Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I'm struggling to make myself care about the key items in the news cycle -- the leadership fight among the Democrats, Bush's book tour, Obama's trip, zzzzz. Instead, last night I was reading Joan Walsh's Salon column "How the Democrats Shellacked Themselves" -- promoted by Politico as an article the White House "hopes you miss," but really, it's a piece I wish a few people in the White House would actually read. Walsh gets it right -- since the Carter years, Democrats have economically abandoned ordinary voters; "Partly that was thanks to the rise of a new big business lobby in Washington, and partly it was thanks to Democrats' being ideologically rudderless." Despite having abandoned their natural constituency, "Democrats got kind of lucky in 2006 and 2008," facing a party that had screwed up on multiple fronts -- but the victories came with fat-cat money and considerable Blue Doggery, so of course Democrats couldn't do much for the ordinary Americans who voted for them, and now they're on the outs.

I don't see a way out of this cycle, or at least I don't see one based primarily in the system of electoral politics. Corporatist Democrats are still to the left of Republicans, though that's mostly because Republicans never stop trying to drag the country further and further to the right -- it's Texas Republicans, not Democrats, who primarily want their state to opt out of Medicaid, for instance. Many corporatist Democrats also still think of themselves as progressives, so at least they try to float semi-progressive ideas, however half-heartedly. But they can't get them done in a meaningful way -- and they won't until they fear an angry public more than they fear the loss of fat-cat cash.

Which brings me to a discussion Ted Rall had on Dylan Ratigan's MSNBC show yesterday when he was promoting his new book, The Anti-American Manifesto. The conversation, which has the Corner's K-Lo in a lather, was about the advisability of violent revolution in this country. Here's a horrified account from Mediaite:

...this afternoon, MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan took to his show to yell fire in a crowded theater, asking viewers, "Are things in our country so bad that it might actually be time for a revolution? The answer is obviously 'yes.'"

It's difficult to explain the following clip without appearing to indulge in hyperbole.... Quoting John Locke, Rall argues that "the people have an obligation to revolt," and that "nothing will radicalize the American citizen more than being thrown out of their home by a bank." Citing frustration with both parties, who he called "in bed with the duopoly," Rall also noted that "the American left has been very peaceful since the early '70s... and where has it gotten us?"

Ratigan did not seem particularly flustered by the proposition, though he did ask if Rall saw any alternatives, especially peaceful political dissent, or what he called "European semi-violent revolt." "If you could get everybody to do it," Rall responded, "it could work, but you can't even get everyone to stop littering."...

I often have serious problems with Rall, but I think he's at least grasped the fact that there's no fear in left-wing politics, and that we're not going to score any victories until there is fear. The fear can be of strikes or economic punishment of certain companies or punishment at the polls of elected officials, but, in the absence of fear, we're paper tigers.

I've thought at times that the left will get off the mat only when when the last boomer is dead and "hippie" is no longer a slur anyone remembers the meaning of; the revival will come not from people like me or you or Ted Rall but from actual working-class people who don't read the books we read or eat the food we eat or watch the TV shows we watch, who may even be culturally reactionary, but who stand up -- in a muscular way -- for their own economic self-interest.

But I think it's more likely that the continued failure of the political system to help ordinary Americans will increase the appeal of undiluted fascism accompanied by seriously violent out-group scapegoating. I think that's where ordinary citizens are going to find release for their frustrations if the economy really doesn't turn around in the foreseeable future. The Texas anti-Medicaid effort is just an early step -- this could get much, much uglier, all over the country.

But violence from the current left? I'm unwaveringly against it as a matter of principle -- and, even suspending my moral sense, I think it's a futile tactic if (as I imagine it would be) it's practiced the way it was in the late '60s and early '70s. I remember that era's scattershot attacks -- a lot of people were hurt and killed, and nothing was accomplished except the amassing of ammunition for an anti-left backlash. A moral horror -- and lousy strategy.

I don't even think the current left could pull off what Ratigan calls "semi-violent revolt," a la the European left. The relationship of the American left and right reminds of a pattern seen in a lot of abusive relationships -- the right is the batterer who knows exactly what he can get away with, for years and years; the left and liberals sometimes try to lash out in the same way, but they don't have the survival instinct. Thus, quite a few men batter for years, even decades, without ever facing legal or social sanction -- and then women strike back and wind up in prison. That's how I fear we'd do if we tried to be like the teabaggers and town-hallers -- we'd screw it up because we don't have the low cunning to know where the line was and how not to cross it while still remaining menacing.

Long term, however, I think serious violence is in the offing in this country. Rall may be more intuitive about this than he knows.


UPDATE: More reactions to Rall, from the right and center. Oh, and not much love for Rall at Rumproast.

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