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Monday, February 11, 2008

I Think It's Trauma Talking

Look, I agree that Superdelegates are an anti-democratic historical vestige that cries out for reform. I agree that the disenfranchisement of Florida and Michigan is an ugly anti-democratic business for which I'd like to see the decent justice of restaged primaries that count. I agree that there have been shady shenanigae on the campaign trail here and there that seem to denigrate what should be the foundational values for Democrats of enfranchisement and democratic process on certain occasions where brutal exigencies of winning and losing seem to have come unattractively to the forefront of the competition for the nomination.

Despite all that, it seems to me that there is something disproportionate and emotionally weird about the stridency and hysteria of some of the doomsaying and enraged and panicky scenarios being spun around Superdelegates and last minute reversals of popular mandates and so on.

I happen to think most rank-and-file Democrats like both Clinton and Obama quite a bit and will likely unite deliriously enough eventually around either one. I was an Edwards supporter and feel ambivalence (at best) about aspects of both of the remaining candidates, but I don't deny the ferociously wholesome force to a white racist patriarchal imperial America of a Presidential victory for either one, and I honestly feel either one is better than Kerry behind whom I offered up my solid support in 2004.

I'm leaning Obama because I think he is provoking more people-powered politics and he is beholden to more people-powered politics, and I think his coattails will bring in marginally higher majorities in the House and Senate than Clinton will, majorities we could use when we're fighting for a pathway to universal healthcare, fighting to end the illegal catastrophe of occupation, fighting to demand accountability for the criminals of the Killer Clown era, and so on. But Clinton doesn't seem to me conspicuously worse on any of these counts, and my partner Eric could pen a paragraph just as compelling in support of Clinton on this score. We're both very amicable about it.

Honestly, the Republicans sound like warmongering corporatist lunatics with theocratic leanings. McCain and Huckabee, are you freaking kidding me? Bush had to lie about who he was to get close enough to steal the election in 2000, and these two crackpots aren't hiding behind palatable moderate masks -- and this after seven years of Movement Conservative disaster on every front and unprecedented unpopularity for the Warmongering Jeebusfreak policies these two are trumpeting to their zealous crackpot base. It's as if Victorian Imperialists with muttonchops and bibles are vying for the votes of a p2p generation facing a Greenhouse future.

Democrats need to take an honest look at reality and get a grip. I'm not advocating complacency, but the skewed conspiracies and vitriolic attacks between inside-baseball supporters of the remaining two candidates don't seem to me to be contributing much useful work or sensible perspective on our actual circumstances or the work those circumstances actually demand of us in the way of education, agitation, and organizing.

It's hard not to suspect that the Superdelegate disenfranchisement hysteria is something of a symptomatic, and not particularly helpful, psychic restaging of the trauma of the 2000 stolen Presidential election and the shocking realization in that moment that none of the institutions in which we presumably repose our trust (I read Chomsky and Vidal and even I was a bit flabbergasted) -- the Supreme Court, our Representatives, the "leaders" of the Democratic Party apparatus, the "eminences" of the media Establishment -- were functioning even remotely as we were supposed to think that they were, in our palpably clear interests. The confirmation of that traumatic realization in the run up to War, knee deep in the Big Muddy of an illegal occupation, in the dismantlement of civil liberties and non-partisan professional administrative functions, in the Swiftboating of John Kerry, in the catastrophic non-response to Katrina, in the taking of Impeachment off the table, in the affirmation of torture and illegal wiretaps, and so much more, have just compounded and compounded that initial trauma but never once provided any occasion to come to terms with the trauma itself.

It seems to me that the voice of traumatized people is speaking in the panic of those who really think Superdelegates will trump a conspicuously more popular nominee (isn't the whole point that Superdelegates are in the picture precisely because the popular contest is so close?) and so risk disarray and utter demoralization in an era of p2p-mediation on the eve of the Presidential election that looks likely to put Democrats in power of every elected branch of government in a landslide mandate that will change history.


Martin said...

The whole idea of a political party is a bit anti-democratic. The founding fathers were, for the most part, against political parties. So, you join one and the candidates join one and now you cry foul.

