Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

My response to a Daily Kos rah-rah about how Dems will win in 2014

Posted by Charles II on September 22, 2013

It wasn’t an important thread. It had four comments and five recommendations. It was clearly written by someone with a young, good heart. But it annoyed me enough to respond. Here, edited, is what the post said:

There is a great diary on ACA where the writer shares his/her experience finding out about what “ObamaCare” will really do for his/her family and their friends and neighbours.

I sent a link to the site to my girlfriend, who is self-employed and will be sharing it with my family, and friends, and everybody I know. Once people realize what ObamaCare will actually mean, they are going to either 1) love it, or 2) realize it isn’t the second coming of the evil one.

And they are going to be pissed at the Republicans for blocking it and thankful that the Dems got it passed.

And will vote in the 2014 elections…once people …realize what the ACA means to them and their families, they are going to go Dem

My response:

Talk is nice…

Democrats are in the minority because they have not fielded attractive candidates in enough districts. Do that and you depress Democratic turnout in those districts. The net effect is to lose the statewide races, like for governor and Senator. The governorships have a lot to do with the gerrymander of 2010…which, to complete the circle, is why Democrats are in the minority despite winning more votes in congressional races than did the Republicans.

Howard Dean recognized this and established the 50-state campaign. That was a tremendous advantage, which the Democratic Party regulars renounced as soon as they were able to get Howard Dean off stage.

The ACA is a nice selling point, sort of like 50 mpg. But you need a car to go with it. The Democratic Party seems to be determined not to do that.

True story: After 2010, my state Democratic chair asked for input on how to recover the situation. I responded that the reason the Party loses elections is because it is widely perceived as corrupt. Democrats, of course, are not more corrupt than Republicans. But because they are wishy-washy, not fully committed to their political beliefs, every time that one does something ethically questionable or even illegal, the media message is able to paint that misdeed as a mark of corruption.

I urge every Kossack who can to consider a run for office. Every time a talented, articulate, caring person stands up and says, I’m a Democrat, it does something to dispel the poisonous image created by the Democratic Party regulars, who are concerned with their careers and advancement over healing the suffering and national decay their incompetence has facilitated.

Voters want people who genuinely listen, know what they believe, say what they believe, and are willing to suffer a little to do the right thing. They are much less concerned with ideology than with character.

And if they are offered a Republican and nobody, you can pretty well guess that the Republican is going to win.

I shouldn’t rain on a guy who is inspired to do something good by pointing out how ultimately futile it is. The optimism of the young is the only reason this nation hasn’t reverted to monarchy. But I see the movements of today, notably Occupy, and I see such a lack of realism about how the magnitude of the problem and what genius and energy it is going to take to overcome it. Fixing things is the work of a lifetime, one that will take the courage and the endurance of the civil rights movement. It’s definitely worth doing, no matter how much one suffers or is defeated, because not to engage is to participate in doing wrong.

But change is not going to happen just because of some clever advertising.

7 Responses to “My response to a Daily Kos rah-rah about how Dems will win in 2014”

  1. A lot of people on the left don’t want to try because they tell themselves it’s not worth trying. Richard Wolff, thinks it’s the lingering aftereffects of the post-World-War-II pogrom against lefties, which was so severe it scared a non-trivial number of lefties out of most forms of lefty electoral political activity and into the safer fields of social and cultural change,

    That’s why I like to point out the instances where fighting the one-tenth-of-a-percenters actually works. For example:

    A good strategy to fight, say, vote suppression efforts — such as the attempt to put a vote suppression amendment into the Minnesota state constitution — is to point out to state, city and county clerks how much these efforts will cost their local governments. It’s one thing to secretly (or not-so-secretly) favor vote suppression because it targets nonwhites; it’s another thing to find out that the potholes in your roads won’t get fixed because your state mandated that you spend money on keeping anyone who isn’t white or rich from being able to vote.

    More on that later.

    • Charles II said

      Wolff is wrong on the reason that people abandoned the left. There has always been a pogrom against leftists. The New Deal always kept them at arm’s length–remember that HUAC (Dies Committee) began its work in 1930s by investigating Communists but not the Klan. In the 1950s, Hubert Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy made their careers out of anti-Communism. They were just more respectable than Joe McCarthy.

      No, the reason that people abandoned the Old Left was that they felt complicit in the crimes of Stalin. It wasn’t so, of course. No one in the US, except perhaps in the elite circles of the NYT, had any idea about Stalin. A similar phenomenon happened at the end of the Vietnam War when Sidney Schanberg published The Killing Fields. How demoralizing to discover that everything the US government had been saying about the communists proved to be true about both Stalin and the Khmer Rouge.

      If only people had known the US role in bringing the Khmer Rouge to power, and keeping them there.

      If only people had known the complicity of US elites like Fred Koch and the NYT in keeping silent about the crimes of Stalin.

      The white terror inflicted on the American left from 1870-present had a limited effect as long as there was something out there that people looked up to. When the reality of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao became evident, there was terrible disillusion.

      I actually think that social and cultural change makes for more lasting change than confrontational politics. Once people can’t be ignored because of their skin color or gender, or silenced because of their gender preference, it becomes more difficult to maintain government by elite consensus. Confrontation over economic inequality is necessary, but it’s so much more effective it is done as a broad movement. If FDR had been able to get away with what he wanted to do, none of the most important New Deal reforms would have happened. It was the existence of a broad movement outside of the control of Democratic Party politics that forced the changes.

      • If only people had known the US role in bringing the Khmer Rouge to power, and keeping them there.

        If only people had known the complicity of US elites like Fred Koch and the NYT in keeping silent about the crimes of Stalin.

