Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Good Is the Democratic Party?

What good, for that matter, is any political party?

In this country, we have two major oligarchic political parties, otherwise known as the Duopoly. The Republicans, at this moment led by a thuggish reality TV star posing as a populist, devolved into two separate factions early in the regime of Barack Obama. The first group are "moderate" Republicans who aim to reward the rich under as much platitudinous cover of darkness as they can get away with. The second are renegades of the astroturf variety who do the dirty deeds as flamboyantly and as enthusiastically as possible. 

The first squabbling (moderately sadistic) faction aims to rip just enough government-subsidized health care away from just enough people so as to avoid inordinately hurting the obscene profits of private insurers, drug companies and other health profiteers - not to mention their own re-election chances. The other faction, of the Koch/Libertarian persuasion, wants to rip away all the subsidized health care from patients and predators alike. This is because they don't believe that government should be involved in any level of health care at all.

 Members of the first faction exist to give away the whole public store to the rich, who then, legend has it, will create some trickle-down prosperity for those who are mainly white, and work hard, and show proper admiration for the rich. The second faction are members of the so-called Freedom Caucus. They represent the freedom of the rich to ignore the whole trickle-down B.S. altogether and instead enjoy the All Against All spectacular from the freedom of their private islands. Ultimately, the intraparty GOP squabbling is just about the intensity and methods of the sadism. Judiciously placed leather whips, or waterboarding? Quick annihilation, or deferred pain for purposes of re-electing the Good Cop torturers?

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, are the centrists and the progressives. The centrists, known alternately as conserva-dems, Republican-lites and neoliberal New Democrats, also exist to serve the plutocracy while pretending to care more about the Commons than do their reasonable GOP friends across the aisle.  

Slightly less intense and dogmatic than their moderate Republican colleagues, the centrist Dems began forming their own faction way back in the 70s, just as the New Deal and the Great Society first began coming under attack from the extreme right wing.

To avoid the leaching off of their voters to Richard Nixon's racist "Southern Strategy," they tried to out-Republican the Republicans by also bleating out the  message that government is the problem, not the solution. The problem, of course, is that the poor are too selfish.

The centrist Democrats and the "moderate" Republicans have enjoyed varying degrees of success in their cooperative shreddings of the social safety net and their poor people punishings over the decades. While Bill "The Era of Big Government Is Over" Clinton was able to kick millions of poor women off the welfare rolls and send a record number of their mainly Black mates to prison with the help of a then-more reasonable GOP Congress, Barack Obama's own efforts at a similar "Grand Bargain" went down in defeat. The newly-ascendant Freedom Caucus, which gained power in large part because of Democratic coddling of Wall Street, deemed Obama's proffered cuts to Medicare and Social Security not sufficiently cruel.

Now, with the country fallen into a dystopian spiral in the aftermath of the neoliberal austerity reforms which rewarded the rich and punished the poor, it's now the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that's in the "ascendant," battling the We're Not Trump centrists with demands for universal health coverage, a living wage, free higher education, and enhanced Social Security, among other goals.

Notwithstanding the recent "unity tour" conducted by the leadership of these two Democratic factions (Tom Perez and the corporate DNC on one side and Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution on the other) the crack widened into a chasm this past week with the defeat in Georgia of Jon Ossoff, a centrist funded by the DNC establishment to the tune of more than $50 million.

Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel, who once out-Trumped Trump when as Obama's chief of staff he called the party's progressive base "fucking retarded" for daring to criticize the neoliberal Obama administration, is now belatedly urging his party to generate voter enthusiasm by voicing some concern for the downtrodden as well as for the upper middle class voters whose main source of anxiety is being personally offended by Trump's personality.

But look what happens when they try to ram milquetoast candidates like Ossoff down our throats. The Democratic establishment's buffed and carefully manicured scolding centrist finger has been rendered into an ossified vestige. It's turning into a parody of Rahm.

And that brings me back to my original question: What good is the Democratic Party? (Since it is a truth, almost universally acknowledged, that the Republican Party's own, more wickedly honest purpose is the total destruction of everybody except the oligarchy it represents, we needn't ask the same question of them.)

"The only legitimate reason for preserving anything is its goodness," wrote the late socialist philosopher Simone Weil. "The evils of political parties are all too evident; therefore, the problem that should be examined is this: do they contain enough good to compensate for their evils and make their preservation desirable?"

Let's examine the current agenda of the Democrats. Although the Sanders faction did eventually force the inclusion of some of the most progressive goals in party history into its latest official platform, there is no Democratic leader calling for an end to wars and American imperialism. If endless war and the slaughter and displacement of millions of innocent people are not pure evil, I don't know what is.

