Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Democratic Strategy: Winning Through Better B.S.

All that we in the New Abnormal precariat need is a better bedtime storyteller to tuck us in at night. 

That's the gist of the Democratic National Committee's astoundingly tone-deaf Readers Digest version of a manifesto purporting to justify its continued existence. In the wake of its mid-term election defeats, the party prescription for itself is a bromide cocktail composed of better bullshit skills and recruitment strategies. They have to emulate the Republicans' messaging and propaganda expertise in order to thrive.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Wall Street Wing D-FL) announced what she thinks will paradoxically turn us all on as it puts us to sleep:
  • the creation of a National Narrative Project to work with party leaders, activists, and messaging and narrative experts to create a strong values-based national narrative that will engage, inspire and motivate voters to identify with and support Democrats;
  • working with State Parties to build partnership agreements that include training, evaluation, metrics, and incentives and that are focused on ensuring that every State Party is on a pathway to self-sustainability;
  • the development of an aggressive, multi-faceted legislative and legal strategy to ensure every eligible American is registered to vote, has access to the polls and has their ballot counted;
  • the creation and resourcing of a three-cycle plan, in conjunction with our allies, that targets and wins back legislative chambers in order to prepare for redistricting efforts; and
  • the DNC building on its success and playing a proactive role in helping identify, train and foster the next generation of Democratic leaders, especially at the state level.
Of course, these are only preliminary bullet points of bullshit, because the detailed bullshit will not be excreted until sometime in July, when everyone is either sweating or chilling.  The very vagueness is the message. The dog obviously ate their homework, but they are trying to convince us that we will be engaged, inspired and motivated to identify with the party's professional strategists, apparatchiks, and marketing mavens. 

We must remember that we are naught but consumers of multiple messaging facets, but if we get really lucky, we might even become unpaid trainees in the laboratories of Democracy. However, no questions must ever be asked, least of all by the press, who were treated like enemies of the state as they tried to cover the Democratic (sic)Issues (sic) Retreat last month. Writes Dylan Byers:
Reporters are being escorted to and from the restroom and lobby and are being barred from entering the hotel outside of scheduled events, even if they've been invited by a member of Congress. 
During Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks at the retreat Friday, reporters were required to have a staff member, usually a junior member of the press team, escort them when going to the bathroom or to the lobby. The filing center for reporters was at a separate hotel from where the retreat was taking place, so access was limited to members of Congress specifically made available to the press.
“It was a police state. It was absurd how heavy handed the capitol police and Democratic staff were in trying to control everywhere the press went,” New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters said in an interview.
Peters said at one point he was also barred from entering the hotel where the retreat was taking place, despite the fact he had an invitation to eat breakfast with a member of Congress.
“I was an invited guest into this hotel, into the restaurant of the hotel. The staff from the Democratic caucus refused to let me into the hotel, and the Capitol Police told me to leave, even after the congressman went to them and said 'no, he is my invited guest,'" Peters said. 
Peters said he was told by a staffer they were being escorted to prevent them from talking to members of Congress.
In light of the de facto anti-democracy of the Democratic Party, it should come as no surprise that the Center for American Progress, that official corporate think tank of the DNC, pointedly and pettily left out the Oscar-winning documentary Citizen Four in its congratulatory post yesterday to the "progressive" winners who mouthed support for such Democratic initiatives as immigration reform, voting rights,  and equal pay for women. The DNC is not about to support a major award-winning film that shines a harsh light on mass surveillance of Americans, especially when it contains a clip of a petty Barack Obama complaining that Edward Snowden "is no patriot."

Why even expect the ill-named Democratic Party to behave democratically?  As the late French political philosopher Simone Weil observed in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II,  the very concept of the modern political party was born in the Reign of Terror. 

Political parties, wrote Weil, contain three essential characteristics:
1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.
2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.
3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.
Hmm... so political parties have the exact same goals as hypercapitalism -- growth for the sake of growth, greed for the sake of greed. As a result, every political party is at least aspirationally totalitarian, even when it purports to exist for the public good. And every political party thrives by being deliberately vague, as the latest Democratic Task Force screed saliently demonstrates. "No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including... his own" wrote Simone Weil in On the Abolition of All Political Parties.

