Monday, February 1, 2010

Both Sides Now

A comment on Fivethirtyeight.com wondered why anyone would believe Republicans about anything anymore. I can help with that one:
  1. Republicans have created a narrative that stresses personal and institutional responsibility. There's no evidence that they practice this themselves, but they've painted Democrats as profligate spenders with far left political and social values that are out of touch with the mainstream.
  2. They've convinced people that so-called "big government" is a threat to the American way of life, diverting the dialogue from the greater threat of their corporate masters in Big Business. It doesn't help that too many Democrats are beholden to Wall Street money.
  3. They've sold the fiction that taxes can be eternally cut at no cost to the services people value.
  4. They've promoted the idea that they are tough on Communists and terrorists while liberals welcome both ashore.
  5. They appeal to racial fears and anxieties.
  6. They are now working hard on the story that Democrats and liberals are actively and knowingly attempting to subvert the country.

I followed with interest the comments on another blog in which most of those commenting described themselves poltically as middle-of-the-roaders who examined "both sides" before taking a stand or voting for a candidate. Some, not all by any means, adopted a faint tone of superiority. Fine, but consider that there wouldn't be two sides to consider if a significant number of people didn't adopt a conservative or liberal worldview, or that mainstream liberalism and conservatism are themselves tempered by their most progressive and reactionary forms. (Some might say doctrinaire forms.) There can't be a moderate or middle-of-the-road position without a left and right to weigh it against.

The bigger question has to do with the definitions of left and right versus the general perception of what those terms signify. Conservatives have succeeded in moving the terms of the debate so far to the right that the middle has moved, too. They can now accuse a moderate liberal like Barack Obama of being a leftist or a socialist without being called on it. It doesn't matter that any true leftist or socialist would scoff at the notion that Obama is one of them: the terrain of mainstream, establishment discourse -- the debate covered by the MSM -- is such that to many people Obama is a dangerous leftist. If you ask how it was that 70,000,000 Americans voted for a subversive, they'll start talking about a weak and liberal Republican candidate and a cult of personality that is only now being exposed. (This from the same group that idolizes Sarah Palin.)

Moreover, there is a such thing as an equality or inequality of ideas. For example, Sarah Palin has stated that schools should teach "both sides" of the evolution "debate" and let students make up their own minds. It sounds reasonable on the surface. But Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution by natural selection is bolstered by 160 years of scientific research that have validated and extended his original conclusions. Intelligent Design, by contrast, is less than ten years old and is supported by no research at all. Believe what you will, but one side requires a tremendous reliance on intuition and blind faith while the other offers over a century and a half of hard evidence.

Alternatively, you can debate faith v. reason, but setting them up as opposing sides assumes that they are mutually exclusive. Some proponents of either perspective will argue just that, but not all. When it comes to evolution, the Catholic Church, to name one, has long held that Darwin's theory is not inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. Sometimes there are more than two sides even when there are two sides.

Anyone who reads Citizen K. regularly knows that I drive down the left side of the road. I look at what conservatism has become -- an angry, divisive whirlwind devoid of reason -- and know that I don't want this country to be defined that way. I wouldn't have described conservatism in these terms fifteen years ago, but that's what it has become. I look at what conservatives did when they were in power for six years; they not only bent every principle they held, they ran the country into the ground in the bargain.

I also know that in the long struggle for economic and political equality for all, progressives have always been on the right side and conservatives have always been in opposition. In the end, I believe that the measure of a country is how thoroughly it expands economic and political opportunity for all and by how well it does by its most vulnerable people: The poor, the disenfranchised, minorities, gays, and women. We've come a long way; we have a long way to go. Rush Limbaugh would says that I hate America. To the contrary, I simply want us to live up to our great promise of liberty and justice for all, to be the best we can be.

