I’ve been trying to sort out my mixed reactions to the jingoistic displays of patriotism at the DNC for a couple of days now. As a peace activist, I’m very unhappy about the gleeful waving around of military might. However, in some ways, the Democratic Party was giving the peacenik left what we’ve been asking for since, oh, about 2003.
I used to be one of the folks who stood at the central intersection in downtown West Chester every Saturday to vigil against the invasion/occupation of Iraq; the group that organized the vigils, the Chester County Peace Movement, also used to have regular meetings and other events at which we would talk in really wonky terms about how to do more than just witnessing and arguing with the proto-Tea-Partiers across the street. The question we almost always got stuck on was, “Why has the GOP been able to claim ‘patriotism’ for their side?” We love and respect the United States as much as they do, we said, and we believed that it was patriotic to fight back against an unjustly installed government committing unjust horrors against another sovereign nation. Hence the chant: What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.
The last time I remember clearly being actively involved in that conversation was in the early days of this blog, 2007’ish, with a couple of the right-wingers who were furiously insistent that we were “traitors” because we didn’t “love our country” because we didn’t “support the troops” because we “criticized the war effort” because I’m one of those “dangerous radical leftist academics” because…. Point is, aside from a snarky cheapshot at people I hadn’t tried to talk to in years :), it’s been a long time since I’ve thought hard about what a Democratic Party committed to showing the larger voting public how patriotic it could be would look like.
And what I saw this week at the DNC wasn’t pretty. That’s not the patriotism we were hoping for. It is, however, an entirely predictable outcome of a process by which a mainstream US political party decides to show the country that it can outdo its main rival–especially when the rival party has given over its identity to a creature (OK, he’s a person, but I’m only willing to concede that grudgingly) whose patriotism extends exactly to the point where he’s willing to praise Putin and Saddam Hussein.
So in short–I’m not unhappy about the strategy of claiming, “We’re just as patriotic as you, GOP, if not more, and it’s possible to love your country while you support progressive economic and social policies.” I’m not very happy that there wasn’t any effort, not that I can see anyway, to make patriotism about anything other than threats–and acts–of mass violence.
Not a great day for those of us who spend many of our waking hours fighting against various aspects of neo-liberal hegemony.
It looks like sometime today, both houses of Congress will pass a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling; in that bill is also a radical realignment of our budgetary and social priorities, tilting our economic structure in more sharply towards the ultra wealthy. The poor, working, middle classes will wind up paying more for less, while the rich pay less for more AND suck up more of other people’s money for themselves. This outcome of the new policy is clear and well-documented.
What troubles me the most about it is that it will devastate working and living conditions the huge majority of the country. On that level, it’s a clear betrayal of all that’s good and right about our country.
After that, what troubles me most is the utter shamelessness of the Republican Party, which serves nobody but the ultra-elite (although it’s exploits the ever-living fuck of Evangelicals, racists, and anybody else who will listen to their madness). Other than the occasional token effort to make this effort sound like it was about anything other than vacuuming up more power and resources for themselves, they have made almost no effort even to pretend like there’s any agenda here other than real one. That is, like the moment in 1984 when O’Brien admits to Winston that the Party only does what it does because it can, the GOP is steadily revealing its true agenda–or trying to hide it less.
You’d think with the recent exposure of the Koch brothers’ machinations, the influence of the shady group ALEC, example after example of radical right-wing leaders sucking at the government teat while they decry government programs–and then not really even trying to explain themselves because they don’t really have to)… You’d think all those things would make conservatives act a little more cautiously as the (mostly) men behind the curtain are revealed to be what they are–selfish, greedy, inhumane pieces of subhuman shit.
Instead, the opposite has happened. As the conservative machine becomes more visible, it becomes even more brazen. As the institutions you’d expect to stop (at least resist) them continue to fail us–you know, the Democratic Party, the law, the voters–I suppose there’s no reason for them even to pretend to be anything other than what they are.
And that, activist friends, helps me focus on what I’ve been increasingly see as the heart of the matter for the last year, maybe more: how to excise the political, economic and social poison these subhuman scum have injected into the system for nothing but their own gain. Lots of us have adopted, adapted the terminology of “accountability,” which is close to right–how do we hold these monsters ‘accountable’ for what they’re doing? But I’m increasingly sensing that the discourse of accountability makes it too easy to let these criminals off the hook. Elected officials are held accountable at the ballot box, if ever. That’s not enough.
We’re starting to see some movement in the right direction, I think, and I’m currently hanging my hopes on:
The recall elections happening in Wisconsin When elected officials do the opposite of what you elected them to do, grab them by the backs of their necks and throw them on the scrap heap. There’s no reason to wait two years to vote them out.
The ballot initiative in OH to overturn SB5 When your legislative apparatus passes legislation that the huge majority of citizens reject, override the vote.
I’m all in favor of conventional kinds of activism and organizing. Although I’m not terribly impressed with the Coffee Party leadership (the rhetoric of the organization sounds like a thousand other people who suddenly got political and don’t yet understand that they’re not the first people to have thought about this stuff, but maybe that’ll wear down soon), the general idea of a citizen movement acting responsibly and demanding same is hard to argue with. As a union member and leader-of-sorts, of course I’m committed to labor activism and unions as strategies and modes of organizing.
