Thursday, September 16, 2010

Electoral Dysfunction: Take Two

If I had to write a generic campaign statement for any Democratic candidate, it would be: “Elect me so I can keep fixing the horrible mess the Republicans got us into.” OK, that's clear enough... includes both hope and change... et cetera. But the generic statement for the Republicans is a bit tougher. One possibility is, “Elect me so we can go back to the Bush policies.” Um... I don't think that's gonna fly. It isn't just Democratic propaganda that has Bush leading us to the brink of disaster; he really did – or, rather, he led us not to the brink but over the cliff. Well then, how about “Elect me so I can stop the Democrats from fixing the horrible mess my party got us into.” Um... no. OK, then how about this -- “Elect me so I can fix the horrible mess my party got us into, but in a different way than the Democrats (unspecified).” Implication – there's a better way of fixing things than the Democrat policies, which are not fixing things at all. That's a valid point, but what would cause anyone to think the Republicans have a better idea? Did any of them ever talk back to Bush? Or to whoever was really in charge? And most of the Democrat “fixes” were initiated under Bush anyway – the main contribution of the Democrats has been to attach rocket boosters to them. The Democrats are, in other words, Republicans on amphetamines – so it becomes not a matter of “what” but “how fast”... and I suppose a cynic would prefer the Democrats since their policies will bring the whole system down faster that the Republicans would. And this is a valid point too, except that it's been tried before, with no success. The only thing that “public opinion” has had a significant effect on in my memory is the war in Vietnam – and even then, it was less about war per se than about the draft. We found out how much Democrats hate war when Clinton started mucking around in Serbia... and now that Obama is securely entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan we can be even more certain.

So what I'm saying is that, “tea parties” notwithstanding, the Republicans don't really have a coherent platform this time around; most of what they say amounts to “We're less awful that the Democrats.” Right. That'll win you a lot of votes. I mean, you can't say that you're against fixing things – especially things that started going wrong under Bush. But then if you turn around and claim that you would be better at fixing those things than the Democrats are, people are just going to laugh. And frankly, a year and a half really isn't all that much time to fix The Greatest Economic Crisis Since The Depression (so-called)... and I suspect that most people are willing to cut the Democrats a bit more slack. After all, it took the Republicans eight years to screw things up, etc. And frankly, did any of the “tea partiers”, AKA “normal people”, vote Democratic in 2008? Highly doubtful. Which means, basically, that the bulk of Obama's support then still exists now – except for the far left, who might just stay home (because who else are they going to vote for? Lyndon LaRouche?)... and the “Anyone But McCain” crowd who might now have morphed into the “Anyone But The Democrats” crowd, since they are, basically, disillusioned with government in general (and rightly so). And yes, it does make sense to always vote against incumbents – a sort of grass-roots version of term limits. The original concept of American government did not entail a class of career politicians – people who were otherwise productive would serve their time, and then return to their customary pursuits, and government would be, in a sense, ever-new and characterized by, if you will, “creative destruction”, AKA “turbulence”. But instead, we have a Senate that resembles nothing so much as a mausoleum, and a House of Representatives that looks like Pee-wee's Playhouse (but without the humor). Only the presidency has been blessed with term limits, after a mighty struggle with the forces of monarchism under FDR – but the fact that we elect a king every eight years, who can be dethroned and replaced halfway through his eight-year term... this leads me to question the amount of power an American president really has, as opposed to figurehead status. One day you can be on top of the world, and the next day you can be nothing... a has-been, a lame duck – while still in office! And then see what happens when you retire; that's, if anything, even worse. I have to grant both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter credit in that they're among the more creative ex-presidents we have had; they're actually making what appears (to the gullible) to be a contribution. Most of the others have clambered up a wall, sunk into a picture frame, and there they sit for the rest of their days (and beyond).

But I have saved the best for last, as is my wont. And that has to do with the attitudes of the two major parties toward the “tea parties”. And again, the Democratic position is quite simple and clear-cut – the “tea partiers” are, to a man (or woman), right-wing nut cases, bigots, racists, “haters”, homophobes, sexists (including the women), reactionaries, and... wow, it's a good thing they don't have any real power! But in the best totalitarian fashion, this is not enough for the Washington establishment or the media – the tea partiers have to be derided and defamed at all times, lest their twisted ideas spread even further. They have to be made the out-group, the pariahs, the Jonahs, the enemy of all that is good and humanistic and enlightened – of polite society, 2010-style, in other words. And once this is accomplished, they have to be hounded out of existence, starting with "public opinion" and then morphing into various subtle and not-so-subtle sanctions by the government. But all of this is relatively easy to do – you just start calling names, and who has the time or energy to contradict you? And can the tea partiers prove they're not racists, for example? No? Well then, that's proof that they are. Et cetera.

