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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And Now A Little Love for the Haters

For a year or so now, I've been very critical of some on the left whose relentless criticisms of these first months of Democratically-controlled post-Bush politics has seemed to me to be altogether too unrealistic in its ambitions in terms of the pace and scope of change possible given the power of anti-democratic stakeholders and given the unprecedented obstructionism of the still-substantial Republican minority over the passage of progressive legislation through the Senate. I've been especially critical of the exemplars of this vantage who have seen fit to snipe at me personally in the Moot! Now, I still think there is something rather silly about those whose disappointments with the way the left wing of the possible seems to be playing out inspire them to propose Bush-Obama equivalency theses or pine after quixotic Third Party spoiler politics. And I do continue to think the Netroots still has a steep learning curve to climb on the way to grasping the legal, social, and institutional constraints of the legislative and other reformist processes truly at hand, the better to pressure them in new and actually useful ways given the still under-explored strengths and limits of peer-to-peer educational, agitational, and organizational formations.

But I do think I am ready now to make a baby-step in the direction of a concession to the haters.

It is one thing to worry that the pace of possible reform may be inadequate in the face of the reality of climate change or weapons proliferation or corporate-militarism -- that's a legitimate concern, and I think people of good will may choose revolution over reform as their best judgment dictates, even though I cast my own lot with the heartbreaking path of slow and steady reform, such as it is. However, it has been my greatest fear and frustration with the Obama-disparagement brigade that they refuse actually to own up to the demands and costs of an actually revolutionary orientation, but thereupon invest altogether unrealistic demands and hopes on reform that were provoking disproportionate despair in ways that would be demoralizing and self-defeating to that reform on its own terms.

Primary contests so far have been assuaging these fears of mine somewhat. Although folks are still making big noises about the enthusiasm gap that separates Republican and Democratic voters, it is becoming clearer that:

One: As happened continuously during the healthcare debates of last year, it is highly misleading to treat opposition to progressive reform from the right as monolithically of a piece with opposition to its inadequacy from the left. Few who are disappointed with reform and want more are disappointed enough to prefer nothing to anything, and hence the aftermath of that reform tends to be far more demoralizing for those to whom, to the contrary, anything in the way of reform feels like the loss of everything they were struggling to prevent (and that demoralization tends to be amplified the longer their defeat fails to materialize in the catastrophes the fear of which drove their resistance to reform in the first place). The Republican retreat from "running on repeal" of reformist accomplishment testifies to the dynamics of this difference.

Two: As Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes,
most poll answering Democrats who say they're unexcited about voting are still doing so in the races we've had thus far this cycle, so getting too excited about large Republican leads with highly enthused voters when the overall numbers tell a different story is somewhat misleading. An unexcited vote counts just the same as a very excited one.

That is to say, if frustrated Democrats are still voting, then their frustration is as much a strength as a threat. Democrats outnumber Republicans and when we vote we win. Democratic representatives may not be as progressive as their constituencies but they are usually incomparably more progressive than are the Republican alternatives, and the more Democrats in office the more of a voice the more progressive members of the caucus can have, especially when the Democratic base is alert, engaged, and pushing. Democrats do need to be pressured from the left against the inertial forces of incumbency and authoritarian tendencies of prevailing corporate-militarism.

While I still celebrate Obama as likely the most progressive President since FDR this is far from a celebration of all of his separate appointments and policies, many of which I disapprove of as strongly as and for the same reasons as many do who then go on to condemn Obama in the direst terms, which I definitely do not (I truly wonder how much people can actually know of FDR who seem to find this to be a paradoxical attitude for me to take), and so I do cheerfully concede that it is vitally important that fighting liberals and radical democrats provide a countervailing power to the inertial and authoritarian forces of incumbency always already in play. I would like to think I add my own voice to that countervailing power on many issues (lgbt issues, military issues, etc.), despite being dismissed as an uncritical Obamabot by some critics in the Moot.

