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

Sunday, September 04, 2016

"This isn't symbolism, this is how you change the world."

Since readers of my blog tend, like me, to incline to theory-headedness in a way that makes them feel pride at their immunity from media manipulation I realize that my posting of this sort of sentimentalizing campaigning boilerplate is infuriating to some. (That so many of these same readers fell for "Look, a birdie, Sanders!" suggests some could use a bit more self-scrutiny than self-congratulation, I daresay.) I have read enough comments and e-mails and lost enough followers and friends on this score that there can be no room for doubt about their annoyance, you can be sure. But you should all remember that I got my PhD. in rhetoric and have continued to teach in a rhetoric department for over twenty years. I am actually quite interested in the ways campaigns make their arguments and frame their narratives in public spaces.

I supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary over Bernie Sanders (who seemed to me fatally disorganized and perniciously anti-pragmatic even if he espoused, as a democratic socialist like me, some ideal outcomes in line with my own) and of course I now support her over the execrable Donald Trump. I also think her campaign is being run mostly quite professionally and well and I am interested in the issues and frames her campaign chooses to highlight in material such as this. None of that is the same thing as saying I agree with Hillary Clinton on all the issues, or as saying the Clinton campaign is doing everything right, or as saying I am uncritically enthusiastic about the buttons that are getting pushed in content like this.

Political campaigns are job interviews for real jobs. And while there are very good reasons for disapproving of the job of President as Commander-in-Chief in the context of the military-industrial complex or the consolidating "Unitary Executive" in an epoch of mass-mediated celebrity and legislative dysfunction, none of those reasons justify the treatment of presidential campaigns as celebrity fandoms pining after presidential parent-substitutes or dream dates rather than job interviews for the actual jobs they actually have come to be, come what may. If you really care about the Imperial Presidency you should probably be focusing on electing a Congress that will push back against it to regain a measure of its own authority, and if you really care about militarism you should probably be focusing on shifting State Department priorities to multilateral diplomacy (often in ways that will lead you into coalition with people who advocate as "Realism" things you rightly and ferociously disapprove) and budgetary priorities toward sustainable infrastructure (often through stealth Defense spending that makes you feel queasy).

As I have said time and time again, every presidential political campaign in my lifetime has been an occasion for me to choose which privileged megalomaniac to my right I will be complaining about for the next four to eight years. I think some people don't believe me when I say this sort of thing because I tend to support my chosen candidate so intensively once I've made my choice despite their inevitable distance from my ideals. This is simply because I grasp the real stakes of the result here and now even if my political vision is animated by ideals that are often remote from realization.While the lesser of two evils is still evil from a moral or aesthetic standpoint, when the lesser evil represents a difference that makes even a marginal difference for the better in vulnerable people's lives or in the direction of progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity then it should be regarded, from a political and ethical standpoint, as the greater good.

If you feel rage or disgust seeing the rather professional whip of blandly inspirational content I have posted here, I honestly think you should probably check out of partisan politics for a while and devote yourself to making a difference (if that is honestly what you want to do, make a difference, rather than, say, indulging in purity cabaret in order to attract attention and praise while indulging in demoralizing anti-pragmatism, mis-informational false equivalencies, tantrums mis-identifying compromise with bad-faith, and so on) in some more purity-enabling space like organizing very particular issue campaigns or doing performance art -- neither of which I denigrate in so saying, I consider these indispensable to progress, and have supported and participated in both sorts of efforts myself.

Progressive and democratic politics requires a certain amount of walking and chewing gum at the same time -- recognizing that elections have consequences that demand our attention even when all the candidates and proposals are flawed in ways that reflect the diverse reality of stakeholders to the present world, recognizing that political parties and reform legislation are inevitably compromised but also inescapable instruments for change-making for good or ill, recognizing that the terrain of the possible and important must often be shifted by radical political intervention but that it is through partisan politics that change is usually then implemented on that terrain.

Noticing that this piece is propaganda doesn't impress me -- it's obvious. Noticing that campaigns are compromised doesn't impress me -- it's obvious. Noticing that compromises are not ideal outcomes doesn't impress me -- it's obvious. I am interested in what is signaled by such propaganda (in the instance posted above: expressing inspiration rather than fear about diversity in power, emphasizing patient hard work to make change over time rather than offering up sloganeering flashiness and empty promises, insisting on the importance of listening to true leadership, eg), I am interested in the specifics of proposals given the actually-available alternatives and actually-real stakeholders on hand, I am interested in the way piecemeal reforms solve shared problems and create conditions for next steps along a road to ideal outcomes. Disdaining these emphases actually is not a sign of superior insight or greater righteousness in my eyes -- it is more often a confession of ignorance, unreliability, parochialism, or self-importance.


Anonymous said...

Elections are of tactical interest at best. Nothing is more demoralizing than pragmatism - after all, this is how liberalism stabilized the system for more than a century. Too bad it run out of steam. Keep blathering about pragmatism, while major turbulence slams you in the face.
Rhetorician should stay out of politics (no wonder nobody has been taking them seriously for about 2000 years)

Dale Carrico said...

It is always inspiring when a brave anonymous person finds my writing irrelevant and can't help but take time out of a rich and relevant life to say so.