Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Some comments in the ongoing debate regarding the candidacy of Elizabeth Warren got me to thinking about our political system and people’s reactions to it. Warren is criticized by the Right for obvious reasons, given her strong stances on managing the economy and controlling the excesses of the Corporate Culture. In a sense she offends their sense of political purity, but then that is but a given because she is a Democrat. We have seen though on the Right that such conservative stalwarts as Richard Lugar have gone down to primary defeat because he failed the Tea Parties test of what a “true” conservative should be. Richard Lugar failed the “purity” test even though his conservative history is impeccable. In my conception political purity conforms to “party line” thinking, punishing those that fail to adhere in all respects to the standards of a given faction’s concept of standards their candidates must adhere to in order to retain enthusiastic support. I use “faction”, rather than “party”, because our two party political system actually represents an amalgam of various factions imperfectly coalescing under the rubric of a “Political Party”.
From a Left, or even Centrist perspective, there has been both amusement and trepidation about how the “Tea Party” faction has exerted control over the Republican Party. Then too, there is the same reaction to the power exerted by Fundamentalist Christians, a group that at some points overlaps with the “Tea Party”. A human trait is to see the foibles of groups we define as “other”, while being oblivious to the idiosyncrasies of the groups we are aligned with. Liberals, Progressives, Radicals and even Leftist Centrists like to believe that they are immune from the turmoil that they see in their Right Wing opposites, yet the “Left” and even the “Center” also routinely define people in terms of litmus tests of political purity. This was highlighted by certain comments on the Warren thread where people who were seemingly in tune with her domestic policy views, disliked her positions on the Middle East and appeared to hold them against her. This has definitely been true with many progressives and/or civil libertarians in viewing this current Administration. My purpose here is not one of castigation for anyone’s perspective; rather I’m interested in exploring the phenomenon of the belief that political figures need to meet all of our expectations in their positions, or be unworthy of our support. My own perspective is that tests of political purity are self defeating because it is impossible for any particular political figure to be in perfect agreement with all that any of us individually believe and politics becomes oppression without the ability to negotiate. The process of real negotiation requires compromise. What follows is why I believe that is true. Before my discussion though, I think a definition of perspectives would be helpful. There are some of us, including myself to a certain degree, who believe that we are living under a corporate oligarchy and as such the common pretense that our national fate is in the hands of the majority’s vote, is but pleasant mythology. I wrote about this in my guest blog Published 1, March 17, 2012: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/17/a-real-history-of-the-last-sixty-two-years/ .One logical conclusion that can be drawn from believing that democracy is an illusion, is that voting is a wasted effort, since whatever person we choose will either be a corporate stooge, or unelectable. I can respect those who draw that conclusion since the evidence of its truth is quite convincing. My own conclusion is not quite there yet, even though I do believe that we are under the rule of a coalition of the Military Industrial Complex and of the Corporate Elite. The redeeming feature to me is that I don’t believe in the homogeneity of the “ruling classes”. I think that they are made up of various factions and roiled by clashing egos. In my estimation voting for politicians thus has value because the vote affects the competition among our oligarchs. There is a qualitative difference for instance between Buffett/Gates and the Koch Brothers, in the sense that the former believe in more humane social policies and the latter have a draconian social view.
If one believes that Democracy is completely illusory, then why bother voting, since voting is a futile exercise? The logical conclusion of such a belief is to disdain all of American politics and politicians as being tools of the Oligarchy. From that perspective it isn’t a question of particular policy, since almost every player in normative politics is not to be trusted. So the question becomes how do the people change things when the political process is believed to be non-existent? Obviously, if it is ones view that America politics is a total sham, then a massive uprising of the people would be needed to make change. How does that uprising occur? Will its’ nature be peaceful, or violent? While I know there are “militias” out in the hills of places like Idaho, are they capable of banding together to overthrow our current government, I think not. Violent revolutions always seem to breed unforeseen and unpleasant excesses, which make their original aims moot. So the question becomes how do we effect a peaceful revolution? The answer is simple, but the process itself is immensely complex. A peaceful revolution can come about when you are able to convince an overwhelming majority of the people that the current system needs change and that they need to refuse to cooperate with it. Think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When the media is in the hands of corporations though, the issue is one of how does the message of change come across to reach the populace? It’s a question I’ve pondered for years.
Back in the 60’s there was the idea of “dropping out” of a corrupt system. Its problem was that it was espoused by many and practiced by few. The truth was that for those “dropping out” the system didn’t miss their participation, nor would it now. A current conservative stratagem is to make voting harder, thereby limiting turnout of voters negative to their cause. We solve nothing by not voting. We could vote, but cast our votes for nascent opposition parties. This is not a bad premise in my estimation, even though in our loaded political system, minority party effectiveness is more limited than under parliamentary government. Let us think though about a minority party legislator’s ability to be effective once elected, since I assume that the process of gaining political power through organizing a minority party opposition would be slow and could be violently opposed. Think of the police reactions to Occupy Wall Street. However, OWS does show that the elite can feel threatened by a mass movement.