No wonder Debbie Wasserman Schultz had cogency problems devising her bedtime story. Cogency is not part of her job-description, and we're fools for expecting to to be.

A political party becomes its own end. Even when power is achieved, it is never enough, and thus must party leaders be in the perpetual business of devising such things as "National Narrative Projects."

The pressure of propaganda would and should normally horrify us, but we've become too accustomed to the political B.S. in this age of new media and Citizens United. We're too accustomed to being bamboozled to care or be shocked. We don't have the time or the energy to cut through the bullshit. What Simone Weil wrote 70 years ago is especially and chillingly true today, in this time of permanent war and a ruling class maintaining power through multi-faceted wars of terror:
Political parties are organisations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and justice. Collective pressure is exerted upon  a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade.... All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practice it.
I'm with Simone. Down with the Duopoly. It's hazardous to our health.



Ste-vo said...

And Simone famously said: "The future is made of the same stuff as the present." Not good.

Denis Neville said...

The Democratic Victory Task Force???!!!!

The largest transfer of wealth in history has occurred under a Democratic administration.

"It is clear that Americans overwhelmingly support the people and issues that the Democratic Party fights for every day."

But …

The Democratic Party’s electoral successes since Obama came into office: Democrats have lost more than 900 state legislative seats and control of 30 state legislative chambers, evidence of an utter repudiation of their historical decision to remake themselves as just another party of Wall Street.

This is just more of the same, what Thomas Frank in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” called, “the criminally stupid strategy that has dominated Democratic thinking off and on ever since the ‘New Politics’ days of the early seventies.” Curry favor with the corporate elites, forget blue collar workers and the middle class. They have nowhere else to go. The Democratic Party will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans. There is no soft money in representing the interests of the poor.

Could anyone think of a more ruinous strategy?

Frank wrote, “While Republicans trick out their poisonous stereotypes of the liberal elite, Democrats seem determined to live up to the libel.”

“By all rights the people…should today be flocking to the party of Roosevelt, not deserting it. Culturally speaking, however, that option is simply not available to them anymore. Democrats no longer speak to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and arrogant by the day…along the way the things that liberalism once stood for – equality and economic security – will have been abandoned completely. Abandoned, let us remember, at the historical moment when we need them most.”

Why have voters chosen self-destruction?

The Democratic Party has ceased to be relevant to huge portions of its traditional constituency. This is not the Democratic Party of the New Deal or the Great Society. They are DINOS, Democrats-in-Name-Only, the party of mush.

Politics within the duopoly has little to offer anyone!

Karen, excellent reference to Simone Weil…thought provoking.

“All men converge on what is just and true, whereas mendacity and crime make them diverge without end.” - Simone Weil

Zee said...

I'm not familiar with the writings and thoughts of Simone Weil, though she sounds like a very interesting person, being

“a French philosopher, Christian mystic, and political activist.”


She was wise to recognize that political parties, like all human institutions eventually fossilize and find as their “new,” hidden principal goal self-perpetuation, preferably accompanied by growth and acquisition of power.

Perhaps it was this understanding that forced Thomas Jefferson to the realization that “a little rebellion” might be necessary to shake political institutions to their foundations from time to time, to be rebuilt anew to pursue the legitimate interests of those they claimed to serve, rather than their own institutional ends:

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” (My bold emphasis.)


Some time ago The Black Swan referred me to Ursala K. Le Guin's book, The Dispossessed, as an example of how “anarchy” might work. The book has given me some insight into that problem—for a “problem” I perceive it to be—for precisely the reasons that I might have predicted: human nature.

For some 175 years, the anarchic society founded on the moon of Annares functioned well in the face of adversity, unified by strong senses of complete individual liberty and a quest for a common good. But as noted by Bedap, in a discussion with Shevek, the protagonist, somewhere along the way the Annaresians “forgot that the will to dominance is as central in human beings as the impulse to mutual aid is, and has to be trained in each individual, in each new generation.” (Something our founders understood all too well.)

Bedap: “'...Odo said that human solidarity is our one hope. But we've betrayed that hope. We've let cooperation become obedience. On Urras [the planet around which Annares circles] they have government by the minority. Here we have government by the majority. But it is government! The social conscience isn't a living thing any more, but a machine, a power machine, controlled by bureaucrats!'

