Saturday, December 8, 2007
Of Leftists and Liberals
A dear friend wrote:
When I was growing up, the term "liberal" fell somewhere into the spectrum between "moderate" and "opportunist liar" depending on whom you spoke to. It always carried with it an "establishment" veneer, however. People weren't "liberal"... political leaders and elected officials were.
Part of the reason was that it was clear that liberal politics was something different from the very real movements and forces in the society that were demanding something far greater. When the civil rights movement demanded racial equality, the liberals came up with affirmative action and measures against "racism". When the peace movement demanded an end to the war and "interventionism", the liberals substituted "peace with honor" and a less "adventurist" foreign policy. When there was an outcry against poverty in "the richest country in the world", the liberals proposed "job training programs" and food stamps. In a phrase, they not only moderated but they also "de-classed" (some might say, "de-clawed") the demands that were made on them.
Then came the backlash. While what the liberals legislated wasn't much, it was way over the top for the Right... and this Right was in no way the "populist" Right that we recognize today. This was the established Right... the so-called "Goldwater Republicans". And it came on with a tactic as American as apple pie: coalition politics.
Ask any 10th grade Civics class to list the 10 things that make America unique and you will get perhaps 20 discrete claims that together make up the American catechism. The Republicans figured out that you can build a political coalition out of "interest groups" which individually oppose ALL of them:
"Equality before the Law? ...We've always been against that!" (Nixon's Southern Strategy). "Purple Mountains Majesty? ... entire states are against that!" (Reagan's Western Strategy). "Freedom of the Press? ...that's what cooked our goose in Vietnam!". "Seperation of Church and State? ...hell, there's a whole boatload of people against that!" "Nation of immigrants? ...almost everybody is against that!".... and so on.
I kept waiting for the Liberals to fight back... not for my sake but for their own. "This is downright silly! The REPUBLICANs running against the (afterthought -> add "big") GOVERNMENT for chrisakes... gimme a break. They were in on ALL of it!". Instead, not a peep... At the very best, you got a speech at a political convention from a tired Cuomo or Kennedy... and even then in nostalgic rather than fightin' words: "Ah, for the heady days when we came up with the absolute minimum concessions that we possibly could, claimed credit for all of it and then promised a new 'social contract' that would last 1000 years..."
The Right was actually scared shitless for the entire journey. They were dug in deeper than Saddam. They would pop up to whisper a "new idea": "Affirmative Action is quotas, you know...", and then pop down to survive the inevitable firestorm that never came.
Finally came the Reagan "landslide" that "changed everything". The Republicans were claiming (wrongly, it turns out) that they had cracked the code for appealing to Democratic working class constituencies OVER THE HEADS of the Liberals... "we appeal to them as racists or 'taxpayers' or christians, you see..". A friend of mine, listening to this, said at the time, "The idiot liberals have just eliminated their own jobs...". Turned out to be true.
The demonization of the "liberals" inevitably came next... and the revision of history. "Liberals" were guilty of everything that they had, falsely, claimed credit for. THEY had lost the war in Vietnam (wholesale desertions, mutinies, fraggings, war crimes and general deterioration to the point where entire Army Divisions were "deactivated" , notwithstanding). THEY had committed the "real" war crimes by not being nice to the Army and returning veterans (3 million dead notwithstanding). THEY had lied to various constituencies when they had told them that "government" was a "solution" to their "problems".
And not a "liberal" to be found... anywhere...
But then, a miracle happened. The "liberals" started to come back, "from below" (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Bumper stickers, disgruntled "activists", ordinary people... claiming the label without knowing anything about the baggage... becoming "liberal" because that was the worst thing the Right could call them and, if that was the worst, then that was them. They adopted the terms "proud liberal", etc. in the same way that we were proud to be "commie pinkos" when we were kids… without the slightest idea of what that meant (I am much more accurately one, now).
I kept my mouth shut... It will not do to annotate the symbols of resistance at the very moment when they are being displayed.
The problem, of course, was that the "real" liberals had never gone away. They had merely been in rehab… waiting for the Republicans to commit suicide. And, they were emerging to reclaim their birthright...
