An unwanted political digression about life, liberty, and the Supreme Court
Note: I wrote this a few days and posted it at dailykos, where I waste a certain small amount of time and have virtually no audience, the meritocracy being what it is. I realize that many here to not share my politics, and that even more of you don’t come here to talk politics. Fine. Skip this one.
But the magazine I once edited was a political statement of its own kind, and I am a political person. And I’m a writer, which means I write about the things which engage me. So as long as I’m to have a role here (and y’all can vote me off the island) in this “community,” whatever that is, I will occasionally write about politics. Beyond that, if we can’t talk about politics and religion from a position of mutual interest and respect, I respectfully submit that our experiment in democracy is well and truly fucked.
I swear when I’m tired and angry. And when I’m tired of being angry. You’ve been warned. Maybe I won’t edit this as much as I’d thought I would…
Finally, this is the second piece of the thought I’m working through on my last essay here, my homage to my great aunt Karol. Do with it what you will.
From page 8 of Taylor Branch’s peculiar new book, The Clinton Tapes: “Clinton said Dole spoke of the opposition’s job not as making deals but rather making the president fail, so he could be replaced as quickly as possible.”
Page 8. The beginning of the Clinton presidency.
We keep acting as if the game is about policy. It’s not. It’s about power. It’s about who gets paid, and nothing else. We keep acting as if policy matters. It doesn’t. All policy amounts to is rearranging the chairs at the table and enabling somebody different to get paid.
We keep acting as if elections and the policy they’re theoretically about are about something called Democracy. It’s not. Public policy is about propaganda, about advertising, about manipulating the electorate. And let me amend this for this broader audience: It doesn’t matter what your point of view may be, nor how you came to it. We’re every one of us getting played.
I don’t fucking care about health care reform. It’s a dog and pony show. It doesn’t matter. No matter what they do, I’m still screwed. We’re all screwed, unless we stay healthy. NOTHING on the table suggests that’s going to change in any fundamental way.
OK. I do care about health care reform. I have a young child. I care passionately about the world she will inherit. But I care about FUNDAMENTAL reform, and we’re never going to see that because the interests sitting around the table dicing up our dimes and pennies, they’re not going to let it happen.
Unless and until we’re talking about a national one-payer program which preferences family care over specialized care, and which makes stable family care available to everybody who wants it, I don’t think the details of anybody’s reform package make a difference. But I’m not an expert, I’m just a guy with a keyboard and a temper. And too much time on his hands.
Side issue: Who the hell thought this was a good time to ram health care reform through? The insurance companies have their back against the wall. They’ve taken a huge beating this last decade, from 9/11 through Katrina and other disasters, and then got crunched in last season’s market crash. Yes, we the people want health care reform, but the politicians could not have picked a worse time to try to make big insurance come to the table as a willing and helpful (yeah, right) participant in the process.
As I typed, health care reform is a dog and pony show. It’s a distraction.
The Tea Parties last summer remind you of anything? Say, the Brownshirts in Munich, circa 1930-something. They bullied everybody in sight, AND IT WORKED. So they’ll do it again.
What’s our counter move?
Retreat to the center.
Watch Michael Moore movies and bath in the righteousness of our beliefs.
Get over it.
Here’s what we’re fighting for: We’re fighting to preserve this planet against global warming. And we’re fighting to develop clean and renewable energy sources. Period. If we don’t do those two things, or if we allow other powers (see: China) to do those things, we’re screwed. My daughter’s screwed. Oh, and we don’t break up these huge corporations which are both too big to fail and entitled to spend all they want on elections? Then we’re all screwed. Game over.
Everything else is chimera. Nothing else matters, not even health care.
Now…you want to deny the science behind global warming, to insist that man walked with dinosaurs six thousand years ago on planet earth…I can’t help you. Reason cannot remove ideas from your head which were not placed there by reason, to badly paraphrase Emerson (I believe).