So, should the championing of bathroom rights, and limited, subsidized, market-based, and profit-intensive health care for about 20 million out of 50 million uninsured people outweigh or mitigate the evils of pollution-based climate change, joblessness, poverty, mass incarceration, deportations and chronic hunger? Precisely how much death and human collateral damage can a political party orchestrate, fund, or be complicit with, and yet still call itself a force for good rather than a criminal gang?

Since, as Simone Weil notes, one of the main functions of a political party is to generate collective passions, Democrats in the Age of Trump are stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do they counter and surpass Trump's method of transforming collective anxiety about surviving in a cold neoliberal world into a collective hatred of The Other? Since the centrist Democrats' pressure campaign of Russophobia doesn't seem to be working - neither winning them any new elections nor ginning up public enthusiasm for another war or two - they're stuck between the rock of pleasing their struggling voting base and the hard place of placating the wealthy donors who don't want to help the struggling voting base beyond the artificial and stingy parameters of voluntary philanthrocapitalism.

Besides generating collective passions and exerting pressure on voters about what these collective priorities and passions should actually be, the ultimate function of any political party is its own growth, without limit.

It's fairly obvious that it's not only the Democrats' centrist finger of neoliberal fate which is atrophying to the point of getting chopped off. It's their whole body of consultants and other experts for whom more Democrats winning more seats outweighs whatever agenda it is that they're trying to sell. It's worth quoting Simone Weil some more in this regard: 
"In principle, a party is an instrument to serve a certain conception of the public interest. This is true even for parties which represent the interests of one particular social group, for there is always a conception of the public interest according to which the public interest and these particular interests should coincide. Yet this conception is extremely vague.... 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 (should he himself belong to one) his own.... A doctrine cannot be a collective product."
Weil observes that even victorious parties exist in a permanent state of impotence, always claiming that they have insufficient power. Just witness the first two years of the Obama administration. Here was a president swept into office on an overwhelming mandate to effect change for the greater public good, punish the thieves of Wall Street, and end the ill-advised Bush wars of imperialistic aggression. Despite having a majority in both houses of Congress for his first two years, he continued Bush's policies, including international aggression, domestic surveillance on citizens, tax breaks for the rich and the coddling of Wall Street.

 And then the Democratic Party and its media flacks had the chutzpah to inform us that it wasn't Obama who failed us. It was we who failed Obama.

They ignore the fact that when progressives did dare challenge Obama's right-wing policies, they were dismissed by a short middle-fingered vulgarian in language that eerily and chillingly presaged Donald Trump's own Tweets.

As Simone Weil so scathingly writes,
 "Political parties are organizations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and of 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. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds. All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practice it... Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members."
It's no wonder, therefore, that politicians like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are so despised by party establishments and declared "unelectable" despite their overwhelming popularity. In Bernie's case, the standard criticism is how dare he criticize the Democrats, when he himself is not even a member of the party? Thus do they unwittingly confess, as Weil points out, that "when one joins a political party, one gives up the idea of serving nothing but the public interest and justice."

We need to stop looking for the right political savior in the less offensive political party to save us. We need to all join together and save ourselves. Just as trickle-down prosperity is a cruel myth, so is trickle-down politics.

The water protectors of Standing Rock know this. So do the activists of the Black Lives Matter movement. So do the global climate marchers. So do the people demanding safe public housing. So do the people who were sadistically yanked out of their wheelchairs by police and dragged away for daring to protest the sadism fermenting in the Capitol Dome of Doom.

If we can't shame politicians and their parties into doing the right thing, we can instill fear into them. We can interrupt their town halls, we can inundate them with our phone calls, we can mock them with our satire, we can withhold our votes and our campaign contributions, we can resign our party memberships and disown Groupthink, we can even boycott their rigged elections with our independent campaigns and write-in candidates. Why settle for trickle-down, when there's a whole geyser of human strength and resolve ready, willing and able to explode right back at them?

There's plenty of goodness to go around. You just won't find it in the Uniparty, or what Christopher Hitchens aptly described as "two cosily fused buttocks of the same giant derriere."


Zee said...

Here's a link to the story about protestors being dragged from their wheelchairs by Capitol police during a protest against Trumpcare. Didn't quite believe it myself 'til I found the report.

Jamie said...

If we are talking dialectics, I would much rather have a Republican party and a Marxist Party. Republicans openly love capitalism and freely admit that it creates winners and losers. They represent capitalism; whereas liberals dishonestly muddle the dialectic and claim they can magically lift all under the capitalist mode of production.