I heard this on the floor of the house today in the midst of a debate on a Republican sponsored resolution on a "windfall profits" tax on the oil companies: "Finally... finally... finally... after years of pleading and effort, we have gotten the Republican leadership to see the benefits of our approach... we have many more proposals that we hope will eventually win bi-partisan support."
Congratulations, Congresswoman! You have certainly shown the wisdom of moderate proposals and thankless, persistent, debate no matter how many decades it may take (ignore that gun pointed at your opponents head). But, let me ask you…. If it is shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that oil company profits are not “excessive”, a “windfall”, or “evidence of price-gouging” (it is a relative thing, after all), what then? Does nothing happen? Do you patiently explain to us, “how our system works”. Do we freeze next winter? Or do we win an election for you in 2008 or 2012 so that you have the power to “really” do something… maybe “oil stamps”?
But, let me not sound bitter… At least the job market for “Liberals” seems finally to be booming again. There is so much work now to do… it has to be explained to the Right what the people “really” want and what they will settle for. It has to be explained to us what is “prudent”, what is “practical”, and what is in the “common interest”. It is time to reformulate “policy” so that it represents “all” the people. Hell, maybe we can even have the old language again:
Port Security …for the benefit of the working class.
Lobbying Reform …for the benefit of the working class.
Co-Payments …for the benefit of the working class.
Yup, the Liberals are back
…for the benefit of the working class.
Liberal- will blithely be assimilated.
Leftist- will promptly be assassinated.
Liberal- possesses a quaint notion that one can Re-Form hierarchical power structures.
Leftist- desires to completely unravel and eliminate the functions and forms of hierarchy.
Liberal- wishes to turn The Bank into The People's Credit Union.
Leftist- sees the need to turn the tables of the moneychangers and smash the marketplace.
Liberal- feels a warm fuzzy feeling inside while intoning "share the wealth".
Leftist- desires to redefine concepts of wealth particularly as it relates to large metal objects.
Liberal- says "Living Wage".
Leftist- says "Solidarity".
Liberal- willingly shells out $3 for a glass of carrot juice.
Leftist- sees Root Vegetables as sustenance and metaphor.
Liberal- outside the coffee shop talks daily about the need for the Cappuccino Revolution but balks at acting out for fear this would endanger his/her daily cappuccino.
Leftist- reuses the same coffee filter, paper towels or odd socks when all other options have been exhausted in an attempt to squeeze one more cup from yesterday's grounds.
Liberal- wants to 'get out the vote'.
Leftist- recognizes voting as a nominal form of political activity meant to validate the Democratic State and convince the political consumer that they are a participant in governance.
Liberal- can often be seen mouthing the "education is the answer" mantra particularly in the rarified atmosphere of the Citadels of Expertise. Revels in being near theory or people 'doing theory' in the academy.
Leftist- sees education as social engineering and cultural imperialism. Education Academies seen as the proving grounds for the future ruling class.
Liberal- users of 'all natural' deodorant. The armpits are fresh particularly during commercial breaks.
Leftists- recognize deodorant as one of the essential pillars of Empire. Will often raise their armpit in tight quarters due to quixotic impulses.
Liberal- write lengthy position papers on the plusses of developing more efficient killing machines (See Amory Lovins for more details).
Leftist- sees the Techno Warfare State as one of the great life destroying mechanisms in the history of Mankind and understands the relationship between war and oppression. The Health of the State being that which kills everything else.
Liberal- true believers in the New Economy and Seattle (the city) home of Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks.
Leftist- true believers in a different Seattle (the Amerindian prophet)
Liberal- incessantly complaining about their leftist rentors.
Leftist- incessantly complaining about their liberal landlords.
Liberals- have recently been experiencing a population explosion which seems to have been caused by a grey form of technocratic inbreeding. Much of this exponential proliferation seems to emanate directly from prime time television. And vice versa.
Leftists- an endangered species. Said to be only 723 remaining in the contiguous 48 states of the United States of America. For years they have been scooped up and exiled to the Periphery. To date all efforts to exhume the spirit of Eugene Debs have fallen on deaf ears.