January 30, 2005


Capitulation is no cure for division

The Left (or the liberals, to use the US term) has been greatly concerned about the long-term effects of political division in society. The political division has, of course, been greatly exacerbated by the alienating policies of the current US administration. The liberals, being liberals, see division as unfavourable, that is, as something that one should try to reduce, even at the cost of compromising one's own principles. The hope is that attempts at dialogue with the Right may help bring them to one's own side. The experience of the last four years has demonstrated the exact opposite. Attempts at dialogue with the Right are interpreted as weakness, and leave them even more confirmed in their beliefs. It is clearly impossible to convert the extreme segments of the Right, although the less extreme segments may be open to seeing the light. However, the latter will see the light only if we remain steadfast in our praxis, and refuse to make unprincipled concessions.

Another aspect of this issue that has worried the Left is that each camp seems to talk only amongst themselves. There does not seem to be much of any kind of communication between the Right and the Left. I would again suggest that this is not necessarily the end of the world. The more we are confronted by invective and irrationality from the Right, the more convinced should we become that we are on the side of truth and justice. The fact that they hate us so much is proof positive that we have been effective, and confirms that we should continue and intensify our activities. And talking amongst ourselves is the best way to build coalitions and reinforce each other's efforts. Just consider the fact that, four years ago, there was a clear distinction between "left" and "liberal" in American political discourse. Today, that distinction has, for all practical purposes, disappeared.

Well, as you're probably aware, there's a whole lot of discussion right now about the role of religion in US politics, and the Democrats/Left/Liberals seem to have given up on people of faith.

I think a great case can be made, though, that the Bush administration's policies are distinctly unChristian, especially concerning care for the poor, the environment, and war. The two red-button issues that set people apart are abortion and gay marriage; Democrats can make a stronger, more appealing case for reducing abortions through economic programs that empower women in poverty and also through education (though preferably fact-based, unlike the Bush Administration's flawed abstinence-only curricula, which are full of inaccuracies and lies). And gay marriage just isn't really that big a deal; God has yet to smite Massachusetts or Canada or Belgium or Denmark.

By couching traditional Democratic positions in the language of faith, I think those barriers can be breached; and if they'll just be more aggressive about exposing the Bush administration's appalling treachery and mendacity, his Christian base will desert him. They just haven't made the case yet.
Thanks for your comment, Andy. Bush and the Bushites are as little truly religious as they are truly conservative. Truly religious/conservative people would not dream of causing the kind of monumental suffering and havoc that this gang has caused, or to take opportunistic advantage of political problems in order to further their own personal interests. There is no need to try to prove any of this to real "people of faith," because they already know it. By these I mean people whose religiosity is spiritual and of the heart. As to those who wear their religiosity on their sleeve, religion is generally an instrument to achieve their material and political ends. The latter will not be convinced by reasoned argument. And there are those who are somewhere in between. The latter include the weak Bushites, and they may be amenable to persuasion. "Persuasion," however, cannot take the form of appeasement. Rather, it should present itself as a cohesive body of policies and actions. And, I think, the time to start is right now, by debunking the myth that there was any kind of legitimate election in Iraq--not exactly a religious theme, but a necessary step to reversing Bushite triumphalism.
I think you are right that the distinction between "left" and "liberal" has disappeared in American discourse. That doesn't really bother me. I'm always impressed by the fact that many "liberals" idolize Che and Cuba and many of us "leftists" actually feel that civil liberties are fundamental to building a decent society, a supposedly "liberal" preocupation.
I don't know, I'm not sure division in government is such a bad thing. Some of my friends think that a government united under one party is a problem, but even then, I don't think it's that big of a deal. Even if the Republicans managed to totally wipe the Democrats off the map and take control, they would just divide into two separate parties after a while. It's the nature of our electoral system, which favors two large parties.
Thanks for your comment, James Alexander. What you say about liberal interest in Cuba versus leftist interest in civil liberties in interesting. I think this may have to do with the tactical interests of each camp, which are based on its class interests. The liberal camp admires the strong Cuban leadership that has made possible its social achievements. The leftist camp, on the other hand, does not forget that it lives within the belly of capital. Therefore, for the left, the most important thing is not social achievements a la the New Deal, which can be taken back, but the freedom of action that allows it to move towards creating a new society.
I don't think we should lump together everyone who consider themselves Conservative Americans. It's true that most of them hate us but this hatred is for different reasons. American Conservatism has been hi-jacked by the neo-cons who belong to the far-right of American political spectrum. There is very little similarity between a farmer from the American heartland who considers himself a conservative and those of privileged neo-con class such as Carl Rove. There is no point having any kind of dialogue with the neo-cons, since it's like trying to convert a neo-Nazi to liberalism. But the farmer in Nebraska might still see the light.
The extreme Left are no more willing to budge than the extreme Right. Please don't portray the Left as more willing to compromise because that is a misrepresentation of reality; there are moderates on both sides who are willing to attempt to resolve differences through dialog.
Thanks for your comment, Jahangir. There is a somewhat parallel case in Canada. For the last three decades, the people of Alberta have been brainwashed into thinking that Ottawa and central Canada are their enemies. The ones doing the brainwashing are, of course, the actual enemies of the Albertans,namely, the petroleum inudstry and big agriculture. But the powers that be don't come out straight and tell the Albertans: "The people of central Canada are your enemies." It would be too easy to see through such a lie. So, what they do is to make Albertans believe that central Canadians are selfish, irreligious, immoral, and so on. This tactic moves the battle to a level that is more comfortable for them. Bereft of morality, they feel no compunction in calling other people immoral. It is, therefore, difficult to fight them on their chosen battlefield.
Al, truly the saddest thing in what you say regarding the "demonisation" of a perceived "enemy" as in your last post, truly the saddest thing of all, is that so many people;

want to believe it is true

can not see it for what it is - viz propaganda of the most insidious kind

swallow the whole lie hook line and sinker.
Yes, probligo, the "Big Lie" has been the Right's speciality for a very long time. And, as you say, it is puzzling that generations of people have fallen for it, when it would seem so much more natural for them to see it for what it is. But, as Rousseau would wonder, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." The nature of the social system we live under, rather than anything innate to us, determines what we are and what we believe.
Thanks for your comment, Anon. As Jahangir pointed out, "the Right" is an overly inclusive concept that embraces neo-con criminals like Carl Rove, on one hand, and decent heartland famers, on the other. "The Left" somewhat mirrors the Right in this way, as it includes, on one hand, John Kerry, the richest US Senator, as well as decent working people. The rank and file on both sides may be willing to have a dialogue, but in the end it is the elite that decides whether a dialogue takes place or not. Bush stated clearly after his "re-election" that he is only willing to work with people who fully agree with him, though he was clever enough to word his statement to sound as if it were an attempt to reach a consensus.
Read this sentence again...

The more we are confronted by invective and irrationality from the Right, the more convinced should we become that we are on the side of truth and justice...

I look at that sentence and I realize real political progress in Canada and the US, won't happen for a long time. The side of truth and justice? Are we super heroes now? What kind of rheotoric is that?

In my mind, there's too much "championing" of one philosophy over another and so little discussion or energy over anything else.

In fact, I don't think the left or the right are interested in pragmatic solutions at all, I think they are far more interested in disparaging the other side of the spectrum and then dragging them into the mud.

I am so tired of this game of "prove the other side wrong".

Isn't it possible that one political philosophy alone is incapable of solving every single problem? Isn't it possible, that the left is just as fallible as the right?

Where, oh where, has sober political thinking gone to? Every politcal blog I read, seems to be a digital cheerleader for one and only one political philosophy.

It has become, (for me personally), so very, very tiresome.
Actually, Yes, DN, we are superheroes, if you prefer to put it that way. To put it in hyperbolic terms, we are trying to save civilization (and the earth itself, for that matter) from the likes of George W. Bush. We are faced with stark and distinct alternatives. There is civilization and real democracy on one side, and barbarism and imperialist democracy on the other. I don't think it is just accidental that the US has a war criminal as its Secretary of Defence, and another war criminal as its Attorney General. All this is part of Bush's project of destroying democracy from within. They are not fascists. They are far more dangerous than fascists, specifically because they act within the context of advanced democracy, rather than within a fascistic society. Their aim is not the creation of a fascist society, but rather to corrupt the institutions of liberal democracy. After his "re-election," Bush stated uneqivocally (again) that it will be either his way or no way. There will be political dialogue again, but only after this gang of thugs has been sent back to the ranch.
"Yes, probligo, the "Big Lie" has been the Right's speciality for a very long time."

And I will bet that if I put that same comment of mine to a "right whinger" he would reply with the mirror image of your comment.

I rest my case as proven - both ways.

As for myself, I think of NZ politics and the 35 years I have been involved/aware and in that time I can think of only one and perhaps three national (parliamentary) representatives whom I could consider "honest".

The one certainty is a gent by the name of Mike Minogue who represented an electorate in Hamilton for the centre-right National Party. He lasted one term and was ousted by his party for just that - being too honest for his (and the party's) own good.

One of the doubtful two is Mike Moore - he who went on to be Head of WTO. There are question marks about the time he was leader of the Labour Party but in his early days he would surely qualify.

Apart from that, there is one thing that is a truism for every politician.

Honest they are not. The game that they play is even less honest.
Politics is about expediency, probligo, in both its good and bad senses. It is about the real world. It is not cut and dried, and it is not finished. It is a work in progress. It is what "we the people" make it. It has a macrocosm, and a microcosm. Its microcosm is our own daily life. I played a political game by disregarding the right-wing interpretation of your earlier comment, and, choosing expediency over some idealistic notion of truth, decided to give your comment a leftist interpretation. The right thing to do is not to cynically condemn politics, but, as Socrates is quoted to have said in the Crito, we should try to make politics what we want it to be. If it doesn't work, well, at least we tried. Or, to quote Plato quoting Socrates again, people who don't participate in politics are not just harmless; they are useless.
Can I ask you a quick question -

Do you think that the politic real of America in the past 15 years is what most Americans really want? Ignore the players, disregard the individuals, it is the system that is the point here. Is the reality of American politics as the game is played now, a true reflection of the electorate's desires?

Yeah, two questions but both reflect the same idea as I see it...
My quick answer to your quick question, probligo, is: "Of course not!" When was the last time the electorate of any liberal democratic country lived in the "political real" that they desired? Offering such an answer, however, comes at the expense of disregarding myriad details, the primary element of which is the ideological propaganda associated with a class society. In other words, your question presupposes that it makes sense to talk about "what people really want" and "the electorate's desires." I would dispute the meaningfulness of such concepts. The people don't know what they want, because the electorate's desires are shaped by forces external to their class milieu. In a word: alienation.
there is no party for the majority of moderate americans like me. we simply have to decide which party sickens us the least.
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