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Friday, December 10, 2010


I am going to make one last comment on the series of rather angry posts that have been prompted by my support for Obama's budget deal with the Republicans. Then I am going to move on to something else. Let me explain why. There is a long tradition, started by Marx himself, of fratricidal in-fighting on the left. [As young men, Marx and Engels started things off with their boisterous fights with the Bauer brothers and others on the left.] This visceral anger is focused on those actually relatively close to one's own position, while the real enemies are passed over more or less in silence, as though it is not even necessary to get angry at them.

Now, for the past two years, our politics have been dominated by the instransigence of the Republicans, who have used the device of the filibuster to hold every Democratic proposal hostage. But the anger for failures and compromises seems to be focused almost entirely on Obama, who is, after all, a great deal closer to the left than are the Republicans, or even the Blue Dog Democrats who have themselves held the Democratic proposals hostage.

Are Obama's politics mine? No, but then I never thought they were. Would he have preferred a larger stimulus package? I think clearly yes, but he knew he could not get what he wanted, and he very nearly did not get the cut down package he was willing to settle for. Would he have liked a public option in the health bill? Pretty clearly yes, but what does it matter? There was no chance at all of getting that past the Republicans, or even past many in his own party. Does Obama want to end the tax cuts for the rich? yes. Can he get that? No. Does he want to end DADT? Yes. Can he get even that? Judging from last night's vote, maybe not.

Who is to blame for all of this? In the first instance, the Republicans. Surely that is obvious. But those Republicans were elected by constituents. So why is there not more anger on the left at the people who put Jon Kyl and Jeff Sessions and John Boehner and the egregious Susan Collins and all the others in office?

One commentator cited a poll, which I have also seen, purporting to show that the "American people" are farther to the left than Obama. Really? Take a look at the results of the recent election. Is the time ripe for revolution? Give me a break. To be sure, the future is always harder to predict than the past, but on my reading of the current political situation, America is a good deal riper for fascism than it is for a proletarian revolution.

Now, I don't like in-fighting with those who are, or ought to be, my comrades. In this respect, I dislike Marx's mentality. I do not choose to go that route, so I am going to stop responding to angry posts about "Obama and the other demons" and focus my energies on things I can do to make the situation a tiny bit better. And I will continue to keep at the forefront of my awareness the simple fact that the Republicans, and the Americans who elect them, are the real problem.


Chris said...

I've heard Chomsky Respond to your criticism that America can't be to the left, given their voting record. His troikas is that on broad issues they ate to the right, but when asked
Narrower and specific questions they are far to the left. So do Americans love tax cuts: yes. Do they think the rich should have them: no. Etc.

I think a big problem the left has with Obama is that we are stuck being identified with him. As you say he's a moderate republican 10-20 years ago. So while the spectrum consistently moves to the right, those of us on the far fringes of the left confine to lose our last vestiges of Quasi-representation.

Chris said...

Sorry for typos and words that appear to be misnomers. Typing from a phone leads to capricious results.

Amato said...
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Amato said...
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Chris said...

Amato, that's less of a disagreement and more an agreement. You concur with me, and I believe Chomsky (although from this moment forward I'll stop saying so, as I don't want to speak too much for the man).

On nuanced, and narrow issues, people, in general, not just Republicans, but Democrats, Independents, etc, are left of our political spectrum's center.

On broad issues and ideology, they are to the right.

On this we agree.

And I further agree with you that even if on narrow issues they are to the left, it doesn't matter.
And this speaks to one of our largest political problems. The successful propaganda of the parties and the news outlets. You've watched congressional, local, and executive debates. They are vapid and vacuous. It's as you say, just butting heads of some broad ideology, with almost zero direct and nuanced policy discussion. More taxes, less taxes is the extent of the discussion! This is as much as the politician's as the media's fault, as those posing the questions share one of the two broad ideological narratives, and seem to think hearing it repeated it actually informative.

I think one of the easiest ways to solve a problem like this, is find a way to get folks like Ralph Nader onto prime-time television and debates. One doesn't HAVE to support Nader, to recognize his presence and persistence alone would lead to a serious discussion of issues, so people could recognize more nuance in views. And perhaps then, actually start voting in their narrow values, and not their propagandized broad values.

Amato said...

