I must have born too long ago, in a world that's dead and gone. Maybe
that's why I can't understand the "progressive" politics of our day.
All across the blogosphere -- and in those few niches in other media where outright corporate harlotry and hardcore militarism don't yet hold absolute sway -- I see earnest, eager exhortations to our political leaders, urging them to act with wisdom, morality, mercy and justice. I see calls for those in power to think of the future, think of the children, think of the planet, think of the vulnerable, think of the needs and interests of working people. I see vast expenditures of mental and emotional energy devoted to parsing the politics of the high and mighty -- and to devising the best strategies and tactics (especially the oh-so-savvy tactics) for advancing the fortunes of those top dogs whose rhetoric occasionally seems simpatico to the ideals of peace, freedom, equality and human advancement.
There seems to be a widespread, deeply held supposition that politicians -- politicians! -- will save us, if we can only put the right ones in charge of the power structure. And behind this supposition there is an unspoken -- and, in many cases, unconscious -- belief in the inherent goodness of this power structure itself. To be sure, it is a goodness that most progressives believe has been lost or diminished, or perhaps not yet realized. But there seem to be few doubts in the ultimate moral efficacy of this power structure, however lost or latent it might be at any given time. It just needs to be guided properly.
All this is very strange to me. I came of age in a time when politicians of every stripe were considered little more than sinister buffoons: gasbags, grifters and gloryhogs in the pay of the rich and powerful -- and in happy thrall to a brutal power structure based on violence, war, corruption and cronyism. We thought this not because we considered ourselves too cool or too hip or too cynical for that establishment drag, man; we thought this because of what we had seen with our own eyes.
We saw people torn from their private lives by an implacable militarist state and forced to kill and die in a savage, pointless imperial war that left millions of innocent people dead. We saw people gunned down in the street or clubbed into bloody goo for peaceful acts of dissent against the power structure. Politicians mouthed witless pieties that no one believed they believed, while behind the scenes elections were fixed (or "ratfucked"), contracts were rigged, laws were laughed at, and rules were broken at every turn. Cities were left to choke and rot; an entire industrial infrastructure was sold off to enrich a tiny, tax-dodging elite feasting on foreign slave labor. The wars went on and on, covertly and overtly; the living standards of working people kept plunging relentlessly; the prisons filled up; the farms went down; torturers, murderers, liars and thieves were applauded to high heaven.
This was the power structure. This is the power structure. This is the same system that bred every politician dancing on top of the greasy pole today. I have lived a politically aware life inside it for more than 45 years. When did it change for the better? When did the courtiers of this system suddenly become vessels of hope and goodness, and not the third-rate time-servers and witless goons they have been from days of yore? [Naturally, there have been a few exceptions; but then, there are always exceptions. You will always find a few individuals more concerned with the common good and acting honorably cropping up in every political system, however harsh, throughout history. But the presence of honorable exceptions does not redeem an entire system.] Where did today's belief in the power structure's inherent worthiness -- if we can only get a few plucky guys and gals in there to work the gears -- come about? Somewhere along the line, the "progressive left" became imbued with the same worship of power that we are constantly, and rightly, told is a hallmark of the Right.
Nothing illustrates this better than the sorry, shameful, cringing state of the "progressive left" in the age of Obama. As Arthur Silber warned us a long time ago -- far in advance of the 2008 election -- the ascent of Obama to power has effectively neutered the entire edifice of progressive 'dissent' against the truly monstrous crimes of the power structure. Silber is no mystical prophet; he simply has a keen eye and sharp mind, and he simply looked at what was in front of him, in front of us all: a candidate bankrolled by Big Money and War Profiteers, clearly stating his intent to escalate the Terror War, surrounding himself with the architects of the economic collapse and pledging billions, trillions, to bail out the rich, refusing outright to "dwell on the past" (i.e., investigate and prosecute the war crimes of his predecessor), and so on. None of this was hidden from view -- for anyone who wanted to see it.
