Reading through news and opinions this morning, I happened across an essay that piqued my interest. Well-known political dissident, Professor Noam Chomsky, gave an interview to Truthdig wherein he compares our present dire U.S. political situation to the Weimer-era Germany. Quite correctly, Professor Chomsky turns his vitriol loose upon America’s liberals & conservatives, both camps being utterly contemptible. Unfortunately, comparisons to Weimer-and-Nazi Germany are wearing-out from overuse just when we most need them; but it is difficult not to use the comparisons because they are so darned applicable to our time. The short, sad days of the “Weimer Republic” and its immediate successor, Nazism, have become historical shorthand for extreme denial of reality in the face of mounting danger, a wimpy inability of liberal politicians to stand-up for what is good & right, a “fiddling while Rome burns” mentality of dithering during crises that frustrates citizens to the point of sweeping democracy away and replacing it with pure evil just so someone will deal with the nation’s problems.
However, I disagree with the Professor in his assessment that FDR could not be elected in today’s political atmosphere. Well, back in the fall of 2008, I heard many people say that is exactly the type we hoped we elected. But we not only didn’t get FDR, or Carter (as Prof. Chomsky says), we got Buchanan (who stood irresolute as the nation slid into civil war). As one of the dupes who voted for Obama and now I see that his candidacy was an invention of the hidden powers behind the curtain that are hell-bent on taking this country down the road to complete ruin at the hands of mega corporations.
Unfortunately, the historical moment has passed. Obama’s revelation as neo-conservative while being labeled a “liberal” (like a wolf in sheep’s clothing) has fast spoiled any remaining national fondness for “liberal” solutions. Now we appear to be stuck between right-wing monstrous solutions and Obama’s very slightly less monstrous solutions. Just like the above-mentioned hidden powers figured. Obama’s election de-fanged the anti-war, anti-corporatist movements and he will provide cover for dismantling Social Security, unemployment, and the other components of the social safety net. In that way he resembles Clinton who provided cover when he “reformed” welfare and gave us NAFTA. I have come to regret voting for Clinton and Obama, but looking at the Republican alternatives… what choice did I really have?
Wesley Quick, a good friend of mine read my essay “Outstanding in His Field” and, instead of just accepting my complaints, sent in a comment that asked me to put forth a solution. A fair question, since I do not believe in whining without having a course of action for making things better. I started to put my answer into the “comments” section but thought I’d post it more widely on the blog.
In order to move toward a solution, we must first realize the fundamental problem we are up against. Some political commentators have come close to seeing the problem by talking about how the ultra right-wing has been allowed to “frame the discussion” in their own terms. But it goes deeper than that. The haters have actually been allowed to create the reality in which we now live. And that reality is a nightmare. A nightmare, that is, for all but the haters who use it to exploit and abuse the rest of us for their own gain.
Although each of us has our own viewpoint of reality, our larger world is shaped by the consensus of what we as a group agree the world looks like. And the future is shaped by what we believe the world should look like and what we think is possible. To turn an old quote on its head, “If you don’t believe it, you can’t achieve it.”
In the famous book “1984,”George Orwell showed an oppressive world where an omnipresent & evil government had achieved near-total control and oppression of the populace. The government expected to keep the oppression going forever, since the inhabitants of that society could no longer even conceive of a different, better way of life. The tools to do so had been taken away from them. They were kept in constant fear & hatred: of their neighbors, coworkers, and even their children accusing them of traitorous non-conformity; of scarcity of the necessities of life; of the enemies with which their nation was at war; of their own natural urges for freedom, sex, or love. By keeping them locked into emotional upheaval they had no time to think about rebellion. The government “framed the discussion” by corrupting rational thought through insisting on nonsense ideas, such as that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” The basic ability of people to evolve ideas of freedom and rebellion was short-circuited by dumbing-down the language. Actions start with thoughts and thoughts start with words, so words that expressed taboo thoughts (such as freedom or rebellion) were removed from the vocabulary. And history was molded to the government’s whim by destroying all documents that were contrary to the officially approved story. Anyone who remembered events that did not fit the official story would be a nut who could show no evidence. In these ways the government created its own “reality.”
During an interview with an“Esquire” magazine reporter in 2002, an unnamed senior adviser to President Bush made a strange assertion to the effect that the Bush Whitehouse was creating its “own reality.” This sounds like arrogance of the most ridiculous kind. But I think that is exactly what they’ve done. Now it is their world and we only live in it.
