Saturday, May 10, 2008



There is much pretending throughout the progressive and liberal community.

Success and the good life, credentials and status, position and privilege must be protected, at least for people like "us." At the same time, this position and privilege is dependent upon playing a certain role. As Liberals we must pretend that we are not defending privilege and position and must pretend that we are for the downtrodden. We must pretend that privilege and position is all earned, and that anyone could have anything that we have. We must defend the system of dog-eat-dog competition without allowing that to be too obvious. So we pretend that introducing "fairness" rules and regimens into our personal life nullifies all of the things we do to attain and preserve the spot we have clawed our way to in society.

Sometimes this balancing act is fairly easy, since there are so many people willing to help us keep up the facade and since reality doesn't intrude into our "reality based" fantasy world, but once in a while something arises and calls our bluff.

When our bluff is called, there is no amount of time and energy we will spare in internecine warfare arguing fine points of what a liberal is, or what our position should be on each and every minute issue and sub-issue and variations on every issue. These arguments can never be resolved, because there is no basis of consensus.

Actually there is a consensus, but an important component of the consensus is that we never talk about it and we must pretend that it isn't there.

The consensus from which liberals and Democrats operate:

We are the better people. We are smarter, we are humane, we are more compassionate, we are better informed. We are better citizens, we are more cooperative and realistic. we are winners- not losers, and we deserve everything we get. We are spiritually superior. We are centered and balanced, calm and insightful. We are on the right side of history. We are building a better world.

The general public does not realize that we are the better people, and the ones who should be making the decisions. Of course the only logical reason for this public oversight is because- “Republicans are able to take advantage of the people's stupidity and ignorance and turn them against us.”

As Liberals we understand that most of the problems in the world are the result of stupid people running things. If “We the smart people” were in charge, all of the problems could be solved with science and technology and rational social planning.

Class analysis, and the struggles of working class people against tyranny have no place in modern society. They are obsolete and passé, and only something that we read about or see in movies. Romantic as those stories are, they are no substitute for hardheaded practical reality, whether we like it or not. This is a matter of being a mentally healthy, modern, well-adjusted adult in society. None of the lessons from history apply, because things are different now. Only strange maladjusted people are attracted to obsolete political ideas. They are all obviously losers, and are a great danger, almost as much of a danger as the Republicans are.

Since politics and economics in the traditional sense are dead, we embrace a new paradigm of self improvement and self-actualization. Anything that interferes with our focus on ourselves and our pursuit of creating ourselves as an actualized being is to be rejected. The way to achieve the perfect society is first to create a perfect self. Meanwhile, so long as the authorities do not interfere with our self-actualization, we must comply in all ways with that authority. This allows us perfect self-expression within perfect social conformity. Anyone who attacks our personal choices is the enemy, and anyone who attacks the social system based on personal choice is also the enemy.

As fully-realized liberal-progressives we understand that our enlightened self-interest is the ultimate engine of social progress.

Others, however, who do not share our values are not to be given personal choice, when and as we can prove that their personal choices are wrong, often with our righteous claims that their choice impacts us somehow. We support the police state and massive incarceration of people, so long as they are being harassed and imprisoned for the right reasons. Any variance from our idea as to how people should be is quite naturally the right reason, by definition.

We believe that we must “be the change we wish to see,” and the change we wish to see is more people like us: polite, talented, beautiful, intelligent, calm, successful, clever, enlightened.

So we merely need to be ourselves, focus on ourselves, and serve ourselves. Those who cannot or will not become like us need to back down and get out of the way.

We fully support aristocracy, capitalism, corporate domination, and consumerism, provided that they support our self-actualization and afford us the personal lifestyle choices we prefer.

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 advocated a merely “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 served the ruling class by validating moderated reform but they also "de-classed" (some might say, "de-clawed") the demands that were being made by social-justice and antiwar movements.

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!". "Separation 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.

We kept waiting for the Liberals to fight back... not for our 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 one day 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 bipartisan 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.

1 comment:

Joe Clement said...

Excellent. I remember the first time you posted an exerpt from this piece on in an Alter-Net comment. It blew me away, not because it revealed anything or was a new thought for me, but because I saw it coming out of the mouth, as it were, of someone else.

One project I am increasingly want to throw myself into is tracing the origins of "liberalism" as the American's version of or attempt at Leftism in the old European sense of the word. I already showed some of what I thought in one of my comments to you on Alter-Net: "liberalism" is the postmodern or otherwise late-capitalist form of "Liberalism."

Also, your comment (on Alter-Net) about slavery and the comparison between "house-negros" and workers in the field was great. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember whether former house-slaves comprised the key African American figures in the abolitionist movement, but in a similar vein I do remember house-wives playing a key role in the Women's Suffrage Movement. I think there is something positive to the thought that "we are the ultimate engine of social change." All that is positive about that is repressed by the false split within the working-class between the lower and otherwise middle-class. You only need a passing acquaintance with Marx to see the parallels to his clearly underestimated tension between the Proletariat and Petty Bourgeoisie. That said, they are all the working-class, and are ultimately under the thumb of Capital. It will take all their intellectual, material, financial... ultimately all their political resources in solidarity to affect real change.