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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Be The Change, Be The Difference (And Other Mantras)

I've been very busy with school stuff and not really posting, so perhaps this conversation with long-time Friend of Blog Martin from the Moot will provide a stand-in for an original post. I seem to have variations of this conversation over and over and over again with people!

I wrote, in a recent post inspired by the righteous Wisconsin protests: "The real question to my mind is whether folks presently disgusted with Republicans will still feel disgusted when the next election actually arrives."

In answer to this, Martin asks a question of his own: "Would it be any better if there were more Democrats in power? Would the tax breaks have expired? I doubt it. The new boss is always the same as the old boss. Change is just a mantra. Anybody who thinks that Republicans have a monopoly on propaganda isn't paying attention. Quite frankly, I'm disgusted... by Obama."

To which, in a fit of pique, I responded:

"The level of indifference to differences that make a difference implied by such statements borders on a kind of madness at worst, at best a principled stance that yields unprincipled conduct.

"I don't believe you really mean it, actually.

"It's one thing to point out how inadequate and compromised Obama and other Democrats are -- and don't try to out-litany me with a laundry list of all the crap he and they are pulling, especially as an executive augmenting the executive in awful ways that would be checked by the other branches if they weren't thronged with batshit crazies now, I daresay you don't know much more than I do on that score or decry it from an anti-authoritarian pro-democracy advocacy more principled than mine -- but, nonetheless, it's quite another thing to pretend Republicans are not presently captured by anti-science anti-government anti-democracy crazies worse in every possible way than the majority of Democrats and indeed worse in ways that are compelling many of the very inadequacies and compromises which you are attributing equally to all as if you don't know better.

"One doesn't forgive Obama what he is doing wrong in recognizing the manifold ways in which he is better than any actually existing alternatives on offer in ways that actually matter in the world.

"Too many to the left of Obama who declare him so bad as to be equivalent to Republicans either need to join a literal revolutionary cell else be recognized as indulging in full-on bullshit artistry (since differences of belief that do not yield differences in conduct are not differences that make a difference), while almost anybody who proposes such a thing from Obama's right can scarcely be better than a Nazi.

"If your (one's, I'm not picking on *you* you) disgust takes you out of action rather than into action you can be sure it is not righteous, and if change appears to you a mirage then be the change you want to see in the world.

"By the way, if Dems had kept the House and maintained a comparable majority in the Senate, then, yes, I do believe the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would have expired. I also believe that in the real world Republican majorities will never achieve that result and only Democratic ones can -- even if you are right that even with Democratic majorities one cannot be sure of that result unless the majorities are of a sufficiently progressive character. I don't consider that a controversial statement, and I think it makes mincemeat of phony equivalency theses."

Martin replied to this soon after:

"I didn't say they were equivalent, although on some of the biggest issues we are facing, they are practically indistinguishable. Two years ago we scoffed at the idea that the war and Gitmo might continue indefinitely, but now we know that McCain might as well have been elected.

"It's particularly disgusting that Obama has decided to restart our single biggest source of human rights violations.

"But what are we supposed to do? Vote for "more and better" Democrats? Another impotent mantra. Who is more progressive then Obama (was) that actually stands a chance of winning?

"Gitmo shredded any last hope I had of Obama being a "change" candidate."

Whereupon I replied:

"You said, 'on some of the biggest issues we are facing, they [Dems and Repugs] are practically indistinguishable,' [but i]t is precisely at the practical level that they are palpably distinguishable, even where they both suck.

When Democrats are not elected Republicans are, and at the moment Republicans getting elected means union-smashing infrastructure-looting woman hating queer bashing white-racist climate-change denialist greedhead Christianist gun-nuts have more power. Get a grip!

I think Obama is wrong on indefinite detention, I think he is wrong on wikileaks, I think he is wrong on executive privilege, I think he is wrong on wiretaps, I think he is wrong on not prosecuting Bush Administration officials for war crimes. Pointing these things out is crucial. Who in their right mind isn't disgusted by this?

