Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tea Parties, Espresso Snobs, Freedom and Equality

I can't stand talk radio of any political persuasion, it's all too repetitive and emotional. But I like to keep tabs on the media landscape out there, and in terms of who's talking on the radio in much of the USA here are your choices, in order of prevalence: football, Jesus, Rush Limbaugh and, late at night when folks are apparently good and ready for it, shows about the government hiding the existence of aliens from outer space who are living in Nevada. If you find the “public” radio station and the classical music playing all day hasn't put you to sleep yet, for an hour or so in the evening you can listen to chirpy graduates of Ivy League schools with upper-class New England accents review the latest in French cinema or the newest innovations in poodle-grooming techniques. On TV it's even worse. Through this static there are a lot of people who are out of work and living in an overcrowded, dilapidated shack somewhere in Michigan or Texas who are desperately trying to make sense of the world around them.

The one redeeming thing about talk radio is that they actually allow people to call in now and then and the conversation isn't entirely one-way. It's clear who has the mike and who's steering things, but I'm always impressed at how often the disconnect comes up. That is, the caller is usually a good “ditto head” as long as we're lambasting hippies or the cultural elite or drug addicts or poor people attempting to take advantage of the remnants of our welfare system. But as soon as a caller says something negative about the corporations, corporate welfare, the corporations who took their business to Mexico and China and left unemployment and poverty in their wake, Rush quickly corrects their impression that the rich are in any way to blame for this situation – no, the unions are to blame for demanding a living wage, in case you didn't know.

For Rush, the pundits on Fox, and so on, it's all about freedom – freedom from the tyranny of the Democratic Party, who, according to their narrative, are intent on spending all of your tax money on helping people inside the US and around the world who are too lazy to help themselves, leaving you, the hard-working white American man, ignored and exploited. For Rush and company, above all, freedom is about freedom from government (when Democrats are involved) and the great importance of individual liberties – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to home school, the right to bear arms and be left alone. The Democrats want to make your children go to school and turn them into atheists, raise your taxes in order to waste more of your money, and take away your guns.

These are people who are often working two shit jobs to make ends meet whereas a generation ago one would have done just fine. They very legitimately feel disenfranchised and they're being told by the only voices on the airwaves that seem to resonate with an appropriate level of anger that their problems were caused by the Democrats and Democratic rule will make everything still worse. If you actually talk to these people, it often doesn't take long to realize that many of them feel almost as alienated by the Republicans as they do by the Democrats. You realize that if there were appropriately pissed off voices of the radical left broadcasting across the airwaves, reaching into the trucks on the highways and the trailers in the prairies, as long as these were the sorts of radical left voices that support individual liberty and aren't trying to take everybody's guns away, a good anti-corporate message would resonate perhaps more now than ever.

In fact, much of this stirring among the self-proclaimed “patriot” groups predates Obama. Many among this milieu were outraged by the bank bailout that happened under Bush's watch, just as most of the rest of society was. But it was only after the election of Obama that the Republican media mouthpieces (Fox, etc.) began blaming the new government for the imploding economy, as if the years of corrupt Republican rule never happened, as if the deregulation of the banking industry and the bank bailout was not supported by the Republicans as well as the Democrats.

Rush and Fox and company do their best to keep their listeners in a permanent state of confusion about where we've been, where we're at now and what the solution is – they do their best to make it look like the problem is anything but monopoly capitalism, rule of the rich, control of the government by the Fortune 500. But while many of their listeners may be skeptical about letting the corporate elite off the hook in terms of why so many hard-working, rugged individualists are in a state of deprivation despite their formidable efforts, it's not hard for them to agree with the pundits and “patriot” group leaders on one thing – that the Democratic Party is a hopelessly corrupt institution led by people who constantly say one thing and do another.

Now, most people, especially people who define themselves as progressive, would say exactly the same thing about the Republicans – and of course they'd be right. Both parties' leadership claim they're on the side of Main Street, not Wall Street – ordinary people, not the elite. The truth is quite evident to people who actually study the facts, rather than listening to the propagandists of either party: both of our ruling parties are thoroughly corrupted institutions serving the interests of the corporate elite, at the expense of the ordinary people of the US and ordinary people around the world.

The leadership of neither party questions our massive military expenditures. Both parties claim we're trying to bring democracy to other people, to better the lives of women and the oppressed in the Muslim world, when what the leadership of both parties know full well is that we're fighting wars for oil. For decades the Democrats, in and out of power but always part of the power structure, claim they stand for equality, for an egalitarian society. They always claim their social programs are going to house the poor, improve the schools, give people jobs – and, fundamentally, again and again, year after year, decade after decade, they lie. The schools continue to deteriorate, the jobs are harder to find and pay less, the opportunities for most people decrease, the society becomes increasingly divided, whether Democrats control the Congress and the White House or not.

The truth is in our country the rich and the big corporations are hardly taxed, while the working class and the small businesses bear the lion's share of the tax burden, and this is the program of both the RNC and the DNC. In our country neither party really supports social programs that could seriously lift our people up because both parties are too busy spending much of our money on nuclear bombs, corporate kickbacks and armies of private mercenaries. Both parties rule by a system of legalized bribery, called lobbying, that would land politicians in other ostensibly democratic countries in jail.

And if these angry listeners of Rush Limbaugh go looking for alternative versions of reality, let's hope they don't discover Mother Jones magazine, because they'll just be pushed right back into Rush's arms. In this month's issue we have a fearful expose of the Oath Keepers, and the editors lamenting that people like Rush “are actively negating a fundamental principle of American politics: that the government, no matter how much you might disagree with its representatives, is of, by, and for the people.” What a crock of shit. Mother Jones herself would be appalled at such drivel.

This is a government of, by, and for the corporate elite, which controls both parties. To regular people in the rest of the world this is fairly obvious. The “patriot” rank and file sense this but they've been actively misled by their supposed spokespeople for a long, long time, going way back before the invention of talk radio. But liberals whining that the “patriots” just need to play by the rules isn't helping at all. These people are angry for all kinds of good reasons – unemployment, poverty, and yes, most definitely taxation without representation – they are just confused about how things got this way, and this confusion is a state some very large corporations and their lackeys work very hard to maintain and benefit from.

I don't want to downplay the possibility of a serious fascist movement in this country. With forces like Rupert Murdoch and Dick Cheney at work, with a widespread perception that democracy has failed us, combined with growing hopelessness about the future prospects of “the American Dream,” the prospects for a real fascist movement are alarming. But let's not get into this stiff “us and them” dichotomy when it comes to the “patriot movement.” These are people with very legitimate complaints, and dismissing them as racists or whatever other label people on the left want to put on them is simplistic. They have certainly been fed a steady diet of pro-corporate and most definitely racist propaganda from the corporate media and from both major political parties for decades or longer. This doesn't excuse bigotry, but it certainly explains it.

Whether or not the “patriots” know it, neither corporate party is going to make things better for them, and under different circumstances, with accessible, local voices of real anti-elitist, anti-corporate, pro-human reason around them they might be a lot angrier and they might know what they're angry about. The grandparents of many of these disgruntled “patriots” were probably, in their youth in the 1930's throughout the midwest, taking back farms and homes by force which were foreclosed upon by banks, and joining massive unions of the unemployed. Rush is telling them the Democrats only care about “special interests,” which is entirely true (it's just that the special interests in question aren't the same ones Rush says they are). For their part, the Democrats are responding to the bubbling rage of this growing underclass with calls that they should just play by the rules, while steadfastly refusing to make the kinds of changes that could really make a difference – doubling taxes on the rich, outlawing corporate lobbying, ending corporate welfare, slashing the military budget, bringing the troops home, and hiring millions of new teachers and windmill-builders, for example. The “patriots” are outraged, whether or not they really understand why, and you should be, too – it's about as true now as it ever was, though many Democratic voters have removed their old bumper stickers: if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

If the so-called progressives of this country can't snap out of their Obama-induced slumber, take to the streets and vocally break ranks with both corrupt parties that are driving this country into the ground – if the left can't offer a serious, grassroots, anti-elitist alternative to rightwing populism, but insists on maintaining the ridiculous illusion that we live in a democracy, then the future will indeed be bleak, and ugly, and filled with “patriots.”


CJ said...

Whether or not the “patriots” know it, neither corporate party is going to make things better for them
It would be hard for any government to change lives. People need to take action themselves to change their lives.

My impression is that the days when the average person could take an average job and earn more money than most everyone on the planet were a byproduct of how WWII played out and not something we can expect to see again. This produces what you call a bubbling rage in the “underclass”.

I am not sure to what extent government policy can help these people, but I seriously doubt it can bring back the post-WWII era.

This new ex-empire era does not have to be bad. You just have to accept that you have to accept you have to work extremely hard to earn good money. When I bid on a circuit design, I’m competing with hard-working engineers in low cost regions, and no politician is going to change that. I have to identify what clients value and produce it. There are some silver linings to the world we have today:
- The Internet and Information technology are amazing.
- If you want the level of consumption common in the 50s, it’s not that hard to train for and get a job that provides that lifestyle.
- Even the worst jobs provide money for unlimited plastic crap, if you want it.

It seems to me that politicians need to have the guts to say that this is the world we have, and gov’t cannot change these things.

You are saying gov’t can change these things. You think that poor policy decisions are making it harder for the average person to earn a good living. You could be right, and I hope you are. I just don’t see it.

