Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Netroots and Its Trauma

Back in the long long ago when the Killer Clown Administration was in power and the Villagers were wrong about pretty much everything and the Netroots were right about pretty much everything and despite being right were derided by all the people who were supposed to be on our side, one of the things the Netroots realized was that the Villagers were incapable of seeing the obvious because -- among other things like selling out or experiencing a human, all too human, hardening of the orthodoxies (as RAW once put it so elegantly) -- so many of them had had the traumatic collective experience of losing to Nixon and then Reagan (the frowny and smiley faces, respectively, of the cultural politics of resentment that were really the politics of rich white people against FDR) because, or at any rate this is what the hairball of conventional wisdom that got coughed up on the subject really amounted to, all the dirty fucking hippies were completely right about about how evil, ugly, and ruinous war and greed and intolerance were, but the truth is lots and lots of Americans apparently wanted to be racist, sexist, homophobic, repressed censorious mild alcoholic assholes and greedheads for a few more decades, anyhow, running a corporate-militarist global empire at the point of a catastrophically expensive gun and with dollar signs backed by lies in their eyes that would eventually get exposed as such. And so, anytime people pointed out obviously true facts on such subjects it triggered dirty fucking hippy trauma and got ignored while ponzi-scheming motivational speakers and futurologists and sociopathic war-mongers got treated as "very serious" even when they were also always wrong.

Forgive what is obviously something of a facile pop-psychologizing oversimplification, surely, but many folks in the Netroots who were right about everything including being right about the reason they were treated as unserious despite being right about everything, now seem to me to be exhibiting symptoms of a rather similar malady.

Netroots darling (and I like him, too!) Frank Rich describes AIG as Obama's "Katrina Moment."

Duncan "Atrios" Black (who I truly adore) says of a familiar bit of terminological hanky panky in Geithner's choice of "legacy assets" over his more apt moniker "shitpile" that this "Reminds Me Of The Bush Administration."

Somebody over at the excellent Talking Points Memo says of an easily explicable Geithner "dodge" of a question about what we will do if his plan fails (if he were to answer it to the critic's satisfaction it would either be used as evidence that he expects his plan to fail or would be read as a threat to interests Obama is trying to play ball with) that this "[e]cho[es] the architects and supporters of the success-bonanza that is the Iraq war." (Atrios immediately linked to this rather flabbergastingly faulty analogy and, endorsing it, said, "Please make it stop!" in full-on trauma mode.)

AIG is Katrina, Geithner is Rumsfeld, calling overvalued assets undervalued is WMD, Obama is Bush.

It was difficult being right when everybody was wrong, it was difficult to be derided by everybody when you were right, it was difficult to see the vindication of the ways in which you were right ignored by those who were wrong, it was difficult to be derided as unserious by those who were wrong both before and after you were proved to be right. It was maddening to hear immoral minorities described as moral majorities, welfare for the rich described as free markets, corrupt incompetent conservative governance described by conservatives as proof that government is corrupt and incompetent, warmongering described as patriotism, tyranny described as security, separation of church and state described as unamerican, creationism described as science, consensus environmental science described as pseudo-science, greed described as good, pre-emptive war against nations that posed no threat to us described as defense and then military occupation described as democracy and then torture described as keeping us safe, obvious lies described as obvious truths, palpable viciousness described as palpable virtue.

I get all that. I was right there with you. I said the same things you were saying about all that. I was even trying to teach courses in critical thinking and rational engagement (I teach in the Rhetoric Department at Berkeley, and also I teach critical theory at the San Francisco Art Institute) in the midst of all that madness and crime and waste and distress. I get it.

But you cannot lose yourself in that time and in that trauma, because that time is past and our problems are different now. This isn't to deny that things are awful -- who sanely could? -- or that people aren't behaving badly -- who sanely could? -- or that too many of the same players are on the scene -- at least until we force their prosecution, or watch their print-publications go bust -- or that incumbent interests don't need a progressive righteous push from the genius of the people, peer to peer -- hell, yes, they do!