But here's the rub. The Republicans don't know what to do with, or about, the tea partiers, and they are showing signs of extreme discomfort. (I think of it as on the same level as a guy whose ex-girlfriend shows up at his wedding with a baby in her arms.) For one thing, there is a substantial overlap between the tea party demographic and a large part of the Republican base. And guess what, both groups describe themselves as “conservative”, so what's not to like? Well... for one thing, much of what the tea partiers are criticizing can be laid at the feet of the Republicans just as readily as the Democrats – although you won't normally hear this mentioned at a tea party rally. This country did not turn to state socialism on Inauguration Day 2009 – although to hear Glenn Beck, you'd think it had. The roots of our current crisis go back many decades, and the most the Republicans have ever managed to do is slow down the process a bit... and, of late, they haven't even done that. You make me a list of totalitarian symptoms that this nation suffers from, and I'll divide it right down the middle between Democrat and Republican administrations, in terms of when it originated. And how much faith, after all, can people have in a party that has said or implied, over and over again, that “We're almost as good as the Democrats”? (Almost as compassionate, almost as tolerant, almost as humanistic, etc.) The Republicans are, basically, drowning in a pool of their own mediocrity and cowardice – which is why any encounter with the tea partiers leaves them feeling fearful and guilty. Fearful because the tea partiers are at least saying the right words about the right things (even if they leave some things out) – and that means big trouble for the Republican establishment, for whom “complacent” is a gross understatement. And guilty because the tea partiers are, most of the time, talking like real conservatives and not like neocons – i.e. wolves in sheep's clothing who mouth conservative words on the domestic front while pursuing empire overseas. And those words they mouth on the domestic front result in little or no action – because, guess what, they don't really believe in them. They're just using them to drag the “values” crowd along; problem is, the “values” crowd has started to wander off the reservation and form tea parties. And as I have said, their positions are inconsistent and fatally flawed – which means there is no real future in the movement. But they can constitute a considerable inconvenience in the short run, as they seem to be doing in various places around the country, judging by primary results.

But then one has to reflect, if the Republicans have, at least temporarily, lost a good chunk of their base, doesn't this benefit the Democrats? And of course it does, and the Democrats know it, and so do the Republicans – and so do the tea partiers, but they don't care, because they are trying to make a point, and they may realize, on some level, that they are no worse off under the Democrats than they were under the Republicans. They are, in other words, engaged in their own version of creative destruction, which, I guess, is what third parties always do. They try to pull, or sway, or push, one of the major parties in a certain direction, but what they mostly accomplish is a temporary shift in vocabulary, after which things go back to business as usual. The tea partiers have, in fact, taught the Republicans a few new words... but they will be promptly forgotten as soon as the votes are counted. But this is not to say that the major parties are incapable of change. The Republicans are more collectivist than ever at this point... and the Democrats are more totally the captives of the financial interests than ever. So in this sense, they have merged into a single entity, and I challenge anyone to show me a significant difference – not in words but in action. This is why the hand-off from Bush to Obama was so seamless; you'd have thought they were in the same party... which, the way I see it, they were. Obama even kept the same secretary of defense! Catch Carter doing that after he took over from Ford. So really, it's time to forget about these labels, and about “red” and “blue”. The only distinction that makes any sense is, is one for liberty or not? And the tea partiers seem to be, but, as I've said, they are fatally compromised by their zeal for the American Empire. So in that sense, the major parties and the tea partiers are all in the same boat – they all want big government, and the differences are those of priorities, i.e. what the big government of their dreams should do first.

