A Response to Wandra Ashley-Williams – Published on ZNet, by Paul Street, September 12, 2012.
… It Became Clear That Our Political System Failed:
More than merely a “blunt lesson about power,” the Obama administration has been a veritable seminar in who actually governs the country beneath and beyond staggered, mass-marketed and candidate-centered election spectacles and on the futility of seeking progressive change through the dominant electoral and major party modes. The real rulers, the Obama experience taught, were the rich and powerful Few, those whom Occupy Wall Street so famously designated as “the 1%” last year around this time. That’s no small part of how and why Occupy happened when it did, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz notes:
“That the young would rise up against the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt was understandable. The youth were tired of aging, sclerotic leaders who protected their own interests at the expense of the rest of society. They had no opportunity to call for change through democratic processes. But electoral democracy had also failed badly in Western democracies. U.S. president Barack Obama had promised “change you can believe in,” but he subsequently delivered economic policies that, to many Americans, seemed like more of the same….One interpretation of the long delay in arrival of mass protests was that, in the aftermath of the crisis, there was hope in democracy, faith that the political system would work, that it would hold accountable those who had brought on the crisis and quickly repair the economic system. But years after the breaking of the bubble, it became clear that our political system had failed. Just as it had failed to prevent the crisis, to check the growing inequality, to protect those at the bottom, to prevent the corporate abuses. It was only then that protestors turned to the streets…..’
‘… One interpretation for why it took so long for the Occupy Wall Street protests to emerge was that many hoped that the political process would “work” to rein in the financial sector and redress the country’s economic problems. It was only when it was evident that they did not that protests became widespread. The strong voter turnout in 2008 (the highest since 1968) reflects the power of hope.’
Hope of a particularly electoral kind, that is. The Obama experience taught many thousands of young Americans to pursue their hope for “change from, the bottom up” – a recurrent Obama campaign mantra in 2007 and 2008 – through action of a different kind, consistent with Noam Chomsky’s instructive reflections on the eve of another close presidential election 8 years ago: ‘A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, “That’s politics.” But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics. ..The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive directions – often in close conformity to majority opinion – is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can’t be ignored by centers of power… In the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.’
Three Episodes: … //
… Areas of Agreement:
In a recent Black Agenda Report column the left activist and commentator Bruce Dixon uncovered no less than 15 critical political and policy matters on which Obama and Romney basically agree behind the official media story line of an epic contest between two “very different” and indeed “sharply polarized” parties and candidates. Dixon’s list includes the following:
- ‘The federal government should NOT enact any sort of WPA-style program to put millions of people back to work.’
- ‘Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are “entitlements” that need to be cut to relieve “the deficit.”’
- ‘Climate change treaties and negotiations that might lead to them should be avoided at all costs.’
- The corporatist investor-rights North American Free Trade Agreement is ‘such a great thing it really should be extended to Central and South America and the entire Pacific rim.’
- ‘Banksters and Wall Street speculators deserve their bailouts and protection from criminal liability, but underwater and foreclosed homeowners deserve nothing.’
- Racist imperialism should march on in the Middle East: ‘Palestinians should be occupied, dispossessed and ignored. Iran should be starved and threatened from all sides…. Cuba should be embargoed…. Black and brown babies and their parents, relatives and neighbors should be bombed with drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and similar places.’
- Racist imperialism must march on in Africa: ‘Africa should be militarized, destabilized, plundered and where necessary, invaded by proxy armies like those of Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi or Kenya, or directly by Western air and ground forces, as in Libya’
- ‘US Presidents can kidnap citizens of their own or any nation on earth from anyplace on the planet for torture, indefinite imprisonment without trial or murder them and neighboring family and bystanders at will’
- ‘Oil and energy companies, and other mega-polluters must be freed to drill offshore almost everywhere, and permitted to poison land and watersheds with fracking to achieve “energy independence”.’
- ‘The FCC should not and must not regulate telecoms to ensure that poor and rural communities have access to internet, or to guarantee network neutrality.’
- ‘There really ARE such things as “clean coal” and “safe nuclear energy.”’
- ‘Oil and energy companies, and other mega-polluters must be freed to drill offshore almost everywhere, and permitted to poison land and watersheds with fracking to achieve “energy independence.”’
- ‘Immigrants must be jailed and deported in record numbers.’
- ‘No Medicare for All. Forget about it eliminating the Medicare age requirement so that all Americans would qualify.’
- ‘No minimum wage increases for you, no right to form a union, no right to negotiate or strike if you already have a union, and no enforcement or reform of existing labor laws.’
- ‘The 40 year war on drugs must continue…mention of the prison state is unthinkable.’
Not good, Ms. Ashley-Williams.
The parties and candidate are not completely identical or indistinguishable, but Dixon has provided an impressive and chilling list of common ground between the two dominant political organizations.
It’s been like this for many election cycles now, which is no small part of why many U.S. voters’ candidate “choices” end up having nothing or little to do with policy. With the contests all-too drained of substantive policy meaning, voters commonly select the candidate who seems most “likeable” to them, the one with whom they’d most like to have a beer or watch television. The infantilization of the electorate along these lines is encouraged by campaign advertisements that sell candidates like a new brand of deodorant and media commentary that focuses on things like Obama’s lithe athleticism or the physically awkward Romney’s real or alleged “wimpiness.”
Race Neutrality: … //
… The Real Choice:
Captive to and controlled by corporate, financial and professional elites, the current quadrennial election spectacle swallows up nearly all the official news and commentary nearly a year after Occupy arose. Specializing in “the manipulation of populism by elitism” that a still left Christopher Hitchens cleverly described as “the essence of American politics,” it functions among other things to obliterate serious discussion of the deadly underlying profits system and its many terrible consequences, which include the turning of “our democratic process” into an empty, money-soaked charade.
On October 6, the “Public” Broadcasting System’s FRONTLINE reporters will broadcast a show purporting to “present the definitive portraits of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.” The show will be titled “The Choice.”
But Americans need to pick from options that go deeper than one more staggered, once-every-1460-days contest between two elite-sponsored state-capitalist politicians. “We must make our choice. We may have democracy in this country,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted more than six decades ago, “or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” 
That is the real choice for serious citizens beneath and beyond the much ballyhooed choice offered between two candidates selected for us in advance by the powers that be. Acting on that choice involves in a seriously democratic fashion is not a simple or easy matter. It involves difficult and detailed, movement-building work each and every day, not just once very four years. As Zinn explained in an essay on the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” with special intensity in the year of Obama’s election.
Democracy versus the concentration of wealth – that is the choice that Occupy Wall Street was trying to focus Americans on last fall, before the great authoritarian sucking sound of the latest presidential electoral spectacle became the official ubiquitous leading news story. It’s not for nothing that the Obama administration worked with Democratic mayors and militarized urban police to help coordinate the often brutal armed force dismantlement of Occupy encampment across the country last fall.
The latest and current “election frenzy” will recede like a bad hangover. It always does. As the dull crush of corporate, financial, military and professional class rule sinks back into popular consciousness the time will be ripe again for popular mobilization. Voting or sitting out however they wish (the “election 2012” decision is more complicated if one lives in a contested state), serious citizens will take Occupy’s cue by staying focused on an underlying contest beyond highly staggered and staged big money-big media-narrow-spectrum elections: the conflict between democracy and the authoritarian and “the 1%’s” exterminist profits system, dedicated to the ceaseless accumulation of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
(full long, long text and Notes 1 to 44).
Lanny Breuer admits that economists have convinced him not to indict corporations, on naked capitalism, by Marcy Wheeler, SEPTEMBER 15, 2012 (Cross posted from emptywheel);
- A Chicago Teacher Speaks Out: This Is Why We Fight, It’s not just about pay or benefits, by Dave Stieber, September 10, 2012;
- Why I’m Striking: Who’s really hurting Chicago’s kids? Not the unions, notes this teacher-activist, by Xian Barrett, September 10, 2012;
- BULLIED: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know about Ending the Cycle of Fear: In her new book, Carrie Goldman explores the growing epidemic of bullying in America – and what communities can do to bring it to an end, September 6, 2012.