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Friday, October 28, 2011

So Far, I Think the Relationship Between the Occupy Movement and Democratic Party Politics Is Absolutely Wholesome

BooMan writes:
[N]othing has disappointed me more than how the activist left pushed Obama to stop compromising with the Republicans and take his case to the people, and then six weeks ago when the president decided to do exactly that, the activist left decided to pour all their energy into the Occupy Movement… It's like something snapped after the debt ceiling fiasco. I think it destroyed hope all around… I just worry that the left is splintering at a dangerous time.
I personally think that there is enough complementarity in the way the Occupiers are directing attention to wealth disparity and resulting corruption and precarity and in Obama's cross-country pitch for his Jobs Bill that I do not see the left splintering or any concrete reason to fear it. Indeed, I think the rise of the Occupy Movement and Obama's recent abandonment of "capitulatory bipartisanship" are both enormously healthy and encouraging responses to the debt ceiling fiasco.

I do suspect that one of the reasons Obama feels so confident in continuing to draw a stronger contrast with Republicans than he had been doing hitherto in always offering them olive branches and providing excuses for their bad behavior is precisely because the Occupiers' strident populist framing is resonating so clearly with so many of the American people, and so I think the Occupy Movement is already bolstering better Democratic politics in a real sense.

More than that, it goes without saying that if the left is demoralized by the Republicans' deliberate obstruction and dysfunction and mischief and disinformation (and demoralizing the left is of course one of the explicit goals of their efforts), 2012 could be a total catastrophe for this country. But because of Occupy Wall Street I think there is a lot of activist energy being unleashed and attention to injustice being devoted and even some unexpected hope being inspired across the left.

Many have observed that the young people who were going to Obama rallies this time last Presidential cycle are now protesting in Occupy Movement assemblies. I think there is some truth in that, but I certainly don't think this is inevitably bad news for Obama rather than very good news.

Although I know many of the Occupiers are rightly skeptical of efforts at appropriation by partisan politics just as they are rightly skeptical of efforts at mis-representation by Establishment media, I still think it is important that Democratic politicians continue to express strong support for the Occupiers as well as frame their messages in ways that co-ordinate with the concerns that are expressed by the Occupiers, so that these forces strengthen one another rather than confuse the progressive message to the advantage of relentless Republican misinformation.

Also, the intensification of police violence is sure to continue as the Occupy movement shows no sign of abating, and it is crucial that independent media as well as more progressive Establishment media outfits like MSNBC direct attention to the inevitable abuses so that sympathies remain with the Occupiers. In the absence of such attention, these crackdowns will tend to add insult to injury, not only violating the Constitutional rights of peaceful assembly and protest but stigmatizing the protests with a generalized association with a disorder and violence they are victimized by making them seem both riskier and so less popular and also, incredibly, less legitimate themselves just because they are targets of illegitimate violence.

I personally don't think the Occupiers should fear co-optation by the Democrats, but neither do I think the Democrats should try to instrumentalize the Occupiers. The only hope the Democratic Party has is to reject its disastrous Reagan-epoch flirtation with corporatism via the DLC and people in the pocket of finance and insurance lobbyists, and embrace again its originary ethos as the Party of People Who Work for a Living.

The shriveling of the DLC, the jettisoning of so many Blue Dogs over the last few election cycles (the number of Blue Dogs thrown overboard in the 2010 mid-terms was one of the very few silver linings of that catastrophe), the increasing frequency with which Democrats defend and even celebrate the necessity of good government to general welfare and justice for all point to precisely this re-embracing of a populist ethos. To the extent that this is true, it is plain that the language of Occupiers -- the 99% versus the 1% -- are obviously complementary with a return to a more proudly progressive Democratic Party.

When the people lead, the leaders will follow. I think Obama's campaign often voiced precisely this sentiment, insisting that the scale of our problems as a country in the aftermath of the Bush administration would require all of our efforts. When he said that sort of thing in his campaign, clearly he didn't know the half of it. I think the scale of the catastrophe he would face was greater by far than he expected it would be, and I think the scale of obstruction he would face from Republicans was also greater by far than he expected. But the basic truth that we must all be the change we want to see in the world is as true as it ever was.

I still think that one of the tests (not by any means the only one, but a real and important test nonetheless) by which we will eventually measure the power of the Occupy Movement to effect real and lasting progressive change in the world will be to see if the position of the Democratic Party is stronger or weaker going into 2012 in the aftermath of the Movement's height of influence.

I personally am not enormously concerned about Obama's prospects for re-election (although I would have probably felt much the same about Carter's prospects against that B-movie actor), but I do think it is vital that Obama's victory be strong enough to have coattails to re-gain the House and keep the Senate in the hands of Democrats else it doesn't much matter if Obama holds the White House given the nihilism of today's Movement Republicans (well, Supreme Court appointments still matter enormously, but you get my gist). Anyway, I think it is still an open question whether the Occupy Movement will indeed strengthen rather than weaken the position of the Democrats in the final analysis.

There is always a real danger that a righteous and radical critique will inspire a "plague on both their houses!" dis-engagement with partisan politics that renders citizens indifferent to differences that make a difference at the partisan level to the cost of their own desired outcomes. But I must say that there is no inevitability about this, and I for one don't see much sign that this is playing out in the politics or in the reception of the Occupy Movement.