Get money out of politics. Get the parties and all social/political hierarchies out of politics. Let people run as individuals and get voted on by individuals (ie, popular vote). That's democracy.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't agree that the very idea of political parties is inevitably anti-democratic. If, say, the Democratic Party fields candidates that face people-powered incumbency challenges when they go against the grain of their constituencies and garner people-powered support via aggregated campaign donations, then that seems to me reasonably little-d democratic.

There are many ways to implement democratic ideas, not just one: representative forms, direct forms, participatory forms, opportunistic mixes among these.

It's not that I don't sympathize with your vision, it's just that I think it's even more remote from the institutional terrain that is likely to confront us within our lifetimes than my own already implausibly remote vision of a more people-powered democracy. That's cool, utopian ideals can clarify values -- but I wouldn't want to endorse the idea that anything that failed to to be equal to such utopian visions is equally anti-democratic in that failure as, say, the open anti-democracy of parties organized by partisans of Investor Class oligarchy, Christianist theocrats, New World Order corporate-militarists, and so on.

The Founding Fathers you and I sympathize with most may indeed have warned against the formation of political parties -- but not all did, and few resisted the temptation to mobilize them whatever their misgivings on that score.

Organizing inheres in the same democratic impulse that agitation does. Something like organized parties in relatively democratic formations governing large geographically dispersed populations looks to me as ineradicable as a state invested with legitimate recourse to coercion is -- and my conviction in the face of that inevitability is that we should strive to democratize as best we can what cannot be abolished.

De Thezier said...

Dale Carrico said:

my partner Eric could pen a paragraph just as compelling in support of Clinton on this score

Hello Dale,

Does Eric have a blog? I ask because I would actually like to read this paragraph.

Also, I would like to read his possible comments on the following two articles about Clinton:

Hillary Clinton Is Telling the Truth, That's the Problem
by Russell Wellen

Clinton, Obama, and Cluster Bombs
by David Rees

Michael Anissimov said...

Here's a recent article on Obama that captures some of my worries:,25197,23182456-28737,00.html

Big on generalities, low on specifics. If he won't get into the nitty-gritty in public speeches now, why should we expect him to do so when he's president?

I will support Obama if he secures the nomination, though.

Greg in Portland said...

landslide mandate that will change history

I wish I could believe that but neither Obama nor Hillary seems to offer anything much but a kinder, gentler road to hell. Maybe they'll put pneumatic tires and shock absorbers on the truck we'll be forced to ride there. Obama has some potential to be driven by his supporters to become something better than he is though. I don't have much hope.

Martin said...

If the superdelegates don't choose the candidate with the most popular votes, I doubt I'll ever vote in a general election again. I mean, what's the point?

Dale Carrico said...

Big on generalities, low on specifics. If he won't get into the nitty-gritty in public speeches now, why should we expect him to do so when he's president?

I obviously get this concern, given posts like this, among others. But, I must say, this comment is doubly perplexing, since

(a) The platitude that one campaigns in poetry and governs in prose really often is true, and explains this well enough, and

(b) There's plenty of policy nitty-gritty available on Obama's website for anybody who looks for it.

It doesn't matter as much as all that, after all, except as an indication of which constituencies will be the ones a candidate is likely to tip his hat to in office and a sense of the orientation of the advisors he is taking seriously, since Presidents aren't supposed to unilaterally implement complex policies in any case. Differences on healthcare between Clinton and Obama for example are little likely to make much difference as health care is taken up in Congress. That their goals and priorities are similar are what matters most, you know, the generalities.

Where nitty-gritty is concerned Edwards was almost always the best of the front runners on issue after issue, which is why I supported him so enthusiastically. Now my calculation is that Obama is broadly as progressive as Clinton, is as or more slightly likely to feel beholden to progressives when the time comes to listen to people, and is generating movement energy that will get more progressives in Congress who will do much of the actual nitty-gritty policy work Obama will inspire in his public addresses and then sign -- rather than veto -- when progressive policies are hammered out.

