Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Road Forward

Cheshirekatz: "I have talked to many people who know there is something wrong but cannot express it." People who aren't wedded to the vicious and plunderous policies that the ruling circles have been carrying out are deeply disturbed - as they should be.

But disturbed as they are, the movement against this desperate state of affairs lags behind where it needs to be. The 1/27/07 demonstrations were righteous and involved hundreds of thousands (contrary to press reports of "thousands" or "tens of thousands.") It's defintely a step forward and something to build on. But what is holding things back from moving to the level that will drive this regime from power? What issues need addressing the most? I believe there are two major factors.

One, there's the matter of leadership. The people who the public ordinarily look to and rely upon to provide the leadership, to be the watchdogs for the public interest, have either joined forces with Bush/Cheney, or have been cowardly and feeble in the face of the radical right. The people cannot move without leaders. So even though a majority of people want to see this regime ended, they aren't yet able to act fully in this vacuum of customary leadership.

Two, even though a majority of people want impeachment, not nearly enough of the people yet understand the enormity of the crimes and wrongs being committed and the extremely momentous and dangerous state that we are in because of the road that has been embarked upon. Ask most Americans today if the US is torturing prisoners and what would most of them say? That we don't. Most Americans who oppose the war in Iraq still do so because they see the war as failing or useless, not because they see the war as immoral.

A manifestation of part of this leadership vacuum problem is the peculiar phenomenon of those on the political left who continue to oppose impeachment as a "distraction," or who think that we ought to just wait it out till '08. Apparently, war crimes, genocide, torture as policy, global warming-denial, destroying a fabled US city, warrantless surveillance on an extraordinarily massive scale, suspending habeas corpus rights, profligacy, signing statements that negate the laws and declare that Bush is no less than a dictator - these are not impeachable offenses.

How can any self-respecting citizen, let alone a leftist, take such a position? (I hasten to point out that there are many grassroots activists and party activists who are heavily invested right now in backing particular Democratic candidates such as John Edwards or Obama who feel the need both to participate in Democratic Party politics and who are active or even extremely active in the impeachment movement. They will likely continue to try to do both these things. I am not speaking here of them primarily, but rather those who have left-wing credentials and whose primary political identity is that of being a leftist or radical).

We have a situation that is nothing sort of surreal: our government is openly torturing people, committing mass murder, brazenly spying on all of us, and has been caught lying (among other things) about the reasons for their invasion of Iraq - and yet, some people who ought to know better, are counseling patience and turning the other cheek in the face of these unspeakable outrages. How has it come to this?

Paletz and Entman (1981) make certain observations that are instructive in this regard. Bear with me a minute to lay it out.

To begin with, they disaggregate the "public" into specific coherent sectors. Beginning in reverse order of importance:

1) the apolitical 25% who are marginal to conventional politics.

2) the 60% who follow politics sporadically and vote sometimes. They read the popular press and watch television. They rarely see the prestige or specialized press. Their political preferences are unstable and their opinions fluctuate. These are the mass citizenry whose numbers decide elections [of course, Paletz and Entman are assuming here that the votes get counted properly].

3) the 10-15% of the non-elite who pay close attention to politics and have a high degree of information and a coherent understanding of politics. Paletz and Entman call this group the "attentives." These are primarily white-collar professionals, managers and their spouses. They read the prestige press and/or specialized press. Attentives orient themselves according to positions staked out in the prestige press by elites.

4) finally, the elite: the top 1%, comprised of public officials, corporate heads, major interest-group leaders, a few notorious professors, think-tank residents and some celebrated journalists. They "generate most original policy proposals in reaction to problems and events. Their views define the conventional wisdom and structure the public debate about politics. They provide the sources of most political stories in the national media." [Note that the policy proposals they generate are in general in reaction to problems and events, not in reaction or response to public opinion per se, contrary to classical democratic and pluralist theory.]

The section of the Left who are opposed to impeachment fit into the third category above. They are orienting themselves to the positions staked out by the Democratic Party. Since the Dems are opposed to impeachment, so too goes this section of the Left. It's pretty much as simple as that.

The situation we face today requires no less than that the grassroots mobilize themselves, in conjunction with the segments of the Left who have not thrown in their lot with the Democratic Party and with the segments of other political tendencies, even the political right, who despise what the neocons have done and stand for. This makes for an unusual emergent and possible coalition. To carry forward this mobilization, people from among the newly awakening to political life (including among youth and other strata) and from those who have some or a lot of political experience must come forward and come to grips with what is actually going on. Denial of what we truly face is fatal in this rapidly evolving situation. We must create new social movement leaders in the course of this battle. We can learn by doing. In fact, we have no choice but to learn by doing and by studying history especially very carefully.

The GOP has been the vanguard of the new order. As I discuss in Chapter Two of ITP, the Democrats (or at least a few of them) have sensed that the GOP stole the 2000 and 2004 elections. Kerry himself finally came to this conclusion, but was afraid to take this public. Why would he, and before him, Gore, be afraid to take this public? Because both the Democrats and the GOP fear the genie being released from the bottle: the masses fully embracing and directly engaging in political life, moving decisively away from thinking that they've fulfilled their political duties merely by voting and campaigning.

As I put it in Chapter 2 in ITP:

"Any serious attempts to change a society must involve the lower strata together with the middle strata. The Democrats find the prospect of the genie being released from the bottle in the form of the masses springing into political life just as threatening as the GOP does because they agree with the GOP that this system of globalized capitalism, this new American Empire, is the proper order of things. Recall that Kerry and Edwards promised to continue the war in Iraq. Their platform, in fact, was Bush-lite. Their platform was essentially that of W’s dad when he was president. This tells you something crucial about what is afoot in a larger sense."

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