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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Don't Be Afraid

For years I have been repeating over and over that the left already won the culture wars (for example, here and here) and that our politics should reflect that reality. My point has never been to underestimate the damage that can still be done by the reactionary right to women's health, lifeway diversity, science-based policy and so on -- but just to insist we engage in these struggles in ways that reflect the actual terms at hand, understand for instance the disciplinary power that accrues to desperate losers, grasp the complacency that lulls victors out of proper vigilance, takes up opportunities that present themselves only for a moment to re-write inertial institutions in the image of actually prevailing secular multicultural views.

It is from this vantage that I am reading Digby's recent warnings against those (I am one) who think the raucous recent Republican return to culture war issues is benefiting the secular left and partisan Democrats in particular. She keeps pointing out that all this "religious hoo hah" can indeed get real traction and do real damage. And of course that is true. Anyone who actually cares about women's healthcare has been observing with horror and rage the generation long circumscription of abortion rights and family planning services by a thousand small cuts by the patriarchal champions of forced-pregnancy and forced-birth. For years, feminists have pointed out that anti-abortion rhetoric was the iceberg tip of an anti-contraception anti-women's health constituency while a majority of Americans pretended that their secular multicultural and pro-healthcare attitudes were prevalent and that the realities of the anti-choice organizing were absurd and marginal. Although I agree with Digby and every other sensible decent person that the spectacle of Republican religionist women hating is highly dangerous and distasteful, the fact is that I already knew all that, I was already plenty disgusted, I already understand the real damage being done, I already knew the gains stealthy anti-choice organizing were making in the country.

And now, because of the right-wing influence that briefly inspired the Susan G. Komen Foundation to attack Planned Parenthood, then the all-male presumably celibate in fact pedophile-enabling Catholic Bishops' attack on the Obama administration's policy to limit their imposition on pro-choice Catholics and non-Catholics alike their own bias against family planning, then the right-wing Virginia state government's efforts to mandate the de facto rape (nonconsensual vaginal probing) and then harassment (medically unnecessary or even dangerous and highly costly and inconvenient waiting period) of any woman seeking an absolutely legal and reasonable medical procedure (the wanted or needed termination of a pregnancy), then the highly public denunciations by all-male Congressional panels or by old white guys seeking the GOP Presidential nomination of contraception practices that have been fully normalized and approved by the overwhelming majority of everyday Americans as part of their everyday lives for decades, because of all that awful nonsense, now students of mine who have refused to describe themselves as feminists (which has annoyed me to no end for years) are now affirming the label, people who dismissed knowledgeable warnings about the anti-woman extremism of Republican and religionist forces in this country have observed the evidence to the contrary with their own eyes, people with ugly, evil, ignorant views and intentions who would have had these views and intentions whether we are talking about it or not and would be acting on them whether we are talking about them or not are now exposed in their evil and their ignorance and we are talking about it, talking the talk out of which will emerge the mass education, agitation, and organization without which this necessary battle for women's health, women's dignity, and the legal and moral standing of a diversity of non-patriarchal gendered lifeways can flourish.

Although it is true that not all battles are won, and it is true that losses in these battles are truly horrifying, it seems to me beyond question that the battle is afoot whether it is visible or not, that however ugly the spectacle it is better for bad views to be exposed to scrutiny the better to be targeted for righteous destruction on their actual terms, and that, frankly, we are winning this battle and that we will win this battle and that this is a battle worth winning, so let's actually have the goddamn battle and win it.

If I may appear to change the subject for a moment, I notice that another brilliant and reliably progressive commenter David Sirota is now making an argument that re-enacts Digby's concerns in slightly different terms:
Among progressive[s]... there seems to be a consensus that the longer the Republican presidential primary continues the better for progressives. The idea is that Republican infighting weakens the ultimate nominee and exposes just how radical all of the GOP candidates are. As the domino theory goes, that will help more Americans see the ugly truth about what the Republican Party really is, which will subsequently convince more Americans to vote against the GOP, which will eventually force the GOP to moderate its politics. Straightforward as this hypothesis is, I don’t buy it -- I believe the longer the Republican primary battle continues, the more the GOP’s most extreme proposals are given a mainstream platform, the more their ideas are granted public credibility and the more conservative propaganda is invisibly woven into our most basic political assumptions.
Again, I find it very hard to understand what practical implications we are supposed to draw from this sort of line of thinking. Do progressives think they are right or not? If they think they are right, then do they want to struggle for what is right or not? If they are up for the struggle, why on earth would they prefer the wrong and dangerous views they oppose to play out in secret rather than in the light? How can we fight the feudal social and cultural views of Movement Republicanism at all if the actual terms of the fight are invisible or distorted? Of course it is true, again, that when a battle is actually afoot it is not always the good guys who will win every skirmish and losses are indeed awful in the lived consequences for the vulnerable. But these losses have already happened, are already happening -- David Sirota's whole career is premised on the recognition of such realities. Why shrink from them now?

