Thursday, October 6, 2011

Did "The People" Ever "Have" America?

Surely you will indulge me for a moment while I present a take-off on “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants. (It's more fun if you listen to the original on YouTube and read these words at the same time!):

Tea party man, tea party man
Doing the things a tea party can
What's he like? It's not important
Tea party man

Is he a fool, or is he a schmuck?
Maybe he's nothing but a hockey puck.
When his house is underwater does he get wet?
Or does the bank get him instead?
Nobody knows, tea party man

Wall Street man, Wall Street man
Wall Street man hates tea party man
They have a fight, Wall Street wins
Wall Street man

Neocon man, Neocon man
Size of the New World Order man
Always blind to a smaller man
Neocon man

He's got a watch with a minute hand,
Millennium hand and a Zionist hand
When they meet it's the Promised Land
Powerful man, Neocon man

Person man, person man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Person man

Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with person man?
Degraded man, person man

Wall Street man, Wall Street man
Wall Street man hates person man
They have a fight, Wall Street wins
Wall Street man

Well, that was fun. And as you can see, I didn't even have to change some of the verses. The point being, we're in a situation where a number of different gangs who barely speak to each other dominate the political scene. We have the “tea party”, “Wall Street” (which represents the money power – i.e. the international finance facet of the Regime), the Neocons (who represent the political/foreign policy facet of the Regime and who are inseparable from Israel), and then the average schmo who doesn't know what to make of it all, but mainly doesn't want to get involved. And why should he? He suspects, on some level, that he is totally powerless, and has decided to adopt that as this baseline and spend his time on more productive pursuits. The tea partiers, on the other hand, persist in believing that “the people” somehow have a voice in how things go – in how the country is run. So Wall Street and the Neocons, who make up a large part of the oligarchy, look down with barely concealed contempt on the ordinary, non-committal “person man” types, and laugh at the exertions of the tea partiers.

But now a new element enters the scene (and there was no room for them in the song) – namely the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, AKA (by some people looking for a buzzword) “leftist tea partiers”. And they're on to something to the extent that both the tea party and the OWS types are populist movements, dedicated to the proposition that “the people” still have a voice... or ought to. The problem is that they have wildly differing conceptions of what constitutes “the people”. To the tea partiers, “the people” refers to an increasingly-disenfranchised and stressed-out middle class, who see the economic flood waters rising enough to get their feet wet, and also see that their values are under constant attack. And – the more perceptive among them realize that there is a connection between the two. To the OWS gang, “the people” refers, I guess, to themselves – a rag-tag bunch of humanists, leftists, populists, graduate students, etc. who don't feel disenfranchised because they never felt enfranchised. They are trying to reclaim something that, in fact, they never had... whereas the tea partiers are under the illusion of having, somehow, “had” America at one time, but no longer.

Now – why can't these two groups join forces against the oligarchy? Well, it's because they don't share the same core values; all they share is the suspicion that something is terribly wrong. But the tea partiers are hesitant to blame Wall Street and big business, etc. because they grew up thinking that those entities exemplified the American Dream... and that any boy (or girl) born in a modest bungalow in Levittown could grow up to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The OWS types have, at least, never trusted Wall Street or big business, and even if their distrust might have been ill-founded at one time, it's perfectly reasonable in these times. But they also have little or no regard for private property, and probably little regard for religion or traditional values – so the gulf between them and the tea partiers would be a very tough one to bridge. And besides, despite the fact that Wall Street and the government are, for all intents and purposes, a single entity, they persist in believing that government is the cure for all human ills. I don't think you'd find many libertarians among the OWS crowd – could be wrong, but that's what I suspect. And by the same token, you won't find many libertarians among the tea partiers; they too think that government is the cure for... if not all human ills, then a great many. When they say they want “smaller government”, they don't mean so small that it can't go out and defend traditional values in the fashion of Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

What I'm trying to say is that the Wall Street protesters and the tea partiers share the same ambivalence toward government. They don't like what it's doing now, but believe that it can be set upon the path of virtue. And this, as any libertarian can tell you, is a fatal misconception. And what the Regime is highly skilled at is taking advantage of these ambivalences and co-opting the people who suffer from them – offering to fix whatever ails the nation but then turning around and using the power granted to them by the people against those same people. The OWS types are just the latest in a long line of progressive movements – and the progressives, after all these years, continue to moan and groan about what a monster the government has become – when it is they, and their views, who have as much to do with the growth of government as anyone. The tea partiers, on the other hand, think big government is just groovy when it comes to “force projection” and a “muscular” foreign policy, but resent it when the same resources are turned back on them on the home front. And just try telling either of these groups that they can't have it both ways! It's impossible. So they just march on, and rave on, and the people in charge chuckle and shake their heads.