Shevek: 'You or I could volunteer and be lottery-posted to PDC [Production and Distribution Center] within a few decads. Would that turn us into bureaucrats?'

Bedap: 'It's not the individuals posted to PDC, Shev. Most of them are like us. All too much like us. Well-meaning, naïve. And it's not just the PDC. It's anywhere on Annares. Learning centers, institutes, mines, mills, fisheries, canneries, agricultural development and research stations, factories, one-product communities—anywhere that function demands experties and a stable institution. But that stability gives scope to the authoritarian impulse...

It's always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don't make changes, don't risk disapproval, don't upset your syndics. It's always easiest to let yourself be governed.'”
(My bold emphasis.)

This may be where we find ourselves today in the U.S.: In search a “nice safe heirarchy,” in the form of one or the other of two fundamentally identical political parties, which differ only at the margins in their proposed modes of “governance.” Pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion; pro-gun vs. anti-gun; pro-immigration reform vs. closed borders; pro-strong defense vs. reduced defense; and the list of unimportant differences goes on while those at the bottom get taken to the cleaners by either of the two parties.

Perhaps it's time for “a little [non-violent] rebellion.” But even if it should happen, don't get too complacent:

“[T]he will to dominance is as central in human beings as the impulse to mutual aid is” and will attempt to re-assert itself from the get-go.

Such is human nature.

Cirze said...

What a pleasure it is to read a reporter as fine as you, Karen.

I think they are preparing to put us/US down by drugging us with words/hypnosis first.

- Another Weil fan

turn us all on as it puts us to sleep

Karen Garcia said...

Anarchism has gotten a bad rap, as it most often portrayed in the mainstream press as a looting and burning rabble.

All it is, in essence, is bottom-up democracy. The eight-hour day came about through anarchism, not through "representative democracy" or the good graces of any bosses or politicians.

Interesting about Simone Weil and religion. She was raised as a secular Jew and embraced Catholicism in adulthood but refused to be baptized in the organized church itself. She essentially died from a hunger strike, her demise hastened by TB.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen...re your post of the 20th re Ed Schultz.
I think he is really a friend of labor, but he has his nasty side, also. People are combinations.

I looked up that Peacock nbc employee situation, which i'd missed. He may be an aggressive egotist, but all the msnbc hosts have contracts with nbc and can’t easily support the workers against the company explicitly even if they want to. And I’m most of the liberal ones do.

Schultz admits he was once more rw. But he has more segments on and more guests from labor than anyone on the whole network, or anywhere. We need a TV channel dedicated to employee issues.
Schultz can get hostile and aggressive to critics. He’s not such a nice guy.

I encountered him at an Occupy march. He and crew were walking along with a school principal and interviewing her about the low budgets she has to cope with.

I asked Ed if he could compare America’s backward anti labor politics with some other countries where unions are accepted, are on corp boards and are not vilified as here. That this might work very well on his show, etc. I talked for a minute or so, and he just said hmm,hmm, and nodded—quite indifferent. I was surprised at such little response.

Then I spoke with his producer nearby, a nice guy, who agreed with me, and brought up Germany as a good example. We had a nice little talk. Ed walked by, and called over “is she still talking?” I was so taken aback that he should bother giving me a little insult—for nothing! I must have bothered him in some weird way.

You can see he's domineering and self centered on his show---the way he talks to guests and his audience.

But I have to admit he pushes for employee rights the most.

btw I just watched the movie on tcm about Huey Long with Broderick Crawford---but he's too obnoxious---can't take him for a whole movie.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Weil had a keen mind, sharpened through her study of philosophy. She also had a good heart, with none of the detachment one finds in so many ivory towers. As a result, she had no end of difficulty maneuvering through this world with that kind of mindful baggage.

The world of the mind allows much more room for vastness and nuance. The material world is much more confining. How do you shoehorn big virtue into the tight shoes of everyday?

That may be the inescapable challenge for every human. How do I negotiate this day in the physical world, full of inviting pits, while holding to the path of what I know is right? How do I survive in my situation without compromising on the essentials?

As Weil wrote, holding on to virtue is impossible as a party loyalist. About as impossible as going it alone.