My point isn't to denigrate these issues vis-a-vis others: the simple fact is that if you really care about these issues you have more allies among Democrats even if not all Democrats are your allies on this. And quite apart from that ugly reality it remains true that re-electing Obama, ideally in a landslide, is probably among the few things that can happen in this historical moment to ensure his coattails turn back the House and retain the Senate and scramble the political terrain in ways that make it more susceptible to fighting Obama with sympathetic Dems at the level of policy where we disapprove of him.

"You describe '"more and better Democrats" [as a]nother impotent mantra.'

On what actual reality-reference are the concepts of power (the potency mobilized in the ascription of impotence here) and substance (the reference to "mantra" presumably indicated vacuity) being offered up? Really, can you answer that?

Do you really think electing Republicans or acquiescing to their election through passivity is empowering to your issues in some sense? Is that a program I am to presume is not a mantra, then?

More, and better, Democrats, hell yes that's substantial.

Better Democrats care about collective bargaining and making the rich contribute their fair share to the maintenance of the society from which they so benefit and protecting woman's health and stepping back from the cliff of petrochemical suicide and educating future generations in science and critical thinking and so much more. More Democrats believe that and act on it than Republicans do, and that makes them better factually. The more of them the better. The more of them the more even the timid ones among them are encouraged to act more like the better ones themselves.

That's the kind of thinking politics demands -- which makes it different from the way we think ethics (which are universalizing) or aesthetics (which are subjective) and idealistic in ways politics just doesn't get to be.

"You say that 'Gitmo shredded any last hope [you] had of Obama being a "change" candidate.'

You mean, change in respect to this issue on which I agree Obama sucks? But there are many issues. In none of them is Obama managing to be my dream lover -- but as a democratic socialist feminist queer I can't say that I expect American Presidents to be my dream lovers, especially when they don't campaign as such.

"Still, the Presidency is the Presidency, it is a vector of change within a political terrain that actually is what it is -- you can disdain it for something else, but you need to be pretty clear about just what that something else is before I am going to take that sort of thing as more than tantrum throwing.

"Martin, I mean, buck up. You're one of the bright ones. I can't take this from people with both brains and hearts at their disposal. This position you are taking is perfectly ridiculous, I am going to chalk it up to a bad day, we all have those."


Martin said...

Do you really think electing Republicans or acquiescing to their election through passivity is empowering to your issues in some sense?

No, I'm just extremely disappointed and kind of exhausted, really.

More, and better, Democrats, hell yes that's substantial.

It's substantial if you can make it happen, but there hasn't been a more progressive president than Obama in the last 30 years, and many progressive are palpably disgusted by much of what he's done.

Still, the Presidency is the Presidency, it is a vector of change...

An interesting analogy, since a vector has a direction and a speed. In what direction are we going right now, and at what speed?

Martin said...

What progressive candidates must realize is that when they acquiesce on some issue, they aren't just losing a small battle. On aggregate, they are slowly eroding the hope and excitement of their supporters, and surrendering the war.

Dale Carrico said...

Well, when you speak of disappointment, I definitely hear you. I went to jail back in my Queer Nation/Atlanta days battling for queer rights only some of which are beginning to find the least purchase at the level of employment anti-discrimination policy and such -- and all this long years after majorities had come round to the sense of the modest things we were struggling for (don't get me started on the radical things truer still to my heart). The pace by which reform confers progress is slower by far than the pace by which argument confers conviction. No real activist is stranger to drinking the bitter cup. That's the whole reason we have to remind one another to keep our eyes on the prize. That said, politicians aren't activists, they compromise because they are supposed to -- it is up to the education, agitation, and organization of citizens to prepare the terrain that ensures compromises still contribute to the substance of progress rather than reaction. To despair is only natural, but the project of sustainable consensual secular democratic polyculture is not a natural one, and we none of us have the room to despair for long. Republicans are criminally dismantling workplace democracy even as we speak -- we need to be going to the barricades with the allies we have, warts and all, this is no time for despair at Democrats but of rage at Republicans. We can keep replacing the worse Democrats with better ones as we go -- but this is a time for picking sides and at such times you pick a side or a side is picked for you. Scientific, moral, ethical, aesthetic, political, commercial domains all have their separate standards of clarity -- to the extent that this is a moment of political clarity, don't get it muddled in the standards more proper to subjective aesthetics or universalizing ethics or commercial competitiveness or scientific instrumental optimality or what have you. Those who see clearly can't let their political hopes and energies get eroded by the misappropriation to politics of standards and aspirations suited to other domains. We have to walk and chew gum at the same time, we have to reconcile hopes and histories, we have to see today in both short term and longer term contexts. As Arendt said, politics are not the nursery.

