Sunday, September 13, 2015

"A dunce or a rogue"

"The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue." So reasons Emma Goldman a century ago in "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For." I cite the preceding passage, for the context, as I read this last night, certainly brings to mind the fate of Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and the progressive attempts in the Arab world to overturn crony-capitalism and party politics of neo-liberalism. And, yesterday's election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party leadership.

Even were the workers able to have their own representatives, for which our good Socialist politicians are clamoring, what chances are there for their honesty and good faith? One has but to bear in mind the process of politics to realize that its path of good intentions is full of pitfalls: wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success. Added to that is a complete demoralization of character and conviction, until nothing is left that would make one hope for anything from such a human derelict. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians, only to find themselves betrayed and cheated.
It may be claimed that men of integrity would not become corrupt in the political grinding mill. Perhaps not; but such men would be absolutely helpless to exert the slightest influence in behalf of labor, as indeed has been shown in numerous instances. The State is the economic master of its servants. Good men, if such there be, would either remain true to their political faith and lose their economic support, or they would cling to their economic master and be utterly unable to do the slightest good. The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue.
Naturally, within the current context of liberalism, a more radical push from the left to challenge that status quo, and the blowbsck from the right-wing demagogues, the contests we see in Britain and America speak to discontent. Even Donald Trump castigated CEO pay today. There is an assault on the middle-of-the-road time-servers, lobbyists, and hacks in office, even if few voters apparently (reminds me of how many decry education but are just fine with their local schools somehow) throw them out of office. I've often lamented my residence in a gerrymandered Latino-Democrat region where incumbents play musical chairs if they face term-limits, or else stay cushioned in office perpetually. No challenger exists, and it's only a contest to see which new Dem will grab the unions, the developers, and the old-boy/girl network on the Eastside, City Hall, and Sacramento to cash in on a victory. Last Assembly had Lopez, Chavez and Gomez fight it out, they seemed indistinguishable.

My own predilections leave me detached. The circus attracts me as a spectator. But, ever since Reagan won and his policies effected the course of my college years and the start of grad school, I ponder how much distance there is between us and them. They beg for us like a nosy neighbor, coming back if every four years, and then leaving us alone for another four. We meanwhile look around and get on with our lives, forgetting them and vice versa. Post-Occupy I've delved deeper into anarchist and left-libertarian critiques. They match best my own perch, between socialism and individualism, favoring autonomy, not so-called panderers and pimps who pose as our representatives in our devolved, decaying plutocracy. I distrust politicians and I wonder about their schtick and spiels. Is Trump really off-camera the blustering rube, the caustic egotist, he plays? Sanders, at home, may be at least slightly less ticked off than he is when he runs through his stump speech the 876th time as the mikes catch him and the crowds cheer. As for Hillary, she seems embalmed, that "smile." Reading George Packer's "The Unwinding," I learned Joe Biden's rote go-to epithet is "f--dwarf."

As to their campaigns, today's L.A. Times reports that while Trump leads the remnant of the GOP that inhabits I guess the inner hinterlands, for the Dems rule all else in the Golden State under a system that has had super-majorities and veto-proof legislatures recalling the days of the Politburo, the news is also dire for Bernie Sanders. Hillary leads him by nearly double, and few "non-white" voters back him. While among independents he nearly ties her, liberals still lean for Clinton 2.0.

So, despite him barely leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, the news remains that he cannot so far break into a wider base of support. My wife and I agree on this. Goldman discusses the Socialist's attempts to work within the system so as to transform it. T-shirts for Bernie welcome a "political revolution." Such rhetoric unsettles my wife. While we for once unite in supporting him, we realize he has limited appeal; such slogans may turn off voters. When debates begin, I fear rather than Bernie's quixotic insistence on battling the issues and not her (although he attacks the GOP), that she will draw voters to suspect his calls for taxing Wall Street to fund colleges and overturning Super PACs that she shares along with Republican foes. Surely, she will whisper about spectral socialists.

She will also try to copy Obama's '08 strategy. Whisking the South away from Sanders with black support, to offset and override any gains Sanders can pick up in more liberal enclaves. She figures she will then amass a delegate lead to lock her into first place early. One reason the privilege we are told we have of voting for President matters less. The Electoral College and conventions dominate. Who we want as voters or who we can choose as individuals gets ignored by the institutional powers.

Some, yes, convince us that change can happen. The current President tried this, but it never fooled me. You can blame the impasses and failures of nerve on the disloyal opposition, but as Truman and my dad said, the buck stops here. As a kid during the Vietnam and Watergate era, I place no faith in those in charge. I realize I have helped elect Hillary's husband in '92, but that was my only 'success."
Even in '96, disgusted by his soulful eyes and butter-melting-in-the mouth poses when caught out, I registered Green as that party had qualified in '94 for the state ballot. In turn, discomforted by their endorsement of Cynthia McKinney in '08, and the narrow rules of California as to primary voting, I bailed out for the fastest-growing contingent in my state, the non-partisan "decline to state" roster. Even if as with Sanders in the Senate this sides with Dems usually, it gives me a bit more autonomy.

Many who I read lately reject voting at all. Yet I wonder how Citizens United will be overturned, student debt forgiven, foreign wars rejected, bankers taxed, and elections funded by the people unless legislative reform happens. Sometimes there are policies like marijuana, prison, felonies, schools, and discrimination that we can vote for in state initiatives. Although tainted, this legacy of the Progressive Era in California has led to progress. These aren't issues that direct action alone can solve. As for global warming and climate change, the fact both the GOP and HRC get "bundled" money from fossil-fuel firms as some of their largest "donations' speaks for itself.  Last week, Democrats defeated their own Californian bill to impose stricter environmental standards. "They are taking away our right to drive!" Such scare tactics swayed enough Dem pols away, fearing their Big Oil cash would dry up.

What politicians failed to do the past twenty years depresses me. If Al Gore had entered the White House, for all his foibles, he might have helped the cause of the Earth. Like stem-cell research, we have lost time for progress under religious ignorance, corporate connivance, and political stupidity. Can a Sanders or Corbyn do enough to overcome the Camerons or Clintons, the Trumps and Bushes?

Dan Balz compares (as I'd logged on to do) the image of disheveled Corbyn and rumpled Sanders. Two grey lefties at odds with their comrades, who hang on and scare the Tony Blairs and the DNC. The losses Labour recently faced in Britain to the Tories, however, do not seem to mirror those of the Dems here to their rivals. For, it's like living in Northern England in Southern California (let alone Northern!). The so-called liberal party does not face relegation to the minor leagues. What we all call "demographic shifts" leave much of the nation firmly in blue-state control, as the red-states shrink. Purple areas blossom where once red tints simmered. The shifts in British politics, and its complex parliamentary system, allow smaller parties too to survive in a way our bi-partisan prejudice refuses.

Greens, Plaid Cyrmu, SNP, and even the embattled, shrinking  LibDems may exert small tidal influence. I took a quiz a few months back that ranked me 87% with Sanders and in cahoots with the GP most. and the overseas equivalent matched me with the clown-car sized, post-election cohort of the LibDems. Here, that image is used for the 17 candidates on the GOP side. But Rick Perry dropped out already, whereas at this equivalent time before the '12 election he was first. Too few remember Rudy Giuliani was way ahead in "08 at this time too. So, despite the Clinton cash, perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for a more radical voice. And I don't mean Barack Obama. Jeremy Corbyn's rise will be one to watch, as two rogues ramble. As for the dunces, I leave them to the majority of voters.
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