Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Conditional Happiness in Politics

I learned a lot last week from a brief conversation I had with a Republican colleague. I teasingly asked him why the McCain campaign wasn't going so well. He quickly shot back, saying I obviously hadn't seen the "Republicans for Obama" sticker on his car. He talked excitedly of Obama's new statesmanship, his worldwide appeal, the soft power he would raise, and the civic benefits of having a truly intelligent, nuanced, and mentally healthy President after eight years of George W. Bush. He said it was time to catch up to the rest of the world on providing health care, which is just good business sense. More than anything, I noticed how excited he was. I’d never seen him so excited about a political candidate, and the guy is a political junkie.

A relative calls and says he’s voting for Obama, first time he’s ever voted for a Democrat. Conservative figureheads from all walks of life, people who long ago abandoned the stupidity of the Bush administration and who fear Theoconservative Christian fascism, are voting for Obama.

Consider the following events, just in the past week: The humiliation of Alan Greenspan. The daily revelations concerning the shallowness and stupidity of Sarah Palin. The fiscal cynicism of the so-called Joe the Plumber. The time-machine characterizations this last week of Obama as a socialist and a communist. A communist! A fake story about a physical attack on a McCain campaign worker by an Obama supporter. (This one is off of the map, folks. Read about it at Talking Points Memo.)

I also visited a Democratic Party rally last night—mainly because I was hoping to track down the members of the Wyoming contingent there and also because it was a short walk from my house, over to the Lincoln Center on Cedar and Grand. The fever has even spread to conservative Wyoming. I didn’t get to meet up with Rothfuss, Trauner or Carter, but I did snap some pictures of hope. Look at them below and you’ll see what I mean.

Jerome Grossman at Daily Kos has this reasonable speculation:
Look for a shift in the McCain strategy, away from issues of public policy, away from attacks on Obama's associations, away from Obama's inexperience. The McCain focus in the last two weeks of the campaign will be his life story, his ancestors, his military service, his five year imprisonment in Hanoi, his bi-partisan initiatives in Congress, his embodiment of the American Hero and American values, making him the person who "deserves to be President."

Newsweek reports that Obama "now leads McCain in every age group, even among voters 65 and older, who choose him over McCain 48 percent to 42 percent. He leads handily among men, 52 percent to 42 percent, and among women, 54 percent to 39 percent. He now leads McCain by 46 percent to 44 percent among working class whites, a dramatic reversal from April, when McCain led him in that group 53 percent to 35 percent."

In a nation hungry for something to believe in, Barack Obama truly does represent manna from heaven. Call this sociological description, or a provocative revolutionary statement, but Marx and Engels did infer, in the Communist Manifesto, that capitalism basically renders us cynical. If I might extend that metaphor, and perhaps make it a little less provocative: The contemporary age has rendered us unable to believe in things like pure heroism, purely good motives, and simple good versus evil. But the contemporary age has not stripped us of the desire to believe such things. So we are a people with the desire to believe, but nothing to believe in. The world doesn't match our ideals. This is the source of things like negativity and scapegoating. We look for enemies to beat out the demons of our own unfulfilled ideals.

Obama also represents a profound threat, however. His Presidency threatens white supremacy. That's right, you heard it here first, folks (joke). Everyone knows his Presidency threatens white supremacy. Why is this important? Why does it make the next ten days both exciting and terrifying? Because white supremacy is still a powerful ideology, supported by a few remaining centers of institutional and ideological power. It's something the ruling class has, up to this point, been able to occasionally pick up and use when it's needed to, to keep people divided and to distract us. When Barack Obama takes office, white supremacy won't go away, but it will have to contort itself considerably, and in doing so, it may prove itself unable to really serve anything other than an oppositional purpose.