While I still think there is plenty to disagree with on a case to case basis with many of the most strident attacks on Obama and the Democrats one hears, given what seem to me to be the actually-existing constraining realities at hand, I am becoming less worried that these attacks are crystallizing as a general demoralization that would keep people away from the polls and out of the streets and hence defeat the purpose of radical critique altogether. And hence I am feeling a bit less hostile to the haters for the time being. Especially given how many of them are vegetarian hippy pinko pacifist queers and punks and bleeding hearts like me, when all is said and done.


Summerspeaker said...

I certainly fall into all of the listed categories. My views on voting and Obama align with those expressed by Howard Zinn before his death. (There's a case for life extension if I've ever heard one!)

RadicalCoolDude said...

Hello Summerspeaker.

Although I like Howard Zinn very much, every single time I hear news that officials from the White House are actually intervening to water down Wall Street reform, my views become and more aligned with those of an unrealistic "hater" like Chris Hedges.

You should read his essay provocatively titled This Country Needs a Few Good Communists.

Dale Carrico said...

Speaking as a democratic socialist: More, and Better, Democrats.

Dale Carrico said...

RCD -- if you actually have an opinion or a response of your own, by all means make the effort actually to formulate it and post it. I just deleted your cut and pasting of somebody else's piece as I will delete posts that offer up nothing but links elsewhere. I am looking for useful interlocutors in the Moot, not ventriloquist dummies.

Dale Carrico said...

If one's sociopolitical aspirations and analyses are more radical than those of the political platforms and welcome constituencies of America's actually constituted political parties, you can either treat partisan politics as a reformist pathway in the direction of your aspirations while struggling as well within the party that best reflects that direction to adopt a platform closer still to your more radical terms, or you can treat such partisan politics as an insurmountable barrier of incumbency, corruption, and falsehood to your aspirations leading you to revolutionary remedies instead.

However disappointed and frustrated you may be at actual partisan and reformist outcomes, as a person like me whose left-wing convictions are more radical than constituted parties and available reformism can accommodate, if you nonetheless remain wedded to the heartbreaking path of that reformism as the left wing of the possible and continue to vote for More, and Better Democrats, pushing and pushing and pushing all the while from the left on particular policy questions, then you are in much the same position as I am.

If instead you truly decide to eschew the path of best possible progressive reform within the constraints at hand, then this is a decision I can certainly respect (tho' it is not my own decision), but only if that decision truly cashes out in actual revolutionary action instead. Otherwise it's just narcissistic tantrum throwing pretending to be political radicalism as far as I can tell.

It is one thing to feel enraged or broken-hearted by DNC/Obama deficiencies, it is another (and false) thing to propose Dem-Rep equivalency theses. It is one thing to recognize that no party platform is adequate to one's radicalism, it is another (and false) thing to propose as a practical solution a third-party alternative when representative independent of America's two parties are forced nevertheless to caucus with one of these parties in any case to have any agency in governance and in the absence of instant runoff voting to insulate third-party runs from functioning as spoilers.

Of course, radicals should continue to make their more radical cases, offer up their more radical accounts and proposals, provide more radical alternatives and so on. But it is crucial that one grasp the difference between such activities and actual reformist or revolutionary activity. It pays to be sensitive to the differences between campaigns that are intended to be reformist and those that claim to be revolutionary, the differences between analyses involving ideal cases as against best probable outcomes, and that one not use criteria more appropriate to the one to drive evaluation of the other, and so on.

This is actually hard to do, and hard to keep in mind in the heat of conflict, and easy to get wrong case by case.

Summerspeaker said...

RCD, I bet Zinn would have agreed with Hedges. He had nothing good to say about Obama at the one year mark. On voting, he suggested doing it because of the pragmatic benefit of getting the lesser of the two evils but advised not focusing one's energies on the process. Vote on election day, but know the struggle continue outside of the political process regardless.