Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Laugh, and the World Laughs with You

At alicublog this morning, Roy Edroso came perilously close to criticizing President Obama:
The big tax-cut giveaway Obama just announced -- assuming that it accurately portrays the deal with the GOP -- demonstrates one unremarked fact: Republicans don't give a shit about the deficit. No sane person thinks we can even begin to scale that back just with cuts. Yet they just agreed to abandon the easiest route to new revenue, plus Democratic "concessions" that close others.
Whew! I could feel the breeze from the precipice there.

Notice how, in this account, Obama becomes the announcer, sorta like Walter Cronkite; just the messenger, not responsible for the message in any way. And remember how
, at the beginning of his administration when his party controlled both houses of Congress, Obama hobbled his stimulus package with tax cuts. Don't buy any claims that Obama had no choice but to surrender to the Republicans because of the midterm elections; he'd have done it anyway.

Now, I check alicublog daily. As I've said before, it's a valuable clearinghouse of right-wing dementia in certain areas, and I'm grateful that Edroso scours the web for this material so I don't have to. But his focus (varied slightly with occasional commentary on the arts, which usually consists mainly of fulminations against right-wing thoughtcrime in that arena ... do I detect a pattern here?) can obscure the fact that his politics are thoroughly mainstream-media. "Republicans don't give a shit about the deficit," he rails. The deficit is an obsession of the corporate media and the Village/Beltway political class, which is one reason they celebrate Bill Clinton, who did eliminate the deficit -- at great cost to most Americans, because in elite discourse the deficit functions as an excuse for cutting and gutting social programs. But there's no reason to believe that most Americans share this obsession. Polls show consistently that the deficit ranks low on our list of concerns, well below the economy and jobs. And there's certainly no reason to believe that Obama or other Democrats give any more of a shit about the deficit than the Republicans do.

In the same vein, Edroso's commentary on Wikileaks focuses on right-wing hysteria about the document dumps, not the Obama administration and its media supporters, who also want Julian Assange's head on a pike; for that you have to go to Glenn Greenwald. On the TSA and the "porno scanners," Edroso was contemptuous of the frenzy ginned up by the Republicans, but failed to notice that liberal Democrats were in on the fun too. And so on.

Thinking about this, I found my copy of sociologist Nina Eliasoph's Avoiding politics: how Americans produce apathy in everyday life (Cambridge UP, 1998). Eliasoph did participant observation of a community in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s (I think -- I need to reread the book), and describes the different ways people dealt with political issues. Some got involved in astroturf "volunteer" groups under the guidance of professionals, some chose more genuinely grassroots forms of activism. Others chose cynicism and disengagement, and the patterns Eliasoph described are familiar to me both from online forums and my experience in that life we call real.
There was a clear formula for treating the rare moments when a topic that could be taken as "serious" arose. It went: a person said something that could be taken as serious. The next thing said had to be a joke: rarely a joke on the topic, but most often, a joke on the speaker herself or himself. The next thing said had to be an even bigger joke that topped off the previous joke. So the pattern was: serious comment, joke on the speaker, bigger joke. If anyone was ever serious in the group context, the two jokes in a row would vanquish that illusion [290 note 15].

To tease each other, people need a shared idea of what is suitable for teasing, so teasing might seem to be a reflection of deeply shared culture. Jokes about being dumb were by far the most frequent (followed by teases about being gay) [106].
This is what she found among the "Buffaloes," the habitues of country and western clubs, but I've encountered it in the gay male community, in gay chatrooms and online in mixed or heterosexual bulletin boards. But the cynics! They're more like the people who populate the comments sections of liberal blogs.
Like private people, they focused on facts when discussing politics. But unlike the private people, they were data hounds. Sniffing out grim facts was a form of self-protection for them...

Unlike the mainstream country-westerners, the cynics were confident enough in their own intellectual abilities to assume that their ignorance comes from factors like government secrecy and the power of moneyed interests, not from their own lack of intellectual abilities. As citizens, the cynics knew that they were supposed to have a say in politics and that political problems affect the way people think and live. The cynical Buffaloes would never just flatly state that they have no say in the workings of our government, as the majority of the country-westerners did. The cynics, unlike the other Buffaloes, held an ideal of political life, but assumed that the ideal was unattainable in today's world [163].
Not all the commenters at alicublog are cynics in this mode, of course. Some are active Democratic party members, some are involved in progressive and left activism. But the tone of cynicism set by the postings infects a lot of the discussion. The Republican gains of November make it all the easier to focus on their malevolence, and to give Obama an even freer ride than he's enjoyed so far from the Democratic blogosphere. There's nothing wrong per se with Edroso's tunnel vision and personal bias; I love bias, and have plenty of my own. The Republicans are scum, and it's true, they don't really care about the deficit or unemployment or any of the other problems that ordinary Americans face. But neither does Obama, who gets more out of touch the longer he's in office, and who seems to be retreating farther from reality as conditions get worse for the rest of us.