When we discuss the election of someone whose political views are outside of what the “mainstream allows”, we need to take into account how much positive influence they can have on the political process, if they are unwilling to compromise their “political purity”. Let us take the real instance of Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist, as he does his job in the Senate. I believe that Bernie is the most ethical and perceptive Senator we have had in the Senate in a long time. He is also an effective Senator in terms of being able to not only put forth a progressive point of view, but to actually influence Senate activity. In order to be effective in the Senate, Bernie has had to compromise on certain issues and thus would certainly be seen from the orthodox socialist perspective to have sold out. In contrast let us take another man whose career I’ve admired, Dennis Kucinich. Dennis has been an aggressive/effective spokesman on a national level for unpopular, yet valid causes. Within the house though he has not been able to effectuate change simply because Dennis does not do compromise well
In today’s world a political change process is mainly effectuated in four ways:
1. Violent revolution, which is highly problematic at best.
2. Massive non cooperation with the system, ala Gandhi and King, which can be very successful based
upon the right circumstances.
3. Organizing and creating an opposition political movement, a possibly fruitful, yet hard process to carry
out with success..
4. Working within the system, imperfect as it may be, to effect slow change.
All of the above can be work to effect change in a given context, but one factor is a given no matter which method is chosen. To build a mass movement in a diverse population the need to compromise is paramount. This need to compromise is called “coalition building”. The Right has been effective at this for years when you think of the coalition between religious fundamentalists, lukewarm objectivists and outright corporatists. What would Jesus, Ayn Rand and even Adam Smith think of the ways their teachings have been presumably melded? In the past the Left also coalesced around certain issues, bringing together groups that were hardly homogeneous. However, from the 60’s onward building of coalitions on the Left has broken down. “Centrists” and “Liberals” became anathema to “progressives” and “radicals”. After all that he had accomplished Martin Luther King became an “Uncle Tom” in the minds of “Black Power” advocates for his refusal to entertain the concept of violence as a tool.
The Left coalition also began to break down in the 60’s over the issue of Viet Nam. Working class union members generally supported the war that was drafting and killing their children. The leadership of the AFL-CIO, who had striven to disassociate themselves from Marxism during the McCarthy era, had become part of the country’s establishment. As George Meany, the AFL-CIO President, began to play golf with Eisenhower and major industrialists, the Union movement swung away from its Left Wing roots. The fact that the labor movement was overwhelmingly “white working class” in an era where Blacks were demanding equal status also took its toll on the coalition between Big Labor and the Democratic Party. The AFL-CIO and Teamsters supported Richard Nixon in 1968..
The labor movement’s departure from coalition with the Democratic Party was to have devastating consequences for its strength. Their workers, doing well financially aspired to a scaled down version of the American Dream. The threat that competition with Blacks for jobs and with the Left’s critique of muscular foreign policy, helped drive white workers into the Republican Party. The fact that their leadership had become cozy with Management and Republicans led the way. The power of the labor movement waned until today it is a shadow of what it once was. The Left coalition forged under FDR and informed experientially by the “Great Depression”, began to fight amongst themselves. The battles increasingly became issues of “purity of political belief”. When a person’s political value is weighed on only specific issues that are politically “black and white”, coalition becomes almost impossible. Without the ability to coalesce “Movements” face severe limitations in their ability to grow.
I believe that in the desire for reforming our governance to work for the interests of all the people, all viable methods must be used. Of the four methods I list above I believe that only the latter three are really viable. A violent revolution in this country will only hasten the totality of oppression, since violent revolutions never seem to work out the way people have planned and that the people once having risen find themselves ruled harshly by those they so hopefully followed. Refute this premise if you will, but please don’t cite the American Revolution. While it certainly had violence it was a rebellion of colonies against an overseas colonial state. By revolution I mean the rebellion of a people in a certain geographical area against their own government.
Methodologically, none of the three methods can work without bringing together people of differing standards via a coalition that accepts deviation from a “party line”. This seems obvious to me since rarely do those who wish change agree on all issues. Are there “deal breakers” that cannot brook compromise? That depends upon the individual, the perceived threat and the current circumstance. I have my own deal breakers, certainly, but I invoke them in context of my reading of the perceived threat.
What do you the reader think of the argument I’ve made? If you disagree please let me know, since I understand that on any given subject I can be wrong and I am really willing to learn. If you agree with me then what are your “deal breakers”? Perhaps if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger