Wimpy Liberals No More

I've long thought that the main reason US politics is so screwed up is not the vicious, lying portion of the right wing described so amusingly by Al Franken. And it's sure not the honest portion of the right wing that believes in stability, which means the rule of law, which in the US means conserving the values of the Constitution. In fact, as a libertarian socialist I have a lot in common with some of these people, though most of them would probably be uncomfortable admitting it.

The problem, in fact, is the wimpy liberals.

You know the wimpy liberals, right? They're the ones who espouse union values, then help a fascist President write a resolution endorsing pre-emptive war, which sends the sons and daughters of union members off to fight and possibly die to enrich the rich.

They're the ones whose history includes going to Vietnam because they believed it was the honorable thing to do, then coming home and joining anti-war rallies because they realized the government was lying to them. So far, I'm with the person in question. But as his career evolved, he, like the previous example, promoted the values of the rich over everything else: make sure that US banks can buy the maquilladoras, make sure the rich don't have to contribute anything to educating the children of those they've stolen from, make sure there's always a war for the rich to profit from, make sure any alternative voice in the party is silenced. Make sure modern liberalism, like modern conservatism, means “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich”.

The wimpy liberals came into their own (actually, someone else's, but they call it their own) during the Reagan presidency. True, some saw the signs of incipient wimpiness, also called the onset of DLCism, in the Carter administration. But it took the ruthless dishonesty of Reagan-era ideology to realize that the wimpy liberals, hot to compromise, were vulnerable to “extreme” bargaining. You could simply demand eight times what you wanted, play the compromise game, and end up with four times what you wanted. The WimpLibs were left feeling good about themselves, so you could pull the same stunt repeatedly. Eventually the WimpLib negotiating position would evolve toward something Nixon could have been happy with, as a means of showing their “negotiating partners” how well they understood the situation.

Or, as Robert Reich says:

[T]he so-called center has continued to shift to the right because conservative Republicans stay put while Democrats keep meeting them halfway.

Of course we have a deteriorating educational system, and not by chance: those at the top of the social scale are not interested in generating more competitors. We also suffer from a powerful and pervasive propaganda system. So it's easy to understand how people are persuaded to believe that, for example, Iraq was working with al Qaeda: the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, and Press Secretary, among others, hammer home the point, then deny that they said it. But it's harder to understand why people accept ideas that ignore their interests and contradict their daily experience.

Still, as Bertrand Russell said, by proper diet and education people can be made to believe any nonsense, no matter how errant. Well, we've got plenty of “proper diet”, to the point that obesity is a widespread health problem in the US. And we've got “education” coming out our ears: the trillion ads Americans supposedly see in a lifetime, the 24/7 cable “news” networks that barely differ from the ads, the hour-length commercials that try to act like news shows; you know the litany. It's the Mighty Wurlitzer, the most powerful propaganda machine in history. As my friends tire of hearing me say, if the Romans had television, we'd be speaking Latin today.

It's not surprising, in other words, that US citizens have no idea what's going on in the world. They can't be bothered with politics; they have lives, defined as Coors Lite, the Lakers, and Bennifer movies. And clothing stores (=sweatshop owners) sell t-shirts that say “Voting is for old people”. Yeah, so is intelligence, and you wouldn't want to be caught dead with that—you'd be uncool forever. At least, that's what the Republicans count on, and the Democrats agree that limiting participation in elections is a good thing.

“Okay, but we're not weird, everyone's like this.” Right. Look at Spain. In the US, it's commonly assumed that a terrorist attack such as the one that killed a couple of hundred Spaniards would help Bush get re-elected, but in Spain, that attack doomed the so-called Popular Party and elected the Socialist Workers Party. Of course, the lies didn't help either. When Aznar set his entire government machinery to publicize the concept that the bombing was the act of ETA, Spaniards were immediately suspicious, and in the end it was probably the coverup, rather than the act itself, that lost the election for the no-longer Popular Party.

Would Americans be so suspicious? I'd like to think so, but this is a country that sees a smirking chimp and votes for it. Doesn't elect it, true, but provides it with enough votes that it can cheat its way into office.

I'd better stop now before I get too depressed.

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