I call myself a Democrat because that’s how I’ve been registered all of my voting life. In fact, the older I get, the more disconnected I feel from that label. I don’t want to register as an independent because, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, I can’t get over the prejudice that American independents are all right-wing at heart. Was it George Wallace’s American Independent Party that instilled this in me? Who knows? It’s beginning to feel, however, that the correct radical stance in this disintegrating context is to not register or vote at all. A vote begins to feel like acquiescence to the corruption.
Did Democrats or any other Obama supporter vote for the fiasco of the last month, culminating in the supreme surrender by our audacious leader last night to the anti-democrats of the Republican Party, bypassing the leaders of his own party to give the (fictional) partisanship-loathing centrists of the electorate the White House is courting for 2012 the illusion of “operational bipartisanship?” Well, yes, we actually did vote for it, unfortunately, and that’s where the whole problem lies.
I was reading Slavoj Žižek’s afterward to the paperback edition of Living in the End Times last night, which may also be accounting for some of my pessimism today, in particular this passage (which appears in slightly different form in the paperback; this is from an article that appeared on Counterpunch that Žižek elaborated upon for the book):
It is here that Marx’s key insight remains valid, perhaps today more than ever. For Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere proper, as with the criteria the global financial institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgement on a country—does it have free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? The key to actual freedom resides rather in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed for effective improvement is not political reform, but a transformation in the social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, or about worker–management relations in a factory; all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by ‘extending’ democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing ‘democratic’ banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain lie outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures can, of course, have a positive role to play. But they remain part of the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie, whose purpose is to guarantee the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. In this precise sense, Badiou was right in his claim that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire or exploitation, but democracy. It is the acceptance of ‘democratic mechanisms’ as the ultimate frame that prevents a radical transformation of capitalist relations.
Žižek, of course, is an unreconstructed Marxist. I point this out only to acknowledge the strangeness of his terminology to American ears. This in no way detracts from the validity of his point: modern democracy is at the service of global capitalism. We will not be voting our way toward a more humanist redistribution of resources, least of all if the market does not require it. Similarly, when we voted for Obama in 2008, we did not really vote for what we had the audacity to hope we were voting for, nor for change we really could believe in. We were voting, simply, for the choice the Democratic Party, through its intricate, arduous and obscenely expensive vetting process, presented to Democrats and Americans as the titular head of its party. We were not voting for any ideas other than the usual handful that get talked about endlessly in media that also owe their existence and wealth to global capitalism. We get what global capitalism pays for and wants and needs in that office to further its aims and agenda (of enriching the rich and distributing resources toward that end).
As I think, not without considerable bitterness, about the constrictedness Democrats in the White House have manifested since Watergate compared to the freedom Bush-Cheney, for example, displayed acting on the extremism they promised would be their watchword, I wonder why this obvious imbalance here? Of course the answer is that Republican ideology, even at its most extreme, is more harmonious with the wishes of capitalism than even the most moderate-left Democratic ideology traditionally has been. In essence, the market-democracy has been making Democrats pay for Roosevelt’s Welfare State (and Johnson’s anti-racist elaboration on it) since 1968.
Žižek has an interesting (disheartening) point to make about this dichotomy in modern democracies (for him, the compelling context is post-1989). He notes that while the left has been reduced to critiquing the right and defending the welfare state, effectively removing itself from actual popular struggle, the right has succeeded in inflaming the masses, particularly over points of resentment politics, such as immigration and minority rights. This is true not only in Western Europe (witness the conservative trend in the UK, France and Germany) but also in Scandinavia (as July 23rd made painfully clear) and Eastern Europe (where Poland provides an excellent example). Rick Perlstein noted the same phenomenon already well underway in the 1960s in his excellent history of right-wing Republicanism Nixonland, the only difference being that the left then, was also engaged as though its actions mattered.
Of the US now, Žižek says (in Living in the End Times‘ afterward):
Is the Tea Party movement in the US not their own version of this Rightist populism which is gradually emerging as the only true opposition to the liberal consensus? The Tea Party movement has, of course, some features specific to the US, which allows us to safely predict that its rise will be strictly correlated to the further decline of the US as a world power. More interesting is the conflict between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party which is already exploding here and there: heads of the big banks already met the leaders of the GOP who promised them to repeal the Volcker law which limits the speculations that led to the 2008 meltdown; the Tea Party set as its first task to extend the Bush tax cuts for the very rich, thus adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit it wants to abolish; etc. How long will this masterful ideological manipulation continue to work? How long will the base of the Tea Party stick to the fundamental irrationality of its agenda to protect the interest of the hard-working ordinary people by way of privileging the “exploitative rich” and thus literally countering their own interests? It is here that the ideological struggle begins: the blatant irrationality of the Tea Party protests bears witness to the power of the ideology of the »freedom of the individual against state interference« which can blur even the most elementary facts.
I can’t find any faults with the portrait Žižek paints of America’s right wing, which is also a portrait, as he says, of “the further decline of the US as a world power.” Yesterday’s betrayal by our audacious leader at the service of the populists of the Tea Party and global bankers pulling their strings and certainly not at the service of the hopeful who elected him only confirms the faithfulness of Žižek’s dark palette to our present grim reality.
