Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Wilderness

update below.

In “Can’t argue with that” Jonathan Schwarz quotes Chris Hedges, thus:

The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, which looks set to make sweeping gains in the midterm elections, is the direct result of a collapse of liberalism. It is the product of bankrupt liberal institutions, including the press, the church, universities, labor unions, the arts and the Democratic Party. The legitimate rage being expressed by disenfranchised workers toward the college-educated liberal elite, who abetted or did nothing to halt the corporate assault on the poor and the working class of the last 30 years, is not misplaced. The liberal class is guilty. The liberal class, which continues to speak in the prim and obsolete language of policies and issues, refused to act. It failed to defend traditional liberal values during the long night of corporate assault in exchange for its position of privilege and comfort in the corporate state. The virulent right-wing backlash we now experience is an expression of the liberal class’ flagrant betrayal of the citizenry.

I wrote in the comments:

Although I think Chris Hedges is generally on the right side, his habit of making sweeping pronouncements at the expense of discussing "prim and proper" policy specifics has always rankled me.
I'd have more sympathy with his thesis if he was willing to more specifically criticize Obama and distinguish between the democratic party leadership and the concept of liberalism. My guess is that Hedges would respond that a critique of Obama and the dem leadership is implicit in his comments, but it isn't, and Hedges' conflation lets obedient dem voters off the hook for their sheepish loyalty to the party.

Mike Meyer used to write in ATR comments about the need for a viable 3rd party. Well the creation of a viable 3rd party will never happen if its regarded as something that needs to be put off, perpetually, until one more election in which you back the dems. It's like that one more cigarette before you quit. There is nothing that Obama would willingly do with 230 or 240 house members sworn in on 1/2011 that he wouldn't be able to do with just 210 or 205, because he is a phony-baloney democrat and merely a bag man for the finance industry.

Their decision, for example, to avoid voting on repealing tax cuts just means they're hoping to be "forced" to save the rich man's tax cuts next year, like a drunk who threatens the other guy while he's being held back by his more sober friends.


I reworded the comment above slightly, see below.* Of course I should have added that most democrats that are higher up the dem food chain are phony-baloney democrats now.

Hedges’s main point, that the tea partiers exist because supposedly liberal constituencies have sold out liberalism is at least partly correct. I think it’s more accurate to say that the democrats have been selling out the New Deal as a rear guard action to hold on to power without having to do the presumably riskier task of directly confronting Reaganism. (Ian Welsh suggests this process is nearly complete, and it’s difficult to argue with his darker assessment.)

Hedges also seems to accept the GOP rhetorical trap of falling for the distinction between the working class and "snooty liberal elites" when in fact most tea partiers are middle class types who have health insurance and jobs or pensions and are afraid that they'll have to pay for subsidizing the growing ranks of poor people, all the while that they stupidly hector for tax cuts and against deficit spending. What’s particularly maddening about the ascent of Obama is the crisis of the fall of 2008 was the best opportunity for an ideological counter-strike against Reaganism that our society has had in 15 or 20 years, and instead we got a phony health care reform that is set up from the start to be gutted later except for it’s most noxious aspect, the individual mandates that will force people to go to the private sector and will eventually destroy medicare as well. At least we have our distractions.

(In fact the tea partiers are quite correct to object to the individual mandates; it may even be their only salient aspect. Just as, ironically, it will most likely be the one plank of Obama-ism they will never be able to dislodge.)

Chris Hedges, Truthout, “The World Liberal Opportunists Made

Ian Welsh,"How the next 4 years will play out"

*update: originally I quote Hedges briefly, thus:
"The real enemy of the liberal class has never been Glenn Beck, but Noam Chomsky."

Later in the essay he criticizes liberals for shutting out and marginalizing Chomsky. OK, which is it?
Ian in the comments as well as a commenter at ATR have convinced me this is not correct.-JV

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At October 28, 2010 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points about Hedges. He loves carrying water for the Democrats while pretending he is criticizing them. Shorter Hedges: Democrats are screwing us over, but LOOKIT THE WINGNUTS!

He's a lot like David Michael Green would be if Green had gone into journalism rather than "political science" academics.

