Proposal for a Truce on the Left

Suppose that on the political scale you find yourself to the left of Joe-mentum and the DLC. Maybe you’re a Democrat and proud of it, but troubled with the party’s recent tendencies. Perhaps you’re still a Democrat, but wondering why. No longer a Democrat? Never were a Democrat? Step outside and call me a Democrat? No matter. Brothers and sisters, I propose a truce among us. I’m not so naïve as to think we can all just get along. But perhaps we can mutually realize that we each have a part to play.

Opening Strategy

Waking up to another four years was a cruel experience; but of such is character made. Avoiding the trap of shadow projection, of finding someone to scapegoat, we’re examining ourselves, our ideas, and our methods, and this is a positive, if painful, experience from which we’ll undoubtedly grow. At the same time, we need to remember that responsibility coincides with capability: things we can’t change are not our fault.

Isn’t this the sort of thinking that led to “Think globally, act locally”?

William Greider points out, most notably in The Soul of Capitalism, that successful ideas propagate through a capitalist society like wildfire. If you can make money with a small clever scheme at the fringe of the economy, the idea will spread quickly, and become mainstream if it works on a large scale. The free flow of information is vital to the production of new wealth. And who’s good at information flow?

Out of the Gate

The blogosphere is a new and vital player in the game of information capitalism. As I write, for example, the story of “embedded” White House reporter “Jeff Gannon” is the talk of the net and the media, providing the backdrop for some fine portrayals of surprise all around.

As if agencies of the US government hadn’t been doing this sort of all along! So long that some have forgotten the distinction between enemies: “foreign country” and “different political party” are equally opponents in the game. The White House is once again involved in aiming the machinery of the state at citizens who disagree. Worse Than Watergate, as John Dean says, are the tricks of this campaignistration, with

…everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis. [They] consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest black-and-white terms for public consumption…

When an opponent takes this attitude, it can seem like a disadvantage not to follow suit. But doing so lures the left away from its economic roots toward dependence on political consultants; away from economic politics toward cultural politics. And shazzam, we have become our opponent. Welcome to the machine.

Bargaining Chips

I admit that the path to victory, both moral and political, probably involves advocating our values loud and clear. The Bush machine has made “loud” and “repetitive” its hallmark, in classic big-lie fashion. They’ve got the Mighty Wurlitzer going full blast. As much as I don’t like marketing, I don’t know any other way to combat propaganda on the scale we face in early twenty-first century America.

Proclaiming our values doesn’t have to be obnoxious or overbearing. But it does bring us to the knotty problem: what values to proclaim? Traditionally, this question has been a reliable spell to turn the left into a circular firing squad. In 2004, that didn’t happen, and the Republicans still won. So maybe unity’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe the public’s not into the DLC’s Republican-lite scam.

The most valuable bargaining chip is the ability to walk away. The machinery of the Democratic party might be worth saving, and some of us want to stay in the party and try to turn the battleship. I continue to salute their courage and their convictions and to wish them well. It seems to me that there is a growing need for a presence outside the party as well. If everyone stays inside the party, the threat to leave is less credible. If everyone who’s really pissed re-registers as Green, there’ll be nothing to threaten with.

So there’s a manifest need for both approaches. Neither is likely to succeed on its own, at least.

This model lets me hope that Dean might start to turn the ship. He’s just the introduction, not the bearer of enlightenment or some such. But his campaign’s innovative methods brought politics back to the level of the individual for lots of people; and the election certainly got folks more involved than usual. Who knows where that’s going? People power, it’s scary.

Walk Away

Nader quotes his father as saying we don’t need a third party as much as we need a second one. But it seems clear that third parties have had significant effects on the public discussion surrounding US elections. Often they’ve forced consideration of issues that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, following the principles around which they coalesced.

Kissinger supposedly said that the most difficult opponents in negotiations are those who state directly what they want, implying a willingness to walk away from a suboptimal agreement. I think we need to keep that kind of pressure on the Democratic party at this critical junction in its history. This once-great party will either return to its roots or wither and disappear. The Republican party will be forced to prop up the Democratic opposition to prevent the intrusion of a real alternative. Or maybe this has already happened.

In this model, wouldn’t private ventures in space become the ultimate negotiating tactic? Suppose you could walk away entirely.

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