Saturday, March 7, 2009

And I Saw a New Heaven and a New Earth

Okay, so the Right is having a fairly good time these days. A week ago there were "Boston Tea Party" demonstrations around the country, (via) drawing literally dozens of patriotic Americans who sought to sound the alarm about Barack Hussein Obama's plan to turn America into a Socialist Worker's Paradise and Islamoterrorist Shooting Gallery. These drew gales of righteous laughter from the liberal and left blogosphere, and for what it's worth, the laughter was well-deserved. The protestors were clearly not just ignorant but wilfully misinformed, parroting talking points from the right-wing propaganda mills. "No taxation without representation" is one of the funnier ones. (Eye-candy above from Roy Edroso's coverage of the New York Tea Party.)

The hubris of naming their peaceful little rallies after a well-known act not just of civil disobedience but of major property damage may have something to do with these folks' acceptance of the established American view that all nonviolent public protest is violent rioting: therefore, they could imagine that by carrying signs and listening to speeches, they were engaged in armed insurrection, just like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin! (Thug violence against peaceful protesters is another matter, of course: that's self-defense by decent Americans upholding their way of life.) When I heard about these forthcoming anti-Obama protests, I entertained fantasies of their being greeted with yells of "Faggots!", "Get a job!", "Take a bath!", or "Go back to Russia!" -- this last, now that post-Soviet Russia has become a capitalists' paradise, would be as relevant as ever. But apparently the worst the Teabaggers had to face at their rallies was boredom, and disappointment that their vast numbers and moral force didn't impel Obama to resign on the spot.
I guess I expected to be more fired up by the crowd and the speakers. I don’t think it was that the crowd was small or that the politicians who took the mikes weren’t sincere, but I think I am becoming cynical, because the party for which I have voted has rolled over and played dead, even when they were in control. Although the Republicans rejected the stimulus package overwhelmingly, I really hoped to see some Korean Parliament-style outrage at its passing. I hoped a senator or two would at least jump over a seat with his fists flying in a fury over our country sliding so rapidly into socialism.

But there was no outrage. Just a lady with a sign wondering along with me.

"No outrage"?! What about those thousands of Real Americans who took to the streets, like the patriots of old, to get in Obama's face and warn their fellow citizens of his totalitarian plans to enslave them with socialist oppression?

The blogger's reference to "Korean Parliament-style outrage" is generous, considering that it was the liberal opposition party in South Korea that got outraged against the right-wing
ruling party for trying to drive through legislation they didn't like. (As opposed to the US, where Obama actively courted the opposition party's cooperation with his program.) No doubt she confuses the very popular Obama with the still very unpopular Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose approval figures have been as low as Bush's for some time now. (Incidentally, the new U.S. ambassador to South Korea is a former Peace Corps volunteer who actually knows some Korean, obviously a paid agent of Kim Jong-il.)

Another rightblogger crows that Obama has "brought us together. Joe the Plumbers, Santelli & the traders and Sue the entrepreneur going 'John Galt' are embracing a hippie anthem", namely Woody Guthrie's Old-Left anthem "This Land Is Your Land." Our Ms. Brooks quotes one line, "And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' if this land's still made for you and me." Of course, she conveniently ignores the Depression-era context of that line:
In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.
I've seen several anti-Obama commenters talking about food lines and relief offices as if they were imposed on the people by the will of the socialist State (apparently forcing them to eat government-issue cheese instead paying for quality at MacDonald's?), instead of necessities forced on them by the failure (or more exactly, the disinclination) of capitalist institutions to provide for most people. One commenter at alicublog prophesied, "Have fun standing in bread lines and bleeding out in the over worked over crowded emergency room!" to the cyber-assembled liberals -- as though increasing numbers of Americans hadn't already been standing in bread lines and and overcrowded emergency rooms during the Bush years.

(Photo from here via TBogg. No cell phones for these guys! They had better quality poor people in those days.)

Brooks also ignores the now-notorious verse from "This Land Is Your Land" in which the singer tells of ignoring a "No Trespassing" sign on a wall: "But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!" But who listens to song lyrics, really? (The shocking thing is that she got these Communist-Socialist lyrics from an unofficial Scouting site, which she mistakes for "the Girl Scouts.")

