Friday, January 15, 2010

Dissipation Is Actually Much Worse Than Cataclysm-- And There's Even Worse Out There Than Barack Obama


There's a chance Democrats have been so demoralized by Obama's 180 degree turn from Change and Hope that a Republican will win Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat in the Massachusetts special election Tuesday. Right-wingers are mobilized and have every right to be excited but Villagers can't talk about anything else. They're more excited than Republicans! They'll have a topic to bloviate on for weeks: the nation turns right, not that they haven't been on that one for as long as I can remember. If Scott Brown wins in blue, blue Massachusetts it means... just wait.

Meanwhile though, not a peep out of any of them about the special election in Virginia this past Tuesday. Apparently it didn't fit into the preferred narrative so... it didn't mean squat. In that one, apparently group-thunk into a meaningless outlier, the most right wing state senator in the history of the commonwealth, Ken Cuccinelli, was replaced in a hopelessly red district with a... ssssshhhhh... Democrat, David Marsden. Totally meaningless; in fact, I'm sure, if anything, it just goes to prove that the GOP will win back the House in November and that Nye and Perriello will both lose because... well, obviously Virginia hates progressives.

And, although I haven't personally seen any reports on Fox identifying him as a "Democrat" yet, when John Shadegg announced his retirement yesterday, it didn't augur nearly as badly for Republicans as retirements by Tennessee Blue Dogs Bart Gordon and John Tanner-- who virtually always vote with Republicans on substantive issues-- did for the Democrats. Yeah, the GOP has it all figured it; all they have to do is shit all over Capitol Hill, refuse to authorize a cleaning lady and then blame the Democrats for the stench and messiness. But don't tell anyone Democratic challengers like John Callahan in Bethlehem, PA, are hauling in immense amounts of contributions by voters eager to see mealy-mouthed obstructionists like Charlie Dent end their political careers.

Yesterday Digby turned me on to a post at The Nation by Chris Hayes, a post every progressive who's feeling that maybe Obama, Emanuel, Summers, Geithner... have been so awful that who the hell should even bother to vote. No Hope, no Change; screw you, right. Not really. Conservative governance is the problem and as much as that has been internalized by Democrats and Obama-- which is what makes progressives so disgusted with them-- it doesn't come close to the real deal, American Republicanism. In looking at what ails us today Hayes says "it's useful to distinguish between two separate categories of problems we face."
The first are the human, economic and ecological disasters that demand immediate action: a grossly inefficient healthcare sector, millions un- or underinsured, 10 percent unemployment, a planet that's warming, soaring personal bankruptcies, 12 million immigrants working in legal limbo, the list goes on. But the deeper problem, the ultimate cause of many of the first-order problems, is the perverse maldistribution of power in the country: too much in too few hands. It didn't happen overnight, of course, and the devolution has been analyzed and decried by a host of writers and thinkers in these very pages... The central and unique paradox of our politics at this moment, however, is that our institutions are so broken, the government so sclerotic and dysfunctional, that in almost all cases, from financial bailouts to health insurance mandates, the easiest means of addressing the first set of problems is to take steps that exacerbate the second.

...the corporatism on display in Washington is itself a symptom of a broader social illness that I noted above, a democracy that is pitched precariously on the tipping point of oligarchy. In an oligarchy, the only way to get change is to convince the oligarchs that it is in their interest-- and increasingly, that's the only kind of change we can get.

In 1911 the German democratic socialist Robert Michels faced a similar problem, and it was the impetus for his classic book Political Parties. He was motivated by a simple question: why were parties of the left, those most ideologically committed to democracy and participation, as oligarchical in their functioning as the self-consciously elitist and aristocratic parties of the right?

Michels's answer was what he called "The Iron Law of Oligarchy." In order for any kind of party or, indeed, any institution with a democratic base to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. As this bureaucratic structure develops, it invests a small group of people with enough power that they can then subvert the very mechanisms by which they can be held to account: the party press, party conventions and delegate votes. "It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors," he wrote, "of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization, says oligarchy."

Michels recognized the challenge his work presented to his comrades on the left and viewed the task of democratic socialists as a kind of noble, endless, Sisyphean endeavor, which he described by invoking a German fable. In it, a dying peasant tells his sons that he has buried a treasure in their fields. "After the old man's death the sons dig everywhere in order to discover the treasure. They do not find it. But their indefatigable labor improves the soil and secures for them a comparative well-being."

"The treasure in the fable may well symbolize democracy," Michels wrote. "Democracy is a treasure which no one will ever discover by deliberate search. But in continuing our search, in laboring indefatigably to discover the undiscoverable, we shall perform a work which will have fertile results in the democratic sense."

