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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Soul Well Sold

In an earlier post I wrote:
Honestly, just which American President since WW2 has not committed war crimes in your estimation? What kind of world do you think we are living in? Have you sold your soul because you were willing to prefer some Presidents as better than others for election despite this undeniable and undeniably debased state of affairs? …I'll be right behind you in demanding a war crimes tribunal for Obama officials right along with Bush officials if it comes to that. But I still don't think it makes much sense to focus on that at the cost of Obama's election to some union-busting woman-hating climate-change denialist beholden to authoritarian christianists and white-racist gun-nuts.

To which my interlocutor replied, flabbergasted: "So you're willing to vote for someone that you would later support a war crimes tribunal against. Think about that, Dale."

Do you really think I haven't thought about this? I don't find this attitude even remotely paradoxical. I don't think a vote constitutes a marriage vow or a religious conversion for heaven's sake. You say that voting for Democrats wasn't the panacea "we" imagined. Speak for yourself. I never expected a panacea. Republican obstructionism and subsequent irrationality was even worse than I expected, but Obama has been fairly predictable, his Administration tracking his campaign pretty consistently.

Although I voted for Obama and supported most of his efforts before the mid-terms and defended him as doing his best and even progressive best (defensibly so even where I disagreed with him) on issue after issue against those who seemed to want to pretend the Presidency was a magic wand, the fact is I was never "in the tank" for Obama, and always used that expression sardonically. I'm a secular democratic socialist feminist queer vegetarian atheist anti-militarist theory-head aesthete, not to put too fine a point on it, and how anybody thinks such a person could be truly fully unqualifiedly "in the tank" for any actually electable political figure in the USA is entirely beyond me.

I daresay Obama is better than I hoped we could get at this historical juncture -- still quite true, even with his many deficiencies still very much in view -- and I also daresay he could achieve far more of what his left detractors want from him were they to whomp up enthusiasm behind him rather than attack him from his left in ways that are often easily as idiotic as those who attack him from the right.

It would appear that too many Americans who need to vote in their own interests get demoralized by reality and then acquiesce like sleepwalkers to fascism if you don't whip them up into a frenzy of hysterical fandom about every single goddamn election. I suppose the total suffusion of public discourse with the norms and forms of advertizing -- incessant deception, deadening repetition, and hyperbole -- has done its deadly work for real.

Let me add, on the war crimes tribunal front that I wouldn't mind seeing Carter and Clinton standing before such a tribunal as well (and all our lovely Republican thugs, natch). Is that really such a shock to people? Ever heard of East Timor, or anti-humanitarian Iraqi sanctions? Just how naive are you people? If you are a middle-aged person like me, if you have ever voted for a President then you have supported both a war criminal and a plutocrat. Given what your country is, that goes without saying. Do you get that about this historical moment and your country?

Choosing which President to elect from the two party menu (and don't get me started on the folly of quixotic third party bids that can function only as narcissistic spoilers unless they are preceded by serious reform campaigns in our election system and the norms that organize Congressional committees and so on) simply isn't an act that addresses problems at that structural level.

One votes for President to help shepherd policy compromises through Congress in relation to party organizations with programmatic platforms. You aren't electing a best friend, a guru, a new teen idol poster to jerk off to on your bedroom wall. Presidential politics are a crucial vector of activism because Presidents disseminate mass-mediated narrative frames and implement policy outcomes that, if you are very patient and very diligent and very lucky, can alter the institutional conditions that enable deeper changes over the longer term (healthcare policy, tax policy, energy policy, trade policy, immigration policy, media policy, and so on).

Still, it'll take more than a perfect President (who doesn't, after all, exist) to turn the tides of officially condoned torture and security sanctioned violations of civil liberties -- you trivialize these problems if you fancy they can be addressed by so superficial an action as a Presidential campaign. It's still crucial to have the best most progressive possible person occupying the White House, but not because that is a utopia materialization strategy. The particular rot that has given us torture and domestic spying and secret ops is deep and was very long in coming and will take a long fight to remedy. It isn't exactly encouraging to see how quickly how many who know better give up the fight. Americans really are too damned lazy to be believed.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> . . .don't get me started on the folly of quixotic third party bids
> that can function only as narcissistic spoilers. . .

I've mentioned it before
( )
but it's worth mentioning again --

The entertainingly potty-mouthed Dan Savage waxed eloquent on
this topic in an interview by the Daily Pennsylvanian
archived on YouTube: