Sunday, July 11, 2010

Arc of Identity

I’ve been a loyal Democrat and devoted liberal my entire life. Even as a teenager when Reagan was popular with my generation, intuitively I knew his vision was wrong. So I worked my butt off for the party and registered voters. I did this on faith that the Democratic Party would be a vehicle for economic and social justice.

Yet a lingering disenchantment with the party always lurked like a nagging conscious and whispered doubts in my ear. Personal friends from my youth may recall how I often quipped that Republicans were the party of evil and Democrats the party of gutlessness. Alas, our winner take all system reinforces the two party duopoly, so I saw no viable alternative. And perhaps there never will be.

The good thing about the gutless party is that at least it wasn’t out to get me. Whereas those nasty Republicans seemed to suggest that if I as a secular Jew didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, support school prayer and engaged in casual sex, I was condemned to eternal damnation. Furthermore, if I didn’t fully embrace the principles of predatory capitalism and aggressive military nationalism, I was not a loyal American in their eyes. The Republican Party’s racist “southern strategy,” gutter tactics and homophobia, also repulsed me.

So I rationalized supporting Democrats against what I deemed the party of evil. If we didn’t stand up for Bill Clinton then Newt Gingrich and his apostles of hate and greed would run amok. With respect to policy the Clinton administration made all sorts of compromises I didn’t agree with such as welfare reform. But his heart seemed in the right place and the technology bubble provided an illusion of prosperity and hope for wage earners across the board. Meanwhile, the Republicans had the temerity to impeach our duly elected president for getting a blowjob. I didn’t approve of Clinton’s personal conduct but abusing our Constitution over it bothered me more.

Through the year 2000, I remained a staunch liberal both ideologically and temperamentally. By temperament I mean I was willing to debate and listen to ideas from conservative acquaintances and relatives, even as I contradictorily regarded the GOP itself as an evil institution of hate mongering greed. I’ve never believed that I had a monopoly on wisdom and perhaps through the power of reason and a good faith give and take, we could find “common ground” for the greater good. Yeah, once upon a time I really did believe that.

After all, most of the conservatives I knew were decent people and didn’t perceive themselves, as enablers of hate mongering greed. I didn’t equate them with Republican politicians. So ideologically, I remained a traditional New Deal sort of liberal but in personal disposition I also believed it was important to remain intellectually flexible and receptive to changing realities. I still believe in that personally but in this country it doesn’t seem to work politically.

Then George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election. No need to rehash the tale we all know so well. Suffice to say that I was PISSED! Pissed at how an American electorate could make an election close enough so Bush could steal it because they preferred him as someone they could have a beer with. Pissed that Ralph Nader and his supporters actually claimed there was no difference between Bush and Al Gore.

Pissed at a Democratic Party that crawled into a fetal position after Bush’s ascendancy and 9/11. Pissed at the reign of indecency under a Christian-fascist regime guided by neocons, immoral nationalists, predatory crony capitalists and religious zealots. A century from now, if the human race is still here, historians may well trace America’s decline to that 2000 election when predatory capitalism’s crusade that was launched by Reagan achieved its nirvana of destruction under Bush, Cheney and their merry band of “End Times” misogynists, corporatists, Ayn Rand fetishists and delusional believers of American exceptionalism.

During the 2002 midterm elections I looked upon my party of gutlessness in a new light. While Democrats would not overtly do me any harm they also wouldn’t stand up for me when Republicans pursued irrational wars or allowed predatory crony capitalism to destroy the American dream. It seemed the entire party was a self-gelding machine of ineptitude suffering from battered wife syndrome.

Then along came Howard Dean, a centrist governor from Vermont, who nonetheless was one of the few Democrats bold enough to fight the madness with his famous “What I want to know” March 15, 2003 speech in Sacramento. Inspired by Dean, a “netroots” movement took off to emancipate the Democratic Party from elite consultants and lobbyists to represent regular folks. Or so we believed.

For liberals like myself it was cathartic to encounter others who realized America was on a collision course with calamity and hungered for a Democratic Party with the spine to stand up and fight. In that despair and anger we felt under Bush and a corporatist media that failed to challenge the Bush administration’s distortion of reality emerged an exhilaration that we regular people would “force the spring” with a counter narrative of “truth.”

To my disgust Bush stole another election in 2004 and portrayed John Kerry, a man with four purple hearts, as soft. In opposition, both to the Republicans and status quo insider Democrats, many of us dug in our heels to save the party and the country. In February 2006, I posted an essay I was quite proud of entitled “Pro-Business Liberalism.” It was the first post I did that achieved any sort of notice and within the opening paragraph I identified a flaw that remains pervasive in the Democratic Party today:
“Meanwhile, the Democrats are enduring the worst perceptions among voters from both wings of their party: liberals reluctance to identify with pro-business policies makes the party appear in favor of handouts while the DLC reinforces the suspicion among voters that the Democrats are just as corporatist as the Republicans. It’s an odd contradiction and a rare feat of political ineptitude: the two wings of the party have managed to make Democrats appear socialist and corporatist at the same time.”
Over four years later and little has changed! President Barack Obama this past week was compelled to defend his administration for not being anti-business even as millions of Americans perceive it as beholden to predatory capitalists on Wall Street. The duality is undermining Obama’s administration and the Democratic Party’s effectiveness.Sadly, what the Democratic Party offers is predatory capitalism lite and nationalism with a veneer of multinational diplomacy.

And that leaves liberals like myself feeling adrift. My ideal of liberalism is to provide an indispensable alternative to revolution and reaction. I always envisioned liberalism as facilitating tangible positive change and reform at a pace that can be absorbed by society as a whole. I’m not a revolutionary. Revolutions are bloody. Reaction is also bloody. Hence, liberalism to me represented a means of how society could evolve and adapt to changing realities without bloodshed or overly harsh policies that hurt the most vulnerable among us. And hopefully empower and lift up those left behind in the free market’s rough and tumble.

In 2010 however, liberalism as defined by Democrats under Barack Obama is pursuit of that holy-grail independent voter who stands on the political fifty-yard line. The end result is the center of political gravity being pulled further to the radical right as liberalism continues to lose ground. And the body politic as a result can’t even do something modest like extend unemployment benefits as plutocratic millionaire corporatists complain about the deficit they largely created during the Bush years.

So as I reflect upon my political identity today it can be defined as weary of slogans, promises and personalities. I don’t believe in political parties or their platforms. I don’t believe in the dogma of ideology, be it left, right or middle. I don’t believe in silver tongued icons. I don’t believe in special interests, net roots movements, so called grass roots movements, moralizing politicians with nice haircuts, blow dried talking heads or careerist pundits with stock dividends in the system. I don’t believe in big government or the free market. I never believed organized religion could save anyone.

I do believe most people are decent, reasonable and competent. Our salvation, if it is to ever come, will happen on the community level when people pool their collective resources against predatory capitalists and their enablers in power with their own businesses, local financial credit lending institutions and reduce our own carbon footprints. Otherwise, in my lifetime, a bloody revolution, reaction or even a xenophobic civil war is inevitable.

Alas, liberalism never seemed so far away.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Once in Chicago while performing with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West, Sitting Bull spoke through his translator to the huge crowd of ragged white men, women, and barefoot children: "I know why your government hates me. I am their enemy. But why do they hate you?"

Anonymous said...

A good example of how the banks actually write legislation is the bankruptcy reform legislation of 2005. In the bill Congress produced, private student loans were no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy. The banks were able to write this bill because students have no organization or lobby paying favors to congressmen.

I have seen it done with mine own eyes. The bank's inside counsel draft the legislation and then pass it on to congressional staffers that they have quid pro quo relationships with, often the staffers and bank's attorneys went to the same schools, and the bills are then introduced into committee in the form drafted by the banks.

No national purpose was served by this legislation. In fact, the bill has served to cause many who tried to better themselves through higher education to wind up as indentured servants slaving away for banks. American's families are impoverished and generations will live in poverty because the banks pay legislators lucrative rewards in the form of campaign contributions and high paying jobs.

These private loans, because of little regulatory oversight, often become unpayable because the interest and fees increase to an amount larger than the original loans. The only reason former students are discriminated against in bankruptcy (other bank loans and even gambling debts are dischargeable) is because students have no lobby, and the corrupt political process favors the disproportionate influence of the banks which use the legislative process to do their own bidding.

Anonymous said...

Support the Franken/Dodd bill (Fairness for Struggling Students Act (S 3219)) and the house version (Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act (HR 5043)) which will stop the discrimination against students and allow private student loans to once again be dischargeable in bankruptcy. HR 5043 has been voted out of subcommittee and is now in the House judiciary committee. S 3219 has also been voted out of subcommittee and is in the Senate judiciary committee. Call your Congressmen, Senators Franken and Dodd and members of the House and Senate judiciary committee to show your support. Time is of the essence.

Americans should not have to live in indentured servitude because the economy cannot provide a job for them at a living wage, often because the banks and corporations use their undue influence in the political process to shape the economy for their own purposes, not for the good of the country.

David Peterson said...

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