Personal thought: Some might suggest selling out the new deal is good, since the beneficiaries of the new deal were FDR's business pals, and since the new deal fostered a dependence on Sammy and his Generous Uncle status while destroying significant swaths of our Nation's natural environment in the name of "progress."

At October 28, 2010 1:33 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

The problem with Hedges’ assessment is that it is wrong. Just what have liberals betrayed? The middle classes, whatever that means, and the working class, whatever that means, are the victims whether they are liberal or conservative it makes no difference, all victims. If Hedges is looking for someone to blame there is plenty of blame to spread around yet the majority of the blame falls on the national leadership of both major parties. My biggest problem with Hedges is that what he writes is based on the assumption that the liberal leadership was once somehow better, a highly dubious proposition at best. And let us recall that the reason Obama was elected was his antiwar position on Iraq which of course later transformed into a job well done after he was elected. That is to say that the liberal base wanted the Terror Wars to end but Obama didn’t deliver peace laureate though he may be. This is clearly a failure of liberal leadership not the base. Where a segment of the liberal base has changed is how their acceptance of the wars has grown because there is a democratic president running them and most especially because he is a Black democratic president.

At October 28, 2010 4:23 PM, Blogger Ian Welsh said...

Hedges isn't contradicting himself about Chomsky, I don't think. What he means is that critiques like Chomsky's get in the way of the modern liberal class selling out the interests of their constituents.

It's like the unions, pouring record resources into supporting a Democratic party which betrayed it. This generation of liberal leaders, certainly, need to be swept from power.

Meanwhile the #1 enemy of the Democratic candidate for NY's governorship? The unions. Because the problem with the US is that the unions have too much power, not that financial and military interests have prevented real investment in the real economy.

At October 28, 2010 5:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi guys, thanks for visiting.

Ian, you are probably right, and my read is wrong. I guess my problem with Hedges is he uses the term "Liberal Class" repeatedly but sometimes it sounds like he's talking about traditional liberalism, sometimes he's talking about the "third way" neoliberalism that emerged after the defeats of Mondale and Dukakis that tried to make peace with Reaganism, and sometimes it sounds like he's talking about both the GOP and the democrats. At any rate, I agree with you about the unions.

Charles, I agree that Hedges hedges his criticism of the dems.(Sorry.) I think his slippery operating definition of "the liberal class" is part of a strategy to deflect criticism of the democratic party.

Rob, I don't know if the democrats of the 1930s-1960s were better behaved people, but I know the overall shape of domestic legislation, including those pesky regulations that republicans rail against, seemed to help honest people stay honest, as the old saying goes. (Well, mostly honest.)

Of course our hegemonic foreign policies were another story, and the overall shape of that hasn't changed.

At October 29, 2010 3:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedges’s main point, that the tea partiers exist because supposedly liberal constituencies have sold out liberalism is at least partly correct. Hedges' point is correct but not complete. He clings to the assumption that there is a political solution to the problems he sees. He certainly presumes that if the democrats were more representative of the majority of the people, they would find better solutions. This is just "better democrats, please" which we hear from everyone from Chuck Schumer to Jonathan Schwartz. By participating in governance, the liberals perform a necessary function: supporting the war machine and the other destructive aspects of current system. It is this that Hedges gets right. Chomsky is marginalized because his arguments lead to the dismantling of the state as it exists, something which Hedges cannot bear to argue.


At October 29, 2010 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

drip knows the score!

Jonathan -

I think his slippery operating definition of "the liberal class" is part of a strategy to deflect criticism of the democratic party.

That's a roger, Roger.

At October 29, 2010 8:20 AM, Blogger rob payne said...

Jonathan, True, but perhaps that was the influence of the labor unions which are no more along with the jobs. Today of course the unions have been casterated, I mean when you have no members you tend to lose influence and with no jobs no members. I think that was part of the plan all along of offshoring jobs since it would dismanlte the unions. Also when FDR gave us those safety nets it was done because the government was afraid of a revolution. This is no longer the case. Leaders have always been scumbags.

At October 29, 2010 8:32 AM, Blogger rob payne said...

One more thing, Heges is playing the "blame the victim game." Always keep in mind the government is not your friend. That's the best route to reality. The assumption that the government is there to benefit the masses always leads to confusion when it comes to analyzing events.


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