Some, but not all, facets of what I consider to be progressive politics, will be given a chance by Americans because they've been thoroughly disillusioned by the contemporary manifestation of conservatism. Unfortunately, this will all occur within the context of corporatized politics with few alternatives and options. Should Obama find it expedient to lurch rightward, we will not be able to stop him. Obama has my Republican friend. After a point, he doesn't need my left Democrat friends, and won't until there is a possibility they will go somewhere else. Whether such a possibility, at least, results in a less-cynical presidency, or at best, results in emergence of a genuine party of working people and conscious Americans, I remain committed to that possibility, and will vote that way on November 4. I plan on endorsing a candidate in the coming week and that candidate will not be Barack Obama.

But regardless of how I’m going to vote, progressives should be happy that things are going the way they are. But that happiness must remain critical and conditional. Three reasons, then, why progressives should be conditionally happy:

First, conservatism as a majority political movement – that is, conservatism with its neocon-theocon alliance, greasing the wheels of deregulation and tax cuts, while uncritically invading countries, that kind of conservatism – is as dead in the water as you could possibly imagine right now. Nobody’s defending it. Nobody should. The only genuine conservatism is the conservatism of the farmer and rancher, and that’s a nonconfrontational conservatism that can be accommodated. In fact, we should accommodate it. It’s good for the earth.

Second, it looks like we’ve bought ourselves some time. If Obama wins, Roe v Wade may enjoy another term of protection. There won’t be as many cuts in social programs. We’ll be able to negotiate a few treaties that just might make the world safer. It’s not a global anti-imperialist movement, but it’s a season of time which will suck less than the last eight years…maybe even less than the last eight years before that.

Third, as I’ve already mentioned, racists in America are really upset right now. They’re in a panic. They deserve it. And because they’re upset, some of them will come out of the woodwork…or out from under their rocks, and will thus be confrontable, questionable, answerable.

And to answer the three happy things, here are four things, additionally, that progressives should immediately do after the election:

1. Begin work in earnest on a coalition of progressive, socialist, left-libertarian, labor and green parties in an effort to form the largest new political party in a hundred years.

Because we can build a so-called "Third Party" that is more dynamic and influential than the first and second parties. There are millions of activists around this country, each of whom could do the political work of a thousand complacent Republicans or nervous Democrats. If all these left groups and coalitions and subgroups and working groups and committees came together, we would be unstoppable. We would win five Senate seats and thirty House seats. We would change the entire direction of American, and global, politics.

2. Demand universal health care.

Because it's the right thing to do no matter who you are--unless you're a rich bastard who enjoys seeing poor people get sick. Universal health care, even single payer health care, makes more sense, at its worst, than these hairbrained, self-serving private insurance schemes. It equals economic growth. It equals increased productivity, creativity, and solidarity. It equals fewer people dying in emergency rooms or getting dumped out on city streets. It equals fewer bankrupcies. It equals fewer epidemics. It equals less teen pregnancy. It equals more consumer spending. It equals more people owning and keeping their houses. It equals better grades in school for poor kids. I don't know how to stop this list, so I'll just stop. It just makes sense. And it's just. It's right.

3. Demand an Economic Bill of Rights

Because when ordinary working people, whether upper-middle class, lower class, poor or unemployed, suffer for other people’s mistakes and missteps, that’s tyranny. What we need is something similar to the Second Bill of Rights proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944. A job with a living wage. Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies. Homeownership. Medical care. Education. And even recreation. FDR believed these things would make us a more secure nation. William Sinkford, the President of my Church, the Unitarian Universalists, believes that economic security is a prerequisite to the search for truth that everyone is entitled to. It’s time to put human needs above profits, and in doing so, end the age of crisis economics.

4. Fight to Restore Equality to the Airwaves

Because the airwaves belong to the people. As Val Limberg writes:
The FCC took the view, in 1949, that station licensees were "public trustees," and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues. With the deregulation sweep of the Reagan Administration during the 1980s, the Commission dissolved the fairness doctrine.
It's time to bring it back, and I propose that we devote an entire edition of Shared Sacrifice to this topic very soon.

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