive’ and always right. This is about as far from the American Constitutional vision as you can get without actually hoisting up the Red flag.
The local paper of record – the ‘Boston Globe’ – long enwhored to Teddy and the ‘liberal’ status quo, gave its all to make it seem as if Coakley were a shoo-in (the feminist revolution and Identity Politics were now a ‘success’ and ‘the new normal’, right?). All the Correct elites exerted themselves, consuming vast quantities of Chardonnay – even in plastic cups – to turn out for and tune into the Goddess of … Democratic-hood, if not Democracy.
But – mirabile dictu – the working class had had enough and were finally willing to say it. And there was, I think, no Teddy to place his fat though well-manicured thumb on the electoral scales.
So I would have to say: Wow.
So much more remains to be done (as Ike said in his Farewell Address). I am not yet ready to embrace ‘the Republicans’ – since that Party has also sunk into its primitive ‘bases’ and into primitive politics of Either-Or and of Demonization (as radical feminists demonized ‘men’ Roger Ailes got the idea to demonize ‘liberals’ and sought benefit of clergy from the whackjob Fundamentalists, who were happy to put aside their literal Bible snippets to climb into bed with the divorced and un-religious Reagan).
The country desperately needs, I would say, a ‘mature politics’ before anything else.
The Regulatory and Preventive State needs victims and children, not Citizens. The corporate State needs obedient serfs, not Citizens. The nationalist Rightist State needs ‘patriotic fundamentalists’, not Citizens.
None of the major political positions on offer these days requires the services of Citizens, nor does the Beltway really care to deal with The People.
I would make this suggestion: as an absolutely essential pre-requisite for utilizing what may be modern America’s equivalent of Europe’s 1989 Moment – the beginning of the end of a stifling Political Correctness … as an absolutely essential pre-requisite for that, Americans must begin to accept that the most glorious being in God’s creation is not the Child (!) but the mature, competent Adult.***
And that every American and everybody who aspires to American ideals, must dedicate him/herself to achieving that condition.
So that an increasing number of them (and there are many already here) may create the critical mass that can demand and reintroduce a mature, responsible, democratic politics.
And then We can see what We will do – as best can be managed – with America’s frakkingly weakened situation, domestically and internationally.
In order that We might – as Lincoln put it – “achieve a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations”.
*As I am writing, this article is the lead article on the Counterpunch site, therefore it has no individual URL of its own. Should you follow the hyperlink above and not see the article right in front of you, just look at the list of articles to your left as you look at the screen.
**You can find an excellent series of articles on the industrial de-velopment of the US in the past 40 years in the January-February issue of ‘The American Prospect’ magazine, here. And you can find an excellent analysis of the failure of the Clinton 90s’ New Democrats and neoliberalist economic and industrial policy here.
***In the long and far too cheerible history of the past 40 years’ worth of ‘valorizing’ youth We have seen the Boomer ‘Youth’ – fount of wayyy too much uninformed and unshaped energy and ‘confidence’ – then give way to ‘the Child’, that grossly under-examined Image and Symbol that serves numerous ulterior purposes.
While all the panoply surrounding ‘the Child’ ostensibly proves what a sensitive and caring (thus ‘female’ rather than stereotypical macho-chimp) nation America is, it serves as well to a) distract Americans from the rather disconcerting fact that feminism in its most radical but also most politically connected variant requires abortion on demand in order to assure the ‘equality’ of ‘women’; b) provide a telegenic cover for the ominous police-state strategies and policies accompanying the expansion of the Regulatory-Preventive Nanny state; and c) provide a verrry useful distraction for far too many Americans who should be looking to their own individual maturity as persons, adults, and Citizens, rather than too easily applauding themselves for their ‘concern for children’ (which in any case does not extend to Iraqi or Afghani ‘children’ nor will it – I imagine – extend to ‘the children’ in any other targeted country).