The remaining question is, what happens after the election? Well, as I said, nothing of any importance is going to change, either on the domestic side or the foreign policy side; each of those is a monolith of established, immovable programs, which means that any changes that are made will be trivial and at the margins – and certainly not worth all the debate that will undoubtedly go into them. Now, as to the parties, the Democrats will retain their base, consisting primarily of unions, government employees, “minorities” (which is more a state of mind than a statement of fact), and tax receivers. Fortunately for the Democrats, when you add up those demographics, you wind up with a majority of voters – so their fortunes seem secure for a long time to come. Now, as for the Republicans... well, first let's go back to the “tea partiers”. None of these people is a true radical – by which I mean, when the going gets tough they'll head for home... for the TV, the rec room, the soccer field, and the ol' fishin' hole. They don't have the inclination to tough it out in an unheated garret all winter long the way guys like Lenin did – and they're not about to take to the streets if there's a chance of real blood being shed. They will never, in other words, risk their lives or their fortunes. They are, in this sense, “summertime soldiers” -- and I'm not saying I blame them; it's just the way things are. They are, after all, “bourgeois”. The rich and powerful don't take risks; they don't have to. And the proles have nothing to lose. It's only the middle class that is required to live in a state of fear – because they have everything to lose (or so they think). And actually, I give them credit – for finally speaking up, after all these years... but it's too late; their threshold of outrage was way too high. All the true radicals in this country are still either with the Democrats (but very uneasily) or with the libertarians or paleocon organizations; you will not find a single one among the Republicans, or the tea partiers.

So what, after all, will become of the tea partiers after this election? Will they still be around in 2012? Well, how long did the “Republican Revolution” last? I rest my case. Bill Clinton was, after all, re-elected a mere two years later. These mid-first-term elections are invariably an occasion on which to express buyer's remorse – except that, eventually, people start to realize that it doesn't make any difference whom you vote for; the system is set up to operate completely independently of the whims, impulses, and desires of the electorate (and when you consider what some of those entail, it's small wonder that things have evolved to this point). But it wouldn't do to be too simplistic about this; I suspect a lot of the fate of the tea parties will hinge on how “their” candidates do in November. If, as seems likely, most of them lose, then the movement will be cheerfully discredited by both major parties, and it will be a return to business as usual. If a substantial number should win, they will still be a tiny minority in Congress and in state houses, and are unlikely to stir things up very much. So in either case this pseudo-third party called “the tea party” will itself split, even as it now threatens to split the Republicans; half of them will slouch back into the Republican fold after having been duly chastised, and the other half will resume their status as “independents”, i.e. “powerless and proud of it”. Third parties, or pseudo-third parties, as an effective political force, don't tend to last very long; one election cycle is about the limit. And it's not that they don't have good ideas; they're usually the only people around with _any_ ideas. It's just that major parties = power (or an illusion thereof) without principles, and third parties = principles without power... and most Americans, sadly, prefer the former – if they have any preference at all.

So in that sense, the current moral stagnation is a self-inflicted wound. Sure, it was aided and abetted by our “leaders” over the years, but they were, after all, allowed to run roughshod with nary a peep of protest from the citizenry. So now, with Americans in a weakened state both morally and economically, the powers that be – having long-since consolidated their power – are moving in for the kill... for the “final solution to the bourgeoisie problem” as I call it. They have, in their cross-hairs, everything the middle class holds dear, basically – except the American Empire, which is something nearly everyone agrees on. So for their good foot-soldiering in the cause of empire, the ruling elite is rewarding the middle class with, first, demoralization, then impoverishment, then extinction. So that's the thanks we get! But it does illustrate, to those with a very long-term historical perspective, the notion that the rise and prospering of the middle class was, in fact, a relatively unique event in history, made possible by a unique combination of events. The baseline for humanity, however – which we are rapidly returning to – seems to be the ancient system of a ruling elite and a vast array of slaves. And even our vaunted middle class is living a life of slavery in most respects; no one should be fooled by a few superficial “freedoms” and material comforts. Just see what happens when the scales fall from a few people's eyes and they start to see – however dimly – how the matrix works. Then you get “tea parties”, and the Regime goes into red alert – this, of all things, is the one thing that cannot be tolerated or allowed to stand. In the classic totalitarian model, no one cares what the proles think, because they don't think, by and large. But the middle class – ah! As Orwell so presciently pointed out, that's where the “hearts and minds” have to be won – or if not won, then crushed by fear and anesthetized by propaganda and delusion. Seen in this light, our present-day political process is succeeding admirably. If one can forget about individual politicians – faces and personalities, lies and promises – and focus on the big picture, we see that the system is working precisely as intended... and with greater efficiency with each passing day. Individual politicians don't count any more than individual citizens do – less, in a way, since their life cycle is blessedly short in most cases; they are set up as servants to the Regime... used... exploited... then discarded. That, at least, is some consolation – that their lot is, in a way, more to be pitied than our own.

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