But what we’re seeing in Wisconsin and Ohio right now is something else. Yes, it’s reactionary in the sense that it’s about undoing damage that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. But more important, I think, is that it’s directly responding to the problems. It’s not waiting for Election Day to trade people who did bad things for other people who will probably do bad things–it’s attacking the problems NOW.
If there’s any chance of salvaging our current form of government (if, in fact, that’s even a good idea–but I’ll set that aside for now), I believe we have to start here. Punch the assholes in their faces for being assholes. Yank them out of office when they violate the will of the people. Organize against laws that nobody wanted passed in the first place.
This is, by the way, exactly what the Tea Party says it does. It’s also exactly what the mainstream corporate media reports the Tea Party doing. Two things about that: (1) No, they don’t. The Tea Party is nothing but a tool of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey-and-friends, and is about as authentic a grassroots movement as ‘Americans for Prosperity.’ (2) Even if that’s not true (or getting less true–some analysts believe the Tea Party is getting out from under the control of its masters), there aren’t very many of them. Reports of the Tea Party’s mass-movement-ness have been greatly exaggerated.
If the Tea Partiers and progressives want to have an actual grassroots battle for the soul of the nation, count me in. When you Tea Partiers tell the Kochs and the Armeys and their friends to take their resources and shove them up their asses, when you tell your mouthpieces of Fox News you don’t need their corporate support–that is, when you practice anything you actually preach–then we’ll have an interesting situation on our hands.
[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]
Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.
Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise. The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on. We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon. Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.
And this is, as we all know, just the beginning. Actually, no it isn’t. The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now. Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy. We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.
A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now. And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm. Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between. The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug. The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need. But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.
So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support? All that’s really left, it seems, is each other. There are millions of us. We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand. We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around. We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.
And you know what? I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by. Why? Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.
Whose money are the rich stealing? Ours! How do we stop that from happening? Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.
Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river? Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day. We have to make demands and fight for them. We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face. We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.
On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that. If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet. For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie. Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”
What’s so damn hard about that?
Or put another way: We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long. What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population? There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter. We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever). We can do this without them.
So the buzzword of the year so far is “shared sacrifice.” Scott Walker says he can only balance the Wisconsin budget if those greedy public employees would just be willing to sacrifice a little. John Kasich of Ohio says the same–at the same time he and his legislature define university professors as managers so they can’t belong to unions, but anyway… Democrats and Republicans in Washington spew the same line of crap, that in hard times we all have to sacrifice together.
I see people on the left resist this, not stridently enough, by reminding audiences that “sacrifice” is happening largely on the backs of the poor, working and middle classes. And it is. But maybe we can make a little better version of the point by asking a slightly different question.
What are the rich sacrificing in any of the current budget proposals?
Nothing. They get: more tax cuts, tax incentives, tax breaks. They get: reduced labor costs via union busting, decreased safety and environmental regulations by defunding regulatory agencies. They get: bailouts when they mismanage their businesses into the ground. They get: nearly exclusive access to the mechanisms of power because they have all the money they’ve stolen and the leisure time to use it since they don’t do anything useful with their time.
Name one thing that any of this budget voodoo costs the rich. One. And then ask yourself who’s making the policies. And then ask yourself who’s paying the price. And then ask yourself why we aren’t burning these people out of their houses (Because we’re more ethical than they are? Apparently). And then, finally, ask yourself how long you’re willing to continue putting up with a situation in which every single decision coming from a conservative-dominated system hurts YOU and EVERYBODY YOU KNOW, unless you’re one of the wealthy.
The talking heads like to talk about having to make “hard decisions” in difficult times. Well, for those of us who are actual human beings, who are sick of seeing our humanity and dignity spat on every day by rich people who don’t care whether anybody else lives or dies, we have to ask ourselves a hard question too–how long do we wait?
Early this week, in an exchange of letters to the editor in the West Chester Daily Local, a regular (as in often) conservative writer named Anthony Oleck responds to praise for the stimulus bill with this letter:
There’s a big difference
Stephanie Markstein, in her letter to the editor, wrongly asserts that the stimulus package was supported by “the greatest economists in the nation (and) all agree that, not only was it the right thing to do, but the only thing that has kept us out of a full-blown depression.”
You are confusing TARP with the boondoggle stimulus package. Economists mostly agreed that TARP, the bailout for the banks, was necessary to avert a full-fledged financial collapse.
Stimulus is nothing but a piggy bank for pork … plus it has not worked.
Obama said we needed it to keep unemployment below 8 percent, he passed it and unemployment immediately went to over 10 percent.
As far as the “saved jobs” he keeps touting … the stimulus may have saved and certainly did add government jobs, with big benefits and big pensions that we and our children will pay for from here to eternity … those are just the jobs we should be losing to help stimulate our economy and reduce our taxes.
Stimulus is a huge slush fund for Democrats to pay back their union friends.
