Wednesday, March 30, 2016

prisoners of the campaign

The problem with political campaigns in a democracy is very similar to the problems faced by the Red Faction Army (the group of urban guerrilas that the press labeled the Baader-Meinhof gang). The RFA began attacking industrialists and policemen because they believed Germany was still a proto-Nazi state and they wanted to bring about a revolution. Put off to one side the lunacy of the tactic – this, at least, is what they believed and how they acted. But – as was inevitable – certain of their comrades were captured and imprisoned. A true Red Faction Army would shrug and recruit more. But instead, the RFA turned from militating for Revolution to directing all their efforts to freeing their comrades. Freeing their comrades meant nothing to anybody but the RFA. In the moment they turned to that activity, letting, as it were, the feudal value of group loyalty trump revolutionary activism, they were lost not only as revolutionaries but as anything but another pathological criminal gang.
Brecht’s Three penny opera gets the criminal mindset down – these people are the bulwark of the capitalist system, its truest believers.
Similarly, campaigns start out ostensibly not just to elect person X, but to institute those changes in the lives of the electors that X believes are warrented.
Yet, very soon after the campaign starts, candidates start bickering about the campaign itself, the campaign their opponent is running. This is understandable, but it is also tactically advantageous to the candidate who most wants to stick with the status quo.
This is why, I think, Clinton’s supporters in the press seem much more obsessed with Bernie Bros than with, say, the lead in the water of Flint Michigan. Clinton herself made a very good speech about Flint, and in a debate pledged to get the lead out of water and paint within five years if she was elected. An excellent pledge, and one she should hammer on. But instead of that hammering, Clinton’s followers are still doing the rounds on Bernie Bros, even after polls have shown that in Sanders’s strongest demographic, the 18 – 35 set, women outnumber men by a considerable number. That is according to the latest poll on these things by USA today: “Millennial women now back Sanders by a jaw-dropping 61%-30% while the divide among Millennial men is much closer, 48%-44%.
In any case, while there are surely thousands of Sanders’ supporters who are all about sexism, Sanders isn’t. And there are millions of Sanders’ supporters who are not about sexism – in fact, these supporters view Sanders the way Gloria Steinem once described him (when he was running for the Senate): as an honorary woman. Trust Steinem to put a sentiment  cringeworthily.

Still, who cares? What matters, obviously, is what Sanders and Clinton propose to do for the vast majority of men and women in the US and – given the onerous presence of the US around the world – in the middle east, South America, Asia, etc. What’s in it for the teacher in my son Adam’s class, or the woman who is on her feet eight hours a day as the cashier at the local Vons? Cause really, that is all I care about. I don’t care about freeing prisoners of the campaign. I care about inverting the structures of oppression and bondage that crush our imagination and emotional capicity every day of our lives in this moment. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The working class GOP contingent

For once, a decent article in the NYT about the social conditions that have led to the rise of Trump.
Still, it suffers from a flaw that I'd call Frankism, after its most famous advocate, Thomas Frank. The idea, here, is that the "uneducated" - the high school graduates and dropouts of the GOP working class - were led along like stupid zombies by a GOP that used "gods" and "guns" to trick them.

This, I think, is a massive misreading of the strategy of the GOP cohort. They voted for politicians who continually promised to privatize Social Security and cut taxes not because they believed in cutting social security, but because they didn't believe the GOP was serious. They wanted the tax cuts because that was money in their pockets - and they needed that money. Wages have been bad for a long, long time, save for a few years in the nineties. This means that those households needed their discretionary spending. Meanwhile, fica was, due to the rotten deal between the Dems and the Republicans in the 80s, rising as the great Federal tax.

What changed in 2008 and was changing before then was that tax cuts no longer were enough. And now, after having paid more and more for social security and medicare, the GOP seemed more serious about vouchering them into inexistence than about anything else - save tax cuts for the wealthiest.

I think that the working class GOP pursued a strategy as well as the elites. They were willing to grant the elites their plutocratic gains in return for more discretionary income and the "cultural" issues, which were really lifestyle issues, issues of how to have a life on a more and more restricted budget. God, among other things, is cheap - there's no charge for going to church. On the other hand, going to Disneyland is expensive.

I don't want to ignore racism here, which is interwoven with the story of who gets what. The inability of the GOP working class to feel any solidarity with the black working class is certainly the result of a long history of racism in this country. The inability of the elites to even see the landmined life of the black working class is of course due to racism too.

The Sanders movement is going to have to confront that racism, instead of assuming that solidarity will happen if the economic issues are laid out clearly enough.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...