My colleagues in the coffee shop and I turn over a third of our earnings in Federal and State taxes, and you’re saying if we gave them more we could solve many of our problems. I would support it, but I don’t believe it yet. I’d like to see them first try allocating some of the war (“defense”, “drug war”, etc) budget to helping the needy and see if it really does any good.

PaweĊ‚, your Polish fan said...

They say people are "too lazy to help themselves". Not so much too lazy as too exploited and too disenfranchised... Or maybe they ARE being too lazy because they'd better stop hanging around (or putting all their efforts to making a living) and make a revolution. Clearly, it is their fault they aren't making it...

Unknown said...

It was rather alarming during the health care debate, how reasonable progressive voices were overpowered by the corporate GOP Tea Party, giving us absolutely no intelligent debate, just more crazy us vs. them politics that helped absolutely no one understand the issue in any way, shape or form. It's as if we were on the verge of seeing an issue dissected in a way that would have publicly exposed the parties for what they were, and there was an immediate surge to bury this perspective in a media coup.

ScarabusRedivivus said...

Call me clueless or naive. Nevertheless…

Re a FB comment, David, I’m confident that Mother Jones Magazine wouldn’t be so small as to refuse to publish an essay just because it criticized them. Especially if the essay invoked the name of MJ herself. They’re not that small. (BTW, I’m sure you know that Anne Feeney has a family-history connection with MJ.)

Most of the liberals I regularly read and talk to know better than to whine that “the ‘patriots’ just need to play by the rules.” (In citing the term “patriots,“ I’m talking, not about violently disaffected people who play war games in the woods and afterward plan to attack ordinary working stiffs from ambush, but about everyday folks who dress up as if for halloween and carry spelling- and grammar-challenged signs at Tea-Bagger gatherings.)

With that understanding, I’ll repeat that the liberals I regularly read and talk with complain about something quite different than “playing by the rules.” Rather, they complain that honest, low-information people (who get their “facts” from Fox, Limbaugh, etc.) have been harnessed and co-opted by the very system they think they’re opposing from the outside. However unwittingly, they have been made *part* of the system.

Let's face it: If a group’s antics are being promoted by Fox News (and increasingly by CNN), then the members of that group are not “outsiders” protesting “the system.“ Rather, they’re puppets being *used* by the system. Put side by side a photo of a Republican National Convention and of a Tea-Bagger convention. Visually, what’s the difference? (Who bought/leased that fancy bus?}

I’m one of those liberals/progressives. I puzzle continually about why the Tea-Bagger types (sic–political, not Kama Sutra) allow themselves to be used by persons and organizations who hold them in contempt, who use the Tea-Baggers’ own energy to deny them their rights and to steal the product of their labor. And I wonder about why progressives who do share and do empathize with the people’s hurt and who do wish to promote the people’s interest, just close into a self-jerking or self-stroking circle.

Honestly, I don’t believe that a majority of liberals (outside the Beltway?) are stupid or insensitive. I think they’re lacking leadership–leadership that can help them to reconcile their differences, help them to articulate a common vision, and help them to organize in ways that will help make that vision a reality.

lynx said...

i remember a few years back as the anti-globalizations was being beaten to a bloody pulp on the streets of america by police terrorism wondering what in the world it would take to get the massess out into the streets. later as the antiwar movement was being alternately demonized and ignored by the media wondering what in the hell was wrong with America that we'd let this kind of absurdity continue.

The tea parties answer both questions - if you want to get people out in the streets armed and ready to throw down all you need is major media outlets supporting and promoting your protests! too bad the corporations have privatized all our media nad control the means of communication for the entire society. Because you're right, if it was a radical individualist leftist message being broadcast it would resonate just as well with middle america - probably better.

The task then is to get that message out.

Lisa Barr said...

I do not think I'll join that group, Aaron. : - )
I think the word terrorist needs to be retired.
I did like this though, from Saul Williams:

Lisa Barr said...

NOT IN OUR NAME: THE PLEDGE TO RESIST"...We believe that as a people living in the united states it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government in our names.Not in our name will you wage endless war there can be no more deathsno more transfusions of blood for oil. not in our name will you invade countires bomb civilians kill more children letting history take its course over the graves of the namelessnot in our names will you erode the very freedoms you claim to fight fornot by our hands will we supply weapons or funding for the annihilation of on foreign soilnot by our mouths will we let fear silence us.not by our hearts will we allow whole peoples or countries to be deemed evilnot by our will and not in our name we pledge resistance we pledge alliance with those who have come under attack for voicing opposition to the war or for their religion or ethnicitywe pledge to make common cause to bring about justicefreedom and peace another world is possible and we pledge to make it real...."
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Mark Buerschaper said...

Your blog has many valid observations. As for both parties, the label of moderate turns out to equal mutual back scratching while the American public is left behind in the dust of the lobbyists.