BooMan goes on to comment, "I have the sense that the Republican talking points and arguments seem a little more detached from reality and a little more irrelevant or impertinent than they did before the Occupy Movement got started. It's just a feeling, but if it's right it might mean that the debate is moving in a more favorable direction." I think this is definitely right, and I think that the resulting befuddling and cracking of the usually seamless Republican disinformation echo chamber is a real boon for Democrats while at the same the power of the Occupy Movement's progressive populist message is bolstering to the best impulses of the Democrats themselves in ways that are no less a boon to their political efficacy.

As I said, I do think the jury is still out when it comes to the question what the impact on Democratic politics the Occupy Movement will finally have. I for one feel more hopeful about our prospects because the Occupy Movement has erupted -- if anything I have been a bit flabbergasted and terrified that the lack of such a movement over the last few years especially might have indicated an insurmountable acquiescence and malaise in the face of planetary precarity and environmental catastrophe had set in to the ruin of us all -- and I think it is more likely that Democratic Party politics will be bolstered by an energized and broadly disseminated populist progressivism sometimes complementing Democratic messaging, sometimes pushing Democrats into alignment with the people from the Party's own left.


The Mathmos said...

I'm having some difficulty believing in the scenario of a populist reform of the Democratic Party (a party having shunned populism at each and every turn throughout its history). Moreover the current Dem leadership seems ill-positioned to speak anything resembling the language of the occupiers. The fact that some Democratic mayors are at the forefront of the efforts to shut down the occupations (Oakland, Chicago) also speaks volume. I guess I’m just not seeing it.

To be honest, I think the occupations would have a lot to lose in relying on the Democratic Party anymore than they arguably already do. The movements are out there and sloganeering, the Democrats' own part in this should be to prove their own relevance by translating those slogans - even if only just a few of them - into specific policy outcomes.

To bring the whole thing back at the electoral level is to miss the point in a major way.

Dale Carrico said...

You say, "I'm having some difficulty believing in the scenario of a populist reform of the Democratic Party (a party having shunned populism at each and every turn throughout its history)." In this sweeping form, your comment could not be more wrong and even silly -- the Democratic Party on your view had nothing to do with the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Good Society, civil rights legislation, Medicare, Medicaid, and on and on and on and on and on and on and on... or there is nothing populist in these reforms?

You say, "the current Dem leadership seems ill-positioned to speak anything resembling the language of the occupiers." And yet many, actually, factually are. The concern with jobs, wealth concentration, and deregulatory dysfunction are precisely what many many Democrats are talking about now.

You say, "the occupations would have a lot to lose in relying on the Democratic Party." Occupy is yielding educational, organizational, agitational, creatively expressive, beautiful effects not reducible to partisan politics. But legislation embedded in existing party politics translates concerns into reform, unless the mechanism is supposed to be revolutionary insurrection (which I think would do more harm than good).

If Jean Quan were recalled and then replaced with a Republican this would not be a good result -- even if recalling Quan is the way we (I live in Oakland) should go in the aftermath of the crazy police violence last Tuesday. I don't see how our situation strengthens your claim, tho -- it remains as true as ever that legislation embedded in party politics implements reforms, it remains as true as ever that overabundantly most politicians who support progressive reforms are Democrats while a disturbing number of Republicans are religious or market fundamentalists advocating authoritarianism. You say, "I guess I’m just not seeing it." But when it comes to this topic, honestly, do you ever?

You say, "To bring the whole thing back at the electoral level is to miss the point in a major way." I am not doing that at all, of course. But to deny the electoral level is to risk Occupy becoming yet another Burning Man and missing this chance to translate means into ends of this moment in a major way.

You say, "Democrats... should... prove their own relevance by translating those slogans -- even if only just a few of them -- into specific policy outcomes." Uh, yeah, obviously. What do you think I'm saying? The question remains, as ever -- are you going to be part of that part of the solution or are you going to be part of the problem for that part of the solution?

The Mathmos said...

Dude, just to get this rhetorical bug of yours out of the way, I am occupying my particular neck of the wood. And I *am* agitating for a complete disregard of electoral politics among those more or less close to me (and anybody else who will listen) who are also occupying. As to the role I thus find myself playing in the partisan politics you hold so dear, I leave the calculations to you.

However, I have seen sundry front groups and astroturfers for the Dems come and go looking for fresh door-knockers and obedient lads to help siphon funds from the general public all in the name of the dreaded "2012", in the mindless fashion of explorer drones briefly interacting with natives, completely unaware of the reasons for us being here, and what we were saying : the very fact that most of the occupations (I don't know about all of them) sprung up outside the usual partisan channels is a pretty good indicator as to what the majority think of them.

About populism : if populism simply means social democratic, then why have the other word in the first place? I'll help you : populism is the appeal to the ideals and moral viewpoints of the common people as a way of framing or legitimizing policy. It could be said that most American politics are about emoting populism at some point, but I think it's undeniable that this administration has taken upon itself to appear the older, wiser technocratic compromiser in almost every cases. They're actually quite unique in at least this respect.

Whatever the case, to call our current Dems "populist" is Newspeak, of a disquieting sort coming from you.

Dale Carrico said...

Politics isn't a dance party and you aren't as cute as you think you are.