Through 30 years of steady, stubborn, concentrated, and crafty effort the loonies took over the asylum. It all started with Ronald Reagan, who started by convincing the most vulnerable Americans that they were being milked by Welfare Queens, that marijuana was “the most dangerous drug,” and that trickle-down economics was the path to national salvation. His quakery was reenforced by the newly forged right-wing (hate) talk radio & tv. Our perception of reality began to change under a steady assault of being told to “just say no” and that ketchup was a vegetable suitable for a balanced school lunch. Then we had the first George Bush and his “kinder, gentler” America that was really meaner and nastier (freedom is slavery), followed by “liberal” Bill Clinton who lead us into conservative territory where Reagan would have been proud. By the turn of the century, much of the country had bought into the lie that a rising stock market was the lifeblood of the nation.
Then came Dubya. If you remember, after the Supreme Court selected him President he seemed pretty much an irrelevant hick. But in the atmosphere of fear & hatred following September 11th, 2001 he and his minions were comfortably in the driver’s seat, creating their own reality. Liberals, progressives, populists, peaceniks, leftists, dissenters, doubters, and other “traitors” were buried under shouts of “united we stand.” My daughter & I attended a Geoge Carlin concert in Dayton shortly after the attack wherein the normally uninhibited comedian declared a moratorium on attacking our government (I would not have believed it if I had not heard it with my very own ears).
Obama’s America still lives in Bush’s reality: We still fight endless wars to bring democracy to the world; we still bail-out the too-big-to-fail banks and corporations; universal healthcare is still off the table; we still have to globalize our industries until none remain; programs like food stamps, Social Security, and unemployment are too still too expensive to keep funding; we still must spend more on “defense” than the next 46 countries combined. Our new President has turned-out to be politically to the right of Dwight Eisenhower but he is labelled a liberal-socialist-communist-marxist. Business leaders and politicians spout-off about how they are “doing God’s business” or compare poor children getting reduced price school lunches to feeding stray animals- and they are treated like reputable, sane people!
We must change the nightmare that America has become and the nightmare America has become for the world. I absolutely believe the first step is that we must regain our power to imagine the world as it should be. See that a better world is necessary and that it is possible. We must stop accepting the visions of reality created by crazy, hate-filled cranks! Once we do that, good change will naturally follow.
In their 1971 song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who sang about a hippie revolution that shifts the political spectrum so far into the liberal zone that “the party on the left is now the party on the right.” Alas, the passing decades have brought us a future exactly the opposite, as this piece by MeMeMeMeMe on the DailyKos website shows. Those excepts from the 1956 Republican party platform prove that Republicans of a bygone era were sensible, compassionate, and sane – all qualities lost in the downhill slide from Nixon (or actually, Goldwater) to Palin.
They come out firmly for protection of workers, support for the United Nations, expansion of Social Security & unemployment benefits, even a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee equal rights for women. Holy Moley! The Republicans of 1956 would be tarred and feathered and then rode out of town on a rail if they showed up in Republicanville of 2010!
And just think: these were the “conservatives.” The Democrats were even more liberal than them. And America was just about as strong and prosperous as it ever was before or since.
I often write letters to our rulers, both of political and business-type, so as to let them know what I think of the issues of our day. I know they very likely don’t read them. But I write them anyway. Here is my latest, to President Obama:
I read in this morning’s news that you are going to make a brief visit to New Orleans. It made me stop and think. I realized, I assumed you had already found time during your 9 months in office to visit that site of national shame. But it fits in with the opinion I’ve formed of you and your administration: you are truly no better than Bush and his Monsters, Inc. As the saying goes: “Same shit, different day.”
My 25 year-old daughter, who waited in line with me for 3 hours to see you in Cincinnati last fall said to me last night, “Obama hasn’t really done anything, Maybe nobody can do anything to fix this mess. But you’d think he’d at least try.” That is the saddest result of your election. You robbed us of hope. We knew Reagan and the Bushes and McCain wouldn’t do anything to help regular Americans. But you tricked us into believing you would. You asked for the job, now do it. You’ve been in office 9 months and shown no spine at all. Media moments like going on the David Letterman Show and out on dates with Michelle aren’t enough. Giving us happy talk, like promising “Prosperity is just around the corner” isn’t enough– the regular folks out here are drowning in the economic depression and wars just like the inhabitants of New Orleans drowned. Help us!!! Read a few books about smart , brave, and compassionate leaders like FDR and Robert Kennedy.
Perhaps you think you can just wait out your time in office and then retire to luxury when your one term is over. Perhaps you plan to lie low and get re-elected because your “liberal” constituency has no where else to go. Don’t count on it. The Republicans hate you and will hound you till the day you die (which they’d love to speed along). Your “liberal” constituency is your only friend and you are rapidly losing them. I certainly don’t plan to vote for you again, even if you run against a complete nutjob like Palin. I’ll be going over to somewhere like the Green Party and kids like my daughter will probably sit the election out. After getting their hopes up and getting shafted, most of your erstwhile supporters will likely never bother voting again. And sometimes I think maybe that was the plan all along?