10 comments:

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

You know, you pretty sharp.
And you know that I mean that, K.
So, let me tell you what is driving the apprehensions behind my Opinion of James Perry, drive-by candidate for mayor of New Orleans.
I think the Progressive Left is Screaming for a New Obama. Let's cut to the chase here and admit that this is why you read more about James Perry from Vanden Hoovel (please forgive horrendous misspelling) and from Huffington Post than you do in even the local blog'o'sphere around New Orleans.
I think the Progressive Left feels abandoned by Obama. I know I did, and he pissed all down my leg an told me it was Katrina... but, I'm still with him --especially if he gives me a train set!
I think Obama is hanging, particularly lately with the SOTU and that fine stand-up smack down of those beotches at their own freaky retreat. I understand Obama better when he is allowed to explain himself to his detractors. It is thrilling.
But James Perry is not It, and I feel he (and the Progressive Left Media (PLM) is Packaging himself as such. And he is fund raising with this.
In New Orleans, he simply is not investing the cash on the street in his campaign that he seems to be receiving nationally. I see this money is for a brighter day for James Perry. I don't like the way Bobby Jindal fund-raises nationally either. He has bigger plans don't you think?

I just wanted you to know where I'm coming from with some of this, as I'm still working on it and frankly it doesn't really matter. It is nothing personal against James Perry.
My bigger question to you past Perry is this: Is the Progressive Left Pining for the Next New Obama?
I will await your post thingy.
Thanks Youz.

John Hayes said...

Hear, hear K. I know first hand of progressives who've thrown up their hands at Obama, quoting the Who with "here comes the New Boss"--I got in quite a set-to on Facebook about this a while back. Tho I'm apprehensive about what the future holds because it seems the right wing has firmly settled in some scary territory, I'm still with Obama most of the time. If he can start programs to get the economy turned around,he will win back the so-called "middle of the roaders." (I think--I hope). Palin in 12 is scary.

K. said...

I'm not sure what the progressive left pines for. I'm not big on labeling, but I think of myself as a pragmatic progressive. By that I mean that I recognize and concede an inevitable time lag between what I'd like to see happen and when it can realistically occur given our system of politics and governance. In that regard, I will take and be happy with whatever Obama can deliver because (a) I know that it will be a great improvement over the last eight years and be better than anything John McCain could have come up with, and (b) he's who we've got and I believe that he's an intelligent, hard working man doing his best. I won't spend time and effort carping at him because he's not the enemy.

Two elections seared in my consciousness have strongly influenced my point of view. One goes back to my childhood when Gene McCarthy sat out the 1968 general election and we got Richard Nixon as president. The other was the Nader vote in 2000. In both cases, too many progressives either took their balls and went home or voted for a monomaniac running as a quixotic third party candidate. Say what you will about Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore, the country would be in much better shape today had they been elected.

Plenty of people out there will think that my perspective is timid or a sell-out. All I can say is that it's formed from a lifetime of experience and observation.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Well put. However, I beg to differ on the 2000 Election Theft. I just can't accept blame for Nader (I voted Gore) because the election was Stolen. You can't steal just "some" of an election. And also, GORE SUCKED as a campaign. It was horrible.
But the fact of the matter is that with a false premise (Bush Cheated) and a sucky antecedent (Gore Sucked) you just don't automatically get Nader. We got Bush. And the entire Democrat leadership allowed this to happen.
It was Not Ralf Nader, the Dems Stood Down. Big difference between 3rd party politics in an election and a Not-election.
I would like to see the term "Progressive" to go back to meaning Smart Peoples.
When I said "Progressive Left" I wasn't necessarily speaking of you, or me. However, your political thinking always seems to resonate pretty well with me. I used to think of myself as a progressive, and naively considered that a non-political state... for example, I still do not consider environmental awareness and conservation a Political thing.

I just think that we should call people like Katrina vanden Heuvel and Huffington something like that. People that make it their business, I suppose.
Her mag looked at the Federal Flood of New Orleans and saw a Hurricane Induced Race War. So I am not surprised that she looks at James Perry and sees the next Barack Obama.
I hate labels and tags too, but particularly Political, as the practice has caused strife in my own family. But what bothers me more about this country right now, is seeing a thing for what it isn't.

Renegade Eye said...

If you listened closely to Obama's campaign, you wouldn't feel abandoned. His expanding the Pakistan and Afghanistan War was a campaign promise. He had no problem even throwing his minister under a truck.

The Democrats use small government rhetoric, as much as the GOP. Clinton set up a committee, to cut the size of government.