Anthony J Oleck
I wrote a response that the Daily Local (understandably) declined to publish, and I want to post a revised version of it here because I think the discussion is worth continuing.
A version very similar to what I sent the DL:
Only somebody who hates the Democratic Party as much as Anthony Oleck does could believe that: (1) the stimulus is bad because it’s creating good jobs with good benefits; and (2) the cost of private sector versions of those jobs wouldn’t be passed along to consumers anyway.
Oleck’s argument is a strawman at its worst. At a time when what we need most is to put people to work at decent wages and with decent benefits, complaining about who actually hires them reveals his true agenda–to attack Democrats no matter what they do.
To be more explicit (since I’m no longer bound by the DL’s length limits…
Stephanie Markstein, to whom Oleck is replying, is actually correct. The huge majority of economists supported the stimulus. Those who didn’t were universally conservatives who reject any form of government intervention in anything besides abortion/birth control, and/or prayer/creationism in schools, and/or … Most critiques of the stimulus from economists without neoconservative axes to grind critiqued it for being too SMALL, not too big, a critique I agree with.
The evidence is clear, and getting clearer every day, that stimulus has in fact kept unemployment from getting worse. Yes, the number of unemployed has gone up during the Obama presidency, but to pin that on the stimulus is short-sighted at best, disingenuous (read, a lie) at worst. There was no doubt that the economy hadn’t bottomed out yet (in fact probably still hasn’t).
As I note in my original letter, Oleck reveals his real agenda in his letter. He doesn’t care the least bit about people; he wants only to attack Democrats. The simple facts of the matter are that more jobs are better than fewer, and more jobs that pay reasonable salaries and benefits are better than fewer. The “free market” (read, unregulated orgy of exploitation) has had plenty of chances to hire and pay workers. Instead, corporations have downsized and off-shored, leaving millions of capable workers in this country in the lurch. These are the people Oleck trusts to fix the very problem they’ve created, out of the goodness of their hearts? Ridiculous. How could anybody who cares about people decry the creation of good jobs?
Oleck’s claim that the stimulus was a payoff to labor unions is just a gratuitous cheapshot at unions and the President. Given the President’s unwillingness to push EFCA; to use recess appointments to put capable members on the NLRB; to push for taxing the very health plans that unions have fought hard to earn; it’s very clear that Obama is no friend of organized labor. He’s not as hostile to it as most Republicans are, but his track record shows, without question, that he’s the last person who would “pay off” the unions.
After years of neo-conservative babble and hostility towards labor and laborers, Oleck’s position shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t. However, it’s incumbent upon those of us who actually give a sh*t about anybody but ourselves to lay bare the truth behind these arguments. I don’t think Oleck is malicious in his intentions, but he (and people like him who articulate these kinds of positions) show without a doubt that they don’t much care about what happens to the huge majority of their fellow citizens. They don’t much care about people who can’t get work because the “free market” has ruined the job market for its own profit. They don’t much care about people who have to choose between rent, food, and medical treatment. They don’t much care about anything except attacking a President whose positions, when seen through the lens of reality, are much closer to their own then they’d ever want to admit.
[UPDATED SUN, 2/28]
WordPress’ “related posts” links sent me to this entry on somebody else’s blog. It’s an excellent compendium of all the Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then asked for stimulus money. Across the board, they argue that it’s appropriate to accept money they voted against, without recognizing that their own “principled stands” get compromised in the process.
I don’t mean that question in any existential sense. I should be asleep. My meeting tomorrow starts at 8:30 am, and I need a good breakfast beforehand (the hotel restaurant opens at 7 am), and I need to be awake for a while even before that. So I should be crashed, but I’m not. Maybe if I write a bunch of boring stuff, I’ll put myself to sleep :>.
The good news of the day (non-teaching-wise: teaching is always good news):
1. Because Ann got off work a little early, and because Rainbow Cab messed up my reservation with them, I got to spend a couple of extra hours with my spouse before I took off for H’burg. That’s a win!
2. Routledge e-mailed JongHwa and me this morning that our Activism and Rhetoric manuscript has been shipped to their production facility in the UK. Now it’s between us and the copy-editors, who we hope will find little to quibble about. Still on track for August release, which will be just in time for the class I designed around the book. More to the point, I believe at this point any of the potential logistical problems (like contributors not having signed their contracts) are solved.
3. Two really cool advising sessions this morning. I’m always happier (duh) when advisees come to sessions having thought about what they want and need. Both advisees were prepared, but had interesting things to talk about, questions to ask (not the ones they could have answered for themselves).
4. Sen. Arlen Specter has signed onto a letter circulating among Dems advocating passage of a healthcare bill with a public option, using the reconciliation process if they have to. I’m stunned that Specter would sign onto it. As I wrote on Rep. Mark Cohen’s Facebook wall, I’d like to be able to take this as an omen that Specter is actually enough of a Democrat to remember that years ago he supported legislation that’s almost identical to the Employee Free Choice Act!
The irksome stuff of the day is standard issue and not worth thinking about just now.
OK, that pretty much worked. Zzzzzz……