But AIG is not Katrina. Geithner is not Rumsfeld. The Banksters aren't WMDs. The neoliberal meltdown -- though it too is a matter of epic-scaled fraud -- is not Iraq. Obama is not Bush.

The fact that I even have to say that should tell you something. If you cannot distinguish differences that make a difference, like the fact that Obama is not Bush, you have lost your way. You have lost your way. Take a break, take a nap, take a pill, take a vacation, take some therapy.

Obama is not Bush but neither is he a sooper-genius with a secret plan, or an angel, or a saint, or a comic book superhero come to save us. I'm not saying any of those things, so if that's what you are hearing you are deep, deep in a well of Bush-epoch trauma here that you need to get a hold on. Obama isn't progressive enough for my tastes, so we need the Netroots to push him from the left, to "make him do it" in the way of FDR, to avail ourselves of this moment of change. But the Netroots just aren't going to be as much help as they otherwise would have been if we don't stop losing our minds this way.

Overvalued assets might be denominated undervalued in the fullness of time if one is counting on re-regulation, re-materialization of the economy via green initiatives, de-precarization of working class citizens through healthcare and education funding, re-empowering organized labor as a countervailing power to neoliberal financial interests, and comparable measures to actually produce an economic recovery without yet another bubble. The banksters exist and are truly powerful. It doesn't matter that they are evil lying fraudulent scumbags, they aren't going to vanish, or give up without a fight, or get put up against a wall in a freedom loving country. So, instead you make ugly decisions, and make ugly compromises, and short term sacrifices while playing long term games, and ultimately innocent vulnerable people really do get screwed more than they should and elite assholes get away with hideously more than they should (hi, I'm history, have we met?) and you get past the anger and work to make those crimes and tragedies less likely while compromising with the culprits as you do so because that's what a lot of the work looks like, hoping to recoup some of the largesse with progressived taxes later and hoping to catch some of the worst of the worst through more vigorous regulation and policing later, too, hoping a world with more healthcare and education and science will provide some justice and equity and second chances for the vulnerable, and then you go on and on and on and on.

Mistaking Obama for Bush, mistaking compromise with powerful assholes as capitulation to them or identification with them, is unhelpful, it is stupid, and it is wrong.

Stop speaking from the trauma of the Bush years, Netroots, things are going to be more ambiguous, sloppy, compromised, and hopeful now. You can't fixate on ugly compromises at the level of detail, especially not if that fixation provokes Bush acid-flashbacks that send you off into the deep end, always contextualize the ugly compromise as one moving part among others in motion, and determine where you need to nudge to limit the damage and facilitate the change you can believe in. Yeah, I like Krugman's proposals better than Geithner's, too, at least in the abstract and, yeah, Summers seems odious to me, too. Stop fighting Bush anyway, Bush is gone. We'll get the banksters and fraudsters on the rebound, and maybe even sooner than you (or they) think.


Anonymous said...

Understandable. Truthful. Relevant.

More please!

Dale Carrico said...

Here's another swallowed comment I found in my e-mail queue:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The Netroots and Its

Obama's problem is that he appears to be rather straight-talking sort,
for a politician at least, but in the last 20 years political talc
became something out of Da Vinci Code-verse, - everyt slogan, every
proposal doesn't mean what it ought to, but something else entirely
instead. Thus we have thrice-divorced politicians advocating "sanctity
of marriage", pro-life killers, small-government advocates who ruled
using PATRIOT act and trillions of taxpayer's money, "pro-choicers" who
see abortions as useful tool to reduce numbers of that inner-city trash
(that is, offering an abortion as THE ONLY viable choice,
non-coercively, through invisible malevolent foot of The Market), and
so on.

Again, I'm not sure, but I really hope that this codebook is (at least)
obsolete for good. Pick up the new one at dead drop site Blue-7, at the
usual time. Whatever code Obama uses it doesn't at all look like
neocon's. Hey, he even may honestly mean what he says...

Moderate comments for this blog:

Posted by Anonymous to amor mundi at 1:56 PM