Impertinent Weasel said...

To my way of thinking, there may be many differences between Democrats and Republicans, but there's one thing you can count on with both parties -- fat-cat, wealthy elites will remain wealthy and elite no matter who is in the White House. There will be no change tolerated on that score, but everything else is fair game, so have at it you scamps!

From this perspective, a very cynical person might believe that the eternal tug-of-war of partisan politics is meant to keep the body politic occupied. Occupied, lest we seek to upset older and deeper orders which are not to be changed.

Or something.

Anyway, you're not alone Martin. Tireless Obama supporter Matt Damon had some choice words to say about the President yesterday. I think he's as baffled by Obama as you are.

Dale Carrico said...

lest we seek to upset older and deeper orders which are not to be changed

Big talk, care to back it up?

Impertinent Weasel said...

Big talk, care to back it up?

You know full well that income and wealth disparities in this country between the top 1% and everyone else have been unacceptable for a century and have been getting worse all the time.

This is as it has been in this crony capitalist, banana republic known as the USA since its founding and this is the way it will be until we revolt. Actually, a non-violent revolt in this country would be incredibly easy. If enough Americans decided not to go to work, not to consume, and not to participate, the whole thing would blow up. What we'd get after that, I don't know, but the wealthy and elite wouldn't be wealthy and elite anymore.

For now, though, if you're a greedy banker like Blankfein or a grandfatherly industrialist with his hand in the till like Buffett, life is very, very good under Obama.

It kind of sucks for me.

Dale Carrico said...

No, wease, by saying "big talk, care to back it up" I was not requesting a rehearsal of the basic state of plutocracy knowledge of which is clearly indicated in pretty much every political comment I publish here. No, wease, by saying "big talk, care to back it up" right after quoting you saying "lest we seek to upset older and deeper orders which are not to be changed" I am asking you to indicate just what you are presumably actually substantially doing that upsets the inequitable order of things. Keyboard Kommandos promulgating Dem-Repug equivalency theses because they don't have the patience or discipline for the heart-breaking slow-paced path of reform via activism and policy in the context of partisan stakeholder politics don't impress me. By the way, there are a diversity of stakeholders in the world -- including assholes, including incredibly rich greedheads, incredibly organized reactionaries, incredibly stupid mobs of scared dimwits. Do you just believe in incarcerating them, or putting them up against the wall, pretending they don't exist? Politics accommodates, compromises, reforms in the face of diversity. This isn't ethics or aesthetics, where you can afford to pretend it's my way or the highway. Also, talk is cheap. If you've joined a revolutionary cell because you find the Dems too hopelessly reactionary, then you have earned your big dramatic declarations, at least your ass is on the line (I happen to disagree that such a path will get the world closer to where the revolutionary she wants it to be, but I admire those whose convictions cash out in substance)? That's what I mean by back it up. I get the Big Picture. I teach several variations of The Big Picture to college students by the thousands. Getting from here to there without becoming totally demoralized in the process is what is under discussion. Capitulationists who think declaring a plague on both your houses and thereby enable Republican victories constitutes a form of holier-than-thou activism (Americans are so spoiled they are forever declaring their passive consumptions to be profoundly active) don't productions) don't impress me much, but they do inspire a well-earned well-aimed measure of disgust.