By the way, Lawrence Lessig endorsed Obama quite a while ago (that was the only endorsement that gave me any pause at all while Edwards was still in the race), and Obama's apparent grasp of sci-tech issues and his campaigns published policies in this area are not too shabby at all.

Dale Carrico said...

I wish I could believe that but neither Obama nor Hillary seems to offer anything much but a kinder, gentler road to hell.

I think they are both better than all that, and in any case it isn't properly the business of the President in a democracy to offer us anything more than a direction -- the travelers on the road, hell, the builders of the road we're traveling are... us.

Dale Carrico said...

If the superdelegates don't choose the candidate with the most popular votes, I doubt I'll ever vote in a general election again. I mean, what's the point?

Not gonna happen. And if it did, the continued p2p-democratization of the party would demand reform of the party rules -- as it is very likely to do in any case, even if we avoid the nightmare scenario you mention, Martin. The superdelegate phenomenon reflects -- as I'm sure you already know -- a compromise gesture from 1968 to party-elites who had selected candidates in a process even less democratic than the present one. It's high time for the next step in the process of democratization. Participation in the process, not the reverse, is indispensable to this process.

Greg in Portland said...

I think they are both better than all that, and in any case it isn't properly the business of the President in a democracy to offer us anything more than a direction -- the travelers on the road, hell, the builders of the road we're traveling are... us.

You must be on a different road Dale. The one I've been on my whole life was built by Haliburton and the truck by GM with the passengers being constantly forced to pay the tolls every half mile to a private toll company. OK, enough of the silly road metaphors. Seriously, I just look at what the candidates are saying. Hillary wants to force us to buy private health insurance, Obama's plan also seems to rely mainly on private plans but lacks the fine for not having it. Of the two I like Obama's plan much better. I still wonder why they are talking about implementing these complex private/public schemes instead of the simplest, tried and tested approach taken in every other sensible country (single payer). Oh right, I do know the reason - both candidates are corporate tools. Really, the only hope I have is that Obama, being younger, will prove more malleable in the hands of his actual progressive base. Hillary I fear is too old to change and went over to the dark side long ago. We can talk about building our own road but I'm not sure how. How do we really hold the Democrats to account in our two party, winner-take-all system? The party machine is rightly smug about implementing its pro-corporate, pro-war policies since it knows that it can count on the support of even people like you, a socialist. I tend to think the only thing that could really change this country for the better would be a constitutional convention establishing a parliamentary system and severely limiting the "rights" of corporations, including the abolition of corporate personhood as a legal concept. I know that the New Deal and Great Society were big changes within the current system. The former was basically forced by the depression, the latter by huge civil unrest in the 60s. Is that what you mean by building our own road? I'm not averse to seeing this myself I just want to know what you think "the road" will be. I don't think it can all be done on the internet and yet that's really all I see, people ranting on blogs.

Dale Carrico said...

Greg, there's nothing you're saying that I don't know already. Not to be a jerk about it, but don't let the best be the enemy of the good. I know jackholes use this to justify hideous unnecssary compromises all the time -- but compromises are made in politics, lines are drawn, and the devil's in the details. p2p formations and awareness of environmental crises, conjoined with a series of conspicuous failures of neoliberal policy in the midst of the current eclipse of US hegemony are creating an opening for change for the better (sure, for the worse too if it goes that way) unlike any in my whole politically-aware lifetime. Resignation now means you need to find a way to do some gardening and volunteer at a soup kitchen for a while to get your perspective back. Don't think I'm naive -- I'm both angrier and more hopeful right now than I have ever been in my life right now. Both.

Greg in Portland said...

It's funny you said that. I just got the registration card for the community garden sign-up. Hope I'll have time to keep the weeds under control. I'll try visualizing them as corporate lobbyists.

Dale Carrico said...

Excellent! :) If I didn't have the continual positive feedback loop of smart inspired undergraduates responding to my teaching and provoking my rethinking of things to bolster me up, I don't like to think what my state of mind would have been through all the heartbreak and violence and deception and disgust of these awful Killer Clown years.