Yet despite Obama's admirably frank presentation of himself as a willing, eager tool of the bloodstained, brutal power structure that progressives decried so strenuously during the Bush years, these same progressives clambered onto Obama's bandwagon, declaring his election to be a moral imperative that all must support, or else be damned as an enemy of truth and light. They drank in his vague and vacuous rhetoric -- which in its soaring words about unity, peace, justice, equality, the future, etc., did not differ by a single iota from the disgorgings of meaningless gas we have always heard from the high and mighty. And when he reached the top of the power structure, and set about replicating, defending, entrenching and expanding the crimes of his predecessors, "progressives" fell silent, or carped a bit around the margins of this issue or that, or stuck out their tongues at Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, or, in a great many cases, simply pivoted on a dime and began praising and justifying Obama's savvy "continuity" with policies they had considered intolerable abominations just months before.
This supinity toward power is also seen, on a far less important level, in the reaction to the departure of some talking head from some cable TV network. This development -- which apparently involves some vast golden handshake for the multimillionaire commentator -- has been greeted in some progressive quarters as a grievous blow to the health of the Republic. Witness this outpouring posted on Eschaton:
There was a time when Keith Olbermann was the only person who drew attention to the deep, deep veins of damage in our public life.
The first time he came to my attention was in 2004, when he focused like a laser on the electoral irregularities rife in Ohio, both on Countdown and his old blog Bloggermann, with a simple, straightforward shrug: "I'm a sports guy. I look at the numbers." (I may have that quote wrong, but it was similar to that.)
As he developed a clearer voice in his broadcasts, including the often hotly-awaited Special Comments, I didn't always agree with him, but he always seemed to speak from a principled position. He is a good American, and we need him. He will be missed.
"The only person who drew attention to the deep, deep veins of
damage in our public life." Really ? The only person -- in the whole
country? In all the world? Across the universe? There was not a single
other person, anywhere, drawing attention to these veins of damage? Just
Keith Olbermann? And not until 2004? So there was no other person
in the entire cosmos drawing attention to damage in American public
life until 2004, when Keith Olbermann stepped forth, alone?
But of course we are being unfair. The writer is not really saying that Keith Olbermann was the only person in the world who publicly criticized the policies of the Bush Administration and its rightwing allies; what is actually intended by this literally nonsensical statement is that Keith Olbermann was the only guy the writer saw on the Tee-Vee speaking disparagingly of one faction of the power structure. He was, to the writer's obviously circumscribed knowledge, the only person with a bit of media pull -- a bit of power -- to make some critical remarks on current politics.
It is also telling that what drew the writer's attention to Olbermann was not, say, fierce public denunciations of the mass slaughter of innocents in Iraq, but a partisan squabble to put a Democrat at the top of the power structure. The "deep veins of damage" apparently refers to the quite obvious vote-rigging and ratfucking in Ohio, which shocked the tender sensibilities of the writer -- who seems blissfully ignorant of the campaign histories of, say, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Harry Truman. Of course the vote in Ohio was rigged by the Republicans; and it could easily have been contested by John Kerry, with the full support of tens of millions of people. But while the young John Kerry -- who came out of the savage, pointless imperial war noted above and hurled the medals of the power structure in its face -- might have fought the ratfucking, the John Kerry of 2004 was, well, a politician: a third-rate sinister buffoon, in the pay of the rich and powerful, too frightened, and too comfortable, to upset the golden trough where he now fed. Yet it was the political fortunes of this ludicrous gloryhog -- who spent the entire campaign frantically running away from any principled position he had ever espoused in public life -- that alerted our Olbermann-mourning author to those deep, deep veins of damage in the green, green grass of home.
Today it is the political fortunes of another politician happily embedded in the corrupt and murderous power structure that exercises our progressives. Not the fact that Obama's war machine is razing entire villages -- entire villages! Go look at the pictures -- at a single stroke in Afghanistan. Not the fact that Obama's massive escalation of an entirely illegal war of murder and assassination by robot drones in Pakistan is destabilizing and destroying one of the most volatile regions on earth. Not the fact 10-percent of entire working population of the United States is without employment, while tens of millions more languish in underpaid jobs with little or no benefits. Not the fact that the "secret government" of unaccountable intelligence and security agencies -- many of them with own secret armies and death squads -- keeps spreading like kudzu across the land. Not the fact that the nation's economic policies are firmly in the hands of Wall Street sharks and squids. Not the fact that Obama has openly declared he has the right to kill anyone on earth if he arbitrarily deems them a "terrorist."
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