Liberals sell the idea that you can tinker with capitalism and make it great again, thus rendering Marxism unnecessary. The are afraid to admit which side of the dialectic they stand on -- Capital -- and instead sell the idea that through their management of capitalism, alienation will slowly disappear.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Thanks, Karen, for an elegant lay out, with the help of unofficial saint and political philosopher Simone Weil, on why the two-party/one-party/any-party system is a poor tool for insuring justice across the land.

As I kept saying throughout 2016, what we need is for voters to shift their support to a Third … Oh, WAIT! The Greens are a party too. Will we individually end up as anti-organization purists walking towards virtue alone? How can we organize a real force against evil without going astray in some other way, as so often happens?

Maybe the problem is size. On the local levels here in Canada, at least in theory, there are no parties on the bottom tier of politics, only platforms and personalities, with or without histories, running for particular city offices. (But would you believe I have been shocked, shocked repeatedly in seeing that unaffiliated politicians can be corrupted as easily as politicians carrying a party label?) And we have all heard about the ultra-democratic town meetings of rural New England. Small jurisdiction, no party needed; large jurisdiction, enter big money and big parties.

Maybe it's not parties, only big parties. Can it be that big countries are too big? As a thought experiment, let's ask ourselves, which countries today just might be committing the most serious and widespread injustices: The Icelands and Uruguays, or [cough, indecipherable, cough] the Russias and the Chinas? There seems to be an iron law: the bigger the country, the greater the capacity for good and evil. And as we have seen for many decades, if not millennia, the big dogs generally deliver the most serious bites.

The critique of parties and bigness itself is too easy. What was Weil's alternative to no parties? Should we all turn our backs on big government and simply concentrate on doing and obtaining face-to-face justice with our immediate neighbors guided by our own brand of spirituality? We are all brothers and sisters. Right. What about the very weak and the bullies who don't play by those rules?

Should big countries be broken up the way Teddy Roosevelt supposedly busted up the trusts? Would a number of smallish countries like Norway turn out enough Volvos to satisfy our needs on the road, turning out as many good wheels as the Detroits, Stuttgarts, Aichi and Seouls? And who would build uniform and safe superhighways across the three or four new independent countries between Boston and San Diego? Could we still have significant advances in big science––of course I mean the good things like vaccines and space telescopes, not Hellfire weaponry––without big money and big organization?

If good and evil are inextricably bound on every level, parties or no parties, are we, whether in big countries or small countries, left with nothing more than the single tool of a persistent and committed nonviolent resistance in solidarity with our immediate neighbors? Ever tried to organize on that basis?

To go down nobly, or to reach for the nuke: that is the question.

Pearl said...

"TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn

Pearl said...

From the NYTimes

Red Century
Socialism’s Future May Be Its Past
Communism was a dead end, but we can reclaim socialism.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:

Erik Roth said...

In an article entitled "It's My Party" in Harper's, Alexander Cockburn writes about this, but with nowhere near the insight that Karen Garcia has provided here (and previously).
But FYI, here's a link to Cockburn's piece:
As far as I'm concerned, it's NOT my party, and they can cry if they want to, but I say, or crow, nevermore.

Jay–Ottawa said...

"There are some people who think the Democratic Party can be reformed from within by changing the personnel. I say good luck to that. What’s happened in the last twenty years? They’ve gotten more entrenched. Get rid of Pelosi, you get Steny Hoyer. You get rid of Harry Reid, you get [Charles] Schumer. Good luck.

"Unfortunately, to put it in one phrase, the Democrats are unable to defend the United States of America from the most vicious, ignorant, corporate-indentured, militaristic, anti-union, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-posterity [Republican Party] in history."

Ralph Nader (25 June 2017}

Erik Roth said...

Not so long ago (although time seems horrifically extended, while frightfully running out), the "Gray Lady"/NYTimes had at least a couple columnists who saw things from a little left of far right, aka "the center."
Prominently was Frank Rich. Here's his latest take on Trump:

Nonetheless, and no matter what, we still must confront, if not endure, this sad, sordid, sickening reality:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.
On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

"Americans, taken one with another, are the most sniveling, timorous, poltroonish mob of serfs and goosesteppers, gathered under one flag in Christendom, since the Middle Ages.”

~ H.L. Mencken

stranger in a strange land said...

That Mencken quote reminds me of a Wendell Berry line that's been on my mind a lot recently:

We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.

How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.

Kat said...

Wendell Berry's statement serves a purpose. The only purpose I can glean from Mencken's is to identify what an ass he was. He sure had a contempt for democracy.