After a rather dispiriting few months, the treasure in this case may seem impossibly remote, but one thing the Obama campaign got right was its faith in America's history of continually and fruitfully tilling the soil of democracy, struggling against odds until, at certain moments of profound progressive change, a new treasure is improbably found.

It was the possibility of such a democratic unearthing that gave Obama for America its moral force. The most inspiring thing about the campaign had nothing to do with the candidate and everything to do with average citizens from Dubuque to Atlanta who were taking the time and energy to search for a small piece of that treasure. Likewise, the message of the Obama campaign was as much about empowerment, reinvigorating democracy and changing the ways of Washington as it was about the central planks of his agenda. It's for this reason that the greatest disappointment of his first year is the White House's abandonment of this small-d democratic impulse in favor of a strategy almost wholly focused on insider politics.

What the country needs more than higher growth and lower unemployment, greater income equality, a new energy economy and drastically reduced carbon emissions is a redistribution of power, a society-wide epidemic of re-democratization. The crucial moments of American reform and progress have achieved this: from the direct election of senators to the National Labor Relations Act, from the breakup of the trusts to the end of Jim Crow.

So in this new year, while the White House focuses on playing within the existing rules, it's our job as citizens and activists to press constantly for changes to those rules: public financing, an end to the filibuster, the breakup of the banks, legalization for undocumented workers and the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to name just a few of the measures that would alter the balance of power and expand the frontiers of the possible.

If I had to bet, I'd say that not of one of these will be won this year. The White House won't be of much help, and on some issues, like breaking up the banks, it will represent the opposition. Always searching and never quite finding is grueling and often dispiriting work. But there is simply no alternative other than to give in and let the field turn hard and barren.

UPDATE: Vic Snyder Announces His Retirement

There are no shining progressives in Arkansas' political delegation. One is a robotically obstructionist wingnut Republican and two are reactionary Blue Dogs. Vic Snyder is a moderate Democrat who votes with his party as much as he feels he can. On November 7 he voted for the healthcare reform. Anti-family reactionaries Mike Ross (Blue Dog) and John Boozeman (R) both voted against it. Here are the 4 Arkansas House members career-long ProgressivePunch scores on substantive votes:

No Donna Edwardses or Jan Schakowskys or Raul Grijalvas in Arkansas. But just hours after a website working with Republican operative Grover Norquist published a poll purporting to show Snyder would be defeated for voting in favor of healthcare reform, he threw in the towel.

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At 3:26 PM, Blogger Jim Crittenden said...

Possibly the most heartfelt important post since the '08 elections. IMHO, this one deserves more airtime in the echo chamber. The words articulate the mood quite clearly. Next week's election may come down to how many right-leaning voters still carry that sickening gutful of bitterness over past Republican misdeeds they helped enable.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous me said...

If the GOP wins in MA, perhaps it will shake Obama's self-confidence enough that he will start paying attention to his base for a change. The cloud might have a silver lining.

Perhaps. But so far, Obama has been following in Bill Clinton's footsteps, caving in to every republican demand in a futile and astoundingly foolish attempt to get them to go along with his program.

That is simply impossible. It will never happen. We all saw how much good Clinton's efforts did him.

If Obama continues on the path he has started, he'll be very lucky indeed if the only thing the GOP does to him is impeach him for a blow job.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous me said...

Obama = Charlie Brown

Repubs = Lucy holding the football

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Ida Jurie said...

I don't see where Massachusetts has ever been as blue as many say. They often seem to have a Republican governor. And, back in the 1970s, long after southern schools had been integrated, Massachusetts had the ugliest school busing fight north of Alabama. Such racism tells me that the state has plenty of Republicans.

At 2:05 AM, Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Prez. Shamwow is so weak, so coopted, that a loss in MA next week will drive him to the right, not the left...

At 6:06 AM, Blogger Serving Patriot said...

MA = taxachusetts... a favorite mem of the Villagers in Beltway elites. That's why the CW sez it is such a "blue, blue" state. Ida is absolutely right, MA is certainly purple, electing republicans such as the Mittster! Who then implemented a health care reform!!!!!

No doubt Obama is a huge disappointment and so Clintonesque in his diffident leadership to date. Digby is right tho'; those that care MUST get themselves involved.

And this is where Team O and the corporatist f'd up. They made a huge, interconnected and, for a while, energized local volunteer movement. People who went out there and did it. In many ways, they had to learn it themselves (since so little civics is ever taught to them in school). Sooner or later, they will abandon the corporate Dem model lead by Rahmbo, get angry and get re-involved. This needs to be encouraged, cultivated and brave faces (like Doug Tudor) supported to light these local fires.

And, if Woody is right (and I think he is), I don't think it will be later... but sooner.



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