        And the USG soft-pedaled the fact that it took the Vietnamese, now united again under North Vietnamese Communist leadership, to remove Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge (installed by Kissinger) from power. And the Vietnamese were themselves reeling from the effects of decades of war.

      • Coming back to this after some thought (being that I’m a slow thinker):

        Thing is, why didn’t revulsion towards Mao/Stalin stop the European left in its tracks?

        My guess is that it’s because:

        1. Capitalism simply wasn’t working (and still doesn’t work) as well for them as it did in the US from roughly 1820 to 1970. Hence “the American Dream” spurred by the labor demands of developing half a continent.

        2. They didn’t have as much active, organized, scientifically-based (think Fred Bernays) propaganda and suppression directed at them by powerful and rich people like the Kochs (whose father founded and funded the John Birch Society).

        3. They have a bit more historical perspective about Europe (and America) than we do. They know, above all, what you mentioned back in late 2005 about great powers and mass murder:

        The truth is that great powers universally, or nearly universally, indulge in mass murder. Monbiot explores that complexity in a review of books on British genocides:

        In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of famines that killed between 12 and 29 million Indians. These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy. When an El Niño drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at the height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”. And in Africa, Three recent books – Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins, Histories of the Hanged by David Anderson, and Web of Deceit by Mark Curtis – show how white settlers and British troops suppressed the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s. Thrown off their best land and deprived of political rights, the Kikuyu started to organise – some of them violently – against colonial rule. The British responded by driving up to 320,000 of them into concentration camps. Most of the remainder – more than a million – were held in “enclosed villages”. Prisoners were questioned with the help of “slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set alight, and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes”. British soldiers used a “metal castrating instrument” to cut off testicles and fingers.

      • Charles II said

        PW asks, “why didn’t revulsion towards Mao/Stalin stop the European left in its tracks?”

        I think the answer is complex, and varies from country to country. But it’s key to remember that a left appears in response to grievances. When people are pretty happy, polarization diminishes and the influence of the left wanes. The left in the U.S. is a coalition of people, some of whom are focused on one or more of many causes: wages and benefits, civil rights (gays, women, ethnic minorities), civil liberties, and so on. The right exists largely in reaction to the left: to repress wages and benefits, to keep certain people down, to reduce civil liberties through “law and order” and so on.

        So, while Europe (and Japan) was desperately poor in the wake of WW II, the left was pretty strong. The US actively repressed that left. In Greece and Spain, the US utilized dictatorships.

        The German left was already devastated by Hitler. The revelations of Stalin’s crimes (and repression by the US) further diminished it. The Communists were outright banned in 1956.

        In France, there was a strong, historically-based alliance with the USSR. A Russian-French alliance had been essential to containing German power. France under DeGaulle was neutralist, and the left was nationalist. So, essentially there was entente with the USSR, but the politics remained fairly conservative.

        Italy’s left had been heavily repressed under Mussolini, and never really rose until the 1960s.

        Britain’s left was pretty strong until the 1970s, at which point its own failures to generate growth paved the way for Thatcher.

        So what one can say is that the European left was never strong until the US preoccupation with Vietnam caused its influence to decline. The revelations of Stalin’s crimes fell on a pretty weak base. But the repression of the left–and the revelations of the repression during the Vietnam era (See especially Agee)–created the grievances that caused a resurgence of the left then. When Reagan took power, repression took hold again.

        As for Mao, those revelations came out only in the 1980s (see for example Nien Cheng’s powerful book). I remember being horrified in the 1970s when Nixon went to China, thereby validating Mao, and a leftwing friend celebrated Maoism. There was a cultlike naivete on both left and right about Maoism.

  2. “So what one can say is that the European left was never strong until the US preoccupation with Vietnam caused its influence to decline. The revelations of Stalin’s crimes fell on a pretty weak base. But the repression of the left–and the revelations of the repression during the Vietnam era (See especially Agee)–created the grievances that caused a resurgence of the left then. When Reagan took power, repression took hold again.”

    Thing is, the European left was able to get more done (and permanently so) during its high-tide moments than was the American left. I suspect that this is because until fairly recently, capitalism was pretty and obviously awful for most people in Europe whereas capitalism in America seemed to be the rising tide that lifted all boats, the American Dream. That stopped being true in the 1970s, though this was masked until the 2000s by credit cards and the rise of multiple-income families.

    Most European nations, for instance, have some form of socialized medicine — they definitely don’t have the cost-ridden obscenity that is America’s system. Same for their educational systems — they don’t have people carrying around crushing debt loads because they dared to go to university. Germany’s left has even enacted laws that make it very, very difficult and costly for German companies to leave the country; for one thing, every company is required to have workers and trade unionists on its board of directors — and not in token amounts, either. (Granted, much of what Germany has was given to it by Bismarck, who correctly foresaw that doing so was not only the right thing to do, and would prevent periodic pesky peasants’ revolts, but also improve the lots of all Germans including the nobility. But it’s still significant that he found it necessary to make his reforms whereas his contemporaries in the US largely dealt with the underclass by shooting at it.)

    • Charles II said

      We’re in agreement, PW. As I said, “a left appears in response to grievances. ”

      No grievances, no left.

      But repression is the other side of the equation. If the repression is strong enough, then no matter what the grievances, there will be no left.

      In Europe, the grievances were stronger, and the repression in most countries weaker than in the US. US labor unions, despite their heroic history in the 1920s and 1930s, were either taken over by the mob (East Coast Longshore), succumbed to the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s (AFL-CIO), or sold themselves to conservatism (Teamsters). Without the labor movement, the US left was fragmented and disorganized, and remains so even today.

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