What are my “politics?” The World English Dictionary says politics is “the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, esp those relationships involving authority or power.” I like that, and it speaks to what I think this blog will be largely about. For now, though, I’ll do my best to explain the rather complicated evolution of my ‘party politics’.
I was not comfortable with certain opinions expressed by the “Christian Conservative” viewpoint that I was exposed to growing up, but I also didn’t spend much time thinking about those opinions. Not until I was in my early 20s did I even begin to identify with a particular political party, and back then I was barely aware that more than two political parties existed. After studying the platforms of both major parties, I became a registered Democrat and remained as such into my late 20s. I rather quickly went from apolitical to a politics junkie, closely following polls and news coverage. My focus was on the national scene. The more politically-minded I became the more frustrated I got with my party of choice. The pro-war “blue dogs” and those who argued they had to avoid “looking weak when it came to national defense” were pissing me off. I wanted the closing of tax loopholes, and a return to a more progressive income tax system (maybe even like the one under Eisenhower in the 1950s when the middle class was growing). I expected a stronger defense of social welfare and a denunciation of corporate welfare, including so-called “free trade” policies that suppress wages and exploit the impoverished. I also longed for a more passionate defense of abortion rights, equal pay for women, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and a stronger opposition to religious zealots in general. I discovered that others felt just as frustrated.
Though initially inspired by the rhetoric of a charismatic Barack Obama, whose neighborhood, incidentally, I lived in when I taught in Chicago, I began reading articles posted to the Dissident Voice website and the comments section that followed each piece. And I sought out books by the likes of Chomsky that detailed US acts of imperialism, including the support financially and militarily of a long list of ruthless dictators. The term “plutocracy” – government for the wealthy by the wealthy – entered my vocabulary. I started to see that Democrats were more complicit than spineless, that both major political parties were beholden to largely the same interests. For instance, according to the website Open Secrets, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup were three of the top seven “contributors” to both McCain and Obama in 2008. They sure like to hedge their bets, don’t they? Does anyone think those contributions don’t come with strings attached, or doubt that whoever occupies the White House is going to be tied to those strings? To say nothing of the revolving door between corporations and holders of public office, including key members of the White House staff. Big Banks, Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Agri-business – and transnational corporations more generally – are the ones running the show. A military industrial complex, a prison industrial complex, for-profit health insurance companies and other incredibly corrupt institutions have enormous influence on public policy.
I don’t think the basic premise of what I wrote above should come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. Here are 5 articles that aided in my awakening:
- The Sorrows of Race and Gender in the 2008 Election
- Candidate Taboos
- Incarceration Nation: The Rise of a Prison-Industrial Complex
- 9/11 & Bush are Distractions from a People’s Revolt from Below
- Arrogance, Ignorance and Cowardice
Similar to #2, but written long after I gave up on the Democratic Party, is a piece titled, Thank You Arlen Specter.
Now, when I saw tears fall from the eyes of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, as Obama made his victory speech on the night of the ’08 election, I got a bit choked up myself. But that had less to do with the man I hadn’t voted for (my protest vote went to Cynthia McKinney, who defeated Ralph Nader in my coin flip) and more to do with my admiration for John Lewis. Make no mistake, I appreciated the historic moment, so much so that I celebrated by getting engaged that night. But I was determined to vote for those who reflected my values rather than support the lesser evil, and believing then that one must identify with some party, I became a registered Green.
I must admit that I find the “centrist” position – when used in reference to the US’s two dominant political parties – to be rather naive. Consider this graph from the Political Compass website. The sorts of questions asked in political ideology surveys upon which that graph is based are flawed in the sense that they don’t allow for much, if any, nuance. And those that only ask a handful of questions, or ask you to identify with just a handful of statements, are virtually worthless. Even Political Compass’s “test,” in spite of being relatively thorough, doesn’t allow for refinement. Open-ended questionnaires and discussions are more useful, but they make it more difficult to compare and contrast for the purposes of drawing conclusions about a person’s stance (heaven forbid we not know precisely how to label an individual). With that said, I think the graph I referenced above does a decent enough job of expressing where various 2012 US Presidential candidates – some of whom, of course, have dropped out of the running – are in relation to one another. There simply isn’t much breathing room, making a “centrist” position more than just confusing. If you look at the 2008 graph, you find greater dispersement, though not as much as some might expect (it’s still right wing vs. far right wing). But, remember, that was based largely on campaign rhetoric and Obama’s brief Senatorial career. The last three plus years of actual governance have closed the gap. And what’s the previous Democratic POTUS up to these days? You can read about how he’s still party to screwing people left and right.
Chris Hedges, who writes a weekly column for the Truthdig website, has written very eloquently on the corporate takeover of the US. Listen to Chris speaking to Veterans for Peace. At around the 34-minute mark, Hedges draws a distinction between “revolution” and “rebellion” that is worth thinking about. Revolution, he says, is about “establishing a new power structure.” Rebellion is about “perpetual revolt and the permanent alienation from power.” He goes on to say, “it is only in a state of rebellion that we can hold fast to moral imperatives that prevent a descent into tyranny.” Two books of his that I highly, highly recommend are Death of the Liberal Class and Empire of Illusion. You can also find him discussing those books and other topics on YouTube.
To wrap up this post, I thought I’d share a quote from Major General Smedley Darlington Butler of the U.S. Marine Corp., who was the most decorated soldier at the time of his death. I think this quote demonstrates that plutocracy isn’t a new phenomenon, even if the corporatocracy of today has taken it to new heights:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents” (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/253269).
In part five, I’ll be writing about what does separate Democrats and Republicans, and why it doesn’t amount to much.