The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. Some "radicals" as The Nation attack the Democrats, but always vote for them. Even Chomsky votes Democrat. I attack them, and offer the alternative, not a third party, but a first party based on the labor movement.

Whatever you're calling yourself, I never for one minute ever thought of you as anything other than a comrade.

K. said...

E:Yes, the election was stolen. Yes, Gore's campaign sucked. Yes, in retrospect the Dem leadership could have done more, although they would have been going up against a Supreme Court decision. But it's also the case that none of this would have mattered without Nader's candidacy. You know, his tally was the difference in New Hampshire as well as Florida, and had Gore won NH the Bush brothers could have cheated in Florida all they wanted and W. wouldn't have been president. Just saying. And having said this, can you imagine the Republican reaction had the shoe been on the other foot?

I agree that The Nation might have a broader perspective on New Orleans, but they have called attention to an important part of the disaster and they have been a consistent voice calling for rebuilding when most of the media has moved on, save stories about how the Saints have rescued the city.

Ren: Thanks. I don't necessarily agree with you about the party and movements -- historically, at least -- but I take the point. Right now, though, where are the progressive movements? There's nothing on our side that equates with the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 60s. The anti-war response to Iraq was sporadic and ultimately tepid. I think it's because there was no draft.

Foxessa said...

If Gore had carried his own state ....

As for progressive movements, progressives tweet, reassure each other that those 'others' are stupid but we're so much smarter than that, and reason with our mis-behaving dogs.

Love, C.

K. said...

There are many, many progressive grassroots organizations and foundations. There are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, in Seattle alone. Their focus ranges from environmental justice to Native-American rights to gay rights to immigrant rights to voter registration to microcredit to neighborhood activism and beyond. All attract money and volunteer time. But, each has a well defined area of interest that seems to prevent coalescing into a general movement.

I used to work with an outstanding foundation called Social Justice Fund Northwest. SJF makes small grants to grass roots organizations across a broad range of issues. Something we discovered is that once an individual has self-identified with a particular group or cause, it's difficult to get him or her to commit themselves outside of that area. For example, Seattle's gay community is relatively affluent. Although there are always individual exceptions, it's a challenge to get a gay person to commit time or money to, say, immigrant rights. It's not that he doesn't support immigrant rights, but the group with which he most identifies has plenty of problems of its own and so he devote his time and money there. It's hard to blame him.

I wonder whether the fundamental nature of the problems confronting progressives v. tea baggers comes into play. For starters, let's dispense with the nonsensical fiction that one side loves America while the other side hates it. One side, though, sees the country as imperfect and ever striving to live up to its ideals. They are constantly trying to plug holes in the dike. The other side sees the country as just fine the way it is if liberals and progressives would stop talking it down and trying to destroy it from within. So, you've got one side functioning as a neighborhood improvement association while the other sees itself as on a great crusade. Which side is better positioned to take advantage of a situation inviting a movement?

Foxessa said...

I'm in favor of tumbrils.

Since the state is entirely godfathers now.

O, that's too mean and sinks to their level.

The level from which Cheney has laughed all his way to his wholly owned offshore banking accounts, having pulled off the greatest heist in the history of the world, and gotten away with it many billions percent? (not to mention the blood spilled and the tortures extracted, which continue even as as we keyboard)

Love, C.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Man, this is soooo frickin'cool!
Foxxy! Whoa!
Not that such salient political discourse matters to the minions of the Coming Palinate, it is fun to get our rocks off while we still can, eh?
In the world of Repugnican Syllodomy, if I say A+B then you say Si, Nader was a grocery boy bending over for gangsta'punks. He did not matter. Really. That 2000 election theft was one of the most amazingly executed coups in the history of that sort of shit. I followed every minute of it, from the Cubans bussed in from Miami to Mau Mau (literally with sticks) the Broward County Election Officials, to the old-school legal team which took it like clock-work to the Supreme Court. I saw Hillary Clinton Stand Down. I saw Joe Biden Stand Down. I saw State's Rights to conduct their own polling Stand Down. One Senator, One single Senator could have backed Florida, but they All Stood Down.
And now, the rest is History in the Baking.
I'm saying Jesus could not have won that election if it had been the 2nd Coming.
And what do we have to show for absolute Democrat Bow'down?
The Coming Palinate.