But there is one question plaintively asked by these groups that bears some thought. They both ask, on a regular basis, how “the people” “lost America” -- as if “America” (whatever that means) was, at one time, something that “the people” had, or possessed. Now, certainly if one reads the founding documents and other historic pronouncements, it does give the impression that the people's voice was intended to count for something – although one can question whether this country was ever intended to be a “democracy” in the radical or literal (as in “rule by the people”) sense. I think the term, “consent of the governed” expresses it better; after all, radical self-rule would be hard to distinguish from anarchy. So what does “consent of the governed” imply? At the very least, it should imply that people elect representatives to governing bodies who share their values and priorities, and are willing to promote those values and priorities in the process of governing. In other words, we don't vote for Dr. Jekyll and wind up with Mr. Hyde in Congress – which is what happens more often than not under the current system. I've discussed before how big government corrupts those who are part of it, even if they did, at one time and in all sincerity, promise to work for the benefit of their constituents; the temptations and pressures that impinge upon crossing the Beltway are too overpowering for all but a very few secular saints to deal with.

The main point is the both the tea partiers and the OWS crowd act as if the transfer of power from the many to the few is a recent event – the implication being that anything that happened that recently should be relatively easy to undo. What I say is that, while public figures were mouthing words about democracy and representative government, the Regime was gaining strength and gradually taking over... and I don't think this is a recent trend at all. One has to trace it at least as far back as the Civil War, and probably to the Mexican War. And speaking of war, when was America's last “good war”? Some will say World War II... possibly Korea. Me, I nominate the War of 1812. Every war since then has been, to a greater or lesser degree, a racket, and has been started primarily to benefit those in high places – politically and financially. And I would say that the degree to which the people “rule” is negatively correlated with war – the more wars we fight, and the greater a portion of our resources and productivity that goes into them, the less the people have any voice in things. When, for example, is the last time the American people actually voted yea or nay about getting into a war? The answer is that they never had that opportunity. And if a choice of this magnitude is kept out of their hands on a recurring basis, how much power do the people have? Very little, I'd say. So what does that tell you about what has become an economy based on perpetual war, with the required political, propaganda, financial, and “intelligence” infrastructure? It's the biggest single piece of the economy and it has a larger impact on national life than any other factor – and yet the people have absolutely nothing to say about it one way or the other. To the average schmo -- “person man” -- war just happens, the way recessions just happen. To the middle-class tea partier, dropping real estate values just happened; he doesn't know why and no one can (or will) explain. So what they are all faced with is an increasing frequency of events that make them feel helpless – but unlike the Great Depression, which featured a kind of universal fatalism, people now have at least developed some modicum of skepticism. They're not sure that everything they are told by the government is true – and that is certainly the beginning of wisdom. But it is also, I suspect, way too late – which is why the tea party protests and the Occupy Wall Street protests are exercises in futility. Not only has the horse escaped from the barn, he's been rounded up and turned into dog food – and yet people persist in thinking that if the barn door is made secure, the horse will somehow be reconstituted and come back to life.

The “bottom line” to all this – if there even is one – is that, on some level, the concept that “the people rule” is not only an illusion now, but it always has been. Like the new car that starts losing value the minute it's driven off the lot, vested interests started to erode the people's power from day one – and the Civil War proved how far that process had progressed in a mere “fourscore and seven years”. And yet, the illusion persisted, and continues to persist right up to the present day – as witness the efforts of the Progressives, the left during the New Deal, the anti-war movement during Vietnam, and the people currently protesting Wall Street or big government. And this is not to say that the Progressives accomplished nothing, or that the left (including the labor movement) didn't have some impact on New Deal programs. If fact, rumor has it that the New Deal came about as a way to head off revolution – which, if true, shows you how much has changed just since then. Imagine entertaining the thought of a “revolution” of any sort these days? The last one of any significance, I would say, was our own cultural revolution of the 1960s, which was relatively bloodless... but the funny thing is, although it did change the face of America, the power structure remained completely intact. Things had gotten to the point of almost complete consolidation at that point – more than in the New Deal era, even, and certainly more than in any earlier era. The possibility for change – real change – had pretty much vanished by the post-war era, for the simple reason that – I'll say it again – the war enabled the power structure to consolidate and tie up all the loose ends, and the result was the Regime as it stands today.

So this notion that “the people” (of whatever stripe) once had, or owned, America but somehow lost it along the way is misguided, and a source of considerable frustration. What we have lost is not America but our illusions – and even that has been a gradual process that not everyone has shared in. Most people just keep their heads down and try to stay out of the way. The reason that the “tea party” is so dramatic is that it consists of people who were non-boat rockers from birth, but who have finally gotten fed up. And yet, the notion of a middle-class revolution is a contradiction in terms; they don't have the persistence or – dare I say it? -- the capability for violence that must always be part of a successful revolution. And that motley crew down on Wall Street... well, they're about as effective as the freakazoids who come out to protest at G-20 and IMF/World Bank conferences. And to suggest to either group that they might find common ground with the other... well, you'd get every expression of revulsion and disgust ever invented. It would be “those long-haired, pot-smoking, oversexed hippies” all over again, on one side... and “those bourgeois, uptight, square churchgoers” on the other. Ne'er the twain shall meet – and yet if they did, what a bonfire we could have!

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