But this sort of memory and thought control is a very American thing. If Republicans have wiped from their minds the Bush administration's responsibility for the current economic situation, Democrats have sent Bill Clinton's policies (which were essentially Reaganite, from NAFTA to welfare "reform") down the memory hole. At his CPAC apotheosis last week, Rush Limbaugh declared that
We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [Applause] We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of happiness. [Applause]
As IOZ delicately pointed out, those inalienable rights are invoked by the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Details, details. The thing is, I've often had to correct liberals on the same point. A similar amnesia turns up in discourse about Obama's tax policy. The die-hard Republicans are quite hysterical about the prospect of a 40 percent marginal tax rate, which they regard as the lodestar of socialism. Do they really not know that the top marginal rate was never lower than 50 percent from 1932 until 1987, when it was lowered to 38.5? Though even a circumspect libertarian like Will Wilkinson allows that "it’s a bit hard to see tax rates somewhat exceeding the Clinton era’s as a move over some inflection point from the tolerable to the completely outrageous", he frets that under Obama "our money, which might otherwise have gone to capitalize real innovation, will be confiscated in order to finance government directed 'investment' instead." The possibility of a return to, say, the Eisenhower era is obviously not a threat, or even imagined.

Which brings me to the other reason the Right is feeling flush: Limbaugh's ascendancy as a force in the Republican Party, to the point that he's been able to exact submission from senior Republicans who withheld obeisance. There's been some dispute in the liberal blogosphere about how much the Obama administration is exploiting, even fostering this perception. I'd rather dwell on the fact that Limbaugh's celebrity is nothing new. Driftglass, which has some nice discussion here and here, also shares this video clip and Washington Post article from 1994, when the Republicans, having taken control of Congress, thanked Limbaugh for his services and leadership. In the video you can see Limbaugh pronouncing the final defeat of liberalism: every college should have one liberal and one communist professor, he declares, living fossils who will remind students of what they tried to do to America.

This Nostradamus-like prediction should, I think, be borne in mind now as liberal pundits celebrate the end of the conservative movement. Just on general principles, this is never a good idea. The arch-reactionaries who now define conservatism in the U.S. were supposedly defeated for good when Barry Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential elections -- but sixteen years later Ronald Reagan proved those claims premature. Yes, the Republicans are in serious disarray now, which suits me just fine, but I don't think that Obama is in office, or that the Democrats now control Congress, because the Democrats or his center-right policies are superior to the Republicans' -- it's because the Republicans screwed up the economy so spectacularly. (I say "the economy" because in foreign policy Obama clearly intends to continue screwing things up as Bush did.) The Dems now have a chance to do better, and I hope their timid approach is enough to right the damage that the Republicans inflicted (with Democratic collaboration), because it doesn't take long for the voters to become disgusted with Democratic ineptitude. In particular, Obama is going to have to stand up to the banking system, but so far he only seems to be interested in throwing more money at it. Clinton was elected in 1992 because of Americans' disillusionment with Reaganomics, and he lost his mandate in just two years.

As I said, liberals have jeered at the right's paltry showing in their tea parties, and it's been entertaining to watch the indignant right-wing response to the jeers: Big trees from little acorns grow! There may be just a few of us now, but there will be more! One, two, many Pinochets! ... And after all, the Civil Rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam war, the women's movement, the gay movement all started with little bands of nutty extremists. The same is true of the conservative movement William Buckley Jr. built, which ultimately took over this country for three decades. So, for that matter, did Christianity, which is a reminder that, contrary to what one commenter argued at the Village Voice, it is not necessary to have realistic or coherent ideas to build a frighteningly successful movement. Irrationality can be a strength. And forty-seven percent of the electorate voted against Obama last November; they lost the election, but they are not a negligible part of the population.

I don't think that the Teabaggers constitute a movement in ovo, not really. But they're also not just a few voices crying in the wilderness -- they have corporate-media allies apart from Limbaugh, and if Obama does put too much pressure on the corporate sector generally, it will be happy to fund and support any opposition it can find. That is not true of the anti-corporate movement, which really does need moral capital and good ideas. What I'm saying is that Democratic/liberal triumphalism is as unattractive, and as short-sighted, as Republican/reactionary triumphalism. Remember Limbaugh gloating in 1994. Complacency is not a luxury the left can afford.