Thing is…if all the learned men and women who are confident in general notion that we’ve screwed the planet up badly and have a very small window of time to fix it, if they’re wrong…EVEN IF THEY’RE WRONG we still need to find cleaner, alternative energy sources. We still need cleaner air and water. The U.S. still needs, so long as it means to be an economic power, to be in the vanguard of that movement because we are going to run out of oil. In my lifetime, perhaps. Because we are going to need more energy than fossil fuels can provide, barring Malthusian catastrophe. Because we are stewards of this planet, no matter your religion (nor my absence of religion), and we disrespect it at our very real peril.
Why does big energy balk at this, when they should be the prime beneficiaries of whatever changes in energy delivery we have? Same reason big tobacco fought against research that smoking caused cancer. They fought for next quarter’s profits. They fought a delaying action so that Reynolds Tobacco could evolve into RJR-Nabisco, a fully diversified company that made nothing so much as it made money and controlled market share.
Why do the banks and investment firms balk at changing the rules of their game? Because their really smart staffs believe they’ve found a golden goose, believe that they can invent enough financial instruments so as to remove the risk from the marketplace. Bullshit. Capitalism is all about risk. Had anybody bothered to do due diligence on each individual mortgage written over the last fifteen years, we wouldn’t have had this crisis. Had each bank planned to service its own mortgages, they wouldn’t have written many of the contracts they signed. Why’d they do it? Because the rules favored creating the business, not servicing the loan. Because they knew it wouldn’t be their problem. And it wasn’t. It’s our problem. Only now they want another turn, because, well, it wasn’t their fault, right?
The further this economy gets from me looking you in the eye and shaking your hand, the further it gets from me making something that you buy, the more trouble we’re in. The more complicated the system we build becomes, the easier it is to make it collapse.
That’s the first thing.
The second thing is this: The right wing does better propaganda than we liberals do. We keep complaining about Fox and Limbaugh and all that, and our answer is, what, MSNBC and Air America? Really?
They play dirty. They lie. They convince poor people that it’s in their best interests to align themselves with rich people every election cycle, and piss on them the rest of the time. They delegate Swift Boat tactics and gay baiting to special operatives who exist on the fringe and in the shadows, and whose efforts turn elections. The left doesn’t seem to wish to embrace those rules, which is fine, but they’d do a whole lot better if they understood that the game isn’t about who’s got the best ideas, the game is about who can rig the game.
OK. Fine. Those are the rules. This is about power, it’s not about who’s right, nor is it about what’s best for the country. It’s about who gets paid, and who doesn’t.
So what are we going to do about it?
One suggestion, bound to fall on deaf ears? Figure out how to win the propaganda battle. Figure out how to fight for our democracy like the desperate minority we really are at this moment, and quit pretending we are a part of the ruling majority. All of us. Left, right, center. I don’t think I have a monopoly on the truth because I’m a pinko socialist progressive who likes gay people and doesn’t want to see the Ten Commandments on government walls. I respect and honor those who have different opinions and are willing to place them out in the middle of the table so we can all figure out what works. What’s best for ALL of us. Not just the rich.
Barack Obama sold a product. He sold Hope. And he finessed the right wing because the product with which they opposed him sucked, and his tactics were slightly unexpected. And Obama became a celebrity, don’t discount that.
Malcolm X had it a little wrong. It’s not the ballott or the bullet. It’s the bank account.
We’re all getting played. We the people haven’t had a seat at the table for most of my life, best I can tell, save for the extraordinary will which led to the long and painful Civil Rights movement, and save for the demographic bubble which rose up in the streets to oppose the Viet Nam war.
We’re all getting played.
And now the wise folks in the U.S. Supreme Court have voted, 5-4, to allow corporations and unions and every other collection of rich clucks at play in our political system to spend as much money as they want marketing their shade of the truth to us.
Ben Sollee has it right: A few honest words.