It seems my comments are just disappearing after I post them. Maybe everyone else is seeing them, if so im sorry for so many posts. This is the comment I wrote, for which Chris is responding to:

I would have to disagree with you and Chomsky on this one. It's not that I don't think when pressed on particulars many people who vote republic aren't more left than they might seem. Only I don't think it matters much [at least, I don't think this force can likely be called upon and used against the GOP, or the dems, to advance movement to the left.] The republicans, it seems to me, have taken hold of their constituents by the ideology chains, so to speak, by painting a simplistic and value leaden narrative about the nature of our world.

It is quite possible that many poor white republicans, for example, don't think the rich should get tax breaks. However, Republicans have repeated it enough times that taxes represent big government, and big government, within their narrative, is inherently oligarchical. And even though democrats are only seeking to end tax breaks for the rich, they become the embodiment of those evil big government folk.

The same is true with issues around militarism. When pressed on it, republicans would probably say their against war, and possibly even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They might even be upset when told how much money is annually spent on the defense budget and how little money is spent on their child's education. However, If they believe that their choice is between militarism or numerous repeats of September 11th, than their going vote republican. It's crazy, but I imagine that since education is almost never talked about within the republican narrative, many fox news watchers just take the state of education to be an immutable fact of the world, and worry about keeping their kids "safe" from those terrorist. When questioned on it, poor republicans might think, "Oh wait, they should be doing more with education." However, the thought is likely fleeting because it receives so little attention from the mediums that inform their world view.

One of the most amazing feats of the republican narrative is that it has convinced many of its constitutes that social welfare programs, which would directly benefit them, are evil. The health care bill of course is a shining example. Unlike, say, the stimulus package, where some poor republican might not be able to answer: how does this effect me? The answer is obvious with something like health care bill, particular when it has a government sponsored public option. Again, if you pressed poor republicans on if they would like free, or least less costly, health care they would probably say yes. But since they were told that the health care bill was another example of democrats ambitions to implement their “socialist” authoritarian rule, it was outright rejected by the very people it was seeking to help.

Part of the dems problem is they are working within roughly the same simplistic ontological framework, where the world is painted in black and white and good and bad. I think the challenge for us lefties is to find a way to paint the much more nuanced picture of the world, and argue why it is a far better reflection of reality. However, I am not sure how we would even approach this, since in the republican narrative, intellectualism tantamount to snobbishness and elitism.

Amato said...

in response I guess we agree a great deal. However, I'm not sure about your solution. It was actually Chomsky that I heard talk about why he would not be able to engage in the political punditry on a network television (and its not just because they don't invite him). He said that much of the debate is built on too many false premise. It would take far more time than a 24 hour news cycle allows anyone to speak to correct the kind of inherent flaws in mainstream political discourse, let alone articulate his own politics. Without have the time to methodically pick away at the problems ingrained in the overly simplistic narrative, Chomsky or Nader might as well be a crazy persons to mainstream America (many already seem to believe Nader is.)

Chris said...

I agree, which is why I focused on presidential debates; merely because there's more time, and one isnt isolated to a 5 minute contrived segment.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think Noam may underestimate the effect he could have on national tv. The trick is not to argue about the hidden premises, but just to state flat out the conclusions one draws from one's own premises. For example, asked to make some sort of comment on Iraq or Afghanistan or whatever, suppose one begins by saying, "Since the United States, as in imperial power devoted to domianting the rest of the world for it own econmic interests, does so and so." Then let the other guest deny that the US is an imperial power. All of a sudden, what was not even on the table is a matter of contention, and acquires some legitimacy thereby. Noam is very much of a rabbinical scholar in his style or argumentation, and I think one must simply give up the belief that one is engaged in rational discussion, and recognize, as the most successful tv guests do, that their real audience is the viewers, not the host of the other guests.

Chris said...

And Noams fear is that in making that comment, he'll spend his short 5 minutes explaining what imperialism is, to the aloof and confused host, and therefore fail to talk about whatever the invited issue is.

Sometimes you can catch him on longer programs on the
BBC or democracynow for instance, where he has ample time to be didactic.

Chris said...

I wonder if there could be a way to get you on tv... Or an op-Ed piece

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have a facial twitch that came on me when I was five, and has stayed with me ever since. My wife, children, and students assure me it is soon ignored, but I look grotesque to myself on the few occasions when I have actually been on tv, so I shun it. Op Eds are of course another matter entirely. I am Adonis himself in words. :)

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