Friday, August 21, 2009

Celebritize Me

The trailer for Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story is now online, and it occurs to me that the teabaggers, the birthers, and the town hall clowns should be asked what they think about Michael Moore now. Hasn't he been saying all along what they are now saying -- that corporate America feeds like a vampire on the mass of the American people, and that the government enables them with billions in taxpayer money? That it's time to stand up and put a stop to the madness? Where have they been for the twenty years since Roger and Me was released? Why, complaining (or jeering) that Michael Moore is fat, of course.

Granted, it will be very difficult to get them to speak coherently about such things. As Roy Edroso writes,
It could be that these folks haven't thought any more deeply about it than their comments reveal. Maybe AP didn't talk to them long enough to find out what's really driving them. Or maybe message discipline has something to do with it: When the anti-Obama "tea party" movement held its first New York event back in February, many people stepped up to the bullhorn to denounce the socialism, Shariah law, and Hitlerism of the Obama administration. At the next, much larger, New York event, the few citizen-speakers who made it to the stage were carefully guided by the organizers; the more professional speakers who dominated put the ix-nay on the ocialism-say, and focused on "entrepreneurship," "out-of-control" spending, and the like.
That's my problem. I'm sympathetic to people who are critical of Big Gummint, but when all they've got to fill out their critique is the lies we've been hearing -- Kenya, Hitler, Ayatollah Obama, and death panels -- with a serene refusal to recognize just how much they love all kinds of Big Gummint programs -- not just Social Security and Medicare, but public schools, public highways, public libraries and public space in which to hold their teabag rallies -- and without much in the way of substantial criticism to balance the lies, then I'm not inclined to join their party. The people Hitler appealed to, after all, had their own good reasons for being dissatisfied; even better reasons, very possibly, like hyperinflation and unemployment rates that far outrun anything the US has to face ... yet. Still, they preferred to blame the Jews and the Communists for their problems. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I'm pleased to notice that Glenn Greenwald seems to be less worried than he used to be about being on the margins. Now that Tom Ridge has said aloud that the Bush administration manipulated terror alerts to keep the populace scared, nice mainstream journalists are floundering, just as they have been about the War on Terror generally. It turns out that the fringe leftist hippie conspiracy theorists were right all along, so they must have been right for the wrong reasons. Greenwald cites Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, who
acknowledges that Bush critics were right that the terror alerts were being manipulated for political ends (he has no choice but to acknowledge that now that Ridge admits it), but still says journalists like himself were right to scorn such critics "because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence." As always: even when the dirty leftist hippies are proven right, they're still Shrill, unSerious Losers who every decent person and "journalist" scorns.
Ambinder has retracted the "gut hatred" bit, but left the rest of his claim intact. As Greenwald points out, "gut hatred" isn't really the problem. The trouble is Ambinder's admission that, "living as we do in a Democratic [sic] system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit". In other words, despite having had their faces rubbed in government lies, most journalists are going to keep coming back for more. So, apparently, will the people who read or watch these journalists.

My only complaint about Greenwald's discussion is that he harks back to a day when "Distrusting the statements and actions of government leaders was once the central value of our political system and of basic journalism." There was not ever such a day, as far as I know. Greenwald mentions I. F. Stone and his dictum that all governments lie, forgetting that Stone was a pariah among respectable journalists -- the exception, not the rule.

Still, Greenwald is making progress. Today's post starts from a Paul Krugman column. Greenwald says:

More than any betrayal on a specific issue, it is Obama's seeming eagerness to serve the interests of those who have "run Washington for far too long" -- not as a result of what he has failed to accomplish, but as a result of what he has affirmatively embraced -- that is causing what Krugman today describes as a loss of trust in Obama from those who once trusted him most. This approach is not only producing heinous outcomes, but is politically self-destructive as well. In a superb post the other day, Digby recounted what fueled the Naderite movement in 2000 and warns, presciently I think, that the willingness of Obama/Emanuel so blatantly to disappoint those to whom they promised so much (especially young and first-time voters who were most vulnerable to Obama's transformative fairy dust) will lead them either to support a third party or turn off from politics altogether:

Rahm Emanuel believes that the key to Democratic success is a coalition in which Blue Dogs and corporate lackeys mitigate progressive change on behalf of the moneyed interests which he believes the political system must serve. Regardless of his malevolent view of how the political system should work, on a political level, I think he's living in the past. . . .

But on a political level, the left has been betrayed over and over again on the things that matter to us the most. The village is pleased, I'm sure. But the Democratic party only needs to look back eight short years to see just how destructive it is to constantly tell their left flank to go fuck themselves. . . .

At the time [in 2000] nobody believed that an incumbent Vice President in a roaring economy would have a race so close that the Republicans could steal it. But we know differently now don't we? And you would think that the Democratic establishment would also know that because of that, it may not be a good idea to alienate the left to the point where they become apathetic or even well... you know. It can happen. It did happen. Why the Democrats persist in believing that it can't happen again is beyond me. . .

Obama mobilized a whole lot of young people who have great expectations and disappointing them could lead to all sorts of unpleasant results. Success is about more than simply buying off some congressional liberals or pleasing the village. It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.

After 2000, what is it going to take for the Democrats to realize that constantly using their base as a doormat is not a good idea? It only takes a few defections or enough people staying home to make a difference. And there are people on the left who have proven they're willing to do it. The Democrats are playing with fire if they think they don't have to deliver anything at all to their liberal base --- and abandoning the public option, particularly in light of what we already know about the bailouts and the side deals, may be what breaks the bond.

It's really not too much to ask that they deliver at least one thing the left demands, it really isn't. And it's not going to take much more of this before their young base starts looking around for someone to deliver the hope and change they were promised.

Of course, what Greenwald and Digby are describing here is simply the Democratic Leadership Council's program to win power from the Republicans by appropriating their policies. This program gave us Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the other Democratic Presidential candidates of the past twenty years. From a strictly Realpolitik point of view, it's unexceptionable; from the point of view of the great majority of Americans, it's totally objectionable. Someone needs to find a way to break the hold the DLC has over the Democratic Party. But national politics is a very expensive business, and the DLC's partnership with the corporate bloc means that they will be able to outspend any foreseeable challengers. Obama had gone over to the Dark Side by the time he ran for the Senate, which is why we dirty hippie leftist conspiracy theorists have not been surprised by his conduct as President. He raised a lot of money from the netroots, but he couldn't have won the election if he hadn't gotten the support of the national party and its corporate donors. Which brings me to Greenwald's other important point:
Indeed, as I've written many times, "trust" is appropriate for one's friends, loved ones, family members and the like -- but not for politicians. That's what John Adams meant when he said: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." "All" means "all" and "none" means "none."

But that's not how our political culture works generally. Our politics have become entirely celebretized. Political discussions typically resemble junior high chatter about one's most adored and despised actors: filled with adolescent declarations of whether someone "likes" and "trusts" this politician or "dislikes" that one. "I trust Obama" has long been a common refrain among his most loyal supporters. The fact that, as Krugman says, that is much less true now is quite significant, even if "trust" is an inappropriate emotion in the first place to feel towards any political official.

Here too Greenwald can't keep from appealing to an American lost innocence that never was. American politics has always been "celebritized," with politicians running on image more than substance. George Washington, the Father of His Country; Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter from Illinois. But the main point, that trust is not appropriate for politicians, is gold. It's easy to entertain a healthy skepticism toward guys from the other team; what's hard, but utterly necessary, is to be just as skeptical about one's own candidate.