In both Digby and Sirota I sense the worries of people who are not quite changing with the times. Of course, it is often the steadfast resolution of our indispensable truth tellers and standard bearers in dark times that makes them less flexible in the face of opportunity when dark times offer a faint suggestion of the dawn. I think we cannot overestimate the significance of the fact that majorities of Americans affirmed the policy outcomes advocated by progressives even during the catastrophic generational consolidation of Movement Republican politics, from Reagan, to Gingrich, to W., to the Teavangelical mid-term wave. White-racist and heterosexist Culture Wars divided people who work for a living from their shared interests. But -- crucially -- demographic shifts and liberalizing attitudes toward queer folks have undermined that strategy fatally. An institutional structure of corporate media fed by pseudo-intellectuals on wingnut welfare subsidized in the phony-Academy of ubiquitous deceptive PR firms and "think tanks" (the result of the turn to organized politics in the aftermath of the New Deal by two hitherto non-partisan constituencies, big business and evangelical religion) shouted down popular pro-equity pro-diversity pro-democracy voices and marginalized practical policy proposals reflecting such values. But -- again, crucially -- progressive peer-to-peer formations, think-tanks and media outlets have emerged and gained enormous audiences over the last ten years, to undermine Movement Republican attacks, disinformation campaigns, arguments (such as they are), frames, and so on.

In the wholesomely browning, diversifying, secularizing, planetizing real America, giving white-racist, woman-hating, gay-hating, war-mongering, climate-change denialist "most extreme proposals... a mainstream platform" means giving them a high concrete platform over an empty pool for them to leap into to their death. The institutional terrain "grant[ing] public credibility" to unpopular nonsensical right wing views and weaving "conservative propaganda... invisibly... into our most basic political assumptions" no longer exists in the form it so long has done, ThinkProgress and MediaMatters provide pithy rapid response to reactionary proposals and attitudes, YouTube clips circulate progressive democratizing MSNBC, CurrentTV and Comedy Central exposes and satirical bits to millions upon millions of Americans. What was invisible is now visible, what was a monologue is now a scrum, what was a stealth offensive is now an open battle and a call to arms.

The battle is on whether we like it or not, the battle is worth winning, we're on the right side of the battle on the merits and with the numbers, the institutional hurdles that long bedeviled our side are crumbling. Fight the damn battle.

Don't be afraid.


jollyspaniard said...

It's an election year the GOP are going to be in sales mode whether or not there is a primary going on. And I think there's plenty of evidence that this primary has become a circular firing squad for the GOP.

I think you're right to highlight progressive complacency. Vigilance and fightback are needed otherwise reactionary forces will eventually worm their way through in thousnd little cuts while nobody is paying attention.

Dale Carrico said...

I think another underappreciated thing is that post-2010 GOP overreach has actually provided some real world education for many hitherto low-info voters, and that this inoculates against phony sales pitches and framing over substance approaches (whether of the wingnut Luntz variety or the lefty Lakoff variety). I'm not proposing that complacent couch-potato Americans have seen the light or that Citizen's United money avalanche will have no impact (obviously, it already has), but I do think GOP crazytown has started running up against some you can't fool all the people all the time hard limits.

Irenist said...

Dale, maybe you just addressed this with your Luntz/Lakoff comment, but is there anything to worries about a rightward move of the Overton window due to all this "It Takes a Franco" madness, akin to how Obama enacting a Bob Dole/Mitt Romney healthcare plan made it the Red Menace? I suspect you'll be sanguine about it, but since you're a wise rhetorician and I'm neither, I'd love to know a little more about why. (Is the Overton window bunk, perhaps?)

Thanks in advance for the enlightenment.