“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s a narrowly tactical saying, and therefore false in almost every way that matters to ordinary working citizens. But in the American political scene in the last fifteen years, this fallacy has had a destructive effect on liberals and progressives seeking meaningful change.
I’m referring, of course, to the
It’s no use pointing out here that
In discussions that I’ve had,
But let’s look away from the man and measure the accomplishments. What did President Clinton do?
He went to the mat for NAFTA, and for “free trade” in general, just like the corporations wanted him to. Unions? Forget about it.
He jumped on the right-wing anti-welfare bandwagon, helping to craft punitive anti-poor legislation.
He flinched when rightists opposed gays in the military, turning around and establishing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” an unworkable anti-gay policy that plays right into the hands of the hate lobby.
He used military force in
And what about the economic prosperity we supposedly enjoyed under
The degraded state of our political landscape today did not just appear out of nowhere. A lot of the reasons that it has gotten this bad can be found in eight years of spineless surrender to the right during the
Was there any area in which
Since the catastrophe of Reagan, the official definition of the “center” has continued to move farther and farther right. This was a conscious strategy. When outrageous things are said, they begin a process in which the outrageous can become “normal.” By going along with this, Clinton Democrats marginalized liberal and progressive voters. The assumption is that there was nowhere else we could go. (The same attitude was maintained regarding African American voters.) They’d say stuff during election years, but when it came time for action we were ignored. One of the results has been widespread voter apathy. Rather than see this as a problem, both parties have been afraid to expand voter participation. Better the security of low voter turnout than the wild card of an energized citizenry. This dovetails with the strategy of appealing to the “undecided” voter. Although Rove demonstrated that energizing the base can win elections, Democrats don’t seem to have a sense of their base, or rather one should say that their base consists of the corporate donors who are bankrolling them. If the voters turn against corporate interests, what are Democrats to do? Give lip service to the public interest, while placating the corporations, that’s what. And this is exactly what we still see now.
Do you think Hillary Clinton offers anything different in essence than Bill Clinton? Study her words and actions carefully, and you will find no meaningful evidence of such difference. Once again we have sheer opportunism, a consistent placating of the right along with token gestures to the left. I hope we can do better.
When we witnessed the spectacle of Democrats, even progressives like Eric Alterman or Todd Gitlin, become apoplectic about the third party candidacies of Ralph Nader, it’s a symbol of the impotence and weakness of mainstream liberal thinking. What they’re really saying is: “Your vote belongs to us! How dare you waste it on a third party candidate!” A mature adult response would be to question oneself, asking how the Democratic Party can meet the needs of this portion of the constituency that is voting for a third party. What can we do for progressive needs and causes, so as to bring them back into the fold?
But instead, as you know, they pouted, threw tantrums, pointed at Nader and whined that he had thrown the 2000 election to Bush. The immaturity and entitlement of this stance is breathtaking. We supposedly owe them our votes without question, or we’re branded as stupid idiots. But what had eight years of
I’m sure even the majority of us, who voted for Gore, didn’t expect that the Bush administration would be a crypto-fascist coup. The narrative that was sold to us was that he was just another Republican shithead. But even though Bush has been an unmitigated disaster, in the long view we need a much more radical change than electing some cautious establishment figure to the White House. In fact, the focus on the Presidency as an agent of change is misguided in itself. There’s a huge architecture of power that is in place in this country, an imperial power inflated to mammoth proportions during the Cold War, and no one person in the White House will be able to transform it into a true servant of the people. I mentioned how different Gore was as a Vice-President and a Presidential candidate than as a Nobel laureate. We’ve also seen how Jimmy Carter has said and done some wise and sensible things after he was President. While he was President, he had Brzezinski as his Secretary of State, and he made sure that the federal government would survive underground while we all fried to death in a nuclear war. He was a conservative Democrat, not a liberal, and this is what we forget. But it seems everyone changes in the secret corridors of power. If by some freak accident, a man like Kucinich was elected, don’t you think he might get assassinated, or otherwise disposed of?
So the answer is a mass movement of the people. It always has been. If we want politicians to pay attention, we have to be mobilized. This is not easily done. The material comforts offered to the masses by the corporate powers act like a glaze over the mind. The wasteful luxury of our “way of life” is bought at the expense of a lot of other lives in other countries. Most people don’t want to see this, or do anything about it. But besides all this, people are generally busy with their lives, and they’re not going to drop everything to become political activists. How can you blame them? Strategies of engagement need to be fashioned that ask more of people without asking more than they can give. In the meantime, I suspect that things will have to get a good deal worse, economically and otherwise, for the mass of Americans, before a progressive movement will make the kind of gains we need. The rightists are not going away quietly. The polls show them losing at every level, yet they still dominate