You questioned: How long will this masterful ideological manipulation continue to work? How long will the base of the Tea Party stick to the fundamental irrationality of its agenda to protect the interest of the hard-working ordinary people by way of privileging the “exploitative rich” and thus literally countering their own interests. The Tea Party does not exist to take care of anyone. We believe in self responsibility. I don’t need you, Obama, or the Tea Party to take care of me. I need all of these regualations and laws stripped off the constitution. so I can use my talent to rise to be a millionaire, which I already did. On my own, no one else helped me and I barely have a high school education. We want the government to take care of our defense, our commerce, shipping real goods, not health care and get the hell out of my life.
Why do you want to be a millionaire? Does that make you happy, or a better person? I really don’t understand why people want to make so much money, except to give it away. How much is a single person’s suffering worth? You may want government out of your life, and in that I actually agree with you (although for different reasons). But if there’s a chance that this government can save a single ill child from a poor family, how can you crusade against government interfering, even if it means giving up your riches? I understand not wanting the government to make such decisions for you (such as in the case of Orlando banning feeding the homeless), but if the decision the government is making is the one that you should be making in the first place, it doesn’t really seem like something to get that angry over.
I guess I really have trouble understanding the morality of neo-liberalism, from a very basic perspective. Maybe you can explain it to me.
Thanks for the comment.
Do you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party? Most TP members I’ve spoken with are struggling economically, like the vast majority of their fellow Americans. It’s rare to find one who is well off.
This is an excellent post! I’ve found myself also dissatisfied with the Democratic Party and Obama’s presidency. To be honest I didn’t expect much, but I am still staggered by how thoroughly they’ve laid down to Tea Party demands to effectively ruin national finances and stick it to the poor (which as you note, is ironic since most TPers are not well off themselves).
I’ve long said that you can count on the Democrats to do the wrong thing when it counts. Next year we will hear a lot of stirring rhetoric from Obama about how the compromise recently was wrong and unfair, but the fact is he did not use his power in any meaningful way when he had the chance. Thus giving him more power (4 more years) is no solution. The same principle was at work when the Democrats voted for the PATRIOT Act and for the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq (because what else could “use of force” have possibly meant?).
I find not voting at all to be a similar kind of acquiescence to the exploitative politics (explicitly for the Republicans, and implicitly for the Democrats) of the two major parties. No vote seems to me to be a declaration of “it’s all good, you guys figure it out.” I plan to vote third party. At least I hope there is a third party running that isn’t somehow completely off the wall, which I’m worried there won’t be. In any case if my “left wing” vote does not go to the Democrats and they lose the election to the Republicans, that’s tough on them. They’ve been given the chance to enact health care reform, tax reform, withdraw from wars, etc. and they’ve failed. Maybe they’ll understand the message when their base does not vote for them.
I’ve started my own blog here considering socialist solutions to American problems. I’m a little new to the blogging world and dealing with socialism in general, which seems to be a heavily loaded term, even among self professed socialists. But my view is simply that what we’ve been doing in the past few decades is not working and we need fresh thinking to come up with solutions, so I’m giving it a go.
Thanks very much for your kind words! I’ve added your blog to my subscriptions. Hope you’ll add this one to yours.
I am undecided about what I’ll do in the next presidential election. I usually have no doubt I’ll vote Democratic, even as I also don’t doubt I’ll be getting the same shit as always no matter who I vote for. So it’s something unusual for me to not know whether I’ll vote third party or just sit it out. I agree with you that Dems don’t need to be rewarded for 30-something (or more) years of bad behavior and ingratitude for the passionate left who never seem to learn that the party doesn’t give a crap about them. I’m even getting to the point where if the tea party takes over–I say, let ’em have it. It’s no good for anyone anymore anyway. If they want to run it all the way into the ground, be my guest.
If that sounds cynical and pessimistic, it’s actually probably just realism and long experience of the corrupt system speaking. It’s actually good to see it for what it is.
Reblogged this on Tragic Farce and commented:
“[M]odern democracy is at the service of global capitalism. We will not be voting our way toward a more humanist redistribution of resources, least of all if the market does not require it. Similarly, when we voted for Obama in 2008, we did not really vote for what we had the audacity to hope we were voting for, nor for change we really could believe in. We were voting, simply, for the choice the Democratic Party, through its intricate, arduous and obscenely expensive vetting process, presented to Democrats and Americans as the titular head of its party. We were not voting for any ideas other than the usual handful that get talked about endlessly in media that also owe their existence and wealth to global capitalism. We get what global capitalism pays for and wants and needs in that office to further its aims and agenda (of enriching the rich and distributing resources toward that end).”
Very powerful post. I am old enough to have lived through other national crises, but young enough to still have hope.
I am an unabashed liberal/progressive who has voted Democrat in the past. But watching the total corporate takeover of our government I the past 20 years has lead me to vote either Socialist or Green in the past few elections. I truly think that we need a popular uprising that demands third party involvement in all elections. How else can we ever shake up the entrenched two parties, so perfectly balanced to prevent each other from ever accomplishing anything?
There’s no doubt we need an uprising. As you know I also think we need a new constitution and a new approach to government. I don’t think the present ones meet the needs of most people. It’s worth our while to figure out if it’s something in the institutions that has things so out of whack, or if they really can be fixed by tweaks of some kind. I think tweaks are insufficient, but we’ll never know if we don’t take the problem more seriously than we have been.
Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report has called Obama the “more effective evil” because of how effectively he has neutralized dissent from the left and progressives who would be rioting in the streets if Bush was still the POTUS. In my not so humble opinion, Obama represents the co-opting of the civil rights movement rather than the culmination of it.
Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I’ve written about Ford’s critique. I definitely think it’s apr.